Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A tax resister is a person who resists or refuses payment of a tax because the person opposes the institution that is collecting the tax or some action or actions of that institution.
Unlike a tax protester, who denies that the legal obligation to pay taxes exists or applies, tax resisters typically recognize that the law obliges them to pay taxes, but choose to defy this law by refusing to pay. Of course a person can be both a tax protester and a tax resister if they believe that tax laws do not apply to them, and also believe that taxes should not be paid because of the use to which they are put.
History of tax resistance
Tax resistance has probably existed in some form for as long as governments have taxed people. Often, tax resistance has come from pacifist cultural or religious groups, such as the Quakers, who refuse to fund violent government activities. Perhaps the most famous example of a tax resister, author Henry David Thoreau, was briefly jailed in 1846 for refusing to pay taxes in protest against the Fugitive Slave Act and the Mexican-American War.
The British women's suffrage movement used tax resistance in their struggle. According to one source, "[t]ax resistance proved to be the longest-lived form of militancy, and the most difficult to prosecute. More than 220 women, mostly middle-class, participated in tax resistance between 1906 and 1918, some continuing to resist through the First World War, despite a general suspension of militancy."
Mohandas Gandhi's independence campaign in India used a variety of tax resistance strategies, attacking the British taxed monopolies on salt and textiles by advocating the illegal production of salt outside of the monopoly system and the home-based spinning of cloth.
In 1965 the United States Congress allowed the Amish to be exempt from the Social Security tax, after a persistent campaign from some Amish who regarded insurance programs as mistrustful of God and therefore against their religious teachings.
Beginning in 1972 United States Congressman Ronald Dellums unsuccesfully introduced legislation that would allow taxpayers to claim a conscientious objector status and designate their taxes for non-military spending only; this legislation is still periodically introduced in the United States Congress and has a number of sponsors, and the legislatures of other countries are also considering such legislation, but some tax resisters feel that such a law does not actually address the essential dilemma that leads them to resist taxation.
More recently, some foes of abortion and/or capital punishment have become tax resisters, refusing to pay taxes that are going to support those practices. In the United States, some gay people have adopted a form of tax resistance to protest the government's lack of legal recognition of gay marriage.
Tax resisters are typically motivated by a disagreement with the policies of the government or institution that is collecting the tax. For some, this may include an opposition to that government or institution entirely, without respect to its specific policies (for instance, Gandhi's opposition to British Imperial rule). Anarchists who resist taxes oppose anybody or any institution that assumes a taxing role.
What a tax resister hopes to accomplish through his or her resistance may be personal or political or some combination of the two. Many tax resisters are motivated by the desire to "wash their hands" of complicity in immoral government policies by not contributing to the funding for them. Some tax resisters see their resistance as a form of protest, designed to communicate the strength of their opposition through an act of civil disobedience. Others see tax resistance as an act of nonviolent political force - cutting off the funds of the government as part of a campaign to force concessions from that government or to cause its collapse.
Beside that, the government really needs money to operate. Once elected, politicians often do not care about the votes the people gave them; but financial means are essential to put governmental decisions into action. This implies that a right to deny tax payments actually extends the meaning of democracy, giving people a veto right. A right to deny taxes enables the people to literally account politicians for their actions.
There are many methods of tax resistance. In war tax resistance circles in the United States it is sometimes remarked that there are as many ways to practice tax resistance as there are resisters.
Refusing to pay
The most dramatic and characteristic of these methods is to refuse to pay a tax. This may be done by simply ignoring the tax bill due, or by ostentatiously declaring the intent not to pay.
Some tax resisters refuse to pay only a portion of the taxes due. For instance, some war tax resisters refuse to pay only a percentage of what the government claims they owe - that percentage being equivalent to the military percentage of the government's budget.
Other resisters withhold a symbolic amount - for instance, in the United States, some might hold back $17.76 (symbolic of the revolutionary year 1776) or $10.40 (in tribute to the "1040 form" that people use when filing their federal income tax returns).
Refusing specific taxes
Some resisters only resist particular taxes, either because those taxes are especially noxious to them, or because they present a useful symbolic target, or because they are more easily resisted.
In the United States, many war tax resisters resist the federal excise tax on their phone bills. Because this tax is typically small, this is a symbolic resistance and very rarely triggers significant government retaliation. Because of this, it is a form of resistance that is popular for its relative safety. The phone tax has also historically been used freqently to raise funds for war (although these days it is just one more tax going to the general fund), so it is an attractive target as a "war tax."
Paying under protest
Some taxpayers pay their taxes, but include protest letters along with their tax forms. Others pay in a protesting form (for instance, by writing their check on a toilet seat or a mock-up of a missile), or in a way that creates inconvenience for the collector (for instance, by paying the entire amount in low-denomination coins).
Legally lowering the due tax
Other tax resisters change their lives and lifestyles so that they owe less tax. For instance, to avoid income tax, a resister might take in less income; to avoid an excise tax on alcohol, the resister might home-brew beer; to avoid excise taxes on gasoline, the resister might take up bicycling; and so forth.
Some have suggested the term "tax avoision " for this method. It differs from tax evasion in that the goal is to pay as little as possible (as opposed to a goal of holding on to as much as possible), and it differs from tax resistance in that it is not particularly resistant (it plays by the rules of the tax laws).
A resister may also try to lower the tax due through illegal tax evasion techniques. For instance, one way to avoid the income tax is to participate in the underground economy - earning money that is never declared to the government.
Arguments against tax resistance
Many arguments can be made against the tactic of tax resistance. Most basic, of course, is from those who support the entity collecting the tax and feel that other people should as well. But even those who are sympathetic with the tax resister's complaints may question the methods. Some common arguments against tax resistance are:
- What if everybody only paid for the parts of government they like? Wouldn't that create weird and awful imbalances in what the government funds? Only by ceding this appropriations power to some government can you get a rational result, but that means living with spending your taxes on things you might not like.
- If you don't pay your taxes, the government will just have to take the money from someone else, which is unfair to them.
- If you don't pay your taxes, you become a "free rider" - getting government services like police protection and so forth without paying your share of the bill.
- Tax resistance is too passive and ineffective a way to gain political change.
- Won't the government respond to tax resisters by assessing fines, interest, and/or penalties against them? And won't this just mean they end up with more money in the end?
For many tax resisters, these points are rather irrelevant. E.g. if an average citizen actually would profit from a war, he would gladly pay money to the defense secretary. If he does not, he withholds the tax - and that's democracy in action. They also maintain that funding would shifted from popular to useful and effective projects; this means, for example, that the war on drugs would be replaced by better funding for schools and health care.
Tax Resisters of Note
- Joan Baez
- Ernest and Marion Bromley
- Noam Chomsky
- Arthur Evans
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
- Mohandas Gandhi
- Allen Ginsberg
- Walter Gormly
- John Hampden
- Robin Harper
- Raymond Hunthausen
- Saint Hugh of Lincoln
- Rose Wilder Lane
- Staughton Lynd
- Maurice McCrackin
- Karl Meyer
- A.J. Muste
- Juanita and Wally Nelson
- James Otsuka
- Eroseanna Robinson
- Kirkpatrick Sale
- Pete Seeger
- Gloria Steinem
- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
- Henry David Thoreau
- Leo Tolstoy
- Edmund Wilson
"If only each King, Emperor, and President understood that his work of directing armies is not an honourable and important duty, as his flatterers persuade him it is, but a bad and shameful act of preparation for murder — and if each private individual understood that the payment of taxes wherewith to hire and equip soldiers, and, above all, army-service itself, are not matters of indifference, but are bad and shameful actions by which he not only permits but participates in murder — then this power of Emperors, Kings, and Presidents, which now arouses our indignation, and which causes them to be murdered, would disappear of itself." - Leo Tolstoy
"Withholding payment of taxes is one of the quickest methods of overthrowing a government." - Mohandas Gandhi
"He or she who supports a State organized in the military way — whether directly or indirectly — participates in the sin. Each man old or young takes part in the sin by contributing to the maintenance of the State by paying taxes." - Mohandas Gandhi
"See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, 'I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico, — see if I would go;' and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war..." - Henry David Thoreau
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