THE NETHERLANDS: The Unhappy Taxpayer

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Fredericus U J.H. Witte is a Dutchman bothered by taxes. When he sees a jet fighter plane overhead he thinks to himself: "During my whole lifetime I won't earn half of what that plane costs." On the bitter morning in February 1957 when The Netherlands' bureaucracy finally produced his 1955 tax bill, Witte exploded in anger. As an assistant bookkeeper for a Rotterdam housing association, Witte, 57, was sure of his own figures. The tax collector, he fumed, had made a mistake.

Cooling off, Fredericus Witte wrote a reasoned letter of protest. "I consider it very disturbing," he began, and at that point the Inspector of Direct Taxation, First Section, must have decided to read the sentence again: "I consider it very disturbing if I am not required to pay more. If I pay too little, somebody else suffers for it. That's dishonest." According to Witte's calculations, the tax collector had listed Witte's total income 247 guilders ($64.96) less than it should be, thereby reducing Witte's tax by 42 guilders ($11.05). Witte wanted the tax increased.

In reply, the tax inspector explained that Witte had forgotten to deduct 200 guilders for expenses incurred in getting outside work. "Nonsense," snapped Witte. "My wife helped somebody with housekeeping, and I tutored a neighbor's daughter in mathematics and bookkeeping. We didn't spend a cent getting the work."

Witte appealed to the Director of the State Tax Office. But the director backed up his inspector, suggested that Witte, if he was really disturbed, might pay "conscience money"—as if he were a tax evader settling up anonymously. Witte was so shocked that he filed suit in The Hague's tax court demanding that his tax be increased. But the court agreed with the tax inspector that nowhere in Dutch law is there the right to protest against undertaxation, and fined Witte 250 guilders in court costs, more than the amount in dispute.

Even after The Netherlands' Supreme Court threw out his appeal, Witte refused to give up. He filed a twelve-page criminal charge against the inspector (whose name Witte has never been able to learn). And he devised a scheme of revenge. Witte gave up all of his outside income—his tutoring, his wife's housework, his few shares of stock in Royal Dutch Shell. Last week all that he earned was his salary. "Mistakes," proclaimed Witte triumphantly, "are thus impossible. As assistant bookkeeper, I figure out the wage tax myself." No generous tax collector will punish him again.