Income tax

Irwin Schiff, R.I.P.

Man who argued there is no legal obligation to pay income tax dies of cancer shackled to prison hospital bed at age 87.

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Irwin Schiff died on Friday while in federal custody over charges connected with his refusal to pay taxes and his advising others to do so.

His public career began as a popularizer of small-government, Austrian-economics-influenced thought with a popular 1976 book mostly about the various ways he thought government actions of various sorts harmed citizens, called The Biggest Con. He then shifted to become the most famous popularizer, over many books over decades, of the idea that no one legally owes income tax.

According to an obituary notice from his son Peter Schiff, who runs the firm Euro Pacific Capital and is a public advocate for Austrian-influenced economic ideas himself, his father's end was unnecessarily ignominious and cruel.

He began a 14-year prison sentence 10 years ago, when he was already 77, then came down with skin then lung cancers in prison and was moved away from his family to a prison hospital in Texas where Peter Schiff insists his father's medical treatment was negligent. Then:

We tried to get him out of prison on compassionate release so that he could live out the final months of his life with his family, spending some precious moments with the grandchildren he had barely known.  But he did not live long enough for the bureaucratic process to be completed.  Two months after the process began, despite the combined help of a sitting Democratic U.S. congresswoman and a Republican U.S. senator, his petition was still sitting on someone's desk waiting for yet another signature, even though everyone at the prison actually wanted him released….When his condition deteriorated to the point where he needed to be hospitalized, government employees blindly following orders kept him shackled to his bed. This despite the fact that escape was impossible for an 87 year old terminally ill, legally blind patient who could barley breathe, let alone walk.

I met Schiff while researching my 2004 Reason feature on the "tax honesty" movement. He was indeed a jolly warrior for a cause he obviously very sincerely believed in, even when it became completely obvious that the federal government was not going to be daunted by his arguments and indeed was going to keep arresting him for practicing them and advocating them.

The New York Times obituary. While Schiff's writings on the income tax and his thoughts on why it was illegitimate stretched over many books, not all of which I've read, the Times is a bit misleading in claiming that a goldbuggy belief that the paper dollar wasn't a real dollar anymore so no one is really "earning money" was one of its cores. He discussed that point briefly in Biggest Con, which wasn't mostly about the income tax anyway. His position evolved to mostly arguing (among other things) that by his reading of the true legal definition of "income," neither you nor I had any, "income" properly defined according to his reading of court decisions and statutes being only corporate profits.

One might wonder, even beyond the compassionate exemption that ought to have been quickly forthcoming for a dying man of his advanced age, why it even seemed so vital for the government to keep an old man who posed no threat to the life or property of a fellow citizen in prison to begin with.

From the government's perspective though, he remained a threat who had to be neutralized because he would keep committing the crimes they convicted him for: not paying income tax and telling others they didn't legally have to either.

For those who want to go into some of the legal weeds of Schiff vs. the government, see this weirdly First Amendment-challenging injunction against him from 2008 basically making it illegal for him to sell his books about the income tax, this 2013 denial of his motion to have his last conviction overturned, or this collection of Department of Justice documents pertaining to their long war against Irwin Schiff for having, advising, and acting upon his eccentric beliefs about tax law.

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  1. How does al sharpton get away with not paying his?

    1. Better connections probably.

    2. His lustrous hair?

    3. The system treats criminals different from enemies.

    4. He doesn’t pretend he doesn’t have to pay them. He just jumps through whatever hoops he needs to get his taxes down to zero, and that way has a much smaller target painted on his back.

    5. It’s not against the law to owe taxes that you cannot pay.

      It’s against the law to lie about owing taxes or to willfully miscalculate the taxes that you owe.

      And in Schiff’s case, to advocate that other people not pay their taxes.

      1. And in Schiff’s case, to advocate that other people not pay their taxes.

        Wrong. See the first amendment.

        -jcr

        1. Yeah, that defense didn’t work out so great for him.

          1. And what does that indicate about the rule of law?

        2. Merely advocating tax resistance might very well have been protected by the first amendment.

          Schiff, though, did more than that: He promoted a bogus legal theory (one that had had its day in court multiple times, and was bogus beyond all doubt) saying that the law didn’t require anyone to pay taxes — and he used his position as a tax professional to promote that lie to hundreds, maybe thousands of ordinary people who assumed he was an expert.

          That’s fraud, and that’s what he was convicted of. And correctly so.

          If you think we morally don’t owe taxes and ought to refuse to pay them, go ahead and say so. Just don’t try to fool people into thinking the police aren’t going to come after them for it. That doesn’t help them or anybody else.

  2. How does al sharpton get away with not paying his?

    1. Double taxation (avoidance)!

  3. We tried to get him out of prison on compassionate release so that he could live out the final months of his life with his family, spending some precious moments with the grandchildren he had barely known. But he did not live long enough for the bureaucratic process to be completed. Two months after the process began, despite the combined help of a sitting Democratic U.S. congresswoman and a Republican U.S. senator, his petition was still sitting on someone’s desk waiting for yet another signature, even though everyone at the prison actually wanted him released….When his condition deteriorated to the point where he needed to be hospitalized, government employees blindly following orders kept him shackled to his bed. This despite the fact that escape was impossible for an 87 year old terminally ill, legally blind patient who could barley breathe, let alone walk.

    Bets on whether or not the government’s treatment of Schiff was intentional?

    1. “Bets on whether or not the government’s treatment of Schiff was intentional?”
      Choosing between stupidity and cupidity, take stupid every time. They *might* be mean, but they ARE stupid

    2. They couldn’t just let him go. They let him out of prison and BAM! He’ll be right back to not paying his taxes.

      1. Do you think they should release Bernie Madoff and all elderly murder convicts serving life sentences too, since they’re not a threat either?

          1. Wow, I had no idea Madonna was a Kabbalah priestess!

        1. As I wrote in another thread, no term of incarceration should exceed 90 d. That should be long enough for you to get out of whatever frame of mind led you to commit the crime, although if you’re still acutely agitated, you could renew 90 d. terms indefinitely. If you think someone needs more than 90 days, kill hir.

          If the object is deterrence, that’d be more efficiently (& in a way, humanely) accomplished by torture. If people could be deterred by anything, even a brief period of torture should do it if it’s good.

          1. Not even going to touch the “90 days or death” theory there, or the support for torture, but I do think bringing back mutilation and amputation as judicial punishments makes some financial sense.

            1. TUUUULLLLPAAAAA

            2. Public shaming for minor crimes should definitely be brought back.

          2. The most important reform of all of the criminal justice system would be a dramatic shortening of the time from offense to punishment. Ideally, it would be immediate, or within the same day. Which is obviously not really possible, but should be the goal. As it stands now, years can go by between the offense and punishment – which is completely preposterous from any point of view.

        2. Sure, release Madoff. I don’t understand what good is done by keeping him in a prison. He should be working to pay off his massive, massive debts.

          The point of my snark is that Schiff’s crime was vastly different from something like murder. Doi.

          1. If that was your point, why did you base your “snark” on the lack of danger posed by the release?

            If you think people who committed murder should be held even after they pose no threat, you tacitly accept the idea of using prison as a deterrent anyway.

    3. “The government” is too many people for that question to have a meaningful answer.

      But the way I see it, once the police take somebody prisoner, they are responsible for anything that happens to him — because they’ve used force to become the only people who can possibly prevent it. Once you take a prisoner you don’t get any credit for good intentions.

  4. Moral of the story: Pay your fucking taxes.

    1. There are taxes on that?

  5. The government is a jealous deity; none shall stand before it.

  6. That injunction is something else. He’s forbidden from –

    “…Making any statements, whether written or oral, that, in light of the situation, are
    likely to incite others to imminently violate the law, including to evade the
    assessment, payment, and collection of taxes;

    “…Assisting or aiding others to violate the law, including to evade the assessment
    and payment of taxes, through any means, including through giving in-person
    advice, posting information on the Internet, or selling books, tapes, CDs, that
    instruct or explain how to fill out fraudulent or false tax returns or other
    documents to be filed with the IRS…”

    RIP

  7. Irwin Schiff wrote a great comic book about economics. If I had the money, I’d have it animated and shown on TV.

    This one is great too.

    1. Short version of the first link: Improved production comes from capital, capital comes from savings, savings comes from reduced consumption. If nobody saves, there is no money to use or borrow to start or expand a business.

      Meanwhile, in topsy turvy land, they say that we must increase demand by printing money and mandating higher wages. But demand is already endless. If you take a kid into a toy store, they say “I want that and that and that…” There is no point in increasing demand.

  8. “”The New York Times obituary. “”

    Behind a paywall.

    I moaned the other day asking why – specifically on news items that aren’t properly *NYT-exclusive-content*, or stories they’ve ‘broken’ – Reason feels compelled to always link to the Grey Lady as a matter of course. There are usually plenty of other news-sources that cover the same subjects – and often do so far better… or at the very least, without the extra-helping of Progressive-Smug you’re likely to find at the NYT

    Even if we weren’t talking about a paper that is so unashamedly in the bag for the Establishment Liberal view of the universe….

    .. there’s the fact that they regularly engage in journalistic misconduct ranging from completely fake stories, to taking narrative-shaping “liberties*” with facts….

    (*e.g. – like the failed post-facto Benghazi-Debunking, the attempt to spin a story about Iraqi chemical weapons as a “Bush Cover-Up“, or the way Eric Schmitt managed to write a hit piece ‘discrediting Bo Bergdahl’s critics’ while never mentioning those un-named critics were his actual platoon mates, etc etc etc…)

    shorter = aside from the fact that we can’t READ the link…. i’m not sure why the NYT deserves to be the reference-source.

      1. “The New York Times is the greatest newspaper in the world, so when the current cover story in the Times magazine is headlined, “What Do We Really Know about Osama bin Laden’s Death?,” readers are surely going to pay attention.”

        It doesn’t bother me that people have that opinion. To each their own. What is aggravating is the assumption that everyone else naturally agrees.

        1. I don’t care what you say. Everyone loves the rojak man. FACT.

          Deal with it.

      2. i was never able to read that NYT piece until now because (duh) paywall… (*and i’ve still not read it)

        …but, that said – I’ve said before that I think Hersch’s reporting* is actually more-compelling than the “official” narrative

        ….which it should be noted – the CNN writer here, Peter Bergen, was the official house scribe of that Narrative, with his book “Manhunt”. He probably doesn’t deserve entire credit – but there is no one who stands to lose more credibility than him if there turn out to be *ANY* flaws at all in the claims made about OBL’s “hideout”

        And I dislike the term “truther”, as though the suggestion that there might be some added-level of detail to the OBL story is akin to suggesting that 9-11 was “Faked” with mirrors and the joos and mind control-sauce.

        The fact is that the core of the Hersch claim is very very simple and hardly requires any “truther” argument-style at all = that OBL was not “hiding” in Abbotobad. He was being *held* there. It is a subtle change of conditions to the very same known facts.

        If the NYT is doing anything here, it is covering its own ass by throwing a bone to the fact that not everything associated with the official OBL story is 100% written in stone. The fact is that the “official” story isn’t much of a story at all and has some very large gaps that should someday be filled – simple things like, ‘why has no one interviewed anyone else who was held in that compound‘?.

        1. Reading Bergen’s piece – he mischaracterizes what Hersh’s piece even says

          e.g. “Claims”

          “– That the 2011 raid on the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan was not an intense firefight involving 23 SEALs, but a Hollywood-like set up in which Pakistani officials simply handed over bin Laden to the SEALs for execution.”

          No. Hersh didn’t suggest a single specific new detail about the raid itself.

          His source simply claimed that OBL was a prisoner… and that Pakistani intelligence was going to “take the night off” before the SEALs arrived, and not interfere with the attack.

          Everything SEALs claimed can be 100% accurate. They didn’t need to know whether the target was a prison or a hideout.

          And he calls it an “Intense Firefight”… that’s not even accurate to what SEALs have said. 1 person inside the compound opened fire through a door and was killed.

          “– Pakistan…had been holding bin Laden prisoner for many years and a “walk in” informant…tipped off the CIA”

          Hersh’s source says there was more than one possible source that leaked it. Whether it was a walk-in, or a higher-level contact between the US and ISI, or both, who knows.

          “It was false, despite the statements of multiple U.S. officials after the raid, that the CIA had traced back one of bin Laden’s couriers “

          No. that could be true… as a parallel construction. The CIA needed a story to explain how they “found” him.

    1. sometimes I wonder how you can even call yourself a coastmotarian

      1. “call yourself a coastmotarian”

        because i bitch about the NYT in general?

        or that I thought the WMD’s-story the NYT was pushing in 2014 was a case of historical revisionism?

        I don’t really call myself anything, fwiw.

  9. Condolences to his family.

    “His position evolved to mostly arguing (among other things) that by his reading of the true legal definition of “income,” neither you nor I had any, “income” properly defined according to his reading of court decisions and statutes being only corporate profits.”

    I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for anybody who knows what the government is capable of and what they do to people–and still has the temerity to think that right and wrong not only matter but make a difference. If only it worked that way!

    …if there were more people like that, it probably would.

  10. ‘The New York Times obituary.” – WTF? A link to the power-worshiping, violence-excusing, evidently-suck-up-inducing, lewinsky press? Why?

    ‘his eccentric beliefs about tax law’ – unconventional would have been a better adjective – but narrative, Doherty, the reasonable man’s narrative, right?

    “From the government’s perspective though” – what kind of anthropomorphizing BS is this anyway? Real thugs did this.

  11. I’m sympathetic and my best wishes go to the family but– you know– maybe this rich deadbeat should have paid his taxes. I do. And I don’t have the kind of money a hedge fund manager has.

    Shrugs. I mean– motherfucker– how much sympathy shall we have for some rich guy that doesn’t pay his taxes?

    1. You are a piece of shit. I’m just glad you remind us every time you open your fucking pie-hole.

    2. What the hell does rich have to do with justice?

      Or, put it another way, would you yell hooray for a rich man to be robbed at gunpoint?

      I mean, it’s the same thing. Yes, you would. Anyone who improves their lot in life, especially if they do so by dint of hard work providing things that other people want to buy, is obviously contemptible.

      1. What the hell does rich have to do with justice?

        Aye, there’s the rub!

    3. maybe this rich deadbeat should have paid his taxes. I do. And I don’t have the kind of money a hedge fund manager has.

      Another form of a common statist argument: “people should just be like me!”

      1. That’s Sanders’s entire platform.

    4. ” maybe this rich deadbeat should have paid his taxes. I do. And I don’t have the kind of money a hedge fund manager has.”

      Maybe you would have more money if you did not pay your taxes.

    5. american socialist|10.19.15 @ 10:38PM|#
      “I’m sympathetic and my best wishes go to the family but– you know– maybe this rich deadbeat should have paid his taxes. I do.”

      as a New Soviet Man, you might pay your mortgage instead of relying on the rest of us to bail your sorry ass out.

    6. Amsoc,

      I don’t normally engage in personal attacks, but you are a fucking douchebag slaver piece of shit. Why don’t you go collect taxes for something you believe in, like your socialist utopia? What happened to Schiff is the very result of what you espouse.

      You know if you even tried to extort someone, you’d get the shit kicked out of you. You and every other socialist are pussies. You hide behind politicians, who hide behind their standing armies as they engage in violence against others.

      Come extort me pussy bitch.

      1. I know… I know… Right-wing crazies don’t know the difference between extortion, taxes, and theft. Say it enough times and it begins to have a certain logical consistency for the clinically narcissistic.

        Believe me… I’m with you when it comes to at least part of the equation. For a while back in 2003-2005 I played around with the idea of not paying my taxes as a protest against the Iraq War. But the thing is… I would have neither bitched about or been particularly surprised if in doing so I had been thrown in the slammer as part of that protest. The point is to highlight the injustice.

        1. american socialist|10.20.15 @ 3:02AM|#
          “I know… I know… Right-wing crazies don’t know the difference between extortion, taxes, and theft. Say it enough times and it begins to have a certain logical consistency for the clinically narcissistic.”

          You’ll have to talk to right-wing crazies about that, but the people here know a slime-bag thief when we see one.

    7. You don’t take seriously contract law wrt to your mortgage and you deem this guy that raised serious questions about the govs contract rights, fuck off asshole.

    8. Fuck off, slaver. He did more good for his fellow man than every last one of you commie pukes could do in a thousand lifetimes.

      -jcr

  12. What’s with all you paywall whiners? The New York Times is a great newspaper and you can read all you want for free, just clean out or reject the cookies.

    This is newspaper at its best.

  13. why it even seemed so vital for the government to keep an old man who posed no threat to the life or property of a fellow citizen in prison to begin with.

    Deterrent. Same reason Bernie Madoff is in jail despite there being no danger that anyone would trust him with their money ever again. Allowing old age to become a get out of jail free card creates all sorts of perverse incentives.

    this weirdly First Amendment-challenging injunction against him from 2008 basically making it illegal for him to sell his books about the income tax

    Like it or not, SCOTUS has carved out an exception from the 1st, such that there is no protection for encouragement of lawbreaking where there is no opportunity for the speech to be rebutted. That’s been the case for several decades.

    If he wanted to sell books on the income tax, don’t encourage and abet tax fraud. Not hard.

    1. What’s so good about incarcer’n as deterrent? Couldn’t you think of better things of negative value?

      1. All options should be on the table.

    2. Like it or not, SCOTUS has carved out an exception from the 1st, such that there is no protection for encouragement of lawbreaking where there is no opportunity for the speech to be rebutted

      I missed the part where Schiff’s meanderings couldn’t be rebutted.

      1. You can’t rebut a book that you don’t know someone is reading in the privacy of their home.

        1. “You can’t rebut a book that you don’t know someone is reading in the privacy of their home.”

          I would have thought that the common knowledge of the government, its tax laws and enforcement procedures (certainly known to Schiff’s readership) would be a pretty effective “prebuttal”, if you will.

          It seems creepy that the government worries about not knowing what people are reading in the privacy of their homes. But the governments are working hard to fix that gap in their observational powers.

    3. Tuuullllpaaaaa.

  14. I guess I feel the same way about Irwin schiff as I do about my friend, Tre Arrow (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tre_Arrow).

    1. In a just world you will get lined up against a wall when your heroes decide you are useless to the cause. It may not be as far off as you think.

  15. government employees blindly following orders kept him shackled to his bed

    Goddamned churlish Mother Fuckers. I hope they all die of rectal cancer.

    -jcr

    1. I share your sentiments.

  16. Day late, but RIP, Mr. Schiff. No prison official, guard stood up and said, “The man’s about to die. Take those cuffs off and let’s leave the room. I’d want someone to do the same for me.” This is just mind blowing evil. Wow. Now I hear a Corzine pardon is in the pipeline.

  17. Mr. Schiff’s life & death in prison is tragic. He helped to broaden my thinking & start asking questions about what I believed. But I don’t think he ever fully understood citizenship. I see this as a big stumbling block for the liberty movement.

    Does being a US citizen not come with contractual obligations?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW5P_qSsq3g

    “A citizen of the United States is a citizen of the federal government …” – Kitchens v. Steele 112 F.Supp 383

    http://www.hisholychurch.org/s…..og3cvc.php

    “Protection draws to it subjection; subjection protection.” – Protectio trahit subjectionem, subjectio protectionem. Coke, Littl. 65.

    http://www.preparingyou.com/wi…..ite_note-0

    Invito beneficium non datur. No one is obliged to accept a benefit against his consent. Dig. 50, 17, 69. But if he does not dissent he will be considered as assenting. Vide Assent.

  18. Britain let out the Lockerbie terrorist on compassionate release, but we won’t let out this guy.

    Nice priorities.

  19. This makes me terribly sad at the great patriot’s passing. I feel like crying. I met the great man two or three times. His “The Great Income Tax Hoax” is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. And probably one of the most important. I sent my condolences to Peter Schiff earlier.

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