Is the Income Tax Voluntary?
JULY 01, 2010 by SHELDON RICHMAN
I know ev’rybody earns; And I carefully compare it with the income-tax returns;”
—W. S. Gilbert, Princess Ida
April is the cruellest month, for reasons other than what T. S. Eliot had in mind. This is the month in which you must account for yourself to Caesar. The authorities, having relieved you of a goodly portion of your earnings before you even caressed the banknotes between your fingers, now demand you show cause why you should not remit still more.
And in further demonstration of the principle that the citizen in this beloved democracy is the master and the government the mere servant, you are requested to affix your signature beneath these calming words: “Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct, and complete.”
Those who deem such threats—I mean words—harsh have clearly not visited the friendly IRS website. There you will find much useful information, including the “truth about frivolous tax arguments.” These are the sundry claims that no American citizen is legally obliged to pay the income tax.
The first “frivolous argument” is that the income tax is voluntary: “Proponents point to the fact that the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary.” Considering the source of the argument, it might seem something more than frivolous. But, alas, the government subscribes to the Humpty-Dumptian philosophy of language found in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’”
As the IRS explains, “The word ‘voluntary,’ as used in Flora [v. United States] and in IRS publications, refers to our system of allowing taxpayers to determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate returns, rather than have the government determine tax for them. . . . [T]he court clearly states, ‘although Treasury regulations establish voluntary compliance as the general method of income tax collection, Congress gave the Secretary of the Treasury the power to enforce the income tax laws through involuntary collection.’” And if one should choose not to volunteer to determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate returns?
But I risk frivolity, don’t I? And we all know the penalty for that.
* * *
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