This post was originally published on Forbes Oct 17, 2015
Irwin Schiff, grandfather of the contemporary tax protest movement, died Friday according to the Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator. Schiff promoted a theory that the federal income tax was very limited in its application and that ordinary Americans are tricked into paying it. He is the author of How Anyone Can Stop Paying Income Tax, Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes, and The Biggest Con: How the Government Is Fleecing You,
Schiff, 87, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and his son Peter had been seeking compassionate release. Both Peter Schiff and his brother Andrew believed that their father's theories were correct but advised people to not follow them.
Irwin Schiff's theory on the extremely limited applicability of the income tax was based on readings of Supreme Court decisions from the period near the passage of the sixteenth amendment. Most important were probably Merchants' Loan and Trust Co. v Smietanka and Brushaber v Union Pacific. I am among those who have found Irwin's arguments entirely unpersuasive. My view of course is unimportant, but any federal judge who has opined on them has been similarly unpersuaded. The best evaluation of Irwin's arguments that I have ever seen was done by his own attorneys in his recent appeal
even though these cases, properly understood, do not support Mr. Schiff’s professed beliefs, they do contain language which, if honestly misconstrued and read out of context, could lead someone without legal training to believe that taxable income is limited to corporate profits
When I first encountered Schiff's arguments in the nineties I was so impressed by how well put together they were, that I found it difficult to believe that they were constructed by someone who believed them, as citations always checked out, but were wildly out of context. Irwin, however, has proved his sincerity. That doesn't make his arguments right, but it does merit some grudging admiration.
I was sad that Peter Schiff was not able to bring his father home for his last days,
You will be able to find remarks viewing Schiff as a martyr on the Anarcho-Capitalism Reddit site. Mises Institute, which focuses on Austrian Economics wrote:
Irwin Schiff, imprisoned for his resistance to the federal income tax, died yesterday. Efforts by his son, the noted financial commentator Peter Schiff, to secure his release from prison so that he could die with his family, were unsuccessful. Schiff's sad passing illustrates an essential truth about the state: if you resist its orders, you will be dealt with by force.
There are other brief mentions on a number of sites most of which see Schiff as a martyr as is the general view on twitter. So far there does not appear to be any mainstream reaction or comment from his family,