By Bradley Harrington
“Unjust laws exist: Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” — Henry David Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” 1849 —
A stirring question indeed, on Mr. Thoreau’s part — and at this point of my life in regard to such laws, I’ve now chosen to “transgress them at once.” And this blog post is going to tell you exactly why.
But first, Dear Readers, fair warning: This rant is a double-tap, and both parts are about three times longer than they should be. My apologies for that, but some things take more time than others to discuss.
And more: You are hereby given notice that you are about to encounter thoughts and ideas that, potentially, exist in contradistinction to the standards of your reality-tunnel. Or of the standards of the large majority of the other reality-tunnels around you. I’d therefore suggest, should you be happy with your current world-picture, that you mentally strap yourself in and get your shields up — for the sudden and intense exposures of some of these ideas on unprepared minds has, on rare occasions, resulted in radical realignments of fundamental thoughts regarding politics, ethics and society. And we certainly don’t want that, now do we?
Despite such possibilities, however, I’d suggest you follow along for a bit anyway … If you haven’t already been irreparably “adjusted” by your school or TV programming, that is. For the implications for all of us, on just these issues, in every area of our lives, are direct and immediate. So …
First, Let’s Set the Table
As people who know me know, I do computers for a living. Whatever you need. Whatever it takes. Hardware, software, networking, operating systems, you name it. And I’ve been at it since 1986.
Realizing I’m a lousy fit for the corporate “team player” role, however, my wife Barbie and I decided to go independent a number of years ago, when we first started up Liberty Computer just outside of Portland, Ore. back in 2003. When Barbie and I moved back to Cheyenne in 2008, we closed Liberty Computer there — but, a few years later, we “re-opened” a new rendition of it here in Cheyenne back in 2014.
Naturally enough, since we’ve always paid the relevant sales taxes on our hardware purchases (if applicable; Oregon didn’t have a sales tax), we’ve never doubly taxed the consumer that amount too, but simply rolled it into the price of the product. And we’ve never charged sales tax for labor either.
Well, that approach got us into hot water with the Wyoming Dept. of Revenue (DOR) last year, who audited us and determined that — for the three-year time period of 2015-2017 — Liberty Computer Service had failed to collect Wyoming sales taxes for our work over that period.
Consequently, when the audit was all said and done, the DOR handed us a bill for well over $25,000 for the taxes we had failed to collect. Plus penalty assessment. Plus late fees.
My first gut-level emotional inclination, after being handed that bill? To tell those people to go piss up a rope. BUT … (As my thinking began kicking in) … If I did that, then I’d be bringing serious problems … Problems like: (1) Property liens; (2) Seized bank accounts; (3) and, last but certainly not least, jail or prison for continued non-compliance.
So, I kept my mouth shut and signed off on the bill, and we’ve been paying the DOR $550 per month on that debt since. And, back in December, I applied for a sales tax license — so, in January and with a very bad taste in my mouth, I began to charge a 6-percent sales tax on all work performed.
Except that … I quickly discovered that every time I went to pay the sales tax bill, my monthly tax debt payment was already overdue, so … I’d pay that instead. When push comes to shove, as it often does with sole proprietorships for a variety of reasons, I simply didn’t have that much of an income or that advanced of a cash flow.
(Nor, at that time, had I yet been educated by several of my friends that the secret is to set aside that 6 percent as it is collected into a separate bank account that exists for that purpose only — as I’ve been thoroughly educated on since. And then pay the bill as it comes due. Sorry, folks … I was too busy fixing computers to give it much thought.)
Consequently, we’ve accumulated a sales tax debt for the taxes I’ve actually collected since January of about $3,000, while I’ve been paying down the previous 3-year audit debt … And, as you might imagine, I’ve been catching a huge amount of grief from the DOR for that failure to pay.
Thinking Things Over
After the last phone call from the DOR last week, it was clear to me that this was a very dynamic and quickly-evolving problem, and that I needed to get a handle on it immediately.
So, I began considering ALL of the options and potentialities present in this situation. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of my grief stemmed from one huge mistake: My 2018 sign-off on a three-year audit debt that I didn’t even owe. Hadn’t even ever collected.
It was a tremendous error for two reasons: (1) That action gave the State the political authority it was completely lacking prior to it, as I had — literally — signed off on it, thereby granting my voluntary consent to the arrangement; and (2) much, much worse, that signature gave serious sanction to the idea that the State had some kind of a “right” to my earnings, or to control my rights to free association and free trade.
Late Saturday evening, it finally sunk into my somewhat-slow brain: Like it or not, regardless of consequences, it was time to fish or cut bait. Time for me to stand up and torpedo both of those bad ideas completely — for I would never be able to look at myself in a mirror again afterwards if I didn’t.
So, on Monday afternoon, I walked into the DOR’s lobby and told Rita Stauffer, my “representative,” who was manning the front desk: “We need to talk.”
In the Belly of the Beast
A few minutes later, I found myself in an office with Rita and two other ladies. I introduced myself and was given their names — but truth be told, I was so emotionally hyped-up at the time I simply don’t recall them. The older of the two, behind the desk, was obviously the one in charge. I looked at all three of them, then I said:
“I’m trying very hard to think of a way that I can actually explain things to you such that you will grasp what’s going on here, in a way you can actually understand. I suspect that some of the concepts I’m about to discuss will be quite alien to your way of thinking, since we don’t teach this stuff in our schools any longer and haven’t for decades — but I’m going to give it my best effort.
“From the time of this country’s founding, American citizens have always possessed the right to free association and free trade. Indeed, it was Britain’s attempts to usurp and restrict those rights that led to the American Revolution … Which led to the Declaration of Independence … Which led to the Constitution.
“Those two documents are America’s animating life-force and the direct ideological source of our American exceptionalism. The Declaration was our blueprint for a free and civil society and the Constitution — for the most part — was the erection of that structure in our body politic. Both consistently and repeatedly stressed government’s mission: To secure and protect the rights of the individual. And it is those documents and ideas that form the basis for all I’ve got to say today.
“It appears, ladies, that we have a problem. The reason I haven’t paid the sales taxes I’ve collected since January is because I’m too busy paying you $550 a month for a debt I don’t even owe. And, as I review my finances and budgeting, shy of a huge jump in business I have no right to expect, there isn’t any way I’m going to be able to pay down both in the near future.
And yes, I understand that I got into this failure-to-pay-what’s-been-collected mess as a result of my own ignorance. Still, that doesn’t alter the financial realities of the situation now. Therefore, I’ve made a few decisions, and I’m here to inform you of them, and to let you know exactly what you can expect from me from this point forward.”
Needless to say, I had the undivided attention of all three ladies, who continued eyeballing me.
“It was a bad blunder for me to have signed off on that audit debt YOU ladies say I owe. I should have challenged you then, and it’s been eating at me ever since. And all of this horrible situation I am finding myself in right now flows directly from it. Therefore, let’s correct that problem.
“That tax bill you say I owe, that I’m paying you $550 a month for? Well, guess what: I ain’t paying it!
“As far as the fact that I signed a contract with you DOR people to make those payments — well, that “contract” was signed under duress, under threat of force, and any judge in the country, were they to be actually honest for a change, will tell you that such conditions void any such “contract.”
“Now, the sales taxes that I have collected since January, are a legitimate debt, so here’s what we’re going to do:
“(1) I will have, in your offices here by Friday, an honest and accurate assessment of my monthly owes on those already-collected-taxes, counting their late-payment penalties, January through July, 2019;
“(2) Those monthly returns will add up to somewhere around $3,000 or so, and I will begin applying my $550 payment I’ve been giving you for a debt I never owed to the payment of that legitimate tax bill instead;
“(3) Since the payments I have already given you were based on a null-and-void contract, I think it’s only fair that I now apply those previous payments, as return credits, to the debt I actually DO owe; don’t you?
“(4) Therefore, along with the rest, I will also be giving you an accounting of that credit application to the existing debt, and a payment plan of $550 per month until the remainder of that debt is settled in full.”
I stopped for breath and looked around. To say there were at least a couple of eyes as big as dinner plates would not be an overly-large exaggeration.
The boss behind the desk looked at me over her glasses. “Did you challenge your original audit?” she asked.
“No, I did not,” I replied. “The information arrived at was accurate enough, and — again — I was frozen by the fear of too many negative consequences, not to mention new and additional lawyer fees I had no resources for.”
She gestured for me to continue.
“So, ladies, this is exactly what you can expect from me: Total non-compliance. I will continue to exercise my rights to free association and free trade, just as I have been for years. I will continue to repair computers in this town, and I ain’t applying for any license in order to do it. And I sure as Hell ain’t asking you for your permission. Nor will I, from today forward, ever function as your unpaid tax collector ever again.
“You DOR people rely on your laws and your statutes and your government guns to cow people into line — and, for fear of aggressive governmental action, nearly all of us nod our heads and go along.
“You are about to find out, however — at least in regard to me — that you actually depend far more upon my voluntary cooperation and actions than you realize.
“And all of that voluntarism — my willful consent to your actions — just disappeared into the bit bucket. From now on, when we deal with one another, it will be at the point of your gun.
“If you DOR people think you have some kind of a “right” to take my money through government force — if you believe you have some kind of a “right” to coercively interfere with my rights to free association and free trade guaranteed to me by both the Declaration and the Constitution — then bring it on. Let’s see you break out your guns openly, for once. No longer will I help you disguise the true natures of your actions.
“Seize my bank accounts and come and arrest me. For that’s what it’s going to take to stop me. At this point, I completely REFUSE to take part in, or sanction, your schemes of thuggery and control. Take whatever actions you deem necessary against me, but realize this: You’ll be needing force and you’ll be dragging me everywhere.”
I stopped again and looked around again. The boss had a clear look of disdain on her face as she looked at me. Crooking a finger towards her office door, she said: “OK, we’re done listening to you … Which means you can go now.”
Well, quite frankly, I was a bit surprised that I’d even gotten as far as I had. It was enough, nor did I need to wonder whether I’d made my points frightfully clear; they were echoed clearly on the faces before me.
“Make it a great day, ladies,” I said as I headed out the door.
OK, that might not be exactly what I said, word for word. Like I said, I was emotionally agitated. But it’s close enough. And that was the day I told the Wyoming DOR to go pound sand.
NOTE: This column was originally published on the “Truth to Power” blog on August 2, 2019.