Owe? No!

It’s “tax season” in the US — the April 15th filing deadline approacheth. I’d know this even if I didn’t have a calendar, because I have kids, which means the TV is on a lot, which means that my senses are under constant subliminal commercial bombardment from the room next to my office. This time of year, the words that resolve themselves out of that background drone tend to include “IRS” a lot more than usual.

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials. This or that law firm sternly tells you that the IRS will never stop nagging you for unpaid taxes, but that they can help. Then come the testimonials: “I owed the IRS $50,000 — but since I retained Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, attorneys at law, to represent me, I now only owe $10,000. Whee!”

Let me say up front that I don’t have anything against these firms, or against the people who use them. It’s hard to avoid the taxman (especially since “libertarian” economist Milton Friedman came up with the brilliant idea of having the feds grab a little of your paycheck each week through “withholding”), and if paying a lawyer $5 to represent you will reduce the amount the IRS takes from you by $10, or even by $5.01, hey, why not?

What I do object to is use of the inaccurate term “owe” to characterize your relationship to the IRS.

The fact of the matter is, you almost certainly don’t owe the IRS squat.

To “owe” something to someone is “To have an obligation to (some one) on account of something done or received; to be indebted to; as, to owe the grocer for supplies, or a laborer for services” (Webster’s, 1913 edition).

Above and beyond that bare-bones definition, the reasonable assumption with respect to debts is that the thing “done or received,” for which you “owe” someone, is something you’ve requested or agreed to buy, and that you’ve entered into a contract for, formally or informally (“if you bake me a loaf of bread, I’ll pay you a dollar for it”). In the normal course of things, I can’t provide you with some good or service that you haven’t asked for and that you may not even want, and then rightfully claim that you “owe” me something for that good or service.

The Internal Revenue Service is not a debt collection agency, it’s an extortion racket. When you give it money, you’re not paying a debt that you “owe,” you’re paying ransom in advance against the threat that your property will be stolen and/or that you’ll be abducted and put in a cage if you don’t cough up (and murdered if you resist).

Am I telling you you shouldn’t pay the federal income tax? Not necessarily. I understand how difficult it can be to get away from these thugs.

If you’re employed by someone other than yourself, it’s likely that a portion of your income is “withheld” from your pay each period, so that you never have the chance to, well, withhold it from the extortionists. Most people fill out their 1040s not to find out how much they “owe,” but to beg back as much as possible of what’s already been stolen from them.

Even if you’re self-employed and fairly “off the grid,” owning land or other large, valuable, difficult to move property keeps you vulnerable. These extortionists have guns, and the police won’t stop them if they carry out their threats to steal your stuff or kidnap you.

If you can’t get away with not paying the thugs off, pay the thugs off.

BUT! If you have any self-esteem left at all, decline to participate in the hypocrisy of pretending that your payment of taxes is a payment for services or settlement of a legitimate debt — that you actually “owe” the IRS anything.

When you fill out your tax forms this year, stop at line 75 of your 1040, scratch out the words “Amount you owe,” and write in “Amount the IRS demands.”

Even more than they want your money, the IRS and its masters want your willing participation in their fairy tale game: A game in which they cease to be thieves and thugs and you cease to be their victim; a game in which they become “creditors” to whom you “owe” a debt. Deny them that and you deny them the camouflage they crave.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist