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  1. Donations to charity are already tax deductible. No illegal tax evasion should come into the conversation.
  2. For the love of God, do not do anything illegal or unethical in the name of EA or reducing suffering. Please.

Donations to charity are already tax deductible.

While I agree with you because of the second bullet point, this is not necessarily true. Inside the US, donations are effectively not tax deductable if you are claiming the standard deduction, or over the AGI limit, or giving giving to an entity without the right tax status in your jurisdiction, etc. And outside the US different rules apply and donations may not be tax deductable anyway.

Guy Raveh
To expand on your last point, donations here in Israel are only tax deductible when they go to charities operating in Israel. I can't donate to AMF and get a deduction.
...yet. We're working on it!

I'm sorry, but without in the slightest bit wishing to impugn any individual, or make anyone feel bad , or tread on any toes, or poke anyone in the epistemic nether parts, or make the onerous task of moderating this forum any more difficult than it no doubt already is, I respectfully disagree (but very respectfully) with your second point. The post-FTX rush to disavow all "ends justify the means" reasoning is about as silly as SBF's disregard for the Kelly criterion. As a wise philosopher once said, "if the ends don't justify the means, I'd like to know what the hell does". We can all say that stealing $8 billion is almost certainly very very bad, without endorsing a mindset whereby even the most ridiculous laws must be upheld without fail at all times (and a lot of places around the world have some very silly tax laws). Blanket answers here seem inappropriate, although ofc OP didn't give us much to go on (perhaps wisely if he does in fact follow through with his plans to evade taxes).

Thinking that 'the ends justifies the means' (in this case, making more donations justifies tax evasion) is likely to lead to incorrect calculations about the trade-offs involved. It's very easy to justify almost anything with this type of logic, which means we should be very hesitant. 

As another commenter pointed out, tax money isn't 'your' money. Tax evasion (as opposed to 'tax avoidance' - which is legal) is stealing from the government. It would not be ethical to steal from your neighbour in order to donate the money, and likewise it is not ethical to steal from the government to donate money. 

No. Tax money isn't yours.

Edit: fine, I'll add one exception, which is if you don't live in a democracy. The reason is that the amount of taxes in a dictatorship can be determined arbitrarily and isn't tied to any legitimate claims.


I agree with the "no", as in EAs shouldn't do it, but I dispute the second sentence. I'd describe it more as paying a protection racket.

Well, I wouldn't go that far either. St Paul teaches us in Romans 13 about the importance of submission to governing authority: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation...". His logic is that even impious rulers who nevertheless keep the peace and make sure the law is observed are operating under a divine mandate: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil." From this wise and apostolic teaching we can deduce, I think, that even bad rulers who do fulfil the basic functions of governance (perhaps the House of Saud would be a good modern-day example) ought to be obeyed and have their taxes paid to them in full. On the other hand, it is very easy to imagine rulers that do NOT fulfil this role (the Taliban, perhaps the Mayor of Baltimore?). To these rulers it might easily be argued that we do not owe obedience and should not pay our taxes.  Unaddressed by St Paul is the question of obedience to lawful rulers who nonetheless demand far more in tax than they actually need to fulfil the basic functions of government, so perhaps some common sense and individual discretion is called for. To this kind of ruler it might be argued that we owe partial obedience and some amount of taxes, but when the demands become so excessive that they conflict with other financial duties we have (to our family, our friends, our religion) that some tax evasion might be permissible. But this calls for some case by case assessment. The state is sometimes no more than a protection racket, but rarely is this entirely the case or even mostly the case.

Think it depends on where you live, how high your overall tax rate is, and how good or bad your government is. If you lived in 1970s Sweden, had a very high income (Bjorn Borg, Astrid Lindgren) and were facing effective tax rates of 90% +, then some tax evasion might seem quite reasonable, since the state is effectively violating divine law by taking so much. If you live somewhere fantastically corrupt, like modern-day Nigeria, you might very rightly think that the state doesn't deserve your money since it will just waste it in some spectacular way, and you can do more good by spending it yourself as you see fit (even if it's just reinvesting in your own business or whatever).

Mostly, I would say that most of the developed world is neither so corrupt nor has so outrageously high rates as to justify tax evasion, but your mileage may vary.  I do think that some level of tax evasion is perhaps a necessary thing in the world in order to keep governments in check, since almost everyone can evade taxes but only the wealthy can really afford the expensive advice from lawyers and accountants to legally avoid them. The IRS estimates from random audits that something like 15% of federal taxes due are unpaid, largely I think due to how easy it is to underreport your income when filling out your taxes: PAYE systems are quite underdeveloped in the U.S. 

The widespread prevalence of tax evasion might be thought of as a useful check on government power, since it communicates to federal policymakers that excessive increases in federal income taxes will only be met with more evasion. If you want to get all social justicey about it, you might also argue that a little bit of blue-collar tax evasion allows for historically oppressed minorities (Borderers, black people, etc) to build wealth over the generations. At the same time, while a little bit of tax evasion on the side helps keeps the state in check, if everyone did it, things would rapidly break down. But it's a nuanced question and not much more can be said without knowing more about your personal situation. The ends do justify the means some of the time!

At least from a US perspective, the ability to "underreport your income when filling out your taxes" heavily depends on the source of that income. If your income derives from an on-the-books job, your ability to underreport income is nearly zero (although you can try for some phony deductions). If you're self-employed or run a small business, your potential effectiveness is an order of magnitude greater -- that 15 percent tax gap varies widely by type of income. I think variance in ability to evade seriously weakens some of your proposed benefits of evasion.

I disagree with the other commenters here who say that tax evasion is theft. I think theft requires taking someone else's property, and I don't think the government generally has a strong moral claim to your property.

That said, the penalty for deliberate tax evasion can be severe. You can easily find people convicted for tax evasion who face years of prison and large fines. I believe this downside outweighs the potential benefit of donating your money instead.

Tax evasion is frankly underprosecuted in many jurisdictions. I'm certainly not endorsing it, but I wouldn't assume the cost/benefit analysis is unfavorable if the costs are largely limited to the risk of civil and criminal sanctions.

Of course, we'd need to know where someone lived and the type of evasion they had in mind before constructing such an analysis. For various reasons, I have no interest in doing that or in encouraging evasion -- I just think "crime doesn't pay" without an analysis is too easy/comfortable an answer.