THE Question

Column by Paul Hein.

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The Missouri Department of Revenue, like most modern businesses, publishes a website, on which it provides answers to commonly asked questions, of which there are a great many.

Typically, they deal with rather narrow, technical issues. For instance: How do I file a request for a refund for a decedent? Or: How do I claim gambling losses on my Missouri tax return? Or: I live in Missouri but earn income in another state. Must I report my income to Missouri?

Occasionally, the questions are a bit more general, and, for that reason, more interesting: Am I required to file a Missouri return? The answer given is yes, if your income reaches a certain level, you reside in Missouri, and are required to file a federal return.

One cannot but be impressed with the ease with which “Missouri” answers these questions regarding its income tax. There seems to be no question so abstruse as to defy an answer. The reason for that, in my opinion, is because of an underlying assumption on the part of the questioners: that they are liable, or may be liable, for the tax in the first place. Of course, the Department of Revenue does nothing to disturb this assumption.

THE question, the one never asked, and therefore never answered, would be this: why must I pay a tax--send money--to the people who designate themselves as the “State of Missouri”? Probably most people would think the question foolish, and not ask it for that reason. And, in a sense it is foolish, if the questioner expects to get a straightforward answer from the Department, because that answer would be as simple as the question: You must pay us the tax because we say so. And that’s it!

I did ask that question recently, but in regard to a property tax, not the income tax. (The difference, however, is negligible. The state wants your money, and aims to take it, under one pretext or another.) In answering (sic!) my question, the representative of the state filled the page with citations of the law. Perhaps he hoped that I would not associate the “Missouri” which sought my money pursuant to “law,” with the “Missouri” that writes the laws.

If a mugger demanded your wallet, you might summon up the nerve to ask, “What right do you have to my property?” And maybe the answer would be, “I represent the local Mugger Association, and in our regulations and statutes it is written that I, as their agent, am entitled to it, in this neighborhood.” Would you then hand over your wallet with a sigh of relief: “Oh, thank goodness. For a moment there I thought you might be a thief.” But the mugger doesn’t insult your intelligence with self-serving, hypocritical nonsense. His authority is the gun he has pointed at you. The Revenue Department, on the other hand, will not aim its guns at you unless you absolutely refuse to cooperate with it, pointing out that it has given itself the authority to rob you, and thus you dare not question the logic and morality of it. At that point, you may discover that the mugger was a sweetheart by comparison.

There are, ultimately, the two of you: the State, represented by its Revenue Department, backed by teams of lawyers, bureaucrats, sheriffs, and police, and you, backed up by nobody. Between you is a large sum of your money. Whose money? Why, yours, of course. The state demands the money, saying that it is entitled to it because it says so. You respond by saying that you demand the money, because it is yours, and nobody can say otherwise; and you are entitled to it because YOU say so.

It wouldn’t seem like much of a contest. It can’t be argued that the money isn’t yours, or that the state’s only claim to it is one it gave itself. One can’t deny that you have a claim upon what is yours, and that your claim to your own property outweighs the mere demands of strangers that you give it to them, in the absence of any evidence that you owe it to them. Any judge would throw their demand out of court.

Oh, wait a minute! THEY own the court and pay the judge. THEY write the rules, and license the lawyers. It’s called a fair trial. Sure it is. And theft is called taxation. Personally, if I’m going to be robbed, I prefer it to be by the mugger. He’s at least honest about it. “Give it to me or else.” That’s the philosophical basis to all robbery, even if called taxation.

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150