Is the Income Tax Voluntary?

National Taxpayers Union is steadfastly opposed to the current U.S. income tax system, and the organization has worked for repeal of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for the better part of a decade. Our members believe that the Tax Code is contrary to the Founders' vision of fiscal policy.

Nonetheless, we do not subscribe to the contorted theories of tax resistance or "un-tax" service organizations. Since the 1970s these firms have come and gone by the dozens, peddling long-discredited schemes that eventually lead to failure. These arguments include, but are not limited to, "the income tax is voluntary," "ordinary wages are not 'income' for tax purposes," "only certain non-residents are subject to income tax," "the IRS is a private corporation chartered in Delaware," and "the 16th Amendment was never properly ratified."

Only the last argument in this list contains a kernel of truth, but even this is more of a historical curiosity than a basis for some kind of legal remedy. I would invite you to review comprehensive treatment of these topics at a host of websites, including:


These sites have consistently debunked the "un-tax" myth with court decisions and other legal citations.

One particular aspect of deceptive marketing often employed by “un-tax” groups is that the income tax is "voluntary." Statements by officials that the tax system depends upon voluntary compliance do NOT mean that citizens may choose to ignore the law. In our system of representative government, ALL laws, at their heart, depend upon "voluntary compliance," or the willingness of most individuals to respect and follow the law. Why, for example, do stores refrain from stationing armed policemen in each aisle to follow each customer to ensure they don't rob salespeople? Why, instead, do they use random security cameras and guards at entrances in case of occasional trouble? It is because clerks trust 99 percent of shoppers to go about their business. So it is with our tax system.

We certainly believe that the income tax is repugnant to the constitutional principles of taxation envisioned by our Founding Fathers. We are even willing to concede that the ratification process for the 16th Amendment was marred by poor oversight. This does not mean the income tax is "voluntary" or only applicable to a tiny slice of the population.