Should we Resist Taxes?

post by IsaacCohen · 2019-05-30T17:19:51.447Z · score: -11 (9 votes) · EA · GW · 10 comments

The following is a question that's been sitting on my mind a lot lately and I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts on it:

The argument for ethical veganism is that boycotting animal products reduces suffering by making factory farms "produce" less (if revenues from meat sales go down, less animals will be slaughtered etc.). To make the argument more direct (we) vegans often ask people to think about how many animals they will eat in a lifetime if they aren't vegan. All those animals can be saved by going vegan.

So I was wondering, shouldn't the same argument apply to taxes? Some of the government's revenue from taxes goes to fund wars. Shouldn't we be obligated to resist taxes (i.e. to not pay) so that the government brings in less revenue, so they spend less on the military, which may reduce suffering?


I sent this question to Brian Tomasik two days ago and he said that first of all, taxes also go to fund good things. Second, one can be punished for not paying taxes in ways that would inhibit their ability to do other good things. So the only reason to resist taxes would be as a publicity stunt to draw attention to the issue. Third, there are more effective ways of opposing wars (he said the military-industrial complex), like becoming a policy analyst or lobbyist on the issue. And as a final point, he said that opposing military spending might not be an effective use of resources.


Perhaps he is right, but I wanted to hear what everyone here has to say on this subject. Some of my thoughts:

1. Taxes also fund good things but we can give that same money to charities that do the same or similar things.

2. I've read up a little on the punishments for not paying taxes. Mostly what seems to happen is the government tries to collect and if it can't it puts a lien on some property. But what if someone can physically live with these consequences without it hindering their ability to do good?

3. What if certain wars are utilitarian? Officially many interventions have humanitarian justifications. Is this true? And how would we know?

10 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2019-05-30T19:42:17.772Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Taxes seem tricky. I view it as generally good that governments allow offsetting of tax burden via donation to allow more flexibility in allocation of money to public goods, and in this way taxes being used for purposes you disagree with can actually incentivize spending on things we each care about more. Of course, it would be nice if you could just give more and be taxed less, and eventually donation offsetting runs out because governments still need some money.

My guess is that tax resistance won't be an effective cause area unless you especially believe there is large harm caused to people by making them pay taxes (a sort of libertarian suffering consequentialist argument), but for a variety of reasons it is probably worthwhile to minimize the amount you pay in taxes, i.e. don't give up money to a government that you could have otherwise spent in a way better aligned with your interests.

There is also some impact here based on who you pay taxes to. A citizen of the USA, like me, does more to fund war than a citizen of Switzerland, and thus if I were to pay less tax to the USA than a Swiss citizen were to pay to Switzerland I would more be reducing war spending than a Swiss citizen would, who would likely be more reducing funding of other public goods they would endorse being supported.

On the whole I don't think we can conclude anything especially strong, but it does at least seem like an interesting case to think about to sharpen our skills!

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2019-05-30T20:55:00.406Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think you are severely underrating the reputational and legal costs of not paying taxes. In particular, tax evasion in the US is a crime that is punishable with jail time.

comment by IsaacCohen · 2019-05-31T02:53:42.192Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Just because a punishment is on the books doesn't mean it ever happens. I only know of one case (Randy Kehler) where the government even went so far as to take away his house. He went to jail for 6 months after he refused to promise never to return to his home. I think it was offered back to him a few years later and he refused it saying that the protest was not for his personal gain. (http://scua.library.umass.edu/umarmot/kehler-randy/ )

According to NWTRCC, major punishments by the IRS (beyond simple attempts to collect by force) are rare.

comment by Khorton · 2019-05-30T18:36:15.434Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with Brian.

comment by IsaacCohen · 2019-05-30T18:58:21.305Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

What do you think of the argument that one can give the money to charities that do the same things as government?

Also, do you think that fundamentally the vegan argument could be applied to taxes, only that in the latter case the taxes also go to good things and you can be punished for not paying? Or would you say they are fundamentally different in the sense that tax resistance doesn't actually save lives?

Or maybe, would you say veganism doesn't actually save animals either?

comment by Khorton · 2019-05-30T19:14:43.457Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I don't know any charities that pay police or build roads. I also don't think those things should be funded by charities; I think public goods should be funded from the public purse.

comment by IsaacCohen · 2019-05-30T19:42:33.197Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Policing and roads are primarily paid for by local taxes. Either way, the government will always be able to raise funding for the necessities. Even if we got to the point where everyone became a war tax resister, the government would, out of necessity, end their wars and torture and people would start paying taxes again.

comment by kbog · 2019-06-05T01:37:27.735Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
3. What if certain wars are utilitarian? Officially many interventions have humanitarian justifications. Is this true? And how would we know?

Yes, here is a survey of me and 6 other EAs on the consequences of recent US military engagements: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1BbVEMsaGx0nXTY8Gg6vGoqIBi3wqnPkg5z54a3bg5SU/viewanalytics

If you want to get into the relevant rationales and data that is another story. But until someone can show that they are really harmful, we don't have a good enough reason to justify trying to weaken the government.

comment by IsaacCohen · 2019-05-31T03:10:25.355Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I see the question has been downvoted many times. But I can't understand why. Can someone (perhaps one of those who downvoted) please explain why?

comment by kbog · 2019-06-05T01:48:46.260Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Probably people just don't like the idea of combating the democratic government. It's one of those norms that lots of people think is important.