Various parts of the United States have had actual or threatened "tax revolts" in recent decades. Usually that means citizens band together to pass initiatives to reduce taxes. And the US Congress is now awash with ideas for curbing the "tyrannical" powers of the Internal Revenue Service.
But Americans, who love to trace their anti-tax sentiments to the Boston Tea Party, rarely stop to think what a relatively benign system of revenue collection they have. Yes, there are the IRS horror stories. But, on the whole, Americans pay their taxes willingly and have some confidence they'll get useful services in return.
Then there's Russia. Nearly half of the taxes due by the April 1 deadline never materialize. Russians don't just evade around the fringes, they massively ignore the tax collector. This anti-tax inclination may not have mattered that much during the Soviet years, when the government officially owned everything. But in the newly democratizing, privatizing Russia, it's a major roadblock to getting anything done. And a government that doesn't do much to improve the lives of people will find taxpayers growing even more reluctant to pay. A vicious circle.
The Yeltsin government, or its tax collector, is trying a little psychological offensive this year. It's launching a TV ad campaign, even including cartoons aimed at the children of tax delinquents. The goal: to convince Russians that paying taxes is a civic duty that leads to clear consciences and a happier life - and that nonpayment could have bad consequences.
It's an approach that the IRS wouldn't dream of. Can you imagine the blasts of indignation from Congress? But Russians' historical experience may lead them to be a little more tolerant of relatively good-natured official bullying. Maybe a few more Russians - particularly the newly rich - will realize that government by the people requires something of the people. Let's hope so.