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Irwin Schiff, R.I.P.

This past week, we had news that Irwin Schiff passed away on October 16. Schiff was a U.S. veteran, author, heroic income-tax protestor and, sadly, a U.S. political prisoner.

photo of Irwin Schiff
Irwin Schiff, 1928-2015

Big Government advocates will sometimes claim that the U.S. tax system is voluntary. They say it because they want to deny the obvious: that government is force (by its nature, it operates by forcing people against their will) – and that, as advocates of Big Government, they do basically want a dictatorial, regimented society.

I’ve seen lefties making the “voluntary” claim in GP comments. But as a stronger example, here is Democrat leader Harry Reid saying, “Our system of government is a voluntary tax system…We have a voluntary system.” Because, says Reid, if you don’t pay taxes in the U.S., “You don’t go to jail.”

That “voluntary” claim is nonsense, in practice. Some people, such as Eric Garner in 2014, are hounded by the police for selling untaxed cigarettes and then fatally assaulted by the police. Others like Gilbert Hyatt may be hounded by State authorities for decades, although they paid all taxes in full. Others like perceived Tea Party groups may be blocked (silenced) by the IRS for their political beliefs, before they could even have a chance to file tax reports.

And those who refuse to pay income taxes due to their outspoken moral and constitutional principles, such as Irwin Schiff, are jailed – and then forced to die in jail from untreated cancer. So much for the U.S. system being “voluntary”. You can be a conscientious objector to the draft! But not to the federal income tax.

I could try to tell more of Irwin Schiff’s story, but Peter Schiff does it best in his article, Death of a Patriot. Read the whole thing.

And consider downloading and reading Irwin Schiff’s last book, The Federal Mafia: How the Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes. It’s free.

It’s free because, during Schiff’s lifetime, the government enjoined him from selling it. That makes it a banned book; indeed, it’s supposed to be the only book banned in the U.S. in the last 50 years (other than libel cases).

The book also claims that the U.S. income tax system is voluntary. I must suggest that Mr. Schiff’s own experience shows that, as a practical matter, he was mistaken about that. But he covers the history of the income tax in the U.S. and the IRS’ own use of the word “voluntary”. As such, Schiff may well have been right about the underlying Constitutional principle, or what *should theoretically* be true under the U.S. Constitution (which today’s U.S. government flouts in many ways).

Anyway, the book’s unusual ban, and Schiff’s cruel death in federal prison, should tell you something about our government’s true priorities. Hint: It’s much more to do with protecting the government’s power and jobs, than protecting or serving you.

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25 Comments

  1. Nice piece, Jeff.

    Comment by Richard Bell — October 24, 2015 @ 11:35 am - October 24, 2015

  2. You do realize you don’t have to live in the United States. You can leave, you may think that the US is an authoritarian regime, but it isn’t.

    However, if you do want to live in the United States and receive the benefits of living on the greatest state on the planet you need to pay taxed. To do otherwise, enjoy the benefits of the United States without paying taxes make you a leech and society has the right to punish such behavior, just as it has the right to punish any other type of behavior which is harmful to the people and the state.

    Comment by James Edward — October 24, 2015 @ 1:46 pm - October 24, 2015

  3. OMG!!! The troll has come out from under his bridge. Somebody call the Billy Goats Gruff.

    Comment by juan — October 24, 2015 @ 4:22 pm - October 24, 2015

  4. “Our system of government is a voluntary tax system…We have a voluntary system.” Because, says Reid, if you don’t pay taxes in the U.S., “You don’t go to jail.”

    He forgot where he was and to whom he was talking. He was referring to anyone in the government that happens to be a democrat. For everyone else, you bet your buttons you’re behind will go to jail if you don’t pay your taxes.

    Comment by Annie — October 24, 2015 @ 5:14 pm - October 24, 2015

  5. However, if you do want to live in the United States and receive the benefits of living on the greatest state on the planet you need to pay taxed. To do otherwise, enjoy the benefits of the United States without paying taxes make you a leech and society has the right to punish such behavior, just as it has the right to punish any other type of behavior which is harmful to the people and the state.

    Comment by James Edward — October 24, 2015 @ 1:46 pm – October 24, 2015

    Oh really?

    You mean like this?

    Hillary Clinton’s family’s charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.

    And this?

    In the wake of a Politico report that had billed the government for her travel on the aircraft, she quickly reimbursed taxpayers for the trips, hoping to avoid a protracted political problem.

    But, it was then revealed that she had billed taxpayers for a purely political trip — deepening her potential exposure on the issue.

    On the conference call, McCaskill said that after she discovered the political trip on the plane she conducted an extensive audit of all the times she used it. That search turned up the fact that she had not paid personal property taxes on the aircraft totaling $287,273.

    And this?

    Mr. Sharpton has regularly sidestepped the sorts of obligations most people see as inevitable, like taxes, rent and other bills. Records reviewed by The New York Times show more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses.

    And though he said in recent interviews that he was paying both down, his balance with the state, at least, has actually grown in recent years. His National Action Network appears to have been sustained for years by not paying federal payroll taxes on its employees.

    With the tax liability outstanding, Mr. Sharpton traveled first class and collected a sizable salary, the kind of practice by nonprofit groups that the United States Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration recently characterized as “abusive,” or “potentially criminal” if the failure to turn over or collect taxes is willful.

    So we’ve now proven that Democrats and all Obama supporters are leeches who harm society and should be punished.

    And since James Edward is a Democrat, that makes him and any LGBT people who support Democrats leeches who harm society and should be punished.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — October 24, 2015 @ 5:23 pm - October 24, 2015

  6. Hey James, nearly half of those living in the US pay no federal income taxes and reap a hella lot of benefits the rest of us are forced to pay for. How is that fair? How is it fair that the top 10% pay 70% of all income taxes? How come those on welfare aren’t forced to work for it?

    Comment by Annie — October 24, 2015 @ 5:25 pm - October 24, 2015

  7. And just to salt the earth after nuking the troll:

    However, if you do want to live in the United States and receive the benefits of living on the greatest state on the planet you need to pay taxed. To do otherwise, enjoy the benefits of the United States without paying taxes make you a leech and society has the right to punish such behavior, just as it has the right to punish any other type of behavior which is harmful to the people and the state.

    Comment by James Edward — October 24, 2015 @ 1:46 pm – October 24, 2015

    Like this?

    Touré Neblett, co-host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, is the latest network host to be under scrutiny for owing thousands in taxes.

    According to public records reviewed by National Review, Neblett’s debt currently stands at over $59,000. A state tax warrant of $46,862.68 was issued to the host and his wife in September 2013, followed by an additional warrant for $12,849.87 six months later. Neblett formerly served as a contributor for The Dylan Ratigan Show before it was canceled by the network in 2012.

    He joins three other MSNBC hosts who have also reportedly been issued tax warrants or liens, including Joy Ann-Reid, Melissa Harris-Perry and Al Sharpton.

    And this?

    A new report just out from the Internal Revenue Service reveals that 36 of President Obama’s executive office staff owe the country $833,970 in back taxes.

    And this?

    A little over two weeks ago, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, the third-richest person in the world, penned an op-ed critical of the low tax rates for the superrich. It would seem his own company hasn’t prioritized paying its rightful share in a timely fashion either.

    Berkshire Hathaway, the eighth-largest public company in the world according to Forbes, openly admits to still owing taxes for years 2002 through 2004 and 2005 through 2009, according to the New York Post.

    So come on, James Edward. These examples prove that Democrats and LGBT supporters are tax cheats — which makes them leeches and harmful to society.

    Now, you can try responding like a man, or you can run like a coward.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — October 24, 2015 @ 5:33 pm - October 24, 2015

  8. Update – I have just now (about 8 hours after publication) inserted this new paragraph in the main post:

    The [Schiff tax] book also claims that the U.S. income tax system is voluntary. I must suggest that Mr. Schiff’s own experience shows that, as a practical matter, he was mistaken about that. But he covers the history of the income tax in the U.S. and the IRS’ own use of the word “voluntary”. As such, Schiff may well have been right about the underlying Constitutional principle, or what *should theoretically* be true under the U.S. Constitution (which today’s U.S. government flouts in many ways).

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 24, 2015 @ 6:00 pm - October 24, 2015

  9. Bravo, ND30. Nice to see somebody still has the stamina to slap Jimmy down from time to time.

    Comment by Sean L — October 24, 2015 @ 6:01 pm - October 24, 2015

  10. if you do want to live in the United States and receive the benefits of living on the greatest state on the planet you need to pay taxed. To do otherwise, enjoy the benefits of the United States without paying taxes make you a leech and society has the right to punish such behavior, just as it has the right to punish any other type of behavior which is harmful to the people and the state.

    Rather hilarious, coming from James Edward!

    First, note the possible Freudian slip: He calls the U.S. “the greatest state on the planet”. Not the greatest nation or country. The greatest ***state***.

    I would guess that, in JE’s mind, the State (that is, the U.S. government) is the thing to be admired; not the nation or People or their founding principles. Indeed, JE’s words could hint at a view that the State *is* the Nation; not the distinct and inferior servant of the People, but rather, the supreme being and destiny of the People (whose lives have worth/purpose only as the State’s fodder). You know, Leni Riefenstahl-style.

    But, even if my guess is wrong, in any case, JE’s sentiment -as worded- is simply the opposite of America’s founding principles – which were about minimizing the State and subjugating it to the People. So that, once more, a leftie has lectured others about Americanism – in order to make points that are the opposite of Americanism.

    Second, as others point out above, JE has just implied that the majority of his own fellow lefties are leeches and society has the right to punish them. LOL 🙂

    Third, he shows an inability to argue. In reality, Irwin Schiff had no objection whatever to paying legal and constitutional taxes, such as (for example) excise taxes on alchohol or tobacco. And most of us here probably pay a lot of income taxes (I know that I do). So JE has lobbed an argument that hits no one: neither Irwin Schiff, nor us here. Well wide of the mark.

    Finally, Irwin Schiff was punished at least partly for his *political speech* and opinions about the legality of taxes. So, whether he realizes it or not, JE has just suggested that society, or explicitly The State, has the right to punish any political speech which it considers harmful. Again, the exact opposite of what America was supposed to stand for.

    JE, if you feel that I’ve just represented your views unfairly, then by all means, clarify them. We’re all ears.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 24, 2015 @ 6:22 pm - October 24, 2015

  11. Via,

    Go play Pathfinder for the3 day, and you guys beat on the self admitted paedophile before I can get a snarky comment in.

    Comment by The_Livewire — October 24, 2015 @ 11:11 pm - October 24, 2015

  12. I’d like to add to ND30’s list of liberals who declined to volunteer to pay their taxes one Charlie Rangel who was censured by the House (including a majority of Democrats) for ethics violations that included tax evasion.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2010/12/house-censures-defiant-rangel-045883

    And there was John Kerry who moved his yacht from Mass. to avoid a few hundred thousand in taxes.

    Look, taxes are necessary to the functioning of a society but they are what they are: money seized from citizens by government, backed up with force.

    Comment by KCRob — October 24, 2015 @ 11:45 pm - October 24, 2015

  13. Look, I pay my taxes, even though I think we are taxed and spend too much. I don’t have huge sympathy for a person that shirks his responsibility. It is regrettable that he wasn’t treated for his cancer.

    Comment by davinci — October 25, 2015 @ 8:43 am - October 25, 2015

  14. davinci fyi, he didn’t shirk it. He made a decades-long, principled fight for what he saw as YOUR Constitutional rights.

    The government offered Schiff deals to avoid jail: for example, squash your book and silence yourself, and we won’t sentence you. Schiff refused on moral principle. He said in essence: in that case, you are tyrannous and I am a dissident. I have every right to speak out against your unconstitutional practices; now do your worst.

    That’s the opposite of shirking. Schiff knowingly took blows – to serve the Constitution and all of us.

    The analogy here is to the conscientious objector to the draft. No, they’re not shirkers and cowards (or not all). They have principles which really, really, really tell them that it would be wrong to comply. Maybe you disagree with their position (or principles or religion) and you wouldn’t fight their battle; fine. But, by fighting it, they are establishing the principle that the State does NOT own our lives. Not your life, not my life.

    A State which jails (or kills) citizens who peacefully assert their moral rights against the State (and in the U.S., their constitutional rights) is a tyranny. A citizen who knowingly accepts terrible consequences to fight tyranny, is a hero.

    James Edward is here to tell us that the State does our own lives, and a citizen who peacefully asserts his rights against the State (and teaches others about their rights) is a criminal who deserves everything he gets. Do you agree?

    The government presently recognizes some conscientious objectors to the draft; would you also end their status?

    If not, then why would you recognize conscientious objectors to the draft – but not to the income tax? Both are equally cases of the State asserting ownership of the citizen’s life. (Its entitlement to command the citizen to work for it.)

    And in the U.S. in particular, the income tax is – at the end of the day – ***supposed to be*** voluntary. Even Harry Reid says so (cough); though you could also read Schiff’s book to find out more.

    Please feel free to answer my questions. I mean, I may not agree with your answers – but they’re not rhetorical questions; I’m interested.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 10:03 am - October 25, 2015

  15. I haven’t read his book but from what’s being presented here, a guy supposedly takes a principled stand by refusing to pay income taxes and suffers the known consequences. There’s no martyrdom here. Had he paid and worked to enact legislation to change tax collection and enforcement, he’d likely be alive. No, taxes aren’t voluntary. If you don’t pay them, you go to jail. Go ahead and try your case for voluntary taxation before SCOTUS (if they deign to hear your argument) and see how that goes. And why do any of you sympathizers pay income taxes? Why did you not join your now-dead freedom fighter?

    Comment by Ignatius — October 25, 2015 @ 12:21 pm - October 25, 2015

  16. from what’s being presented here

    That is a fair qualifier; I mean, it’s impossible to say everything about Schiff that could or should be said, in a short post. So, there are some important elements that I only alluded to. And one very very important element that I left out entirely; will get to that in a minute.

    a guy supposedly takes a principled stand by refusing to pay income taxes and suffers the known consequences. There’s no martyrdom here.

    That leaves out the part where the government tried to silence Schiff – and was willing to skip all jail time, if he would co-operate in silencing himself – making him a political dissident and political prisoner. I alluded to that, briefly, in the main post and at #14.

    No, taxes aren’t voluntary.

    Not in practice. But, *if* you haven’t read Schiff’s book or something similar (at some point), then you don’t fully understand both sides of the constitutional arguments. (Which, by the way, vary depending on the type of tax.)

    Go ahead and try your case for voluntary taxation before SCOTUS (if they deign to hear your argument)

    Oh yeah, that leaves out the part (which in fairness, I had left out) where the government actively prevented Schiff from making his case. In other words, they silenced him *in court*. The judges (working with the prosecutors) said in effect, no, you’re not going to be allowed to present any of your historical research or legal & constitutional arguments about the income tax.

    Schiff’s supporters say the misconduct (in suppressing the defense) rose to a level that would normally (for a murderer, etc.) have created a mistrial or reversed conviction. But no higher-level judge was interested. That’s the point. Where do the government’s priorities lie? Any chance that you begin to see? In today’s America, justice is only for those who don’t question the government where it hurts.

    And why do any of you sympathizers pay income taxes? Why did you not join your now-dead freedom fighter?

    And so Iggy jumps the shark, joining the ranks of James Edward. Le sigh.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 12:40 pm - October 25, 2015

  17. P.S. On the subject of trial again, Edward Snowden today is faced with a similar dilemma. John Kerry, Hillary and other malevolent lefties say things like, why doesn’t he come back and face trial?

    The answer is: Because the government will not allow him to mount a public-interest defense. Snowden wants guarantees that, if he does come back and face trial, he will be allowed to mount a full and proper defense, arguing that he did what he did because it was in the public interest, and showing how and why it was in the public interest. The government wants to limit his arguments and specifically, to block him from ever making that one in court. Again: In today’s America, justice is for those who don’t question the government where it might hurt.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 12:54 pm - October 25, 2015

  18. So, you claim to pay what the various government agencies claim you owe. Why? Is it because you believe that the government owns your life? Is it possible that one can accept the responsibilities of taxation while disagreeing with many or most of government expenditures? If Schiff were in favor of, say, a national consumption tax (a much more voluntary system) rather than taxing production, why not join the many who have begun such campaigns and causes? By all means, keep handing pro-state/pro-force leftists ammunition; it’s not like they don’t think lovers of freedom are nutcases without your incontrovertible proof.

    Comment by Ignatius — October 25, 2015 @ 1:19 pm - October 25, 2015

  19. P.S. Sorry for not formatting. I have a new, cheap Android phone (decided I was spending too much — some of us have taxes to pay) and the interface is atrocious.

    Comment by Ignatius — October 25, 2015 @ 1:40 pm - October 25, 2015

  20. “So, you claim to pay what the various government agencies claim you owe. ” – I have no idea what that means. Is it suggesting that people do tax fraud? If yes, I don’t condone it..

    “Is it possible that one can accept the responsibilities of taxation while disagreeing with many or most of government expenditures?” – Of course; but I have no idea how that relates to Schiff’s points about the deep constitutional problems in the U.S. income tax system. It seems to simply “blank out” the importance of constitutional questions. P.S. “responsibilities of taxation” is probably the wrong phrase, as “responsibilities” implies a voluntarily-chosen obligation; “burdens” or “punishments” of taxation is probably more honest.

    “a national consumption tax (a much more voluntary system)” – Actually, it would be a less voluntary system – in kind of a good way, as it would be an enforced tax (a tax that the government takes actively at a particular point), rather than a tax where people are expected to pay some vague debt owed to the government and to justify their final payment by volunteering detailed information about their private finances (as if the government owns them).

    Really, Iggy: Read Schiff’s book and understand the issues he raises. It is free, and you’ve reached the limits of what a person can still seem reasonable in saying, without their understanding him first. Either that, or decide you just don’t care about this topic.

    Also, always remember that it is government which SHOULD – in a sane world – justify itself to the citizens, and not the other way. (Even, for example, in such an extreme case as criminal process, it is government which is supposed to justify itself to the citizen – who is supposed to be innocent until and unless the government may prove him guilty, to a jury and fairly.)

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 5:17 pm - October 25, 2015

  21. No, a national sales or consumption tax gives consumers far more volition than our current system (what to buy, how much, from whom, etc. directly affects taxes paid and shifts taxation from production to consumption, ideally eliminating the need for corporate taxation, ours being among the world’s highest). That’s a large part of such a system’s appeal. Is it completely voluntary? No. Only a fool would argue in favor of such a system.

    Comment by Ignatius — October 25, 2015 @ 5:53 pm - October 25, 2015

  22. “No, a national sales or consumption tax gives consumers far more volition…what to buy, how much, from whom, etc.” – Which assertion is not in dispute, but functionally ignores the points I made, that such a tax would be (1) an enforced tax and thus, (2) NOT one that puts citizens in the position of having to volunteer detailed information to the government about their private lives. Noted.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 6:01 pm - October 25, 2015

  23. I wrote that a national sales tax is a more voluntary system than our current income tax, not that it wouldn’t be enforced. Did you happen to miss that nuance? Of course it would be enforced, as should any system in which human nature is included in its accounting. Your hero would likely protest a national sales tax as well. Too bad he can’t be reached for comment. Seriously, this is exactly why possible political allies are repelled by the right: completely unrealistic arguments, then pedantic resistance when an idea is suggested that moves in your direction.

    Comment by Ignatius — October 25, 2015 @ 6:58 pm - October 25, 2015

  24. “Did you happen to miss that nuance? ” – Not at all. What I think is, that I’ve been writing a good many nuances which you have missed.

    For example, I don’t think you really know what “enforced tax” means, as a technical term that I’ve been using. My larger point would be: Read Schiff’s book. Up to now, Iggy, you’ve been talking and really not understanding the possible constitutional issues. Not very impressive.

    “Your hero would likely protest a national sales tax as well.” – But you really have no idea, do you? That would be the point. 🙂 In reality, there was a large class of taxes that Schiff considered constitutional and was happy to pay (as I alluded to earlier). You just haven’t put yourself in a position to know. (Hmm, maybe that’s “why possible political allies are repelled by the right”.)

    Read Schiff’s book. (Or else decide that you just don’t care.) Not that you have to agree with it, of course; but criticize his views from a position of knowledge.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 7:12 pm - October 25, 2015

  25. As for a national sales tax: another nuance that you missed, Iggy, is that – far from resisting it – I was lending some support to the idea. My 2 points about it were reasons why it might be an improvement on the IRS / income tax situation (provided it were done as a complete replacement). Oh, except “nuance” is the wrong word to describe what you missed there, because at #20, I did openly put the adjective “good” on the idea.

    Better luck, next time.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — October 25, 2015 @ 9:10 pm - October 25, 2015

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