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Most countries today practise a system in which there is there is a tax authority that controls whether companies or individuals are taxed according to the respective countries' tax laws. Is it immoral, by Objectivist standards, to be employed (by own free will) in tax authorities? Does it make a difference whether one - in one's power as such an employee - makes sure that companies or individuals are taxed "fairly"/less? With "fair" taxation I mean that the tax authorities not only make changes that lead to increased tax revenues, but changes that also lead to decreased taxation of the tax payer.

asked Feb 11 '12 at 05:39

zutix's gravatar image


edited Feb 11 '12 at 08:33

Great question. Are tax authorities moral? Is working for them Moral? Ask yourself if your function there is as a job, doing work for a wage or as an agent of change. Then ask if either one is moral. Is the job of headsman, chopping off the heads of convicted felons moral? You must ask yourself.

I might suggest a reread of Atlas Shrugged. Should one continue to prop up the wheels of a society that breaks the natural laws of humanity? You must come to your own conclusions and decisions on that.

(Feb 12 '12 at 07:49) Andrew Foss Andrew%20Foss's gravatar image

For those who may be interested in Ayn Rand's view of government jobs, there is a substantial excerpt by her in the answer that I provided for a closely related question: Is it wrong to accept a government job?

By Objectivist standards, it's wrong to work as an enforcer of any kind for a corrupt tax system. That would include a tax court judge or "appeals officer" (if that means a court or executive official who rules on appeals). It would certainly include a federal agent having the power and official task of arresting a tax evader.

It certainly would not include a taxpayer advocate service or tax preparer, if they represent the taxpayer and act on the taxpayer's behalf to mitigate the violation of his rights by a compulsory tax system.

If the questioner is unfamiliar with the Objectivist view of voluntary government financing in a free society, there is an excellent overview in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Taxation."


A commenter asks a simple question: "Is it wrong to work as a district judge who sometimes hears tax cases?" (There are, of course, all sorts of rights-violating laws besides the tax laws.)

I've been mulling over what, if anything, needs to be said about it, other than pointing out the obvious -- that it's a mixed case, contrived to pose a "borderline" issue. What needs to be said about mixed borderline cases, other than that they are mixed?

On further reflection, however, I now see this question (along with the previous questions from the same commenter and even the original question from Zutix) as providing a significant clue to some far larger philosophical issues.

Rather than let the issue go as not significant enough for a response, I considered responding simply by saying, as a broad, general principle, that I would probably tend to render a mixed verdict in a mixed case. But then the commenter-questioner could come right back and ask: is that necessarily always true, as an immutable absolute? Could there ever be a case of "gray" that nevertheless calls for a verdict of mostly white or mostly black rather than "matching gray"?

I also thought of responding that I would need more context, more details, to decide a mixed case. But then the commenter-questioner could ask: what kind of details? How would they affect the verdict? We've heard the saying, "The devil is in the details." But what kind of practical guidance is that?

I see a very broad but important philosophical issue here: what can one do when one is dealing with gray? It reminds me of Dr. Stadler's favorite saying in Atlas Shrugged: "What can you do when you have to deal with people?" How can principles that are defined in terms of black and white apply to cases of gray?

The first step in dealing with gray is to recognize that gray is always a mixture of black and white. "Always," some might ask? Since the identification seems almost tautologous, I leave it as a challenge for others to offer credible counter-examples, if they can and if they think it's important. Next, judge the white parts of the gray for the "white" that they are, as right or good or true -- and judge the black parts of the gray for the "black" that they are, as wrong or bad or false. Then judge the relative weight or magnitude of the respective white and black elements, and thereby reach the resulting overall judgment of the mix.

Note that black elements, though few in number, may sometimes be so horrendous as to outweigh far more numerous white elements -- and vice versa. In law, we've heard the princple that it is better to let ten guilty defendants go free than to convict one innocent defendant. Similarly, a judge who has to enforce rights-violating laws some of the time will need to consider his role very seriously, if he seeks to defend and uphold individual rights. He will need to ask himself if all the good that he does is worth the cost of the harm that he must also do sometimes. A conscientious, rational judge, a man of genuine integrity, probably will be wrenchingly hard-pressed to tolerate even a slight, immensely distasteful exercise in the black. He will want and seek escape from it somehow if he can't do anything to reverse the trend, and he will act decisively to formulate and implement his escape plan as swiftly as humanly possible. Lesser judges, of course, may muddle along far longer. The story of Judge Narragansett in Atlas Shrugged comes to mind here, as a vivid concretization of the former type of judge.

The original question by Zutix also expresses the idea that we should stay where we are, hold our ground, and fight our destroyers to the maximum extent they will allow, in order to have any hope of eventually changing the trends of the world for the better. That idea, too, is concretized dramatically in Atlas Shrugged -- as a stifling error that the heroes of the story eventually learn to understand and overcome. Ayn Rand's expression for this error is "the sanction of the victim."

I've also noticed that the original question, as well as the subsequent comment-questions, are all being asked in a form that has become very prevalent on this website (and others): is 'X' moral? Or, is 'X' immoral? -- where 'X' represents just about anything one might imagine, and all possible shades of mixture in-between. Moreover, this is usually asked without much understanding of what it means for something to be moral or immoral, according to Objectivism. Is there a deeper philosophic perspective that this kind of question, asked in this way, expresses? I think there is: the view that the world is all M or D -- misintegration or disintegration -- that man needs at least a little integration of some kind, even if it is actually misintegration disconnected from reality, accepted and followed very pragmatically, according to utility and expediency, but that staying connected to reality requires a heavy dose of disintegration, as well, whenever the demands of misintegration start to become too overwhelming. (Misintegration in morality typically takes the form of mandates from "above" or from society which everyone allegedly "must" obey.) What is almost completely missing from this worldview is 'I', integration -- abstractions that are nevertheless well connected to reality, to the level of the concrete, despite being abstractions. Such integration, especially on a broad, systematic scale, is enormously far from self-evident, and it's what Objectivism seeks to offer.

When the "X-question" is asked from the M-D perspective, the questioner is probably expressing an assumption that all principles are ultimately disconnected from reality and can be followed only up to a certain point, beyond which they crumble into hopelessly dogmatic absolutism. It may take a very long time, with a great deal of repetition over time and a great deal of hard thinking, for someone on the M-D perspective to begin to comprehend the possibility of genuine reality-based integration. I cannot recommend any philosophy more highly in this quest than Objectivism.

answered Feb 13 '12 at 23:57

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Feb 16 '12 at 00:49

Just to be clear, the Taxpayer Advocate Service is a particular service which is run by the federal government. It is, in fact, a division of the IRS. The National Taxpayer Advocate reports to the Commissioner of the IRS. (http://www.irs.gov/advocate/)

(Feb 14 '12 at 19:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Is it wrong to work as a district judge who sometimes hears tax cases?

(Feb 14 '12 at 19:51) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I don't see how being a district judge is a mixed case, but being a Tax Court judge is just flat out wrong.

But maybe this is because you don't understand how tax court works? I noticed that in your original answer you refer to a tax court judge as an "enforcer", and I have no idea where that is coming from.

Something to keep in mind is that in almost all tax court cases the taxpayer is the petitioner, and in all tax court cases the Commissioner of the IRS is the respondent.

(Feb 16 '12 at 09:06) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If tax cases usually end up in court because the victim appeals an IRS tax ruling against him, it still remains true that the judge is obligated by law to uphold the tax laws (as I understand it, although I'm not a lawyer). Since the tax laws inherently violate individual rights, the moral issue comes down to whether the judge is acting immorally all the time or just "sometimes," i.e., in whatever tax cases "sometimes" come before him.

(Feb 17 '12 at 16:04) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image
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To work there as a matter of routine it is certainly immoral. There are plenty of other places to work in that don't involve violations of rights. If government per se interests you, and finance in particular, there are other areas within Treasury departments that are moral to work for.

To work there as one sleeper operative among many therein intending to 'wake' and act to prevent a powerful unit of government being used by unscrupulous staff and public sector unions to screw over an incoming rational administration, and thereafter to ensure it works smoothly on its way to its eventual winding down, it can be very moral and is in fact a necessity at the beginning of the end of the tax office.

It is far too early for a sleeper operation today, so for today's context it is plain immoral to work there. Ditto many other units of government that should not exist.


answered Feb 13 '12 at 01:15

JJMcVey's gravatar image

JJMcVey ♦

What about tax court? Is it wrong to work as a judge for the tax court? Appeals officer?

How about the taxpayer advocate service? What about as a tax preparer?

What about as a federal agent? What if you are called on to arrest a tax evader?

There are some places to work in that don't involve violations of rights. But I wouldn't say there are plenty.

(Feb 13 '12 at 07:07) anthony anthony's gravatar image

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Asked: Feb 11 '12 at 05:39

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Last updated: Feb 17 '12 at 16:04