Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Is Paying Taxes Immoral?

with 6 comments

The US Government is a huge organization that performs many many actions. I think almost anyone could come up with something the government does that they don’t like. I think many people could come with something the government does that is downright evil: bomb Afghan farmers, imprison innocents, pass on money to even worse governments or groups.

Given this, I am surprised that I can’t recall a single person arguing that it is immoral to pay taxes. Sure, people will grumble about losing their money or about how the government will just waste it. But no one argues that you have a moral obligation to make sure that less of your money goes to evil purposes- whether by working so little (or giving away so much) you incur no tax obligation, finding every possible loophole, or simply illegally evading paying taxes. Why not? Do you not have blood on your hands for financing the government’s murders and other evil deeds?

I avoid the force of this argument by being (or aspiring to be) utilitarian. You have to average out all the effects of paying taxes to determine the morality of it. The government does many good things and very many morally neutral things to balance out the bad. Plus avoiding all taxes would be quite costly to me, and my utility counts too.

But many people don’t think this way. They refuse to flip the switch in the trolley problem. They boycott corporations for running sweatshops, or giving money to causes they don’t like, or various other perceived evils. Shouldn’t they think paying taxes is immoral, and do what they can to avoid it?

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Written by James Bailey

September 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Wow. This kinda blew my mind, dude. If that thought has ever crossed my mind it certainly didn’t stick around long enough for me to think it over. I guess I adopt a utilitarian by default stance (though I am far from considering myself a utilitarian): oh well, gotta do it, does some good at least.

    Do the Amish pay taxes? With their Anabaptist roots they presumably would object to much of what our government does with its money. Not sure why I think this, but I have the vague notion that there is some sort of “Amish exception” where they don’t have to pay. That’s probably completely wrong.

    Asher Gelzer-Govatos

    September 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    • I believe the Amish are exempt from Social Security payroll taxes but not all the others.

      James Bailey

      September 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      • So let’s say there’s an Amish family that only does subsistence farming and never receives cash payment for anything (obviously most Amish are decidedly NOT in this situation). Presumably they’d be fine with regards to income tax, but what would they do about property taxes? Does the state of PA accept bushels of turnips in lieu of money? Things to ponder…

        Asher Gelzer-Govatos

        September 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm

  2. Have you ever read Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience? He refused to pay the poll tax because he was opposed to the Mexican-American war. He went to prison for that (briefly).

    Rachel S.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    • Rachel, I have never read it, a situation you remind me I should remedy.

      James Bailey

      September 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

  3. The question at hand depends entirely on how you establish morality. If morality is socially constructed, then the answer depends on context. However, if the creator God of the Bible establishes morality (which I believe), then the violent actions of unjust governments are just as immoral the greed of those who hoard their own money at the expense of others. Therefore, we ought to vote for government officials that do justice and love mercy, and pay our taxes…

    Shane Hatfield

    September 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm


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