“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.
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.