Taxation is theft.
It’s a sentiment shared by most voluntaryists. (Voluntaryists advocate a social system based on voluntary cooperation. Not A Party people are voluntaryists.)
But is it true? Taxation is theft, it’s a sentiment, but is it a fact? Is taxation really theft?
I’m going to give some reasons for thinking that taxation is theft, and then a couple of reasons for thinking that it isn’t. And then ask you to please feel free to make up your own mind.
Here’s the basic argument for the proposition that taxation is theft.
1. Theft is when someone takes your money or property without your consent.
2. Taxation is when the government takes your money or property without your consent.
3. Taxation is theft.
Consider the following progression (due to theologian J. Budziszewski). Is taxation theft?
- On a dark street, a man draws a knife and demands my money for drugs.
- Instead of demanding my money for drugs, he demands it for the Church.
- Instead of being alone, he is with a bishop of the Church who acts as bagman.
- Instead of drawing a knife, he produces a policeman who says I must do as he says.
- Instead of meeting me on the street, he mails me his demand as an official agent of the government.
If the first is theft, it is difficult to see why the other four are not also theft. Expropriation is wrong not because its causes are wrong, but because it is a violation of the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
Consider the following progression (due to Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano). How many men?
- Is it theft if one man steals a car?
- What if a gang of five men steal the car?
- What if a gang of ten men take a vote (allowing the victim to vote as well) on whether to steal the car before stealing it?
- What if one hundred men take the car and give the victim back a bicycle?
- What if two hundred men not only give the victim back a bicycle but buy a poor person a bicycle, as well?
The experiment challenges an individual to determine how large a group is required before the taking of an individual’s property becomes the “democratic right” of the majority
Now, here are a couple of reasons for thinking that taxation isn’t theft.
The first objection is a pedantic one. Taxation isn’t theft, because the government doesn’t take your money, you give your money to the government, albeit under duress. Taxation isn’t theft, it’s extortion!
Well, I see where the pedant is coming from. But I still think that taxation is theft in a broad sense of the word ‘theft’. Theft is when you acquire something that doesn’t rightfully belong to you by immoral means. Robbery, fraud, extortion, even inflation—these are all forms of theft in the broad sense. Taxation is theft!
The second is an objection to the basic argument I gave above. Yes, it’s theft when your money is taken without your consent—except when it’s the government doing the taking. The progressions above don’t work, because at some point the taking stops being theft and starts being taxation. How’s that supposed to work? Well, so the objection goes, you implicitly consented to be governed simply by living here in New Zealand. And you’re bound by something called the social contract.
I think it’s not a good objection. I think we already dealt to it. Try not to leave civilisation.
But here’s a better version of the objection. It’s the best objection I can think of to the proposition that taxation is theft. Ready? Here it is. The chunk of money the government takes out of your income (as income tax) or out of your grocery bill (as GST) was never really yours in the first place. So taxation isn’t theft, tax evasion is!
It’s an objection worth considering. Is it a good objection tho? To answer that question we need to consider another. What is property? And that’s for another time.
A final thought. Just because taxation is theft, doesn’t mean that you don’t have some sort of personal obligation to help pay for some of the social services (health, welfare, etc.) that the government currently provides, if it’s within your means to do so.
Do you think George ought to help? Voluntarily, of course.
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