Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why do we have to pay taxes?

There are many tax-avoidance/protest/evasion/honesty/whatever-you-want-to-call-it movements out there. Most of them argue that there is some legal loophole to the payment of taxes and Americans are not really required to pay taxes, by law. The whole thing is a scam, they claim, and you are being duped into paying your taxes when all you need to do is just not pay them and not be intimidated by the investigations, threats of prosecution, etc.

Of course, any person with half their wits about them knows that there is no mistake, there is a de facto and de jure requirement by the government to pay taxes. But this whole argument opens up, in my opinion, a far more interesting question: why do we have to pay taxes at all? So what if there's no legal loophole? By what right does the government require me to pay them? There are four possibilities, all of which present glaring ethical problems:

1) Might makes right. The government can make me pay, therefore, I have to pay.

2) Legislative/regulatory requirement. Congress (elected representatives) has passed a law requiring US citizens to pay taxes.

3) Court order. The courts will find, on the basis of the law, that I am required by the law to pay the government taxes.

4) Services already rendered. The government has built roads, educated children, fought wars against foreign enemies and these services - past, present and future - must be paid for.

Everyone understands that might does not make right. So, even if it is true that the government can make us pay, that doesn't mean we can be forced to agree that this is just.

Everyone understands that a contract to which one party is not signatory cannot be binding on that party. If I write a contract and specify some obligation you have to me, that contract is invalid unless you have agreed to the terms in the contract and indicated this by verbal agreement (with witnesses) or signed it or in some other way veritably indicated your assent.

Everyone understands that a dispute cannot be justly decided by one of the parties to the dispute. When a state court rules on the obligation to pay taxes from whence it receives its paycheck, the state is deciding a dispute to which it is party. This cannot be just.

Everyone understands that someone who has received a service which they (individually) did not agree to receive is not obligated to pay for that service. When a bum at an intersection washes your windshield then asks for payment, he is not entitled to receive payment (you might freely agree to pay, but you are not obligated to pay). The fact that the government has presumed to take upon itself the performance of useful services or building of useful infrastructure does not obligate me, as an individual, to pay for those services and infrastructure. This goes back to the issue of contract and voluntary agreement.

So, it doesn't matter whether the 16th amendment was or was not passed. It doesn't matter whether you can invent some argument that you believe excepts your property and income from taxation under the law. Every argument by which the state claims you and I owe them our own money requires at least toleration of hypocrisy and a double-standard, or a complete abandonment of ethics.

Give me a good reason why I have to pay taxes.

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