We are all war criminals.

More than half of one’s income tax goes to some military function. If you pay income tax, more than half of whatever you send will be used to finance past or present bullets, bombs and fighter jets. That’s just how it is. But does that imply any moral responsibility on the part of the taxpayer, as to what these things are used for, murder and destruction?

The act itself is criminal. It is indeed widely recognized that consciously giving money to another party so it can be used for a crime is itself criminal. The issue is, to the extent that the act of paying one’s taxes is not voluntary, can we still attribute moral responsibility on that basis?

One view is that paying taxes that finance war is as involuntary as being robbed and having one’s stolen money used to finance a murder.

This argument has some merit, but is not by far a perfect analogy. Being robbed is a situation where one’s life is at risk. Not paying taxes, on the other hand, rarely carries penalties with it. Only high-profile cases go to trial and entail non-financial risks. The main factors that motivates people in robbery cases, the immediacy of the risk and the scope of the risk, does not exist in this instance.

We have to make a clear distinction between voluntary and chosen. Paying taxes is most definitely not voluntary: it is a duty that is imposed on the individual without his prior consent or contract. But it is also chosen: the individual still has the option open of paying or not paying, and there is no immediate or great risk from not doing so.

Obviously there is a gradient here. If the police broke into your home and demanded that you pay your taxes right then and there or they would shoot you, it obviously would neither be voluntary nor chosen. If they just sent you forms every year with absolutely no obligation to send them back, then it would be both voluntary and chosen. Well obviously a person in the first case would have no moral responsibility towards it whatsoever, and a person in the third case would have full moral responsibility towards it. Our case is more of a middle of the road between these two.

Some people think they can alleviate this by stating that they do not want to give money to certain causes. I have already written on why this is bollocks. To the government, a dollar is a dollar and is just like any other dollar. They don’t have certain dollars allotted for one cause and certain other ones for another cause: if you give less money, they will simply divide that smaller pool to all their departments. So that’s not really a help isn’t it?

The other thing is, we all participate in the capitalist system that feeds the war machine, in money as well as in intent. Payroll taxes, while ostensibly earmarked for Social Security and Medicare, are actually spent as collected on the same areas covered by the income tax, with no clear division between funds. As for the intent, it’s well understood that the capitalist system is intertwined with the imperialist system and has been for centuries. Obviously the military-industrial complex needs war more than any other industry, but many sectors are involved in war profiteering and receiving direct or indirect benefits from it.

I know some people believe that taking personal moral responsibility for the system entails defeatism. “Well, if it’s everyone’s fault, then there’s nothing we can do about it.” This stems from our desire to “find who’s responsible” and punish them, but you can’t do that if everyone is responsible.

But this is a very primitive way of trying to change things, and not what Anarchists aim to do. We don’t want to pin the blame on individuals, because it is not individuals that are ultimately to blame, but the system they sustain. It is the capital-democratic system that makes criminals out of us all. We need to overturn it by deligitimizing its fundamental premises and proposing alternative premises based on real life success.

It seems to me that the truth is quite opposite, that it is the people who refuse to evade taxes who are defeatists, because they refuse to take a relatively simple course of action to affect the system.

Of course, one can argue that the whole issue of tax resistance is irrelevant anyway because governments will pay by inflation what they cannot pay by taxation. This is of course very true. Certainly there is nothing we can do about inflation itself (apart from rejecting the money monopoly and switching to forms of mutual banking), and it is true that States have many means to finance war, but certainly it can’t help the State to take away one of those means. For instance, inflation has negative consequences for the State that taxation does not. But I do acknowledge the strength of the objection, and it’s something to ponder about.

45 thoughts on “We are all war criminals.

  1. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 10:09

    I call bullshit. Even if you evaded every tax you possibly could, you would still end up paying via sales tax/VAT, excises, customs duties on imported products, licensing and regulation of those you purchase from, property tax paid by your landlord on your rental but funded by you, and on and on and on.

    The victim does not share moral responsibility for what the robber does with his booty. The blame remains with the robber, no matter how much sophistry is applied. Do get a grip here, please.

  2. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 10:29

    And another thing: if paying the robber makes me complicit in the crimes that the robber funds with his take from me, then I ought to be held complicit in the robbery itself, too! And if that’s so, it wasn’t robbery, then, was it?

  3. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 15:59

    Please do not already assume you are right, especially since your analogy does not work. Robbery is neither voluntary nor chosen.

  4. tism January 12, 2009 at 16:19

    What did you mean about payroll tax, since you mentioned it? If a company enrolls their employees in a payroll tax scheme, you still make the choice to waste your effort by working at that company vs working somewhere else, or work for yourself.

    However, I don’t agree that paying taxes make you a criminal. But I believe that paying taxes means you are a frivolous spender. You can make much more successful investments with the money you otherwise waste on the government.

  5. tism January 12, 2009 at 16:23

    “one can argue that the whole issue of tax resistance is irrelevant anyway because governments will pay by inflation what they cannot pay by taxation.”

    That’s right.

    “there is nothing we can do about inflation itself”

    You can reject their money.

  6. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 16:25

    Tism, that is a very good point. I will amend my entry.

  7. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 16:28

    “What did you mean about payroll tax, since you mentioned it? If a company enrolls their employees in a payroll tax scheme, you still make the choice to waste your effort by working at that company vs working somewhere else, or work for yourself.”

    That’s a capitalist answer. I reject the notion that being able to switch economic masters is a form of freedom.

    “But I believe that paying taxes means you are a frivolous spender. You can make much more successful investments with the money you otherwise waste on the government.”

    Then advocate it from that angle, if that’s what you prefer.

  8. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 17:54

    You’ve fallen into fallacy here, and badly.

    If Bob comes to you and says, “Hey, give me some money so I can buy a gun and kill my wife,” assuming that Bob’s wife is innocent of any crime herself, you’d be guilty of aiding Bob in the commission of murder. Likewise if he used your money in another way to finance any other sort of crime. We are agreed thus far.

    Bob comes to you, ties you up and sticks a gun in your face and says, “Give me your bank card and PIN code so I can buy a gun and kill my wife, or I’ll kill you.” You are under duress. You give Bob the money, Bob goes off and does nefarious things with it, but you are guilty of nothing, because you were under duress.

    Bob comes to you and says, “Give me $1000 today so I can buy a gun and kill my wife. If you fail to do so, I’ll come back next week, take $1500 and break your legs.” Bob’s threat seems credible, and you have no means to protect yourself against Bob’s aggression.

    Am I really to believe that if I give Bob the $1000 today, I’m guilty of abetting his wife’s murder, while if I wait for Bob to come back and rob and injure me I’m not guilty? Hardly. I’m still under duress, even if Bob threatens a future punishment which may or may not materialize.

    Taxes are taken under duress, under threat of force. Always. That the greater robbery, the leg-breaking, the locking in a steel and concrete cage, the revocation of state licensure or summary execution at the hands of clown-suited government goons may or may not come in the future, they are all still threatened. Force will be applied at some point in the future — to compel (usually greater) payment, to exact punishment or to kill the scofflaw.

  9. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 19:19

    “Taxes are taken under duress, under threat of force. Always.”

    I agree with everything you’ve said until this. Your analogy does not stand because taxation is not done under a believable threat of force, as the vast majority of people who legally or illegally do not pay taxes are not subject to force. There are high-profile court cases but they are few. Even if they do so illegally, a majority of people are not caught, and those who are caught merely have the IRS try to seize assets proportional to what is “owed.”

  10. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 19:23

    I made no analogy with that statement. Taxes are taken under duress, under threat of force. Always.

    If you’d like to disagree with that statement, please go right ahead. You’ll need to buttress your arguments that “taxes are voluntary”, “taxes are chosen” or “taxes aren’t robbery” in order to persuade me to your point of view.

    You’re also missing the point, repeatedly. As I have pointed out in The penalty is always death, if, when the IRS or whomever comes along trying to seize assets, you resist, you will be killed. It is not an argument against this truth that most people throw up their hands before reaching the point where they have an actual gun in their face, and surrender what is “owed”.

  11. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 19:27

    I have no intention of persuading you because you obviously don’t want to look at the facts to begin with. It is true that “taxes are always taken under threat of force” but it is patently untrue that this threat of force is exerted in a majority of cases. The penalty, in most cases, is either “nothing” or “they take back what they think you owe them.” If there were known cases where IRS agents killed people for refusing to pay, then you and I would be having a very different conversation. But you’re wrong, pure and simple.

  12. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 19:50

    Franc, you’re a smart guy. I know you are. I trust that you are.

    You write: “it is patently untrue that this threat of force is exerted in a majority of cases.”

    Need I remind you that threats need not be exerted, but merely stated, in order to be threats?

    And that with the entire, multi-trillion-dollar machinery of the state at hand to back them up, with case law and a range of lesser penalties such as that which recently befell Janine Lindemulder to back them up, that they needn’t actually kill people in order to destroy people’s lives?

  13. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 19:57

    Yes, I never denied that the threat does not need to be exerted in order to be a threat. But that’s irrelevant to the point at hand.

  14. […] position that we’re all criminals for doing so, as Francois Tremblay does in saying “We are all war criminals” — a position which I will contest to my last […]

  15. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 20:33

    Probability of being fucked by the state for not paying taxes: p > 0.

    Let’s imagine, even, p = ε. ε is very very very small, but nonzero. You’d have me believe that duress here is nonexistent?

  16. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 20:39

    I have no intention of “having you believe” anything. All I am saying is that your proposition that taxation is non-voluntary and non-chosen (as I have defined them) is incorrect.

  17. Mike Gogulski January 12, 2009 at 21:13

    Here is the point at which I point out that you are talking in circles…

  18. tism January 12, 2009 at 21:19

    “Let’s imagine, even, p = ε. ε is very very very small, but nonzero. You’d have me believe that duress here is nonexistent?”

    What if p = 0.01? Does that justify paying 25% (or likely more) of your income? Or would that be frivolous?

  19. DixieFlatline January 12, 2009 at 21:28

    Francois, is a pacifist guilty of suicide if he refuses to defend himself when attacked?

  20. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 21:54

    “Francois, is a pacifist guilty of suicide if he refuses to defend himself when attacked?”

    “Guilty”? How can anyone be “guilty of suicide”? It’s not an aggression.

    “Here is the point at which I point out that you are talking in circles…”

    Which should lead you to deduce that we are wasting each other’s time.

  21. DixieFlatline January 12, 2009 at 22:34

    Oh great, semantics.

    Let’s try again.

    Is a pacifist suicidal if he avoids self-defense in the face of violent aggression?

  22. Francois Tremblay January 12, 2009 at 22:38

    One cannot determine if he is feeling suicidal on the basis of the scenario given, so your question is irrelevant, just like the previous one.

    Stop wasting my time.

  23. Belinsky January 13, 2009 at 01:47

    Francois, your argument rests on the assumption that government very rarely uses force to extract taxes after trying other approaches.

    Let me ask you, Francois, how long it has been since you stopped paying taxes. (I assume that you do not pay taxes.) One year? Maybe two?

    Come back to me once you’ve not been paying taxes for ten years. Then you’ll see the full fury of the IRS. The IRS may be pretty bad about speedily collecting taxes, but they eventually get what they want. Always. If you don’t pay your taxes, then the government will eventually take what they want from you, by force.

    For several years, my mother didn’t pay her taxes. However, they eventually caught up to her, and they threatened to seize her assets. They were *very* close to doing so, but she caved in and started to pay off her owed taxes. She might be able to avoid paying them all and remain in debt to the IRS for the rest of her life, but she would be constantly battling with them and she WILL have to pay some of what she owes (in addition to all future taxes) if she wishes to keep her assets.

    It may have taken them a long time, there may have been years of seemingly hollow threats, but eventually, they came with threats backed by guns.

  24. Francois Tremblay January 13, 2009 at 01:53

    I’m sorry to hear what happened to your mother, but it doesn’t change the facts. Everyone has to do what they can in their own conscience.

  25. Mike Gogulski January 13, 2009 at 01:58

    Saludos, Balinsky, but it’s even worse than that — and God bless your mother, if that’s appropriate.

    If we accept the reasoning that Francois puts forward here, we must hold essentially all people are accomplices to the horrors that states have committed, all throughout history. We must say that, since you, serf of my lineage, failed to resist strenuously enough the feudal depredations of your Lord, you are partly responsible for your Lord’s crimes. It is to say that you, descendant of slaves, ought bear a weight of guilt in that your ancestor, facing the choice between slave collar on his neck and certain death, chose survival. It is to say that should one not throw one’s life fully into every battle with the state, that somehow one has betrayed the cause of freedom.

    Fail. Fail, fail, fail.

  26. Francois Tremblay January 13, 2009 at 02:08

    No, I never said that one should resist all non-chosen impositions by the State, Mike, and I know you read my entry so you already know this. You are deliberately trolling my position, and I don’t know why you are doing this.

    To have such emotional resistance to it, you either think it’s so stupid that you won’t even glorify it with trying to understand it, or you feel some sort of guilt. Which one is it?

  27. Belinsky January 13, 2009 at 02:33

    What facts, Francois? Seriously. Let’s see them. Because the evidence in the post you linked in your original post about how not paying taxes rarely carries penalties does not confirm that not paying taxes doesn’t actually carry penalties. It just confirms than in any given year, the IRS will screw up most of the time. However, like I said, EVENTUALLY, they will catch up to you, just like EVENTUALLY, they caught up to my mother. They may have screwed up for a few years in the meantime, but you can’t run from them forever.

  28. Francois Tremblay January 13, 2009 at 02:35

    Do you know that for a fact? No. We’re just speculating at this point. There’s no point in battling in speculations.

  29. Belinsky January 13, 2009 at 02:44

    I know from personal experience and most of all, COMMON SENSE. Common sense tells us that the IRS will eventually collect. If they didn’t, few people would actually pay their taxes, and the system would collapse.

    What do you have? Nothing. I can only assume that because you did not answer my earlier question, you either do pay your taxes or have not been paying your taxes for a short period of time, so you do not have a long-term history of tax evasion to personally test your theory.

    So show some evidence or stop accusing people of being war criminals for not fighting back against that thief we call government. Even if neither of us had evidence in favor of our position (and I clearly do, even if it is not adequate to confirm my hypothesis with scientific rigor fit for Nature), you still wouldn’t be able to say anything more substantive than “It may be that people who pay their taxes are war criminals. Or maybe not. We can only speculate.”

  30. Belinsky January 13, 2009 at 02:45

    And to quote you, if “there’s no point in battling in speculations,” kindly delete this post, as it is all based on mere speculation.

  31. Belinsky January 13, 2009 at 02:45

    (And by this post, I mean your original post.)

  32. Francois Tremblay January 13, 2009 at 03:05

    Okay Belinsky, that’s enough, I think you made your point. All I “have” is in my entry, that’s the whole reason why I wrote it. You don’t think it’s enough evidence, or you’re all hung up about your mom, or whatever, but it’s fine, we get the idea.

    Incidentally, despite your denials, there is a study dedicated to examining why more people don’t illegally skip taxes when they rationally should:

    Click to access dp3103.pdf

    Not only that, but your criticism is also invalidated by the fact that it doesn’t include legal ways to not pay taxes. Either way, whatever. I think you made your points more than enough and there’s no need to keep retreading.

  33. FSK January 13, 2009 at 17:41

    If Francois Treblay believes that income tax resistance is so easy, then he should put his freedom where his mouth is and start a “tax resister insurance” business. That’s on my list of things to do.

  34. Francois Tremblay January 13, 2009 at 17:45

    Okay, how do I do that? Tell me how, because I have no capital, I don’t know any tax resisters in real life, and I don’t know how insurance works. But yea, I would definitely be interested in being involved.

  35. Belinsky January 13, 2009 at 17:57

    By the way, I totally support tax evasion if you can get away with it. Because I am employed by someone else, my taxes are automatically deducted from my paycheck, but I do try to cut other corners.

  36. FSK January 14, 2009 at 01:32

    I already wrote a post on tax resister insurance. (http://fskrealityguide.blogspot.com/2007/12/agorist-toolkit-tax-resister-insurance.html) (I should go back and update all my “classic” posts. I’m a better writer now, and I’ve learned more.)

    I quote prices in gold instead of USD, because I use real money. Suppose that you believe a tax resister has a 1% chance of getting caught in a year. Suppose the tax resister profits by 50 ounces of gold per year from his resistance. Suppose the cost of getting busted by the State is 500 ounces of gold (this includes lost income while spent in jail, cost of trial, etc.).

    Suppose you had a lot of capital. You could sell 500 ounces of tax resister insurance for 20 ounces of gold. This is a net profit, because your expected loss is only 5 ounces of gold. Further, to qualify for your insurance, your customer must follow tax resistance best practices as taught by you. If your customer doesn’t follow “Francois Tremblay’s tax resister guide”, then he forfeits his coverage (appealing to a suitable impartial arbiter specified in the contract).

    Suppose you have limited capital. You could sell 5 ounces of tax resister insurance for 0.2 ounces of gold. If other people also want to sell tax resister insurance, you can pool the risk and write larger policies. Effectively, you’d now be operating a free market time deposit bank, to raise capital to sell insurance. You can offer an interest rate of 5%-10% on a gold-denominated deposit, because writing this insurance policy is *SO LUCRATIVE*.

    It’s straight arithmetic and probability. State-issued insurance is much more complicated, due to all the accounting laws and actuarial laws that must be followed.

    A lack of free market trading partners is precisely the problem I’m facing right now. In order to get a free market economy started, I can’t do it alone. For this reason, I’m focusing on “Raise awareness of anarchism/agorism” more than “Actual practical agorism” right now. I hope to make the transition in the next few years, and “tax resister insurance” is one of my agorist business ideas.

  37. Francois Tremblay January 14, 2009 at 05:22

    Whenever you start, I’m in.

  38. Shanu January 21, 2009 at 02:35

    Read your blog.Liked it.Here is mine on the evils of taxation!


  39. JOR January 26, 2009 at 11:38

    If paying taxes makes you a war criminal, then most or all victims of US war crimes are in fact war criminals, or criminals of some kind, themselves (if they don’t pay taxes to their own states they contribute to some local racket that does the same objectionable things as a state). In which case, the actions of the US are not war crimes after all (all those civilians it kills are war criminals anyway), and US taxpayers are not war criminals.

    There ya go.

  40. Francois Tremblay January 26, 2009 at 16:32

    Uh, I don’t know where you live JOR, but in most societies babies and little children don’t pay taxes. So you can’t wriggle out of this one, as much as I’m sure you’d like to.

  41. Gargi Dixit January 26, 2009 at 17:58

    I wrote about Military Keynesianism some days ago, and that certainly makes you and me war criminals.

    Yet the thing is, we are coerced to give taxes, taxes are compulsory.

  42. Francois Tremblay January 26, 2009 at 18:28

    You didn’t read my entry, because I already addressed that point. Taxes are compulsory but we choose to pay them.

  43. […] Tremblay presents We are all war criminals. posted at Check Your Premises. Francois looks at various issues regarding tax, war, tax evasion and […]

  44. […] We Are All War Criminals by Francois Tremblay […]

  45. George Donnelly July 2, 2009 at 18:28

    I think Francois is right on the money on this and Mike and Belinksy you’re not understanding him.

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