30: Paying up

taxesToday, we’re talking about paying up.

Specifically, should the option of opting out of taxes, both the paying of and benefits of, be an option?

Show notes and links:
From The Sea, Freedom (99 Percent Invisible)

Taxes Brought Down The Roman Empire, And They’ll Do The Same To America (Business Insider)

Full episode text

Sitting in the pews of CCD as a kid, I learned that in the days where BCE converted to CE (or BC and AD, for the traditionalists among you), a tax collector was considered to be one of the most shameful professions possible. In other words, not enjoying paying taxes is nothing new. And for as old as taxes are, attempts to avoid paying taxes are just as old.

In his book Decadent Societies, historian Robert Adams wrote, “[B]y the fifth century, men were ready to abandon civilization itself in order to escape the fearful load of taxes.”

Yet taxes also play an important role in the social contract that is our society – and a way to make use of the economies of scale that come in very handy.

There have been – and probably always will be – individuals that wish to opt out of paying the cost of a social contract, be it in financial costs or a cost of a different type. In a balanced and fair world, as if those can’t always exist, opting out of the payment of social costs would also mean opting out of the benefits. Which, in the United States at least, would mean opting out of roads, the electric grid, emergency services, and more. To be fair, there are lots of corporations that do their best to opt out of paying taxes through creative use of the tax code, and they usually do much better in courts than individuals who try to opt out. So what about a complete opting out of both sides?

It would mean, effectively, opting out of society, and there are some who have successfully done so, for the most part. There are also plenty of people who have tried to set up micronations in order to opt out of government entirely – at least a government other than themselves. But being recognized as a nation often means interacting with other governments, which may or may not give you that latitude.

Yet, if it were hypothetically possible, do you think that someone should be able to easily opt out of everything tax-related, and be held entirely responsible for their own costs? Or should those who no longer wish to participate in the social contract still benefit?