Why Taxation Is Theft

“Taxation is theft” is one of the most popular libertarian sayings. Honestly, I do not know why it’s taken me so long to write about it.

The “taxation is theft” argument follows this syllogism:

  • Theft is when you take something that belongs to someone else without their consent
  • Taxation is when the state takes something (money) from someone (taxpayers) without their consent
  • Therefore, taxation is theft

Defenders of taxation will usually make three basic arguments as to why taxation is not theft:

  • The taxpayer’s money belongs to the state (they may not argue this outright, but it is the inevitable conclusion of their logic).
  • The social contract argument; taxpayers consent to taxation when they live in the area governed by the state or by some mystic process never fully explained.
  • They rationalize the fact that taxation seizes private property against the consent of the owner through the “ends justifies the means” argument. To put it succinctly, they believe “taxation is the price we pay for civilization.”

However, these assertions suffer from several problems. First, the definition of “consent” applied to the taxpayer is not and would not be accepted under any other circumstances. Try applying their concept of “consent” to dating and sex. Second, arguing that taxpayers’ money belongs to the state simply raises a whole host of questions, chief of which is this: If the fruits of a man’s labor belong to the state, how is he not at a fundamental level a slave?

Third, whether taxation results in social utility has nothing to do with the coercive nature of the system. All that means is that this form of theft produces good. That does mean the taxpayer has a choice in the matter. They may have some influence to the specifics of how they are taxed, but their direct consent is not required. If enough people decide to tax that individual, or the entire community, the person cannot refuse.

It is the same point raised by Michael Maharrey at Godarchy:

Governments coerce the payment of taxes at gunpoint. We have no choice in the matter. Whether we want the services the government provides or not, we must ante up. And most of us would happily do without many, if not most, of the “services” provided by the government. For example, I would happily forgo bombing seven countries across the globe or funding Big Brother’s voyeurism.

In practice, taxation works a lot like a mafia protection racket.

If people want to argue that taxation has social benefits or is necessary, then by all means make the best case you can. But even if it were true, it does not disprove the claim that taxation is a form of theft. All their apologies would do is justify this specific form of theft.

One does not have to be a libertarian to observe that taxation is an involuntary interaction between the state and the taxpayer. If taxpayers given the option not to pay, almost all of them would avoid doing so.

Understanding that taxation is theft, regardless of its nuances or what the collective revenue funds, helps us understand the instinctive outrage people have at their government when it does something they are opposed to; that government action they find repugnant is carried out through the use of funds taken from them against their consent.

It is bad enough to have your money stolen. It’s worse to have that money used for uses you find detestable. However, what is worst is to have the thief and their defenders insist that either you consented to them taking your money or it’s vital that they do so.

It is why regular forms of theft aren’t nearly as offensive. The thief does not pretend to have a legitimate claim to the property seized and does not insult the intelligence of his victims by insisting they consent even as they bitterly protest.

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11 Responses to Why Taxation Is Theft

  1. D says:

    The judge at my custody hearing literally told me that Instead of wanting to focus on being a dad I should be focusing on serving my country (I’m a soldier and already spent 24 months in Iraq). So I literally fund the system which took my children away from me. Not only that but I ‘fight for it’ overseas. His attitude was that I was wasting his time and during the hearing he continuously reminded my attorney that he wanted to be home by 4. So not only do I pay his salary, but my problems are the reason for him having a cushy jobs. Without conflict we don’t need judges, but somehow they treat that very conflict as if it were some inconvenience in their lives, instead of recognizing people like me as the reason they have one of the cushiest jobs on the planet.
    So yeah its not just theft, its an insult. If someone kidnaps my kids you aren’t going to then turn around and tell me its for my own good or that its in my children best interest that you are taking them. But when the state did it they turned around and told me I needed to do more for the state.

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    • The Question says:

      So yeah its not just theft, its an insult. If someone kidnaps my kids you aren’t going to then turn around and tell me its for my own good or that its in my children best interest that you are taking them. But when the state did it they turned around and told me I needed to do more for the state.

      Reading about fathers losing their kids through a judge ruling like this boils my blood in a way few other things do. I’m a bachelor and have no kids, but had a few things turned out differently I might have experienced this myself. I avoided this by fate or providence, not by the wisdom of my own choices.

      No one deserves to go through that kind of torment. If a revolution was fought only to address this particular injustice I’d join in an instant.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gunner Q says:

    “However, what is worst is to have the thief and their defenders insist that either you consented to them taking your money or it’s vital that they do so.”

    This is why I can’t let myself use public welfare even when my need is legitimate. To participate in the system is to justify their maltreatment of me, if they loot me into poverty and I then tell them to loot the next guy in my name.

    I refuse to participate in the system so that on Judgment Day, I can condemn it. That’s a big part of why Christians must embrace suffering. (NOT masochism.)

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  3. jason says:

    this system needs to die.

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  4. Richard Hunter says:

    Taxation is not theft. Property rights are created and enforced by the government. Therefore the government defines what property belongs to whom. When you pay taxes, in fact you are giving the government the money that it has defined as its property. Likewise, when you evade paying taxes you are stealing from the government.

    Yes, you are subject to the decrees of the government which you must obey, but no, this does not make you a slave, unless you want to broaden the definition of a slave to a ludicrous degree. It is ridiculous to liken the circumstances of a citizen of a modern Western society like the US or the UK to that of a slave in the old south in the 19th century.

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    • The Question says:

      Property rights are created and enforced by the government.

      Says who? The government (and which government?) You? I require more than an ex cathedra pronouncement.

      When you pay taxes, in fact you are giving the government the money that it has defined as its property. Likewise, when you evade paying taxes you are stealing from the government.

      Again, who cares what the government defines as property? Where did this authority come from? And what makes one government more legitimate than another trying to overthrow it and enforce its own definition of property? Are there are restrictions or limitations to their authority to declare rights and/or what is their property?

      For the sake of not violating Godwin’s Law, I’m going to avoid pointing out the obvious, but I think you know where I’m going. If governments decide rights and property within their domain, then no government is a bad government.

      Yes, you are subject to the decrees of the government which you must obey, but no, this does not make you a slave…

      If I coerce you around at gunpoint and threaten violence if you don’t work for me and give me the earnings from your labor, does it matter what I call the relationship? A rose is a rose.

      It is ridiculous to liken the circumstances of a citizen of a modern Western society like the US or the UK to that of a slave in the old south in the 19th century.

      Except that I’m not claiming the life of the average person living in the modern Western world forced to pay taxes to their governments is akin to a southern slave. I’m pointing out that in order for taxation to not be theft, proponents must argue that a person’s property and labor is not theirs and belongs to the state, effectively making them a slave. Fundamentally they are in a similar relationship with the state as a slave master is with their slave, albeit this particular master allows greater “privileges” than others of the past.

      Either that, or you must make the case that taxes are not collected through coercion – which no sane person will try to argue.

      Or, someone could make the case that taxation is a form of enlightened theft or necessary evil that, despite all its imperfections, is the best basis for collecting revenue to fund vital services for maintaining infrastructure and society. Of all the options available, this is the most sensible one, but I find it amusing few people will go with it.

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      • Richard Hunter says:

        When we talk of ‘rights’ we are actually talking about laws. Laws are made by government. We have no rights beyond those encapsulated in laws.

        The legitimate government of any particular territory is a combination of the facts on the ground of who is in control and their degree of recognition from external authorities. If an armed gang manage to seize control of a territory, call themselves the government, and then manage to gain recognition from neighbouring governments and world powers, then they are, to all intents and purposes, the government.

        Citizens of a government are not slaves. (Obviously I talk of governments in developed countries such as the USA). The government does not own them, nor does it force them to work. It does force them, however, to pay taxes. It does not take the entirety of their property – such as a slave owner would do – but only a fraction, and it is entitled to do so since it creates the framework of laws and enforcement that allow property to be owned by anyone in the first place.

        I don’t assert that taxation is enlightened theft because it is not theft. It is theft when you refuse to pay your taxes because then you are taking property from the government that belongs to it.

        I do believe that taxation is necessary for maintaining society. Without taxation there can be no government, and without government there are no taxes. I find it odd that anyone who is not an anarchist would argue that taxation is theft because what they are saying is that it is acceptable for a society with a government to be based on theft. These people, I think, need to resolve this contradiction.

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      • The Question says:

        When we talk of ‘rights’ we are actually talking about laws. Laws are made by government. We have no rights beyond those encapsulated in laws.

        No, when I speak of rights, I refer to that which we have a just claim to, something that does not come from governments. Once more, where does government derive its legitimate authority as you claim? Declarations do not make them facts.

        The legitimate government of any particular territory is a combination of the facts on the ground of who is in control and their degree of recognition from external authorities.

        And how is “degree of recognition” determined, and who determines this?

        If an armed gang manage to seize control of a territory, call themselves the government, and then manage to gain recognition from neighbouring governments and world powers, then they are, to all intents and purposes, the government.

        But what of recognition from the people they ruled?

        Your argument for why a government is legitimate and can determine rights boils down to “might makes right.” If you can effectively use violence to enforce your will on others, then it’s legitimate.

        I don’t assert that taxation is enlightened theft because it is not theft. It is theft when you refuse to pay your taxes because then you are taking property from the government that belongs to it.

        So the fruits of my labor belong to the state? How is this not the same relationship as a slave master with his owner?

        You’re making two contradictory arguments; that taxation isn’t theft, and that people aren’t slaves under their government, yet the relationship between people and their government that you describe is precisely that of a slave, who owns nothing and has no rights beyond that which their master gives them.

        This is precisely the argument I made in the OP, which you and others cannot evade. Taxation is not theft only if government owns our property; if that is the case, then we are its slaves and they own us. There is no way around this.

        I do believe that taxation is necessary for maintaining society. Without taxation there can be no government, and without government there are no taxes.

        Government is not society. And if no taxes means no state, so what? All those services can be provided by others through voluntary means, in a legitimate manner.

        I find it odd that anyone who is not an anarchist would argue that taxation is theft because what they are saying is that it is acceptable for a society with a government to be based on theft.

        Again, you’re equating society with government. Societies don’t need governments; government needs societies. Societies don’t need taxes to function.

        If the British government were to disappear tomorrow, are you honestly arguing that British society would vanish, as well? Governments come and go all the time around the world, yet the nations they once ruled continue despite those changes.

        Additionally, you only reaffirm one of my many points about your arguments: According to your logic, governments cannot commit atrocities. No pogroms, no massacres, no holocausts, no holodomirs. Ethnic cleansing is perfectly acceptable if carried out by the state, since they own everything and determine the rights of their citizens.

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  5. Richard Hunter says:

    My argument as to what makes a government legitimate does boil down to ‘might makes right’. Political power ultimately means physical power. You are free to try and deny that.

    Of course the government may be run by a crazed dictator and be a hell hole. North Korea being a contemporary example. Or it can be a secular democracy such as the US where power resides with the people and is regulated by a constitution. It is an obvious fallacy to say that because there are some bad governments that all governments are bad.

    Perhaps the most important thing that a government does is up the system of laws which allow people to live peaceful lives, to own property, and to trade with each other. Without such a system, any kind of property ownership would be impossible. Indeed property has no meaning without such a system.

    When anarchists attack taxation, it implies that they imagine that taxation is something besides government. It is not. Taxation is a necessary component of government. Government cannot exist without taxation and taxation does not exist without a government. A more coherent position for anarchists would be to attack government as a whole rather than concern themselves with taxation at all.

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    • Jim Beam says:

      “A more coherent position for anarchists would be to attack government as a whole rather than concern themselves with taxation at all.”
      When one can prove that taxation is theft, the next logical premise is that, therefore the government is a thief. This bolsters the ‘attack government as a whole’ strategy with additional ammunition. Honestly, the more I think about how our current system works the more I am at a complete loss to find one thing that government does that cannot be done better through a voluntary system of trade for goods and services.

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    • joelsoft says:

      “A more coherent position for anarchists would be to attack government as a whole rather than concern themselves with taxation at all.”
      When one can prove that taxation is theft, the next logical premise is that, therefore the government is a thief. This bolsters the ‘attack government as a whole’ strategy with additional ammunition. Honestly, the more I think about how our current system works the more I am at a complete loss to find one thing that government does that cannot be done better through a voluntary system of trade for goods and services.

      Like

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