Reformists believe that taxes are unfair, and the code that lays down the rules are too complicated. Some want them both abolished all together. One thing is certain -- we all hate paying them, but what would happen if we stopped? If you wanted to ask Rick Stanley that question, you'd have to wait until visiting hours begin. Stanley is one of a number of anti-tax activists, but he's not in jail for thumbing his nose at the IRS. He's fighting a 2004 conviction for attempting to influence a public official -- meaning anything from bribery to threats -- and his subsequent six year prison sentence.
Stanley lives on the fringe of tax-reform in his belief that the government has no legal authority to tax its population at all, and urges all people to follow his lead by telling the IRS to take a hike -- and he's not alone.
A rally was held in 2002 by a group called We The People Congress -- of which Stanley is a member -- where a disturbing and threatening message was handed to the federal government by a few hundred activists: "obey the Constitution, or else."
Four years later, the federal government is still taxing and spending, while a number of We The People's members have been tried and convicted of tax fraud.
Trina Thi Jesson received three years of probation after agreeing to repay a portion of nearly $450,000 owed on unpaid taxes by her and her husband just this week, while George Jesson is currently serving a 27-month prison term. Both were aligned with We The People.
The Anti-Defamation League considers their group to be an extremist right-wing organization that fights the government on many other constitutional fronts such as limiting the carrying of firearms. The group vigorously denies the label.
One alternative to outright abandonment of taxation that is gaining traction in the United States involves doing away with income taxes, and replacing it with a national sales tax. As is usually the case in life, many of these plans have their downsides, with a national sales tax having a disproportionate effect on the poor who would actually be paying more under the new system given existing tax breaks for low-income families.
The national sales tax is supported by a number of prominent politicians and think-tanks such as the CATO institute, but seems unlikely to be implemented anytime soon in such a cold political climate.
The consumption tax alternative is a sign of progress if not simply because it is being discussed in the halls of Congress and to at least to some degree, gaining national attention. It may not be the solution, but it's a starting point in finding a solution.
The anti-tax fringe should take a long hard look at what our country would look like if they got their way, however. Without any federal taxation, state and local municipalities would probably collapse outright without subsidies. Federal entities that often go under appreciated in protecting the health and safety of America would disappear.
Without the Federal Aviation Administration, it would be advisable to begin wearing a parachute on your long business flights, as there would be no real incentive for the already cash strapped airlines to continue ensuring their aircraft are in proper working condition with the latest -- if even extravagant -- safety systems available anywhere in the world.
Your life expectancy would also plummet, as with no national system for tracking aircraft, it's far more likely that you'd simply be smashed into a gum-like substance upon impact with another plane, just before your remains are incinerated in the ensuing fireball -- as opposed to simply crashing into the ground because somebody decided an engine rated to go 10,000 hours between maintenance checks could go 20,000 instead.
Assuming you survived that vacation to Hawaii, you'd better get real good at predicting the weather, because NOAA would be history too.
The state governments may be able to keep up with local roads in dire need of repair, but the federal highways would deteriorate to the point of being utterly useless.
You could expect much larger classrooms in the future, with dried up federal subsidies there would be fewer teachers to go around.
Without the Federal Communications Commission, you can expect your phone bill to skyrocket as high as the telecommunications companies feel like taking it, and after a few years the radio spectrum would be so polluted with unregulated traffic that radios of all forms, probably including satellite, would turn to mush.
You'd want to get used to praying before every bite you take, without the FDA riding the food industries ass. Were you upset over the Spinach E. coli outbreak? Multiply that times 100,000 and you'll probably see more deaths from contamination than anything else.
These are extreme cases of a country that simply cannot function without a federal government, and there can be no federal government without federal taxation. Even the war-loving neo-cons wouldn't go that far, for it would cost them one of their favorite toys in the world: a strong national offense.
In a time when we have a military, and a police force that does away with the need for local militias to protect the security of our free states, killing federal taxation is the surest way to bring the 2nd amendment back into play. We would not be secure, free, healthy, or safe. We would in fact be ignorant, and most like dead.
For all the extra money we would have to spend that were not going to taxes, we would have to recreate all the things we lost in the process of freeing it up in the first place.
I like the idea of a national sales tax, if done in a way that makes sense for everyone in the country -- but not just a chosen few. I also think nobody would argue against reforming the tax code to make it easier to understand and obey.
For a bit of perspective on Stanley, he was being tried for carrying a firearm in a restricted area, even though it was a public space. After his conviction, he sent two district judges a "notice of order" that they face arrest and trial for treason by his militia if they did not reverse the judgment. He was arrested, tried, and convicted again for that stunt.
Not all anti-tax "extremists" are that extreme, and tax reformists are certainly neither.
Whomever you wish to side with, one thing will remain quite clear: to all of us, taxes will always suck. But they pay for the roads, schools, police, military, regulation and safety we take for granted.
Reform them if we must, but we need the services they pay more far than we need the extra few bucks to go shopping with.
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