Moral dilemmas: Would you pay cash?

I have no problem with businesses that require cash payments (except for the inconvenience to me) but I recently found out that a small business I work regularly with asks for cash to avoid taxes.

Now there’s several legitimate reasons a business might require cash. One of our favorite restaurants only accepted cash. People living day to day on odd jobs or paying daily contractors might find cash more convenient. I wouldn’t normally question why they wanted cash other than random curiosity.  Would I worry that they weren’t paying their taxes? No, I’d consider that their responsibility, not mine.

But now that this business wants cash to avoid taxes? Now I pay with a check.

Is it my job to enforce US tax law? Nope. (Or at least I don’t think so.) Is it my moral obligation to not enable a crime? Yes. Am I being a too goody-goody? I feel like I might be perceived that way. Especially since in the eyes of many taxes are necessary evil and would think not paying taxes is a less evil crime than stealing from a neighbor even if they were for the same amount.  If I really want to do the right thing, I should probably stop doing business with them.

I feel it’s not fair to society that some don’t pay taxes. They use the public roads and schools and need to contribute like everyone else. (I do believe there should be exceptions for those that don’t make enough money to survive comfortably. But that should be worked out fairly across society.)

It reminds me of all the social experiments on cooperation. People are willing to take a personal hit (like pay money) in order to punish people who don’t cooperate. I don’t have a link for the studies but see the Tit for Tat strategy in Prisoner’s Dilemna experiments for an idea of what I mean.


8 Replies to “Moral dilemmas: Would you pay cash?”

    1. Yeah, me neither. Except when we used to want our favorite Mexican food at that restaurant that only took cash. Luckily there was a bank next door.

  1. This reminds me of a rehearsal dinner I was at last summer in nowheresville Kansas. The bride, her family, and friends all hailed from California. One of these guests related that they only took cash jobs. This allowed them to continue qualifying for Medicaid and California assistance.

    I was appalled by this comment and behavior and rather than calling this stranger on it, I made efforts to get up and leave the table (it was outdoors on picnic tables, easy to move.) As I was shuffling and about to stand up, nearly everyone at the table piped in with brilliant etc. I mentioned this to one of my relatives later who defended the man by saying, “Well, it is California. You’ve got to do whatever you can in order to afford living there.” I WAS FLOORED.

    Now, I haven’t yet pulled the timber out of my own eye–I don’t report every on-line and out of state purchase to Colorado for the purposes of paying state sales tax, so I’m just as culpable (but I don’t go creating ways to avoid paying tax–this one is more a side effect of a broken system of taxation.)

    1. Wow. I can’t imagine admitting to illegal – and what I consider immoral – behavior that publicly!

      I have heard of people who have disabilities who can’t afford to work because the work would disqualify them from the benefits they get without paying enough to cover their expenses (things like meds and services.) I’ve always thought that was a crazy system. I’ve always thought you should have a tiered benefit system for those situations.

      But to collect assistance while working … and then brag about it!

  2. Actually, it might be considered your job to report it if you know a business is actively avoiding paying taxes – the IRS is pretty aggressive.

    It really depends on the situation, whether I’d stop paying cash or stop doing business with them altogether. (Technically, even a teen who babysits for $10 every other week needs to file/pay taxes – but, you know, c’mon.)

    Nothing wrong with doing the right thing, Stormy. If your conscience says you should stop paying cash, then stick with it.

    1. I think if you make under a certain amount you don’t have to file anything. Luckily I haven’t been in that situation since I started working.

  3. “Is it my moral obligation to not enable a crime? Yes.”

    By “crime” do you mean an actual aggression against a victim, or do you mean “anything some dude writes down on paper”? Any tyrant can write a law, and all of them do.

    If you feel morally obligated in the latter case, you’ve got a whole lot of work ahead of you.

    If taxes pay for caging of non-violent people, wars of aggression, etc., then are you not morally culpable for voluntarily funding it?

    1. @Jay

      Looks like we have ourselves a critical thinker.

      There is one thing you’ve both missed. To “pay” is by definition voluntary and non-compulsory. When one says “to pay taxes” it is an oxymoron and self-contradictory. If you don’t accept this, entertain the thought for a minute: What would happen if a business owner or any individual refused to make this “voluntary payment” known as “paying his taxes”? Would the outcome be the same as when someone refuses to pay in exchange for a service or product?

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