Six Questions About the Federal Income Tax

questions about the federal income taxTo me, taxes are sort of like rain in Seattle. There’s too much of it, too often. It arrives at the most inconvenient of times, and just when you thought you couldn’t get any more, more of it arrives until you’re drenched in it.

In the hopes of properly celebrating this year’s federal income tax season, I thought I would write on the topic for the purpose of some stimulated thought and discussion. This time, however, instead of giving reasons for why I’m not too fond of the the federal income tax, I felt inclined to pose a series of questions.

My motive for asking questions, rather than providing reasons, is because we should not have to explain why a law is bad. Politicians, or the supporters of a law, should have to explain why it is good. I included some of my remarks on the subject as a way of explaining my rationale each question.

1. Why is it the government’s business how much its citizens make?

Some may argue that it’s to ensure that people aren’t stealing or obtaining their money illegally, but that argument assumes citizens are guilty until proven innocent, i.e. they have to fill out a tax return to prove their innocence. Unless the government can prove someone is making money illegally, there is no moral reason why we should be required to report our incomes. If it’s not the government’s business what we do in our personal life, as long as it is legal, why is it any of their business what we do professionally, as long as it is legal?

2. Why does the income tax have to be so intrusive?

Americans love to complain about the federal government’s invasion of privacy through unauthorized wiretappings, data mining, and Internet monitoring, or even what books they check out at the library or comments they post on Facebook. Before someone whines about security cameras at traffic intersections, however, perhaps they should sit down and consider how much personal, intimate knowledge they are legally required to provide to the same government every April as a part of their income tax return. It’s naive to think that this sensitive information is protected and safeguarded from the same misuse and abuse as information obtained from a wiretap or data mining. And, again, why should any of this be the government’s business? Surely an employer can collect an employee’s income tax as a part of their paycheck and then submit it to the government in one large sum to preserve anonymity.

3. Why does it have to be so complicated?

Even if one were to agree that there should have an income tax, there is no excuse for the length of the IRS Tax Code. It is a gargantuan, byzantine labyrinth of a legal document that is so convoluted and contradictory that one has to spend hours and hours of one’s personal time to properly submit their tax return in the same way a person has to bushwhack their way through a jungle or be driven to  get a tax llm  just to file. It also favors three distinct groups: individuals who can afford to hire a tax lawyer to take advantage of loopholes, the politicians who wrote the tax code themselves, or those who are eligible for the various tax breaks and tax credits. A law that every working American has to follow should be simple to understand and should be applied equally.

For example, the income tax during World War II was much more simple and easy to navigate. A  1943 propaganda cartoon made by Disney showed the income tax at the time asked only two simple questions: How much money did you make and how many dependents did you have? (Skip to 2:52 if you want to see where Donald Duck fills it out).

There were no loopholes, no tax credits or breaks.

During the war, it was imperative that the government receive a steady stream of income, and they couldn’t afford to have such a confusing system as the one we have now. Granted, it was designed for a mass audience and was actually more time-consuming than they portrayed, but it is infinitely better than what we have at the moment.

4. Why can’t we just have a sales tax?

A sales tax would work just like a state sales tax. It would be more anonymous, efficient, simple and less costly to both Americans and the federal government. There would be no need for the bullying, secret police-like tactics of IRS agents and allow Americans to have maintain their privacy. Additionally, for those who are concerned about loopholes and unfair tax breaks, it is impossible to get around a sales tax, unless the sale is conducted unofficially or you simply choose to not conduct a sale. Much of the workforce employed to deal with taxes, such as tax attorneys, would be diverted to more productive enterprises.

5. Why do citizens owe the government a part of their incomes?

The income tax essentially says that the government deserves a portion of the money its citizens earn. Note that this is different from a sales tax, which is is dependent on how much a person spends. An income tax is based on one’s productivity, not consumption.

The totalitarian logic that the government owns the fruits of its citizens’ labor is evident when politicians use double-speak expressions like “we can’t afford a tax cut.” The implications is that the government owns your money and an income tax is not what it takes, but what it holds onto. The rest of the money, the money you receive from your work or business, is what the government “allows” you to keep.

Furthermore, this has led to the discussion of whether private citizens are paying their “fair share” of taxes to the government; the inference is communist/socialist at its core. You, the citizen, owe the “collective” a certain part of your earnings, and it is the job of the collective to make certain that you are fulfilling your obligations. The money does not belong to you, even though you earned it. There is no concrete definition of what constitutes as being “fair,” “wealthy,” and “rich,” however, so politicians self-appoint themselves as the judge of what those terms mean and, more importantly, to whom the rules apply and do not apply.

And in an appropriately Orwellian fashion, when it comes to the federal income tax, all working Americans have to pay the income tax, but some Americans pay more federal income tax than others, or all of it. Almost half of American taxpayers don’t pay the income tax, and they’re not from the top half (this doesn’t include payroll tax and other taxes, though). According to the IRS, in 2009, the top one percent(ers) paid 36.7 percent of all federal individual income taxes, but earned only 16.9 percent of adjusted gross income.

6. Where in the Bible can one justify instituting an income tax?

(Note: This is not a question for non-Christians, i.e. free-thinkers, secularists, libertarians. It’s for Christians who think the income tax is necessary or good)

As Christians, we’re commanded to obey the law and pay (as little as possible) the taxes imposed on us by the government. But nowhere does it say that we have to like those taxes or believe they are ethical, practical, or moral. Nor does it prohibit us from doing everything within our power to abolish them in a legal and nonviolent manner. As Christians, our wealth and the income we earn belong to God, not to the government or the “collective.”

And it’s interesting to see how God regards the income tax throughout Scriptures. The only tax instituted specifically by God occurs in Leviticus and Numbers, when he commands the Israelites to give the Levites a tithe (a tenth) as compensation for their ceremonial work and because they were not allocated land like the other 11 tribes were. The prophet Samuel even warned the Israelites not to appoint a king because, among other things, he would institute the historical equivalent of an income tax (1 Samuel 8:10-18).