Irwin Schiff, aged 87, died in prison on Friday. I doubt many people even know who he is, or why he ended up spending the last seven years of his life in prison. Yet his story is a perfect illustration of the fact that every government has a loaded gun constantly pointed at your head – regardless of how peacefully you may live your life.
Irwin Schiff didn’t believe taxes were justified, and spent his life trying to find legal loopholes to avoid paying them. For this, he was continually sent to jail (the first time in the late 70s), then repeatedly until his final conviction in 2007. Notoriously, his last conviction was especially long (12 years and 7 months, despite being 78 years old at the time) because he was giving away free books on how to avoid paying taxes using legal loopholes (he had to give the books away for free because he had been banned from selling them).
Whether or not you believe he was right, the fact remains: this man spent over a decade in prison for completely victimless, non-violent crimes. He believed the income tax was wrong, and refused to pay it. The result? He was forced to pay millions of dollars and years of his life rotting – and, eventually, dying – in a cell. Can you really call that anything but theft? What’s the difference between a man in an IRS jacket pointing a gun at you and forcing you to pay up or spend your life in jail and a mugger on the street pointing a gun at you and forcing you to pay up or get shot? Can you honestly make the distinction? (If you think the answer is democracy, read this).
I was recently ridiculed on Facebook after posting a comment on someone’s status where I pointed out that socialists like to use the clever euphemism ‘redistribution of wealth’ to cover that their plans are in fact theft on a massive scale. My comment was regarded as so ludicrous that even a good friend felt it appropriate to comment “that was so full of stupid I can’t even”. I was so obviously wrong that he didn’t even feel the need to make a point.
This is easily the single most frustrating thing about any kind of statist beliefs (however minimal their ideal state would be): that statists rarely, if ever, acknowledge the role that violence or the threat of violence has in carrying out their social programs. Regardless of what they believe, and the extent to which they deem a government necessary in building a better society, hardly anyone realizes or admits that any government intervention requires taxation, that taxation is the literal equivalent of theft, and that it is necessarily backed by violence (or thousands of people would simply not pay up or follow their edicts). This simple fact is always overlooked simply because no one bothers to think about the logical ramifications of instituting a system of taxation.
I personally believe that any use of force against peaceful people is completely and always unjustified (I’ve written plenty about that here). But today, I tried to leave that completely out of the discussion. I wasn’t arguing whether or not it’s morally just to use violence to achieve social goals – I only tried to make it irrefutably clear that violence (or the threat of violence) is indeed being used. Like many political philosophers, feel free to simply make a small adjustment to your moral beliefs and accommodate this new fact – after all, what’s a little violence if it builds a much better world, right?
But please, I beg you – be honest and admit it to yourselves: if you believe in government – any government at all – you believe that violence against peaceful people is justified. I hope that admitting this will at least cause you to rethink your stance on some of the more trivial goals governments have been made to pursue over the years, but if not, just embrace it. I don’t even care anymore. As long as when I debate you over some issue, you don’t deny that the government program you support is based on violence or the threat of violence. And if we are going to debate, it will probably be a good idea to prepare some kind of moral justification as to why violence is acceptable to achieve a ban on smoking (for example), when Gandhi managed to end segregation in India through completely nonviolent means.