Monday, March 18, 2013

A Call To Arms For Tax Accountants

Accountancy  always suffers the reputation for being boring and dreary. "We pore through arcane pages of tax law to find out how to slightly alter the deductions on some or other special purpose entity! What could be more thrilling?"

Okay, so the day-to-day business of accounting might not be fun. But the purpose of it can be made much more exciting - I help free citizens cheat the government out of ill-deserved tax revenues! Pro-tax-avoidance types are often fond of quoting Judge Learned Hand on this point:
"Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands."
This is good, as far as it goes. It has some resemblance, although imprecise, to the standard defence of capitalism - sure, this whole greed thing is bad, but capitalism channels it towards socially beneficial purposes. Here, the equivalent is that everyone tries to pay less tax, and so you don't need to feel bad about that.

In other words, your desire to keep your own money is widespread, so obey the law, but otherwise feel free to keep your own cash. Sound advice, but not exactly uplifting. You wouldn't want to be trying to inspire people to man the barricades with that. The big missing piece is an explanation for why exactly 'all do right' by avoiding taxes. Judge Hand never really tells us why that is.

What you really want, rather, is the tax avoidance equivalent of the Ayn Rand argument for capitalism, which phrased it as a morally correct system, rather than as a morally fraught but practically effective system. Rand's argument, which is relevant here too, is essentially that all interactions between men either happen by voluntary contract, as epitomised by money, or at the point of a gun. Thus capitalism is in fact a morally uplifting system, rewarding men's ingenuity for satisfying the desires of other men, and providing value in exchange for value.

And to get the tax-avoidance version of that, you need the great Lysander Spooner:
All political power, so called, rests practically upon this matter of money. Any number of scoundrels, having money enough to start with, can establish themselves as a "government"; because, with money, they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort more money; and also compel general obedience to their will. It is with government, as Caesar said it was in war, that money and soldiers mutually supported each other; that with money he could hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort money. So these villains, who call themselves governments, well understand that their power rests primarily upon money. With money they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort money. And, when their authority is denied, the first use they always make of money, is to hire soldiers to kill or subdue all who refuse them more money.
For this reason, whoever desires liberty, should understand these vital facts, viz.: 1. That every man who puts money into the hands of a "government" (so called), puts into its hands a sword which will be used against him, to extort more money from him, and also to keep him in subjection to its arbitrary will. 2. That those who will take his money, without his consent, in the first place, will use it for his further robbery and enslavement, if he presumes to resist their demands in the future. 3. That it is a perfect absurdity to suppose that any body of men would ever take a man's money without his consent, for any such object as they profess to take it for, viz., that of protecting him; for why should they wish to protect him, if he does not wish them to do so? To suppose that they would do so, is just as absurd as it would be to suppose that they would take his money without his consent, for the purpose of buying food or clothing for him, when he did not want it. 4. If a man wants "protection," he is competent to make his own bargains for it; and nobody has any occasion to rob him, in order to "protect" him against his will. 5. That the only security men can have for their political liberty, consists in their keeping their money in their own pockets, until they have assurances, perfectly satisfactory to themselves, that it will be used as they wish it to be used, for their benefit, and not for their injury. 6. That no government, so called, can reasonably be trusted for a moment, or reasonably be supposed to have honest purposes in view, any longer than it depends wholly upon voluntary support.
Quite so.

Tomorrow, I'm off to my accountant to find out how to squeeze every possible deduction| out of my tax returns. Do your patriotic duty and take back every cent you can from the megatherion in Washington!

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