No one is holding a gun to your head

One of the favorite libertarian rants is about how, when the government does good things using tax money (such as giving gas, shelter, or food to people without power due to a natural disaster), it’s charity with a gun to your head. They tend to use those specific words, “gun to your head”, and that’s what I’m taking issue with today.

If you are a United States citizen, I’d like to remind you that no one, not the government, not me, not anyone, is holding a gun to your head to get you to pay taxes. No one. There has not been a single person in the history of the United States that has been executed for tax evasion. There are no violent outcomes to tax evasion. There’s no goon squad that will come and beat you up for the money. Even Al Capone simply got a significant prison sentence for tax evasion, and we all know that was punishment for crimes they couldn’t prove. The most likely outcome of not paying your taxes is being asked to pay them with a penalty. If you can’t pay, there’s more severe actions, like garnishing wages or seizure of property. However, the death sentence is nowhere in the list, nor is any violent means.

One fun fact about income taxes that it seems people forget is that you actually pay them *after* you’ve used the services they pay for. You will pay taxes in 2013 for 2012’s services. Thus, at the point where you actually pay the taxes, you’ve already had a year’s worth of government services available to you. Those services include defense of you and your property from foreign invasion, health care (including MediCare/MediCaid as well as medical R&D and federal subsidies for hospitals), interstate highways, environmental protection, protection of the food you buy from grocery stores, and public education, which even if you don’t directly benefit from it, benefits you by reducing crime and making the population more employable.

Do you not want those services? Or, at the very least, do you not want to pay for them? No problem. CNBC put together a helpful slideshow of some countries with zero income taxes. The federal government will helpfully pro-rate your tax obligations to the United States based on when you left and what property you took. Granted, the process to renounce your citizenship takes a number of years, and it requires that you gain citizenship elsewhere first, but it’s always your option.

If you do like those services and like using them but just don’t want to pay for them, well, then you’re just a crappy person. Then, you’re actually the thief, taking things without paying for them.

So, to be clear, here’s why no one is holding a gun to your head:

  • You won’t be killed for failing to pay taxes. You may not even be inconvenienced. Lots of people fail to pay taxes each year, and they can often go several years without suffering any consequence.
  • The primary services that your taxes pay for, namely defense and health, are used by all citizens. When paying your taxes, you’re paying for services you already used for at least one year.
  • You have the right to stop using government services and thus stop owing money for them. All you have to do is leave the country and renounce your US citizenship. The process takes several years, but the US government does not use violence to stop you from using that process.
  • If you use government services and simply don’t want to pay for them, it’s you who is the thief, not the US government.

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