Paying Taxes Is Patriotic. Dodging Taxes Is Unpatriotic.

It is easy to feel as though average citizens have no real power over the monetary scams, schemes, and predations of rich and powerful people and corporations. Not true. All of us hold a power that amount of money can buy: the power of our approval.

Everyone wants approval. Everyone wants to be loved, and admired, and revered. Rich people desire this as much as anyone. Corporations understand this as a key to their success. American companies spend tens of billions of dollars each year creating a "brand" with a carefully chosen set of fictional characteristics all designed to inspire love and approval. The entire public relations industry is dedicated to cultivating a sense of public admiration for powerful companies and individuals. Money can buy material goods and human talent and political influence, but it cannot directly buy the one thing that allows the powerful to maintain their power: the public's collective approval. Your approval.

Some people are very strident and radical about the unfairness inherent in the American political and economic systems, and some people are not very upset about it at all. Let's focus on a few things that just about everyone can agree on: We have a great deal of economic inequality. We have a system in which corporation and a small number of very wealthy individuals wield great amounts of money and political power. As part of our social contract, we ask people and corporations to pay taxes, which fund our democratic government, which works on behalf of everyone. This is the idea, at least. No matter how you feel about how well our government performs, or how clunky our tax code might be, you can probably agree that taxes are the price that we pay to live in a society like ours. Rich people and big companies, who have more means, and whose success is dependent upon the rule of law that the government makes possible, pay the most taxes, and, by the way, get the most benefit from America's stable society, which is funded by those taxes. Taxes are the price of admission to a functional America.

Taxes are, in a word, patriotic.

Despite this, it is well known that rich people and big companies do everything they can to minimize the amount of taxes they pay. (Gawker Media is an acknowledged tax-avoider.) They do not go about this in the spirit of good faith; they go about it quite brazenly in the spirit of keeping every last penny in their own pockets and out of the public coffers. It is an aggressive plan to fight the spirit of the law. There is no honest attempt to justify this practice by saying that the very rich or successful companies need this revenue more than the U.S. government does. There is nothing but a singleminded pursuit of money maximization, at the expense of the public. It is not a secret. Hedge funds employ sophisticated strategies to avoid billions of dollars in taxes. Major American corporations are busily fleeing our shores—on paper only—for the sole purpose of not giving tax revenue to our government. Even successful companies that are already paying effective tax rates well under the stated US corporate tax rate think nothing of leaving America altogether to shave several percentage points off their taxes. It is money above all.

Well, so what? "Money above all" has become a widely accepted credo by the American public. Against all odds, we, the vast majority of citizens, who do not have huge fortunes or globe-spanning business operations, have come to accept this form of behavior as acceptable, even necessary. "It's rational... they have to do it... it's business," we shrug, as if we were all a bunch of little Milton Friedmans, rather than a nation of people who failed math. We offer our tacit approval of tax avoidance—for free! And the rich, and the corporations, will take that deal any day.

You may not have economic means. You may not wield extraordinary political influence. But you do exercise full control over your own approval. And you do not have to give your approval to those who have economic means, and political influence, and who choose to use those things in the most self-serving way imaginable: to minimize their own taxes. It is selfishness, pure and simple. It is a concerted effort to deny America the means to support itself, while enjoying the benefits that the American government offers. It is unpatriotic. It is, in fact, the opposite of true patriotism, which involves sacrificing something of value for the public good. And no number of expensive PR consultants and sunshine-tinted branding campaigns can change that.

The same companies and individuals who claim patriotism to burnish their own images are the first ones to hire teams of lawyers to avoid paying their taxes. They are able to get away with this only with the tacit approval of regular people. Withdraw your approval, and watch change come.

[Photo: AP]