of Money on
Decisions to Engage in War Tax Resistance
by Karen Marysdaughter
printed in Conscience, Fall 1989
There has been much debate within the WTR movement about the
reasons people are slow to commit themselves to war tax resistance,
or quick to let go of it. As a war tax resister, counselor, and organizer
over the past eight years, I too have been confused and frustrated
about this. The fear of the IRS and of legal consequences has often
been cited as the primary reason for peoples’ reluctance to engage
in WTR. Certainly this is a factor in many peoples’ minds, one
which is often voiced by prospective WTRs, and one that the IRS and
the government are careful to cultivate. But in my experience with
WTR it has become clear to me that another factor is exerting a strong
influence on peoples’ decisions whether or not to engage in WTR.
That factor is the influence of money.
occupies a powerful place in our society. Besides its obvious power to
provide the basic necessities of life and to exert political influence,
it strongly affects peoples’ attitudes about themselves and others.
For example, a person’s worth and competence are judged by how
much they earn or own. The depth of someone’s love is measured
by the price tag on the gifts they buy. Parental care and responsibility
are judged by how well children are provided for materially. Self-love
is often equated with being willing to spend money on oneself. Standards
of attractiveness are based on wearing expensive clothes, and intelligence
is assumed for those who attend expensive schools. In essence, having
money is equated with all that is desirable in our society; the corollary,
of course, is that lack of money is equated with all that is undesirable.
influence of money on our attitudes and behavior is far-reaching and
deeply-rooted. Consumerism has become a way of life in our society; people
are “addicted” to acquiring things and spending money. More
means better. Many people have no conception of any other lifestyle or
economic system, and money’s influence on them is largely unconscious.
how does all of this affect decision making about WTR? I think its effect
is to distort people’s perceptions in two major areas. The first
is peoples’ perceptions of affluence and financial risk. A fascinating
film on the subject of affluence, which I once saw at a conference, included
interviews with people from a wide range of socioeconomic levels, from
a welfare mother to a very wealthy businessman. Almost no one in the
film saw themselves as affluent, because there was always someone more
wealthy than themselves. They compared themselves to people higher on
the scale, not lower. They almost all perceived themselves as struggling
to get ahead and therefore, in some way, financially insecure, even the
very wealthy businessman.
I have observed is that people who perceive themselves as being financially
insecure are less likely to be willing to take financial risks, and therefore
less likely to do WTR. In my experience, most people who consider WTR
or engage in it are not really living on the edge economically, and they
usually have financial “safety nets” and/or a community of
support, even those living below taxable levels. But many perceive themselves
as on the edge and unwilling to face any of the possible financial instability
involved in WTR.
risk seems to loom larger than other kinds of risks. For example, peace
activists risk injury and death in Nicaragua,
but can’t imagine living without health insurance. Our whole world
risks nuclear holocaust, but voluntarily living on a low income is somehow
too scary. As with affluence, we compare our financial risks to those
of people who are more financially secure than we are, rather than to
the vast majority of people in the world who really live on the edge.
second area of distortion I see is people’s perceptions of self
worth. People who voluntarily take financial risks, especially if they
choose to live on a low income, end up dealing with all of our society’s
negative attitudes toward the lack of money. Rather than being perceived,
by themselves or others, as daring or willing to make sacrifices for
their beliefs, they may well be perceived as incompetent, inadequate,
or, at the very least, foolish. Without regular reinforcement for choosing
to live at odds with the economic lifestyle of our society, I think many
people who try war tax resistance get worn down by these negative attitudes
and eventually give up.
believe that long-held and firmly implanted notions about money, unless
continually questioned and challenged, are likely to dominate people’s
thinking about affluence, risk and self-worth. If we are to increase
our numbers as a WTR movement, I think we need to include a critique
of values and attitudes about money in our work and offer lots of explicit
support for people who are changing their economic lifestyles in order
to resist paying military taxes.
Karen Marysdaughter, a former NWTRCC coordinator, lives