Resistance to taxes is by no means a new sentiment. Many historical events, such as the those following the Stamp Act and the Whiskey Rebellion, were expressions of Americans’ attitudes about the taxation they thought was unfair.
Today’s tax code faces a large degree of criticism, even some opposition. Aware of the hot-button nature of this topic, policymakers and politicians use the tax code as a platform upon which to run a campaign or gain support. Citizens, meanwhile, argue against the sheer nature of the tax collection process.
Is there any validity to these arguments? The Internal Revenue Service published a report entitled “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments.” In it, the IRS responds to many of the arguments against the tax collection process. Here are a few of the main arguments and the IRS’s response to each.
1. Paying taxes is voluntary
The first and perhaps most direct argument against the U.S. tax system is the idea that filing a return and paying taxes is voluntary. Primary points include court cases like Flora v. United States, in which the term “voluntary” is used to describe how the tax system is based on “voluntary assessment and payment, not upon distraint.”
Supporters of this notion also bring up other points in history when the term is used to describe paying taxes in the United States. SupremeLaw.org quotes Dwight E. Avis, head of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, when he said in 1953, “Your income tax is 100 percent voluntary tax,” and also Donald C. Alexander, commissioner of Internal Revenue, who said in 1974, “The mission of the service is to encourage and achieve the highest possible degree of voluntary compliance with the tax laws and regulations.”
The IRS clearly responds to these notions by explaining that the word voluntary, as stated in Flora v. United States and other IRS works, refers to a taxpayer’s right to determine his or her tax liability by completing the appropriate forms, as opposed to having the government complete the forms on behalf of taxpayers. The IRS also cites cases — such as United States v. Tedder and United States v. Gerads – in which the court contends, “Any assertion that the payment of income taxes is voluntary is without merit.” The 16th Amendment granted Congress the right to “lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived.”