A week ago over at the Mises Institute, Lee Wishing ran into a touchy ethical dilemma: it turns out that this year he will be netting $646, transferred from other people’s pockets to his, courtesy of the behind-the-scenes number juggling of TurboTax and the IRS’s refundable child tax credit for his family’s four children:
Line 43 of our 1040 shows that the tax on our income is $3,354. Line 51 notes that the child credit is $3,354 making the total credits, line 55, offset our tax liability.
But my zero tax liability isn’t the point of this story. I really have a negative tax liability. The federal government will not only return the money I had withheld during the year, they’ll be kicking in another $646, which is the difference between the total of the child tax credits on line 55, $4,000, and my tax liability of $3,354 on line 43.
Believe it or not, the federal government is going to give me $646 of your money. The formula on Form 8812–the Additional Child Tax Credit form–that determines I get an extra pile of dough is complex. I checked the calculation and it was correct. I called a tax accountant and he said it was correct.
But is it right?
My six-year-old daughter, Mary, asked me what I was writing about.
I explained the concept:I just filled out our tax forms and I learned that the federal government will be giving us money that doesn’t belong to us. They will be taking it from other people and giving it to us.
That’s not right!said my first-grader.
Eight-year-old daughter Sarah was listening.I don’t like that. I mean, I don’t like that the government is going to take money from other people and give it to us,she said sadly.
Gosh, that’s clear thinking. But the tax system blurs clear thinking.
Blurs it enough, I guess, that Lee doesn’t come to any resolution by the end of the article, even with young Mary and Sarah’s prodding. However, I wrote my friend Dr. Anarchy for advice, and she pointed out that there is a simple solution to Lee’s problem. Lee’s worried because the federal government took money from other people against their will, and now they’re giving some of it to him. What to about the double burden of a guilty conscience and $646.00 he doesn’t deserve?
Simple. I’ll take it.
I am one of those unfortunate taxpayers out of whose pockets Lee’s $646 was taken. He can solve his problem by sending $646.00 to me, Charles Johnson. I’d be glad to send copies of the 1040s to prove my net liability to the Feds over the past few years: this year I’ll be coughing up $156 in taxes and fees. Last year I paid about $350 all told. My forms for 2002 are back in Auburn, but I am sure that I rendered at least $140 of tribute to the federal government. So by sending me, Charles Johnson, $646, Lee can not only solve his ethical dilemma and save face in front of his young daughters, and help out someone who (as you might guess from the low bills) would be glad to get the money back, he can also make his own contribution to rectifying the injustices of Leviathan.
You might say that any other taxpayer has just as good a claim to Lee’s $646 as I do. True, but Lee can’t afford to pay them all, and $646 is all the restitution he’s on the hook for–the rest of his tax refund is just getting his own money back. Why not try to distribute it evenly between all the net tax recipients? There’s hundreds of millions of them; trying to split $646 between all of them would mean that, effectively, no-one gets any of their expropriated money back on the margin. But by giving it all to me, Charles Johnson, Lee can ensure that two people are restored to a state of libertarian justice: he won’t have his expropriated gains anymore, and by giving the block of money to me I’ll be set back to where I was before I paid out taxes for the past 3 years. What’s so special about me specifically? Well, I could use the money, and it was my idea. The rest of you can find some other net tax recipient with a guilty conscience and homestead a claim to your money from their surplus.
What an opportunity for Lee: he’s just $646 away from libertarian justice. I’m glad to help him out. It won’t take any ballot boxes and it won’t take any political parties; all he needs to do is join a nonviolent direct action against State expropriation. I gladly accept credit cards, cash, or electronic funds transfers.
Happy Tax Day.