On Satan’s Plan, Tax Edition

A couple days ago, I got a message from a friend, asking how I respond to people who claim that taxes are Satan’s plan. Honestly, my instinct would be to respond, “That’s stupid,” block the person on Twitter, and get on with my life.

But that doesn’t work in every circumstance. I mean, if your interlocutor is standing in the checkout line next to you, blocking isn’t really an issue. And if your interlocutor is, I don’t know, your father-in-law, calling him stupid may not be the optimal approach. (And honestly, if the person is speaking in good faith, dismissing them like that is rude and unfair.[fn1])

So how would I address a good faith assertion that taxation is Satan’s plan? Depending on the person, I’d probably take one of a couple routes:

What Is Satan’s Plan?

The first thing I’d do, probably, is ask the person to explain what they understand Satan’s plan to be. Based on my many years of being Mormon and attending church, my guess is they’ll say something to the effect of, Satan’s plan was to take away people’s agency so that they would all be saved.[fn2]

(There’s no guarantee that they’ll answer like that, of course. And if they say something like, Satan’s plan was to impose a graduated income tax on people, well, you might just have to walk away from that conversation, because I don’t really know where you’d go from there.)

Once you get to the definition, there are two main points that I’d draw out, though the order probably doesn’t matter.

Consequences Don’t Eliminate Agency. As best I can tell, the assertion that taxes = loss of agency = Satan’s plan relies on the fact that if you don’t pay your taxes, you’ll face punishment by the government.

And that’s absolutely true.[fn3] You’ll most likely face interest and penalties calculated based on the amount by which you underpay. In certain circumstances, you may even face criminal prosecution. But the coercive power of the government can certainly be brought to bear on you if you underpay.

I’m not clear, though, on how that vitiates agency. You retain the ability to not file tax returns, to not pay your taxes, or to not pay the full amount you want. There is literally nobody standing over you, forcing your hand to write a check.[fn4]

Nope. You have full agency when it comes to paying taxes. You can pay your taxes, or you can choose not to pay them and face the consequences.

And the idea that the choices we make with our agency have consequences we can’t control is fully consonant with Mormon theology. We read it in 2 Nephi:

 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

We read it in For the Strength of Youth:

While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences. Whether for good or bad, consequences follow as a natural result of the choices you make. Some sinful behavior may bring temporary, worldly pleasure, but such choices delay your progress and lead to heartache and misery. Righteous choices lead to lasting happiness and eternal life. Remember, true freedom comes from using your agency to choose obedience; loss of freedom comes from choosing disobedience.

We can even read it in contemporary General Authority discourse. For instance:

 We are commanded to keep the laws of God, and a way is provided for us to be obedient to each of them. While we may use our agency to obey or to disobey, we are not free to choose the consequences of our disobedience.

All Laws Are Coercive. Further, the coercive power of the state underlies all law. How do taxes differ from, for example, laws against murder? Against property crimes? Laws that enforce contracts? I mean, those laws don’t prevent individuals from murdering, from steal, or from breaking contracts. But if taxes are so coercive as to eliminate our agency, all law must be equally agency-stealing and, as such, Satanic.

The Church Officially Supports Taxation

I mean, it hasn’t weighed in on things like the optimal tax rate or the optimal tax base. But the church requires its members to pay their taxes to remain in good standing.[fn5] From Handbook 2:

 Church members who refuse to file a tax return, pay required income taxes, or comply with a final judgment in a tax case are in direct conflict with the law and with the teachings of the Church. Such members may be ineligible for a temple recommend and should not be called to positions of principal responsibility in the Church. Members who are convicted of willfully violating tax laws are subject to Church discipline to the extent warranted by the circumstances.

I mean, it strikes me as deeply improbable that if the church is God’s true church, it would assert that members who fail to comply with Satan’s plan would be in direct conflict with the church’s teachings. It doesn’t seem too far a step to see the church’s support of taxpaying as evidence that taxes are not, in fact, Satan’s plan. And, in fact, Rex Lee quoted President Harold B. Lee for just that conclusion:

For me, the most consistently dismaying lack of individual integrity in this respect is the failure of rather large numbers of American citizens to pay their income taxes. Equally dismaying are the reasons given by some of these people. The two most common are that the income tax is either unconstitutional or (in the case of some LDS Church members) inconsistent with gospel principles. Each of these positions is absurd…. And the notion that the anti-income tax position is rooted in gospel principles is equally insupportable in light of President Harold B. Lee’s statement describing as “vicious and wicked” the practice of those “who are taking the law into their own hands by refusing to pay their income tax because they have some political disagreement with constituted authorities.”

In President Lee’s (the prophet, not the university president) full statement, he calls those who refuse to pay their taxes “wolves among the flock, trying to lead some who are weak and unwary among Church members,” not an auspicious statement of support for the idea that taxes are Satan’s plan.

Will taking these two lines of discussion be more productive than just saying, “That’s stupid” and hitting the block button? No idea—I don’t know your in-laws, after all—but it’s at least worth the conversation.


[fn1] Yeah, I agree that there are limited circumstances in which someone could make that assertion in good faith. But there are, nonetheless, circumstances where they might. Like, an old high school acquaintance of mine once mentioned on Facebook that he thought the income tax didn’t apply to him, based on some kind of (tbf, stupid) tax protestor argument. But he didn’t have a background in law or tax—he’d heard something that matched his worldview and that was phrased convincingly. A simple explanation of how the tax law works and why what he’d heard was wrong—one that wasn’t judgmental or condescending—put that wrong idea to rest.

[fn2] I don’t think that’s an inarguable reading: I think, based on Moses 4:1-2, that you’d have decent ground to argue that one of the principal problems with the plan Satan presented was that he wanted the glory. That seems to be a significant difference between what he proposes and what Jesus proposes. The idea of agency doesn’t really come up until the next verse, when Narrator God says Satan would eliminate people’s agency. Still, while I think parsing that is interesting, it’s likely irrelevant to the question of whether taxation is Satan’s plan.

[fn3] Well, it’s at least theoretically true. In practice, there’s at least a decent chance you won’t face significant consequences. In 2017, the IRS only audited 0.5% of tax returns. I mean, if you don’t file a return, or your income doesn’t match your W-2 and your 1099s, you’re probably more likely to be audited, but still: 0.5%.

[fn4] Sure, wage withholding, but you can minimize or eliminate that if you want. (You shouldn’t, but you can.) Or you can choose not to earn money (or own property, if you think the property tax is Satan’s plan, or buy stuff if you’re worried the problem is the sales tax).

[fn5] Well, income taxes, at least (though the previous paragraph, discussing members’ obligations to pay their taxes doesn’t limit itself to income tax). I’ve always found that interesting, though I suspect it’s not creating an intentional difference between income and other taxes as much as it is reflecting on the fact that whoever drafted the Handbook wasn’t a tax policy person.

Comments

  1. Michael H. says:

    A small distinction: the reason I’ve most often heard for taxation being “Satan’s plan” is not that it brings about consequences, but that it obligates someone to do good; by their account, all contributions to the general welfare should be freewill offerings.

    Of course, this still fails against your argument: “Well, isn’t punishing murder obligating people not to kill, and thereby do some good in not killing?” But I do think the distinction is important.

  2. Thanks, Michael. I thought about differentiating affirmative and negative laws. But I decided not to bother: they’re essentially the same. Speed limits, for instance, can be framed as a prohibition against going faster than 55, or an affirmative requirement to drive 55 or slower. Laws against assault prohibit you from hitting someone, but they also obligate you to keep some degree of composure if you’re insulted. I known that’s a justification that some people use to differentiate, but I don’t think it stands up to even the lightest scrutiny.

    Moreover, presumably a Satanic guarantee of salvation would include both preventing us from doing bad things and obligating us to do good things, so I’m not sure the distinction works on the theological side, either.

  3. Aussie Mormon says:

    Michael: The non-free will offering thing is addressed in Mosiah 21:17
    “Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain.”

    In relation to Sam’s post, I would say that based on the NT Gospels (the “render unto Caesar bit), Jesus wasn’t against taxes enough to tell them not to pay them. Then point them to Sam’s book “God and the IRS”.

  4. Thanks, Aussie! I hadn’t thought about Mosiah in this regard, but that should definitely be added to the tax-isn’t-Satan’s-plan canon.

  5. Are we actually having this conversation?

  6. Steven Quinn says:

    A few things – (1) the Church handbook isn’t scripture, (2) President Lee’s opinion isn’t scripture, (3) there’s no revelation anywhere that anyone can point to in which the Lord settles this. What this comes across as is desperate statists arguing in favor of demanding total obedience to any and all authoritarian edicts that come from their oppressive government, and that God doesn’t like you if you don’t. You could just as easily point to a slew of statements in scriptures or from modern prophets that support an opposite position. A few examples are Ezra Taft Benson’s Proper Role of Government, which explains that government can’t take your money if your neighbor can’t, Joseph Fielding Smith stating that the world’s governments including that of the USA are run by Satan himself, the evil of King Noah in taxing his people 20% when our current taxes total far higher here in the USA, the teachings about the Founding Fathers being righteous in their rebellion against the British Empire – which was far less tyrannical than the US government currently is, and much more. That last one is in the Book of Mormon even. How about instead of arguing in favor of what’s essentially the same as muggers on the street (“give me your wallet” – at the point of a gun or knife), you try liberty and respect for agency and freedom of choice.

  7. To play devils advocate (or tax collectors advocate?) King Noah’s taxation certainly is worded in a way which makes it appear to be evil. He taxed the people at 1/5th of their increase. So perhaps taxation is only part of Satan’s plan if it’s greater than 19% of income?

  8. Obviously, p, as the comment directly below yours points out. Wow!

  9. Michael H. says:

    Aussie Mormon: I’ve never heard that verse referenced in this context; thanks for the suggestion!

  10. Learned a lot from this post. Thanks.

  11. Steven, that’s stupid.

    jader3rd, I’m all in favor of people playing devil’s advocate. FTR, I’ve addressed the question of King Noah and a 20% tax before (https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2011/07/king-noah-and-burdensome-taxes/). The tl;dr version—I’m skeptical that the story is trying to teach us anything about taxes. It leaves out way too many details to be helpful. What type of tax is it? We don’t know if it’s an income tax, a property tax, a wealth tax, a financial transactions tax, or what. What’s the tax base? is it all property? Is it livestock? Is it grain? What’s the tax period? Honestly, you’d probably prefer to pay a 20% tax imposed on your wealth once in your life than a 2% tax imposed on your income monthly.

    Instead, I suspect the 20% is meant to contrast with King Benjamin, and possibly with Samuel’s warning about a king in 1 Sam. 8:15, where Samuel says a king will take 1/10 of their grain. Noah is a super-bad king (twice as bad as what Samuel warned about), because he’s taking 1/5.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    Jader3rd, I’ve heard that before, but it seems like a comparison that is broken. The BoM was fairly clear that King Noah wasn’t using those taxes to build roads or run schools.

  13. What if tithing were collected in the same way as taxes?

  14. “King Noah wasn’t using those taxes to build roads or run schools.”

    No doubt, but less than 10% of (US) taxes are used for these things either.

  15. When I’ve seen people comment that taxes are “Satan’s plan” they often explain it is “forced charity”—taking away our free agency.

    Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk a few years ago where he stated that people confuse agency with freedom. Agency is not conditional on earth. We all have agency on earth. But, in contrast to agency, our freedom can be taken away.

    We have choices— but with choices come consequences. Consequences don’t mean we lack agency.

  16. I think it’s important always to include the idea of the social contract in these discussions. Not paying taxes that are the result of a democratic process is to reject the social contract, which means rejecting the privileges of citizenship.

  17. You can’t tax me. I’ve thrown off the shackles of the corporation created for me at birth and refuse to write my name in ALL CAPS. The only legal authority I recognize is the sheriff. Also, something about the fringe on the flag…

    I know this isn’t the forum, but I’d love to see you do intellectual battle with a SovCit. It’s like nailing jello to a wall, but it would be entertaining to witness.

  18. J. Stapley says:

    jpv, I was making a point to distinguish what the BoM said he did with the “taxes.” That seems to me to be the point of the narrator.

  19. So many thoughts….but I just share this little sort of related experience. Many years ago I was eating at a restaurant with another church member. As we were settling up the bill she stated that she wouldn’t tip more than 10% because she shouldn’t have to give anyone more than she gave God. I could think of a lot of times she paid more than she tithed but I zipped my lips and paid the tip.

  20. The scripture that I think is most on point is “render unto Caesar.” That’s literally a story of the savior answering this exact question. In that case, the Jews were occupied by the hostile Roman forces, and he still said they should pay tribute to Caesar.

    The real underlying question in this is whether the American dream and capitalist-based meritocracy are “God’s way” of governing. People who claim taxes are Satan’s plan have often mistaken their political values for religious ones from what I’ve seen. They like to think they can earn their way into heaven with their good deeds and that they deserve all the blessings and privileges they’ve received in life (and the flip side is true–the poor deserve their poverty because of their sins and weaknesses).

  21. Dsc, I cannot comprehend your comment. Care to translate?

    Sam, love the post, as usual.

    Like Lois, I think that when church members decry income tax as Satan’s plan, they are usually really protesting elements of the welfare state or programs that typically come from Democrats. I heard a lot about this in the Obama years, especially regarding health care, but also environmental programs and welfare. Church members are usually okay paying taxes to fund elements of police state, especially immigration enforcement and military.

  22. ljhopkins2 says:

    Angela C (and others citing the scripture), the “render unto Caesar” story is not an endorsement by Jesus of taxation. It’s about whether God’s or Caesar’s mutually exclusive claims to supremacy were valid, and about the proper allegiance of the Pharisees. It was about idolatry. So whatever you think about taxes in modern society, that passage offers no support for the idea that Jesus thought it was a moral obligation to pay them.

  23. ljhopkins2, if be cautious about being overly certain in my interpretation. The last time I checked (which was fairly recently), there was no school consensus about the meaning of “render into Caesar.” It could well be that Jesus was just talking about idolatry. Otoh, He may have been signaling non-overlapping sovereigns, which is essentially what Angela’s saying. He may be implying that everything is God’s. He may be saying, Pay your taxes, because the kingdoms of Earth are going to be destroyed soon, so it doesn’t matter. But using it to support the idea that taxes aren’t somehow impermissible is comfortably within the range of plausible interpretations.

  24. Rockwell,

    It’s a reference to the “sovereign citizen” movement of tax protesters/conspiracy theorists. If the arguments seem incomprehensible, that’s because they are. The ideas are kooky-dooks and rely on an understanding of the law that does not remotely reflect the way the law actually works.

  25. Handlewithcare says:

    What if I choose to pay my taxes?

  26. Steven, the Handbooks of General Instructions may not be scripture but they do represent inspired instruction from the currently sustained Prophet of the Church:

    From Pres Oaks’ talk at the 2010 Worldwide Leadership Training when the latest complete revision of the handbooks were released:

    “While handbooks do not have the same standing as the scriptures, they do represent the most current interpretations and procedural directions of the Church’s highest authorities. As President Monson just said, “They have been read and reread, corrected and reread.” Under the direction of the First Presidency, individual chapters were written, read, and approved by the Presiding Bishopric, by the general auxiliary officers, and by General Authorities assigned to the various Church departments. The proposed text was then reviewed and approved by the Quorum of the Twelve, assisted by the Presidency of the Seventy. Finally, the total text was read, modified, and approved by the First Presidency. Throughout this work we have been guided by a sweet spirit of inspiration. We know that these handbooks and their directions, as President Monson has said and as is stated in their introductions, “can facilitate revelation if they are used to provide an understanding of principles, policies, and procedures to apply while seeking the guidance of the Spirit.”

    Additionally, Sam I’m surprised you didn’t cite Article of Faith 12 which states we believe in honoring and sustaining the law. Last time I checked the laws of the land require payment of State and Federal taxes as outlined in specific statutes.

  27. ljhopkins2 says:

    Sam Brunson

    That there’s no consensus in the literature doesn’t make all plausible interpretations good ones. Most of the scholarship ignores the halakhic nature of the question and Jesus’ response, which, in my view, seriously undermines interpretations that focus on the “render unto Caesar” half of the answer or that assume his response, after the visual demonstration with the coin, to be a direct response to the original question. Though it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a Christian being able to pay taxes, it can hardly be seen as an endorsement of them.

    This article is valuable along this line of reasoning: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1561422

  28. Jonathan Cavender says:

    As a far-right conservative in this discussion, you might be surprised to know that I agree with you. I can remember attending a CLE at BYU where the speaker was Justice Griffith. One of the questions he was asked, as he was in the same Ward as Senator Reid, was how Senator Reid still had a temple recommend (I think Senator Reid was actually on the High Council at that point).

    Justice Griffith correctly dispensed with the claim in a sentence:

    “As far as I know the Lord has no revealed doctrine on the ideal top marginal tax rate.”

    Look, I think taxation is wildly overinflated. I think any taxation over the ideal point of the Laffer Curve is nothing more than envy-based theft (it doesn’t increase revenue — it only serves to take money from those that ‘shouldn’t have it’ or ‘don’t need it’). I think regulations and taxation breeds rent-seekers, crony capitalism is the worst combination of the downsides of both authoritarianism and capitalism, and the dole is horribly destructive to just about all of those who receive it (any minor harms it causes to those from whom the taxes are taken is only incidental and of little consequence) and should only be offered when the extensive damage of the cure is exceeded by an even greater damage from the circumstances. But that is based, solely, on my understanding of good government and history. I make my arguments, and hope to persuade enough others to agree to enact the legislation that I think works.

    What I don’t do is say that God is on my side in the argument. I hope I am on His side (though I don’t know that I am — truth is truth and if I can side with truth then I am on the side of God), but He certainly hasn’t revealed to me that I’ve particularly gotten it all right. I also don’t have any evidence that God is on the other side, either — if I did, it would be incumbent upon me to change my position to be in line with what He has revealed (I have had to do that on immigration to get myself in line with the doctrine despite intellectually viewing things differently).

    As Abraham Lincoln once said (paraphrasing) we often spend too much time trying to convince others that the Lord is on our side when instead we should spend our time trying to be on the Lord’s side. Or, as I like to say, I am fine with a Latter-Day Saint who happens to be a Republican or a Latter-Day Saint who happens to be a Democrat, but I have no time for a Republican who happens to be a Latter-Day Saint or a Democrat who happens to be a Latter-Day Saint. When you are trying to follow the Gospel, ideas of good governance can vary. But when your politics (on either side) displaces the Gospel, it is a mess.

  29. Jonathan Cavender
    We can agree that crony capitalism is something to be avoided. (Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia, Ukriaine and Malaysia are rated as the most “cronyistic”).

    Have the recent decreases in corporate tax rates resulted in an increase in revenue?
    “Federal tax revenue declined 0.4% in 2018, the first full calendar year under the new tax law, despite robust economic growth and the lowest unemployment rate in nearly five decades.”
    (Wall Street Journal Feb 2019)

    “Developing and transition countries spend an average of 1.5 percent of GDP on safety net programs. Europe and Central Asia currently spends the most, with average spending of 2.2 percent of GDP; the Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean regions are in the middle of the spending range; and the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia regions spend the least, at 1.0 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.”

    Question: which of the above countries/region of the world would you choose to live?

    What puzzles me is why there are so many in our church (which sends missionaries to many parts of the world) looking negatively at taxes for a social safety net. One would think, instead, that we would understand that “luck” plays a role in our lives, beginning with the circumstances of one’s birth and be thankful that we live in a society where we vote to contribute to a social safety net for those in need. Of course, there will always be those (a small minority) who take “advantage” of the system, but isn’t it better to “err” on the side of aid rather than turning those in need away?

  30. The reason, of course, that so few Americans are audited is because the Republicans have gutted the IRS’s budget, thus making it easier for tax evaders to escape unscathed and reducing our government revenues at the same time, thus increasing our staggering national debt. They only care about the debt when a Democrat is in the White House. But with a recession looming, we are in a terrible financial position to provide stimulus to keep the economy from tanking. Thanks, Trumpettes. Thanks, too, for your climate-science denial, your enlightened immigration policies, your devotion to the NRA, and your determination to take health insurance away from as many Americans as possible.

  31. Just a random dude says:

    I know I’m late to the party but I think it’s worth putting in a plug for D&C 134. IMHO it doesn’t get near enough play in discussions related to government/politics/taxation, etc. Here are a few non-earth shattering but oft-overlooked guiding principles that I believe are relevant to this discussion:
    1. Government and Religion (i.e. the Kingdom of God) are distinct entities with distinct purposes (see 134:1-4)
    2. Human laws, such as those governing taxation, are “instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man….” (134:6)
    3. Divine laws are “given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.” (134:6)

    My take away (and I think history supports this)- it is a fool’s errand to render Human laws Divine or, conversely, to render Divine laws Human (see 134:9). More often than not such efforts represent a rhetorical device employed to achieve a political agenda (if there is a violation of Divine laws in the political process this is probably it).

    Looking at the “render unto Caesar” discussion in the light of D&C 134, Christ is saying in essence that he is not concerned with Caesar’s lesser, eternally-meaningless, jurisdiction.He is concerned with the Kingdom of God and the relationship between man and his Maker.

    Instituting and enforcing laws that govern human interaction is messy. At the end of the day, humans are fallible and the laws, structures of government, social policies, tax schemes, etc. that we institute are inherently flawed. There is nothing wrong with advocating alternatives in an effort to improve the human condition. There is, however, a problem when fallible humans seek to inject personal interpretations of Divine law (or in the case of “Satan’s Plan”, the antithesis to Divine law) into the laws that govern the diverse mortal interests of humankind.

    TLDR – God is not concerned about tax policy and there is nothing inherently evil or Satanic about a society’s chosen method (or lack) of taxation. Render unto Caesar. Render unto God.

  32. I remember first hearing vulgar libertarianism (taxation is theft!) some 20 years ago from my older brother. It seemed then, as it does now, like utter nonsense and I would dismiss my brother’s arguments as hyperbole and part of the other hokum that he believed in (doctors are out to kill us, we need to eat natural food, and a whole host of conspiracy theories). Now I marvel at just how common it is for people (including many Utah Mormons) to believe this, as if the validity and necessity of the government is up for any debate. Governments, especially this day in age, simply are. If you don’t live under the US government, then you live under some other government to which you are to pay taxes. Even if you moved to an environment completely free of government control, say a deserted Pacific Island or the Amazon Rainforest, you would be forced to deal with mother nature, and if someone were there with you, then you would be forced to share space and resources. This idea that true freedom comes only the form of freedom from government is completely short-sighted and ridiculous, and fails to recognize how governments can and have protected, enabled, and increased individual freedoms.

    What is frustrating is that in the age of Trump, which coincides with the age of conspiracy theory, we are forced to come up with answers as to why governments, and consequently taxation, should exist. It used to be that you could dismiss the person asking this question as a kook, and they still are. But there are too many kooks nowadays and we are forced to engage them in conversations because they are taking over political parties and controlling the narrative on what I used to think was mainstream media. It is like having to explain why the sky is blue, and then being countered with barrage of questions of why, why, why.

  33. Pardon me if I am wrong, but I thought the idea that income taxes were wrong grew out of the fact they were expressly forbidden in the original US Constitution. It took an amendment to the Constitution to make them legal. And people were promised in the discussion that they would only affect the very rich. Never, ever anyone but the very rich. (So much for promises and the population foolish enough to believe them.)
    (Sort of like the lies told the Utah population that if they agreed to a law change allowing the police to ticket you for not wearing a seatbelt that the police could only ticket you if you were stopped for a different violation. This then morphed to no, you could be ticketed just for not wearing a seatbelt. I believe the current practice is that the fines for this violation go to the police retirement fund, giving the police plenty of incentive to ticket for something the population did not want to be ticketed for in the first place.)
    If you take the argument that the US Constitution was inspired by God, then amending it to change something the Founders decided needed to be expressly forbidden, is changing from God’s plan to Satan’s. That was the argument I have always heard. Whether the correct course is to throw the tea overboard, i.e. not pay your tax, or to elect people who will work within the system by electing different representatives is left up to the citizen.
    Personally, I believe in extremely progressive income taxes with the rich paying almost everything. After all, they have all the say-so; they should have to pay for it. Wasn’t this made abundantly clear when Hillary Clinton had to field a conference call with her major donors following her election loss. These donors wanted to know why they were not going to get what they had already paid for. I found this groveling they required of her one of the most telling stories of the election. I wish I knew what her loss did to donations to the Clinton Foundation. Lest you believe me a partisan Republican, I was equally disturbed by President Reagan accepting millions from Japan after he exited the presidency.

  34. Reagan got $2 million for a business trip to Japan where he made a few speeches. Not sure how much Carter and Ford received for their trips to Japan post presidency.
    And we actually need to discuss why people do not wish to pay taxes to support our government?
    By the way, it is gasoline tax that pays for the roads. You cannot get away from that if you buy gas. And property taxes pay for the schools. So get an electric car if you do not want to fund the roads. No way to avoid paying for the schools unless you are willing to be homeless.

  35. Diane, that may be where this idea came from (though I doubt it), but it’s entirely wrong in a bunch of regards.

    Principally, the Constitution expressly gives the federal government the ability to tax. It does limit the federal government’s ability to impose a direct tax; if it wants to collect a direct tax, it has to impose it proportionately (by population) to the various states.

    Is an income tax a direct tax? Current consensus is almost certainly not—direct taxes are taxes on real and (maybe) personal property. In 1894, when the Supreme Court found the income tax unconstitutional, it was because the income tax was wrapped up with various property taxes. (That is, current consensus is that the 16th Amendment probably wasn’t necessary.)

    Even if it was, though, and even if the Constitution had prohibited income taxes, it’s hard to translate that into wrong. The Constitution explains the steps we need to take to amend it, meaning it was never meant to be a static document. (In fact, the Bill of Rights wasn’t part of the original Constitution—the first 10 amendments were, in fact, amendments). Someone who stakes the claim that any changes to the original Constitution are somehow violative of a divine destiny would somehow reject women’s ability to vote, the prohibition on slavery, direct election of Senators, and all sorts of other things we take for granted.

  36. Sam Brunson, I am not sure why you believe Diane’s argument about the reasoning behind believing income taxes were wrong is not the source of today’s arguments. I was in high school in Utah almost 50 years ago and her reasoning was the reasoning people used then when I heard the issue discussed, as it was in my seminary class.
    We were taught the constitution was inspired by God. Yes, it allowed for amendments, but the Bill of Rights was put in to make explicit freedoms that the original framers had thought self-evident, but others believed needed to be spelled out. TheBill of Rights did not overturn any protections granted to the people
    in the original document. They strengthened those freedoms, not limited or refuted them.
    A federal income tax, by contrast, specifically granted to the federal government a power that the framers had prohibited to them. Therefore, the 16th Amendment was seen by some as overturning the inspiration God bestowed on the writers of the constitution.
    Women having the right to vote was left up to the states. People owning slaves was left up to the states. In other words, the Constitution limited the rights of the federal government to those granted it specifically. All other powers belonged to the states or the people. State government was thought to be more closely aligned with the will of the people and should be the place of power, not Washington, DC.
    Since then we have certainly moved toward consolidating power in the federal level of government, but some people when I was young and some people now do not see that just because we now take for granted that things are done one way, that it is the correct or inspired way. They still feel that rights not specifically granted the federal government do not belong on the federal level. That allowing the federal government to use income taxes to pay for grants given back to the states gives federal policy makers power over things that need to be controlled locally. It is too simplistic to call income taxes as Satan’s.
    But there is no doubt that people in Washington like to use the power of distributing tax monies back to the states to enforce their ideas as to what is acceptable. Dallin Oaks fought this when I was at BYU and the federal policy makers were threatening they would not send Social Security payments for children whose parents had died and were attending private schools that were not in compliance with Title 9. Also, they wanted to cut out federal scholarships for students in those colleges. This was a major issue in my apartment since five of the six residents received Social Security because our parents were deceased so I remember it well.
    The power to tax is the power to control and wasn’t that Satan’s plan?
    By the way, I prepare taxes for a living. Whole industries exist to make sure people do not pay their fair share. Anyone with any knowledge at all can manipulate their income and expenses to lower or eliminate their taxes. Truly, only the honest and the little people pay taxes. Everyone else claims whatever is necessary to get whatever the government is handing out. Amazing how people who do not give any money to charity can have 1,000 charitable miles to report every year. And how much those household items they donated to Goodwill were worth. And of course, one can have a business done strictly by cash whose income just hits the sweet spot for getting the maximum earned income credit for the child they are claiming they supported. And a one line expense item written on a Post-it note that covers the entire year’s expenses for their business of installing car radios.
    But my favorite was that up until this year, people in the entertainment business could write off their audition clothes, grooming, gym memberships and plastic surgery, if they appeared in front of a camera, even as a summer vacation extra whose real job as a state auditor earned them $120,000 a year. They were an auditor/actor!
    Satan’s tool? Not as far fetched as it seems.

  37. Francine, it’s definitely possible that the reasons Diane gives are the reasons given by people. My point is, those reasons are historically and legally wrong. The Constitution did not prohibit an income tax, and chances are it didn’t even prohibit an unproportionate income tax. Amendments are part of the fabric of the Constitution. So maybe that’s what people base their argument on, but if it is, they’re making a baseless and stupid argument.

    And do people cheat? Sure. But honestly, the tax gap isn’t huge in the U.S. Americans pay roughly 85% of the taxes they owe on time. Of course, people’s cheating, if anything, weakens the argument that taxes are Satan’s plan, because they demonstrate that we have real, legitimate agency in our taxpaying.

  38. Sam Brunson, I am not sure where you got the 85% of taxes paid on time. Maybe the firms I worked for dealt with more tax cheats than usual but I saw at least a third of the returns I prepared had dodgy expenses when I worked for a firm that specializes in people in entertainment. No one drives exactly 5,000 work miles and 1,000 charitable miles and 1,000 medical miles. The people filling out our forms just created the numbers out of thin air. They did not even know how to cheat convincingly!
    One client’s business manager wanted us to cancel all the business expenses he had reported to us when it gave him a business loss that disallowed his retirement deduction. He was angry when I explained I could not pretend he had not given us those numbers and he insisted on speaking with the manager in an attempt to change the tax outcome by lying on the return. If he gotten one of the other tax preparers, the numbers would have been changed because he would not have taken the chance of losing the client.
    I really loved the man who kept adjusting the date his grandchild had moved out to live with his daughter until the grandchild became a deduction. “Well, he really didn’t totally move out until July 10, not April 1, the way I first told you, or May 30, the second date I gave you.” People who did not like the answer you came up with would just take the information you gave them about what was deductible to another tax return business and give them the new answer.
    And don’t get me started on the people who file listing other people’s children as their dependents. The IRS finally got wise to that but not until it cost the government billions. (Did you know you can buy names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of children.These are worth up to $5,000 in refunds per child as earned income credits? Be careful who you share them with. The office clerks at pediatric dentists have been known to sell them.)
    So maybe the people compiling the statistics need to speak to some tax preparers. Or maybe Congress did a good thing in eliminating unreimbursed employee expenses. “Why yes I deducted my $40,000 facelift. I was an extra in a commercial and am trying to break into acting.” And it was good they changed the date they issue certain refunds so the real parents have time to file. But they did not make these changes without cause. And I have met some of these causes.
    Perhaps you know no one who works for the IRS. They have a department where the employees wear gloves because they process the returns our wonderful citizens urinate on. Tax cheats are not their worst problems.

  39. Ugh. I have a relative who works at the IRS processing center in Ogden, Utah. She told me about the special unit that stores returns in plastic bags because of what the taxpayers did with them. Yes, some pee on their returns when they file them.
    Do I think taxes are Satan’s plan? No. But I do think he influences congressmen and women to pass specific provisions that harm the poor, the uneducated and the foolish and reward greed and what I consider unscrupulous behavior. In other words, I believe the specific provisions of the tax code can harm our ability to establish a Zion society. I also believe the ability to tax income at any rate decided by Congress is being used by the government in Washington to coerce behavior that people would not otherwise practice and to undermine the balance of power between the states and the national government. I do not feel the founders of our government would appreciate how we have undermined the protections they put in place to protect our freedoms.

  40. “The Constitution limited the rights of the federal government to those granted it specifically. All other powers belonged to the states or the people”

    A gross misinterpretation of the Constitution. The Constitution never mentions the word “specifically.” The federal government maintains implied powers. The presidents most commonly revered as the greatest in US history by Americans, Lincoln and the Roosevelts, expanded the federal government’s outreach on the basis of the doctrine of implied powers. The greatest movements, abolition, civil rights movement, and workers’ rights movement, were undertaken on the basis of implied federal powers.

  41. Wow, Sam. This post really brought out a lot of unhinged anti-government and anti-tax people. Truly crazy. This is why we can’t have nice things like health care, a decent society that cares for the poor through more efficient channels of assistance that are available using government, modern infrastructure, better education for lower costs, pensions, and many more things like our friends and neighbors in all other developed, Western free market peer countries in Europe and Asia have through their understanding of social democracy and how it functions through graduated income taxation based on free markets and civil rights. Sad.

  42. John f, one thing I truly hate about Progressives is their labelling of others. “Unhinged?” Amazing that you cannot cope with others who believe differently from you. Certainly not enough to engage in a discussion with them. Better just to label and dismiss? Certainly faster.

  43. john f
    I must admit your characterizing the government as providing efficient channels of assistance gave me a laugh this morning. I have never seen the government provide anything efficiently. You appear to reside in LaLa Land.

  44. Left Field says:

    Henry, let’s have a race from New York to Los Angeles. I’ll drive on the federal Interstates and you can drive on private roads. Then when we get to LaLa Land, we can have a conversation about government efficiency.

  45. John W,
    I consider FDR one of the worst presidents we ever had. His attempt to pack the Supreme Court so he could stop it from thwarting his plans was a blatant power grab by one branch of government attempting to control another, independent power center, a direct violation of the constitution’s separation of powers.
    He was such a megalomaniac he had to die to finally be removed from power. His ridiculous belief that only he could see us through World War II led directly to all the poor decisions that gave Stalin control of eastern Europe as FDR negotiated from a position of failing health and competence. I am sure his belief in his own unfailing judgement would have convinced him no one else could have seen us through the dawning of the nuclear age and the spread of Communism. He would have been President for life, no matter how long that life had lasted. In order to keep anyone else so convinced of their own need to remain in office from doing so, we amended the constitution.
    Secondly,
    No one said the US Constitution used the word “specifically”. But the tenth amendment does reserve to the states and to the people all powers not given to the federal government. And it does so in very specific language or, in other words, specifically.

  46. Hey Left Field,
    I believe most private roads ceased to exist in the 19th century. Private enterprise rules the skies. I’ll fly using them. You take the government provided public roads. I’ll see you in about a week.

  47. Except, Henry, it works extremely well in all other developed, free market social democracies. We’re the outlier. It truly is more efficient, as is done in all other developed free market societies, to have a single distribution and payment framework for healthcare delivery. Far, far cheaper too. The difference is far fewer corporate executives enriching themselves off of pricing poor people out of essential healthcare.

  48. I’m getting a lot of practice with the phrase, but one more time: hey Henry, the assertion that the government doesn’t provide anything efficiently is stupid. Also, off-topic. Which is a pretty good batting average—stupid and off-topic.

    As for your flight: let’s see you take it without GPS, air traffic controllers, or publicly-funded airports.

  49. Left Field says:

    No doubt the reason private roads no longer exist is because they were found to be so much more efficient than the government-funded ones.

    And to follow up Sam’s comment, as you land at a private airstrip with no air traffic control, you may be taking your chances on a 737 MAX, since there’s now no inefficient FAA to ensure any level of airline safety. Also, no more of those inefficient pilot’s licenses or limitations on flying hours. And I know TSA is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, but after you eliminate security checks, the terrorists will also enjoy the increased efficiency. Happy flying!

  50. Henry, the 10th Amendment simply states a truism. That which the federal government doesn’t have power over the states and the people have power. It isn’t specific language at all. It simply confirms that the states do have powers that the federal government does not, which is true, and should rightfully be. Nowhere in the 10th Amendment nor the constitution does it dictate that the federal government must abide by a strict interpretation of it in taking action. Even the strongest proponent of a strict interpretation of the constitution, Thomas Jefferson, governed through implied powers as president. No clauses in the constitution specifically allowed him to undertake the Louisiana Purchase or lift the Embargo Act.

    Vulgar libertarians are much like the communists, believing firmly in some untenable utopia, never grounded in reality. The main difference between the vulgar libertarians and the communists is that communist experiments that were actually called communist experiments were tried in the past and mostly failed. A sort of vulgar libertarianism was tried in the past, only it wasn’t called libertarianism, it was called feudalism, and it too was a failure.

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