Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Irwin Schiff demonstrated the true nature of taxation

Irwin Schiff died last Friday. He was 87 years old, legally blind and had skin and lung cancer. He ended his days shackled to a hospital bed guarded by federal prison officers, having been incarcerated since 2003. His family had appealed in the last few months for his release on compassionate grounds, so he could die with them around him, but the Federal Government denied their request.

What was Irwin Schiff's crime that was so heinous the US Government still considered this terminally-ill, completely incapacitated old man too much of a threat to release? Was he a terrorist or a serial killer? No, he was nothing of the sort - his crime was that he had refused to file an income tax return. The accounts I have read previously about Schiff suggested that he probably did not even owe any income tax (although his convictions included tax evasion for an arbitrarily assessed amount of income).  His refusal to file the return was based on his sincere belief that the Federal Income Tax was unconstitutional (he believed the constitution only for allowed corporate and sales taxes) and that the demand to file a tax return was a violation of the Fifth Amendment prohibition on self-incrimination.

Schiff was almost certainly mistaken in his interpretation of the legality of the income tax (even his lawyers argued in court that he was conscientiously mistaken) and, much as I support his cause, even I think he was foolish as his treatment at the hands of the US Government was entirely predictable. But Schiff made a stand on principle and you have to admire him for that. More importantly, he demonstrated a very important point - that the moral basis for taxation is entirely questionable.

Taxation is the forcible expropriation of people's income and wealth - and the key word is 'forcible'. Politicians of all political persuasions like to refer to taxation euphemistically, as President Obama does when he says we should "ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more" or "give something back", but there is no asking or giving involved. Taxation is not voluntary - it is extorted from the population with threats of violence, and they are not idle threats, as we see in Irwin Schiff's case and the many jail sentences handed out to New Zealanders for tax evasion in recent years.

I don't expect the vast majority of people who accept the need for an income tax system will change their views on the basis of Irwin Schiff's experience, but I think they should understand and accept that what was done to Schiff was entirely consistent with their view on the morality of income tax. An elderly, incapacitated man chained to a hospital bed is the obvious end state for anyone who choses to defy the rapacious tax-gathering state and people should be honest enough to admit it.

If you would like to know more about Irwin Schiff, read the fitting tribute written by his son, Peter Schiff, on Zero Hedge or Not PC's blog.

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