Tea Party or Bust

Posted: February 28, 2010 in Constitution, Government, Libertarianism, Lincoln, Politics

The man who flew his plane into an IRS building sounded to me like a purist libertarian, and right on schedule the purist libertarians have come out in defense of him.  Writing on the Lew Rockwell site, lawyer John Whitehead had this to say:

“Clearly, [Joseph] Stack is neither a hero nor a martyr. Nor is he technically a terrorist. Rather, he is the end product of a system that pays little heed to the disaffected, discontent and voiceless. And while Stack may have been alone in the cockpit of that Piper Cherokee plane, he is not alone in his discontent and frustration.”


Thus, Joe Stack, murderer and terrorist, was the end product of a system.  He apparently did not have libertarian free agency but was moved along by forces beyond his control.  This is, of course, the fundamental axiom of socialism (cf., Godwin, Fourier, Owen, et al.).  Continues Whitehead:

“Stack is representative of a burgeoning class of disaffected Americans who are waking up to the reality that the American governmental system no longer works as it was intended. . . .”

This reminds me of the moral equivalence crowd, who will not condemn acts of terrorism without somehow managing to blame the victims of it in the process.  Whitehead says Stack was “pushed to the breaking point.”  He finds a moral lesson in the incident, that it should be a “wake-up call to Americans.”

On the charge that Stack was spouting socialism or populism, Whitehead says, “But that’s the problem with people who can’t distinguish between politics and basic human decency. They have lost sight of their humanity.”

He does manage to say something critical of Stack: “The problem with the Joe Stacks of the world is that they keep relying on government to fix the problems, but government officials are not going to fix them because most of them don’t really seem to give a damn.”

So in Whitehead’s view, Stack was on the one hand forced by his libertarian desperation into flying his plane into an IRS building, but on the other hand was also forced by his anti-libertarian statism to fly his plane into an IRS building.

Whitehead’s solution for the “Joe Stacks of the world” — the “disaffected and alienated ones among us” — is (drum roll) “churches and synagogues and private institutions.”

Given that Stack hated organized religion, it’s difficult to see how churches, synagogues, or private institutions would have changed his behavior.

In his manifesto, Stack said that he grew up learning about American principles of justice, such as no taxation without representation.  However, “I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood.  These days anyone who really stands up for that principal [sic] is promptly labeled a ‘crackpot’, traitor and worse.”

Stack interprets the American Revolutionary principle as practically saying no taxation at all.  Nevertheless, the facts are that the British were attempting to tax Americans to raise revenue, sidestepping colonial governments in the process — i.e., it was a kind of inverted Old Sarum politics.

The town of Old Sarum had no voters, but two representatives in Parliament, and then in the 1800s eleven voters who did not even live in the town.  Inversely, Revolutionary Americans saw themselves as having plenty of voters, but no representation.  This sort of thing happened on a large scale.

Colonists granted that England had the right to tax Americans for the regulation of trade, but not to raise revenue (without their consent).  It was not a simple populist anti-tax reaction.

We’ve had representative government for more than 200 years now.  If anyone is to blame for the development of byzantine bureaucracies and tax codes, it’s the American people.  They vote every election for representatives who add to the miasma.  Agencies such as the IRS or local taxing authorities are simply following the law as written by elected representatives.  So it is patently false that America has taxation without representation.

Stack practically admits this when he says, “I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind.”

But it is one thing to complain about no representation (as the colonial Americans did), but quite another to complain about bad representation, as Stack did.  He confused the one with the other.

Stack then indulges in populist rants against corporations such as GM and against America’s health care system — with typical rich vs. poor rhetoric beloved of demagogues.

He then turns his attention to the tax code, and complains that it’s too complex even though it still holds taxpayers responsible to comply with all tax laws.

There’s no question that people are frustrated with complicated tax laws and they hate doing their taxes as much as they might hate (say) jury duty.  So what else is new?  Most who are overwhelmed will use tax software, or hand over their shoeboxes of tax information to CPAs or tax preparers.  And there are flat-tax proposals out there but if voters don’t elect the right people, nothing will change regarding our tax system.

Reading Stack’s autobiography, it appears he was a tax protestor with an irreligious bent:  He says:

“My introduction to the real American nightmare starts back in the early ‘80s. . . . Some friends introduced me to a group of people who were having ‘tax code’ readings and discussions.  In particular, zeroed in on a section relating to the wonderful ‘exemptions’ that make institutions like the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church so incredibly wealthy.  We carefully studied the law (with the help of some of the ‘best’, high-paid, experienced tax lawyers in the business), and then began to do exactly what the ‘big boys’ were doing (except that we weren’t steeling [sic] from our congregation or lying to the government about our massive profits in the name of God).  We took a great deal of care to make it all visible, following all of the rules, exactly the way the law said it was to be done.”

So he got together with some like-minded tax protestors to exempt his income in the same way 501c3 organizations are exempt.  He goes on:

“The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living.  However, this is where I learned that there are two ‘interpretations’ for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country.

“That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0.  It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie.”

It seems Stack’s tax avoidance scheme was caught by the IRS, and he had to pay back-taxes.  He said that once the 10 years were up, he had dreams of being an “independent engineer” but was thwarted by the tax code.

His specific gripe involved the difference between employees and independent contractors.  The law in question was an attempt to prevent tax avoidance by computer programmers, et al. who were setting themselves up as independent contractors when instead they were really doing employee-type work.  For an explanation of the arcane tax issue, see:


Since the law went into effect, software engineers and programmers who want to do piece-work for corporations, have to work for a third-party “broker” who then leases the programmer’s services for the jobs.  Companies want programmers to go through these third-parties.  If they just gave the programmer a 1099, the programmer could come back later and say they were really employees, thus exposing the company to FICA tax risk.

I happen to agree with Stack’s complaint, though not with his solution.  I see no reason why engineers or programmers should not be able to set up their own businesses as independent consultants and not have to pay third-party “pimps” or “headhunters” in the process.

But there are more than enough issues in the tax code to complain about.  The way problems are solved in this country  — including tax problems — is at the ballot box.

That was Abraham Lincoln’s point against the southern secessionists on the eve of the Civil War.  He said that “ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections.” (Lincoln, “Message to Congress,” July 4, 1861.)

It’s true that a heavily centralized, bloated government can make voters feel like little more than cogs in a machine and that they have no recourse against a vast, impersonal bureaucracy.  Nevertheless, the solution is decentralized government, not more government, and certainly not, as Lincoln said, a resort to violence.

Stack’s argument might be taken more seriously if there were some evidence he had actively supported efforts to decentralize government.  Instead, his populist ideas call for more government — stick it to the rich and to big corporations.  But that can only happen by making government larger and more centralized.

In addition, while Stack may have written letters, there is no indication he ever involved himself in local politics, joining local parties, or showing any concern for political process — which is the usual way things are done in America.

Despite the bad times, Stack was able to get work, but then he was laid off during the 1990s as a result of military base closings.  Later, he went through a divorce, struggled at business, then had to shut his business down because of the dot-com bust and post-911 security restrictions.  He then moved to Texas, and couldn’t find work, so he had to live on his retirement savings.  He says:

“I filed no return that year thinking that because I didn’t have any income there was no need.  The sleazy government decided that they disagreed.  But they didn’t notify me in time for me to launch a legal objection so when I attempted to get a protest filed with the court I was told I was no longer entitled to due process because the time to file ran out.  Bend over for another $10,000 helping of justice.”

So, apparently Stack did not respond to IRS inquiries or notifications within the legally required time, and thus could not bring the issue to court.  And here we come to Stack’s most recent problem:

“So now,” he says, “we come to the present. . . . [H]ere I am with a new marriage and a boatload of undocumented income, not to mention an expensive new business asset, a piano, which I had no idea how to handle.  After considerable thought I decided that it would be irresponsible NOT to get professional help; a very big mistake.”

So given all of his problems in the past with taxes, one would think Stack would give up his tax avoidance schemes.  But then he tells us he had a “boatload of undocumented income.”  And he also claims that a piano is a business asset, which would only be true if he were a professional piano player or music instructor.  He also mentions that his wife had unreported income.

The results were predictable: “This left me stuck in the middle of this disaster trying to defend transactions that have no relationship to anything tax-related (at least the tax-related transactions were poorly documented).  Things I never knew anything about and things my wife had no clue would ever matter to anyone.  The end result is… well, just look around.”

Like tax delinquents, tax cheats, tax protestors, or just sloppy taxpayers everywhere, Stack could not prove his income was exempt nor that his deductions were valid.  Not even a shoebox apparently as backup.  He says:

“I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

He then concludes: “The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”

In actual fact, the communist creed is more like what George Orwell said: all are equal, but some are more equal than others.  Taxation is a fact of life, like death, and exists in any economic system, no matter how well-disguised or renamed.

It’s interesting to see that in Britain a Tea Party movement is beginning.  See:


However, as much as we might sympathize with those who oppose heavy taxation or complicated tax rules, we must remember that the original “Tea Party” philosophy was not about taxation per se.  It was about the nature of representation.  It is too bad that Joe Stack never learned this lesson.  For further discussion, see my essay on the American Revolution at:




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s