Should I Cheat on My Taxes?

Ethically speaking, of course I should, if I can get away with it. Sure, the rest of you will have to pay more if I pay less, but that's between you and your tax collector - not my problem.

The tricky question is whether tax evasion is worth the risk. I frequently choose not to pay parking meters, or park illegally, betting that the penalty for getting caught multiplied by the chance I will get caught is less than the hassle of actually paying or parking legally. This seems to work quite well in most cases.

Bryan Caplan asks the question, by way of Gary Becker. (Incidentally, it was Becker who inspired me to stop paying for parking meters.)

Of course, now that I asked this question publicly on the Interwebs, the likelihood of future audits probably just increased significantly.

Hi IRS!

 

(P.S. DIAF)

 

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Evading taxes isn't

Evading taxes isn't cheating.

If you get caught I guess

If you get caught I guess your opinions will prevent you from pleading you made an honest mistake, so it's more risky for you.
One good thing to do is to move to a place with lower taxes, you hurt the place with the high taxes and get to keep more of your money.

I can't very credibly

I can't very credibly distance myself from the position that taxation=theft at this stage of the game, but there's nothing to catch since I don't evade taxes. I'd do it if the rewards sufficiently outweighed the risks, but my net career may have increased my risks.

Pay Your Taxes

Several thoughts bubbles up while reading your post, but the first one is this: To what extent do you consider yourself a decent person? How do you measure your integrity, your sense of fairness, your honesty? If those things do not matter to you at all, if you are a relativist who is fair only in relation to what it gets you, or who only pays his debts if he might otherwise get caught, who tells the truth only when it is convenient or 'pays off,' then what follows will likely fall on a deaf heart, so to speak. If you do care about those things, then consider this.

Integrity is doing the right thing in the absence of being observed or noticed. This is a core value at in the military and among police forces and everywhere, especially, where people are endowed with a public trust. And before anyone scoff at the notion, or toss off the usual idiocies about how dishonest our public servants are, etc, get the facts. And don't demean the idea either because without integrity as the most important core value of public servants you would not be safe, your country would not be safe, your future would not be safe. The US military functions as well as it does (and trust me, it is the most professional military on the planet right now) because first and foremost integrity matters. To shoot or not to shoot, to lie or not to lie, to steal or not to steal, to rape or not to, to... well you get the point. In fact, no one is perfect, these questions fill every mind every time a choice must be made, but in the majority of humans--those who value their integrity, at least--the question is answered before it's asked, and need not be considered. The answer: Do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do, and for no other reason than that. No matter who knows or who sees. Trust me when I tell you that there is no greater person achievement than to do the right thing when doing may be the hardest thing you've ever done.

So what does this have to do with paying taxes? Well, the issue is NOT whether you deem taxes fair, or just, but instead whether only you are being asked to do something that is not fair, or whether it really is unjust to be asked to pull your weight or to pay your way or to carry your share of the burden. Typically, young people in the US are most likely to ask that sort of question because they haven't lived long enough to understand that the small amount they are asked to pay really does make a difference, but some older folks--those who choose to be blind to truth--do ask the same kinds of questions. Even so, the answer still depends on your sense of right and wrong, and if you are basically a decent person or a cheat, a liar, a wastrel, or some other less than desirable sort of citizen.

As to what is owed vice what one thinks is owed, consider this: Everyone who works for the U.S. Government, from the President to Arlington Cemetery gardeners, from Generals to Privates, from astronauts to life-saving coast guards rescuers, Supreme Court Justices to day care center clerks--everyone who collects a paycheck from the U.S. Government--PAYS SOME PART OF HIS OR HER OWN SALARY EVERY YEAR. When I was in the Army I paid about two months of my annual salary in taxes, so essentially I worked for free those two months. No other group of Americans is expected to pay their own salaries at all, ever. They may work for free, if you will since they pay taxes, but they don't pay their own salaries...

So, ok, you don't want to pay government employee salaries either. Ok, how about the services you use? Do you drive? Do you use interstates? I make pretty good money but my annual taxes wouldn't pay for 300 feet of one lane of an interstate these days. It wouldn't pay for more than, perhaps, one or two heavily controlled intersections' traffic signals. It would not pay for one third of the cost of a city ambulance, a 20th of the cost of a large modern fire truck, or for even a thousandth of the cost of an air-traffic control radar, and it is chump change compared to the cost of one GPS satellite or weather radar.

See, it's not all about paying for bombs and other nations' welfare checks or whatever it is you think you shouldn't be paying for. In fact, American taxes are lower than what citizens of most industrialized nations pay, and you get more for your money than a lot of those people do, no matter what you might think. Germany is a prime example of that (yes, I've lived there, and yes, I know what they get--I'll take our system).

As for parking meters and such, that's kid stuff. Really. What's a quarter? Your bragging about stuff that teenagers take pride in, children's successes. And why is it wrong to pay those? You're renting the space, it helps fund maintenance you want the government to perform, right? Really, that's just puerile and not something a mature grownup brags about.

Honestly. Think about integrity. Think about what kind of person you want to be known as. More important, think about the people you share your country with, and what it would be like here if everyone avoided paying taxes, or cheated parking meters, or parked illegally.

Sorry to answer so seriously what was likely a light hearted question, but this stuff matters. Really.

V/R
SangerM

BTW, in the U.S., Tax Evasion IS a crime, no matter what you call it. Paying the least you have to pay is not, but evading the responsibility entirely IS. And for the record, I despise people who park illegally who cause me problems by doing so, and I routinley call the police to alert them to such folks. I don't mind spending the ten cents to rat out a person who could care less about how their actions affect me.

Your general argument is

Your general argument is that taxes go to good purposes, thus we should pay them.  Rawls hewed to this principle--Nozick criticizes it at length in Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  (But Nozickians presumably will pay enough to fund the minimal state, since that's the state Nozick justified.)

Even presuming that taxes go to good purposes--some do, some don't--a typical libertarian qualm is the involuntary nature thereof.  I may be fully willing to give to charity, but I needn't apologize if I try to avoid being forced to do so.

Money obtained against will

Money obtained against will simply does zero good beyond a marginal speculative gain to the thief. Never. This is a demonstrated fact and is known under the name of Bitur-Camember Law. The act of obtaining the money through coercion, itself, has direct and indirect consequences that more than nullify any good that could be done (and most often is not done anyway) with it. I have seen both theoretical and empirical evidence of it.

Sorry to burst your bubble, that's just how the real world works.

Libertarianism 101

Several thoughts bubbles up while reading your post, but the first one
is this: To what extent do you consider yourself a decent person? How
do you measure your integrity, your sense of fairness, your honesty?

I'm not Micha, but because libertarianism is not one person's idiosyncratic political philosophy, I can answer in a way that in all likelihood he would broadly endorse, just as I endorse his blog entry.

In brief: the position against paying taxes is not considered by libertarians to be indecent or unfair or dishonest or to lack integrity. On the contrary, it is consistent with, and follows from, basic moral principles.

If you do care about those things, then consider this.

That is a mistake. The mistake you make here is not hoping that he would consider what you are about to write, but thinking that he has not already thoroughly considered every point you raise and many besides.

Integrity is doing the right thing in the absence of being observed or noticed.

Neither he nor anyone else here needs to be reminded of this.

And before anyone scoff at the notion, or toss off the usual idiocies
about how dishonest our public servants are, etc, get the facts.

No one scoffs at the idea of integrity. Whether public servants are dishonest is meanwhile beside the point. Your comment wanders a bit, so I will focus on some more relevant bits.

Ok, how about the services you use? Do you drive? Do you use interstates?

There are several points that can be made in response to this. I'll make a couple.

1) Even if someone provides you with a service, that does not typically by itself obligate you to pay them. Suppose, for example, that someone in the neighborhood comes and paints your house. They do a really nice job. But there's one problem: you never asked them to. You never hired them. They just came of their own accord, without asking your permission even, and painted your house. Do you owe them for the service? Typically, you do not owe them anything. Libertarians apply the operative principle to the services provided by the government.

2) In many cases, that government provides us with certain services is only the superficial appearance. The underlying reality is that government forcibly prevents the private economy from providing those same services, thus creating for itself (and its friends) a monopoly, sometimes a lucrative monopoly. An example of this is centralized banking.

As for parking meters and such, that's kid stuff. Really. What's a
quarter? Your bragging about stuff that teenagers take pride in,
children's successes. And why is it wrong to pay those? You're renting
the space, it helps fund maintenance you want the government to
perform, right? Really, that's just puerile and not something a mature
grownup brags about.

Calling something "puerile" is a poor argument. Argument by namecalling, argument by attitude (you display an attitude of contempt). The size of the fee is irrelevant to the issues.

Sorry to answer so seriously what was likely a light hearted question, but this stuff matters. Really.

Well, no, you answered very poorly a question that wasn't even asked (and it was explicitly stated that it wasn't being asked). You exhort the author to "consider" certain things, but clearly it is you who are failing to consider things, because you aren't even aware of them. Libertarian arguments are, of course, not unanswerable, but your comment does not answer them; rather, you display complete ignorance of them.

I never asked any services

I never asked any services from the US government and I don't want any. I don't want their police protection, military protection, justice, roads, schooling, social security. I just want to be left alone. They send me a bill for services I did not subscribe to, I see no reason why I should pay for them. How I would live or go by without these services is beside the point, I just don't want them, I refuse to be taxed, period.

I have never declined

I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow countrymen now. It is for no particular item in the tax bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man a musket to shoot one with--the dollar is innocent--but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make use and get what advantages of her I can, as is usual in such cases.

- Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Ethics

Contrary to Sanger's opinion, it's immoral to pay taxes as the federal system currently operates. Pay as little as you legally can. Micha, your concern about others paying more is no worry. Tax rates are generally decided by politics, not any particular need for revenue, so your lack of payment will have no relation to how much the rest of us pay.

Micha's avoidance of parking fees is harder to justify. Unlike most taxes, parking fees are direct usage fees for services you choose to use.

Holy Jeebus, Stop

Holy Jeebus,

Stop philosiphizing. Cheat/evade as much as you can get away with, like everyone does.

It's really a matter of risk

It's really a matter of risk profile. The wealthy will try to avoid taxes, the less wealthy will cheat. Intuitively I think cheating when one is wealthy is overall a poor and bad strategy.