In the May ’04 issue of Reason, in an article entitled It’s So Simple, It’s Ridiculous, Brian Doherty gives a pretty comprehensive account of the current tax protest movement in America. Brian also posts a piece to Hit & Run that references his Reason article, as well as one in the New York Times. What sparked my interest here, more than the article in Reason, which I had already read, were the comments to Brian’s post. I suggest you look them over.
The comment I posted pretty much sums up the nature of what I read:
In reviewing the comments, it appears to me that there are two separate issues being conflated. The first issue is whether taxation, as administered, is legal. The second issue is whether taxation, as administered, is moral. The key to differentiating these issues lies in first asking oneself the question: “are laws necessarily moral?” Slavery was legal, but was it moral?
I think that tax protesters miss the boat entirely. Taxation is clearly legal. But, since I believe that all rights are individual rights, which means that associations of individuals (as in “governments”) possess no more rights than individuals possess, then the government has no more right to rob me than you do.
But the real rub is contained in the realization that it doesn’t matter whether the tax protesters are correct or not in their claims that there is no law requiring persons to file or pay income tax. Observe this excerpt from the Reason article, cited above:
Most significantly, a tax honesty true believer named Vernice Kuglin, a vivacious and attractive Federal Express pilot who has a crowd of admirers following her everywhere during the conference, was slammed with criminal charges for failure to file and for tax evasion. She beat the rap in August, acquitted of all charges by a federal jury in Memphis.
Also last year, Texas plastics manufacturer Dick Simkanin was finally brought to trial for failure to withhold income taxes for his dozens of employees. Simkanin had been a poster child in We The People-sponsored ads in USA Today, featured as a businessman who honestly believes it is his right under law not to withhold. Two grand juries who had gotten to speak to Simkanin failed even to indict him. Finally a third grand jury, whom he didn’t get to speak to, did indict. But at the end of his first trial in November, the jurors could not reach a verdict, with 11 out of 12 favoring acquittal.
Both these events occasioned great rejoicing in the tax honesty community. But both had grimmer denouements. Kuglin stayed out of jail, but she was slapped with civil liens for past taxes due and penalties. These days she’s only collecting around $290 per pay period from her FedEx job, with the rest snatched by the IRS. Simkanin was promptly retried and found guilty in January, and he now faces a potential 129 years in prison.
How the Simkanin case played out should give the tax honesty movement pause. Judge John McBryde was not entirely fair to his client, says Simkanin’s lawyer, Arch McColl, who spoke at the conference. Schulz and other movement heroes testified on Simkanin’s behalf in vain. McBryde prevented McColl from mounting a real defense, the attorney complains, sustaining the prosecutors’ objections almost every time he tried to raise tax honesty arguments.
The jury sent back a question to the judge asking to see the codes that directly stated Simkanin was required to withhold. (Some of the defendant’s ideas clearly had gotten through.) The judge told them simply to trust him when he said the law required Simkanin to withhold — essentially directing the verdict, since Simkanin never denied not withholding. (McColl has strong expectations that this response, among other things, will help guarantee a successful appeal.)
I really hate to have to keep pointing this out, but this is what happens whenever you concede the premise, particularly to a totalitarian thug who is prepared to crush you no matter what. In this regard, the tax protester movement actually does far more harm that good. These bunch of well-meaning nitwits go around telling the lawmakers, courts, media and everyone else what amounts to: “it’s perfectly fine to rob me, but please make it legal, first.”
It’s sad. When you can’t even count on people whom the article calls “staunch exemplars of America’s glorious Protestant heritage” to differentiate between “legalities” and moral principles, who can you count on?