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The friend who wrote this wishes to remain anonymous, for reasons that should be pretty clear.


By Anonymous

Dear Mr. Taxman,

It's Sunday, and I have chosen to spend my day of rest compiling a contribution to your education. I know that your agency has already invested quite a sum of tax money in your training, but there are some things they forgot to tell you in those seminars. You learned to recognize and harass a certain category of people, and how to encourage others to "blow the whistle" on them. But they kept the big secret, the fact that we in the underground economy are winning.

Once upon a time, I was an employee, and my employer withheld taxes from my wages, and paid insurance and many other expenses because I worked for him. He passed these costs on to our customers in the form of higher prices for our service. I did my job, and I was paid well, but I punched out after work and went bowling, and didn't worry about the details. When I had worked for him for several years, it became clear that the company's outgo was exceeding it's income, and we were not competitive in the market for our particular service. My employer told me, "I am going to close this business in about six months, and lay off all the workers. Make the arrangements you think necessary."

Being young and naive, I thought, Okay, I have a marketable skill here, I'll start my own business and contact customers directly. So I went to all the proper agencies and found that their requirements were more than I could meet.

Licensing, certification, insurance, quarterly reporting, now I can see why my employer is going belly up. I asked a couple of them, "Why is this so complicated?" and they told me, "We have a duty to protect the public." From me, who didn't even steal cookies as a child? I was massively frustrated for several weeks as I tried to follow the twisting trail of requirements and regulations, and got farther and farther from my goal.

Fortunately for me, one of our major customers said, "Look, I like your work, and I have a project you can do for cash. It won't last forever, but it will keep you in groceries while you decide what to do."

I accepted his offer, completed the project, and he referred me to another cash project. One thing led to another, and pretty soon other referrals led to as much work as I could handle, and I could charge about half the going rate. I enjoyed the respect and esteem of the people I worked for, they were pleased with my work, and if they considered me "shady" or a criminal, they would not have referred me to their friends and relatives. I still love my husband and kids, I'm still kind to my dog, I haven't hurt anyone, and yet you want to punish me.

It occurred to me once or twice that I could be watching Oprah and eating bon-bons while drawing welfare or unemployment checks as a "bona fide indigent". While that course of action is encouraged by the state, and it may gain the approval of people like you, I could not stomach it. I have a strong urge to succeed or fail on my own merits, and though I had paid substantial amounts into government funds for unemployment, Social Security and the like, I never have, and by the grace of God never will, take a single penny of public assistance. It is a point of pride with me, and others may make their own decision, but it's a crazy thing that someone who chooses not to work in favor of sucking up tax money is rewarded, while a person who works hard and honestly is prosecuted for doing so without paying for the permission of the state.

Mr. Taxman, the economy you live in is artificial, in that some of its members are paid what they do not earn, and others earn what they are not paid. When you get your car repaired, for example, you are charged for many things that are not car repair. Parts of your money go to places and people that you have no idea of, and might not like if you did. When I get my car repaired by an "under the table" mechanic, I pay less, and I am confident that all of the price will benefit the guy who fixed my car. He might buy tools with it or pay his electric bill, but he has earned it; it won't go into the pockets of fat men in suits, and it won't go as foreign aid to Bangladesh or buy a $600 toilet seat.

For your information, the underground economy is growing at a fairly healthy rate. I know you don't like that, because no one has any records of its existence. Tough toenails. It is not as convenient to operate in as the official economy, as an under-the-table worker must be careful, and only work for those he trusts. In case of non-payment by the customer, he/she has no legal recourse, and so must arrange his/her affairs to reduce that possibility.

We do not have fringe benefits, or paid vacations, or a company car. But more and more people are participating. Why do you think this could be?

Is the general public becoming a band of outlaws, or are they losing their faith in the government's management of the economy? My personal opinion is that the government is failing to perform it's legitimate function and at the same time pushing their noses into everything else, and the governed are withdrawing their consent. How ironic; if you kept taxes to a fair and reasonable level, I'd probably pay up, because it wouldn't be worth my time and effort to avoid them.

You say that I and those like me have cost our country billions each year in lost revenue. You presume that paying billions in taxes is more desirable than circulating that amount in the private sector for goods and services. (I'm sure you are quite knowledgeable in your particular field of expertise, but your implied economic theory leaves something to be desired.) Where is your supporting evidence? Does the government have a better economic track record than the free market and private industry? Once again, Mr. Taxman, producers of goods and services earn profits from their willing customers, whereas the government taxes revenue from it's citizens. Which is more fair, or better for society?

Your "loss" is similar to the $100 "loss" to a mugger when I foil his plans and get away with my wallet. It's a loss for him, but I keep what I earned. If I decide to paint my own house, am I stealing from those who paint houses for a living? If I grow vegetables in my garden, does the Safeway produce department show a "loss" for that amount? Of course not, because they have no prior claim to my earnings. What is the difference, then, if I decide to provide for my own retirement and unemployment rather than leave it in the hands of the state? If you deny this, you must argue the difficult position that the government, because it is the government, has a legitimate moral claim on whatever portion of my earnings it declares appropriate. Might makes right, in other words, and historically, that's a pretty shaky foundation on which to build a society.

Even you must admit that most of your efforts are directed at hard working, motivated people who merely want to earn a living and support their families. They are not drug dealers and professional thieves, they don't harm others, they provide necessary goods and services to their communities. In fact their major difference from their licensed counterparts is that they have decided not to comply with administrative, and sometimes unconstitutional, statutes. Your position is that good people become bad when they decide to pocket the cash instead of running it through their books (or not to keep books at all).

Unfortunately for you, their customers disagree, and willingly take a discount that frees them from having to pay your salary.

Many senior citizens are depending on Social Security for part or all of their retirement income, and you dislike the idea that I am no longer paying into that fund. But it is clear that the Social Security system is nothing more than a giant chain-letter scheme made mandatory by the federal government in the complete absence of constitutional authority. Legislative fraud. It is unfortunate that the senior citizens went along with it, but that fact does not give you or them a valid claim on my earnings. I must say that I'd hate to see them starve or freeze, and if I thought they were, I'd personally buy them a bag of groceries or a drum of heating oil. But I won't let you confiscate what is mine on their behalf.

I would like very much to receive a reply to this letter, and to discuss these matters with you further, but unfortunately, I don't feel I can trust you with my name and address. I imagine you will rush this letter to your high tech crime lab so they can use their secret decoder rings on it, and I have accidentally omitted the details that would make it traceable. However, I think your viewpoint is founded on a mistaken premise, and developed on a misconception of government authority.

Fortunately, I don't need your business; I have many satisfied customers who see things differently...



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20 November, 1997