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The “Voluntary” Nature of the Income Tax


To the Op-Ed Editor 728 words Contact: Andy Falkof Please send tear sheet. The “Voluntary” Nature of the Income Tax by Jacob G. Hornberger

April, of course, is income-tax month, the month in which millions of Americans file their income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service and pay whatever income taxes they still owe the U.S. government for last year. Citizens dutifully go to their neighborhood post office, deposit their tax returns and checks into the mail, and secure a return-receipt certificate verifying that they aren’t late in mailing in their returns and checks.

Why? Why do people fork over a large portion of their hard-earned money to people they don’t even know?

After all, think of what all that tax money would buy. Let’s assume that 10 years ago, a person who pays an average of $20,000 a year in income taxes had stopped paying income taxes. That would mean that today, he would have $200,000 plus interest in the bank, a nice chunk of money that he could deposit in his savings account or use to fund his children’s education, an additional room to his house, a European vacation, medical bills, or a few donations to his favorite charities.

Yet, people decide instead to send the money to the Internal Revenue Service or, more properly, allow the IRS to take it from him.


For years, the IRS has proclaimed that the great virtue of America’s tax system is that it’s voluntary. How does the IRS define “voluntary”? It says that the tax is voluntary because everyone computes his own income tax liability and sends the amount owed to the government. In other words, if the government calculated the tax liability for the citizenry, the tax would be involuntary. But since the people themselves are permitted to compute the liability, the tax is voluntary.

One can only wonder, of course, how many Americans truly believe this nonsense. The truth is that the income tax is no more voluntary than the military draft. If you fail or refuse to pay or even if you fail or refuse to compute the “liability,” they will seize you, fine you, and jail you, just as they do if you refuse to comply with a military draft.

And this is the true reason that people troop down to the post office and dutifully deposit those returns and checks.

Of course, an IRS official would respond, “You have a choice, and that’s what makes the tax voluntary. You can choose to pay the tax or you can choose to go to jail. No one forces you to choose to pay the tax, and so it’s voluntary.”

But the choice between two evils does not convert the choice of one of them into a voluntary act. It is instead a choice between two coerced options.

For example, suppose a thief grabs you in a dark alley, points a gun in your face, and says, “Your money or your life.” You choose to give him your money rather than surrender your life.

Could the thief later appear in court and legitimately say to the judge, “Your honor, I’m not guilty of theft because my victim gave me his money voluntarily”?

The process is no different with the IRS. Despite all the deceptive hooplah about the IRS’s being a nice, pleasant, friendly, benign agency (check out its website at www.irs.gov), the truth is that the IRS is really a state-sponsored terrorist organization. Its very existence depends on the terror that it is able to strike within the hearts and minds of the American people. And it knows that the reason that American citizens scurry down to that post office to mail their tax return is that they live in deathly fear of retaliation through audits, harassment, confiscations, garnishments, liens, and levies.

Every April, the IRS engages in a very subtle and sophisticated advertising campaign to reinforce the fear that it has instilled in the American people. For example, there was the time they hauled away the multimillionaire Leona Helmsley to jail for taking a few improper income-tax deductions. The not-so-subtle message to the rest of us? If the wealthy and powerful cannot stand against us, what chance do you have? Pay your taxes on time or else!

There is one – and only one – good solution to the income tax and the IRS: repeal the tax, abolish the IRS, and ensure through the repeal of the 16th Amendment that this immoral, terrifying, and horribly destructive assault on the freedom and well-being of the American people can never again become part of American society.

The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. is publisher of Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax by Sheldon Richman.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.