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.