S.F. Area Quakers Mull Over War Tax Resistance

On a local Friends Meeting held a workshop on tax resistance that I attended. I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of people who attended (given that the workshop was held during the distracting week between Christmas and New Years), and I was delighted at the amount of interest expressed and the quality of the conversation.

One San Francisco Quaker is skeptical about “easy, low-risk,” “symbolic” tax resistance and issues a challenge:

Scenario: The federal government has instituted a 50-cent-per gallon gasoline tax to cover expenses related to the war in Iraq.

For embellishment, imagine it’s and an entirely new Presidential administration that you voted for in has just assumed office (I don’t care which party as long as you think it was a good choice). We could imagine the new administration is being fiscally responsible and making up for past as well as ongoing deficits, and is exhibiting integrity by tying the tax directly to its use.

Question: What would Quakers do?

Would they continue to behave the same as usual?

Would they always pay in cash and withhold the extra charge for the war tax? If so, would they submit to being arrested for nonpayment of taxes — or maybe even theft — if the station owner called the police? How long would they stay in jail before paying the tax and any accumulated fines?

Would they pay by credit card but modify the receipt to withhold payment of the tax before signing?

Would they carpool? Or join carsharing groups?

Would they sell their cars?

Would they refuse rides in privately owned vehicles?

Would they move to the country and buy a horse?

Would they just buy a Prius?

Before doing any of the above, would they consent to wait expectantly together in meeting for business, to ask the Inward Teacher what on earth they should do?

I think it’s useful, from time to time, to contemplate such hypotheticals. What would your response be if the government enacted an explicit war-tax on something you enjoy or require. What if the government did enact a “Peace Tax Fund” designed to make people feel like their tax dollars were being spent peacefully?

The IRS insists that even barter counts as income and must be taxed, but there are exceptions to this rule, as a recent Wall Street Journal article points out:

Using a section of the tax code called 1031, a growing number of wealthy individuals and companies are participating in so-called like-kind, or 1031, exchanges. The strategy allows participants to defer, or sometimes even avoid, capital-gains taxes when they quickly replace business or investment assets with similar property of equal or greater value.

At the popular liberal-leaning blog Political Animal (associated with Washington Monthly), a columnist takes note of one of the recent news articles about phone tax resistance.

There’s really not much new content there, but the article has generated a healthy set of comments from people who aren’t very familiar with phone tax resistance, or with war tax resistance in general, and so it gives a good glimpse at the attitudes towards and misconceptions about war tax resistance that can be found in liberals who haven’t put much thought into the idea before.

The confusion between the federal telephone excise tax and the federal universal service fee is one that the phone tax resistance advocates should be sure to address. If people think that phone tax resisters are taking money away from a federal program to help the blind, deaf and disabled because they have a grudge with the government about the war, that won’t play well at all.