What if we all stopped paying taxes?

photo courtesy: www.nowartax.org

While chatting with a friend last month, the seemingly never-ending topic of Congress raising the debt ceiling came up. “I think they should stop all international spending at the end of the year, stop these wars we’re constantly in, and concentrate on domestic issues,” my friend declared. “We sure have enough issues to deal with in our own country.”

I had to agree that it was a great idea. But it’s also impossible. That’s not the way the world works, especially when our national policy makers can’t seem to agree on whether to have a bagel or a muffin for breakfast.

Another option, though, is to opt out of paying taxes. That’s the choice for members of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. They do file their taxes, but in place of payment they include a letter of explanation. Kathy Labriola has been “resisting” since 1978. That year she says, “I sent my tax forms with a letter saying, ‘I owe you about $5,000 and here’s why I’m not going to pay.’ And every year since, I have done the same thing.”  

Most of us respond to such a thought the way listener Caroline Shigad did after hearing our profile of the NWTRCC on August 2nd. “I do not agree with my tax money going toward military spending,” she said, “but I’m not ready to risk going to jail by not paying taxes.” As reported in our story, prosecution seems to be a surprisingly small risk. According to the NWTRCC, only 30 group members have ever been taken to court in the nearly 70 years they’ve been in existence.

Another listener, Donald Dubois, thought we should have asked, “Is it only their particular issue that it’s okay to hold taxes back on? … (W)hat happens if other people take the same tact for their particular pet peeves?” I agree that the story would have benefited from including that question, but the blanket statement from the Internal Revenue Service, which was included in the report, covers all such possibilities: “There is no law that permits taxpayers to refuse to file a tax return or refuse to pay their taxes based on an estimate of what the government spends on programs or policies with which they disagree on moral, ethical, religious, or other grounds."

Is it right that a “government of, by and for the people” makes such a decree? And would it be right for us to only pay for programs that please our personal interests?

We’d like to hear from you on this issue.