There are about 57,000 legally employed adult U.S. citizens1 who do not pay taxes or do not file tax returns. Most of them believe that there is nothing in the law compelling them to do so, or that such laws are invalid or don't apply to them.
They are wrong. But their arguments are certainly entertaining.
Here are some of the propositions advanced by tax protesters:
- Wages are not income, being received in exchange for labor of equal value. This is nonsense, because the value of labor is what someone is willing to pay for it—in other words, wages. In any case, an equal exchange is income, because at least from the point of view of the parties involved, all exchanges are equal, unless there is fraud. In a free-market system2, things are worth what people will pay to buy them and what people will accept to sell them.
- Since the dollar is fiat money not backed by anything, it is worthless, and so everyone who gets paid in dollars has an actual income of $0. There's actually almost something to this one. Fiat money is, by definition, inherently worthless, but in practice a dollar in any form is generally considered to be worth a dollar; whether it should be is outside the scope of this write-up.
- Because Ohio wasn't a state until 1953 (sic), Ohioan William Howard Taft was not eligible for the presidency between 1909 and 1913, and so the 16th Amendment, passed during his tenure, is invalid. This line of reasoning has been neatly disposed of by BrooksMarlin here; I would only add that Taft's being President was not necessary for an amendment passed during his term to be valid, since the president has no formal part in the amendment process. The claim that the amendment was not properly ratified because one of the ratifying states was Ohio is equally specious.
- Paying taxes and filing a return are voluntary. This is true only in the sense that the government allows you the opportunity to send in your return and any money you owe on your own before sending lawyers and accountants to your home or office to do it for you.
- Nowhere does it say in the law that anyone is "liable" for taxes. This is literally true, but the language of the Internal Revenue Code does "impose" taxes.
- Since the Internal Revenue Code says only "all citizens of the United States, wherever resident, and all resident alien individuals are liable to the income taxes imposed by the Code" and doesn't further define these terms beyond saying "every person born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction is a citizen," there's no indication that a specific person such as the protester has to pay taxes. Believe it or not, this is not the silliest argument out there, but it's pretty damn stupid. "Person" and "individual" mean exactly what they say.
- Citizens of the states are not citizens of the U.S. Even this isn't the silliest argument out there. However, people who propound this appear to have cut history in school when they taught nullification, the Civil War, and the 13th through 15th Amendments, returning, in a bad mood, in time for the next one. While the idea that the states are sovereign entities in their own right was addressed by the Constitutional Convention in 1787 with mixed success, within a century it had been fairly conclusively settled: the states are part of the United States.
- The I.R.S. has no authority, being either not established by Congress, a corporation established in Delaware, or party to a contract you are not required to sign if you don't interact with the government otherwise. This is the silliest one. Statutes and court decisions are clearer than usual on the subject: the I.R.S. most certainly is a federal agency established by law, and if you're American, you really do have to pay. You have to pay even if you never specifically asked the government for anything. Related to this is the claim that only taxpayers need to pay taxes, which is true as far as it goes, but you can't opt out of taxpayer status except by declining all income.
I have only listed arguments sufficiently simple, and more to the point sufficiently rational, that I could make sense of the claims. The judges hearing the cases when protesters are inevitably hauled into court routinely refer to these claims as "silly" and "frivolous"—among the strongest terms in which judges refer to anything.
1As noted, some claims rest on the idea that the phrase "U.S. citizenship" doesn't mean what most of us think it means; I'm using the term the way rational people do.
2The U.S. has a mixed system, arguably, but the point still stands.
and, out of fairness, http://home.hiwaay.net/~becraft/