“Taxation is Theft” captures the essence of libertarian political philosophy more accurately than any other phrase. Libertarians believe that basic moral rules should apply to our rulers to the same degree they do private citizens. In the case of taxation, we maintain that since the threat of force is a key feature, it is a form of theft. Skeptics of this conclusion have several arguments that seem plausible on the surface, but we quickly see that on the fundamental level libertarians are correct.
The easiest argument to dispose of is the belief that since governments provide services, taxation is just. One example is charity. Most of us have room in our hearts to help those in need. Nevertheless, that does not justify forcing us to fund the welfare state through progressive taxation. Wanting to be charitable is not the same was wanting the government to take our money through the threat of imprisonment and distribute it as they see fit. The same logic holds true for all government services. Demand for a good is not a license for a third party to coerce you into giving them money to provide it. There are other objections that require more attention.
Philip Goff, writing for taxjustice.net, believes there is no moral nor legal right to our income. The legality of taxation is a matter of fact and law, nothing more. The moral question is what interests us. He wrote “there is no justice in the fact that the pre-tax income of a city banker is many hundreds of times the pre-tax income of scientists working on a cure for cancer.” This is a statement about human preferences and the organization of our financial system, but it is not a comment on the use of force to extract money from people. Mr. Goff is little more than a tax apologist, using human imperfection to justify coercion.
Robert Nielson at whistlinginthewind.org took the approach of comparing taxation to rent. “The state owns the land and if you want to live on the land you must pay rent. The state is like a shopping centre (or shopping mall for my American readers). If you want to enter it you must agree to abide by its rules.” The issue with this position is the operant assumption is that the state owns the land through honorable means. Just ownership of property comes about through homesteading, trade, or gift. This is not how governments acquire property. They form hierarchies, draw borders, and assume ownership by fiat. In contrast, shopping malls do not declare ownership of pre-owned property by force and then threaten to lock up people who refuse to pay tribute. Mr. Nielson’s proposal serves only to remind us that land has been stolen as well.
Scott Tibbs at Conservatibbs.com declared “Government does need to do certain things. The most obvious Biblical reason is to bear the sword against criminals, which requires a criminal justice system complete with lawyers, police and judges and the support staff for all of them. We also need to defend our nation against foreign aggression…” If protection from those who wish to do us harm is the goal, threatening people with jail time and economic hardship is a contradiction to the stated objective. We fail before we even begin. Like the others above, Mr. Tibbs does not address the act of threatening imprisonment for tax evasion; he is simply another apologist. Alternative forms of funding and organizing such services is an interesting topic, but outside the scope of this article.
There are those who advance the thought that our consent may be assumed until we decide to leave the country. This is not true. We find it preferable to remain with our families, friends, and everything we know, rather than search the world for a free society. Indeed, if refusing to leave the country is the same as accepting the things our rulers do, there are far fewer tyrants around than it would seem. Only when dealing with government power do people ever tell the victims to leave the area if they don’t like the injustices they are suffering.
The fact that taxation is theft is precisely what makes politics so hostile. The left is usually not interested in funding conservative projects. The right would prefer not to fund left-wing programs like the welfare state. Libertarians do not wish to be party to anything outside the confines of security and national-defense. Both our support for government spending on the things we like and our resistance to it for the things we despise indicate the criminal nature of taxation. This is why Hans Hermann Hoppe called democracy a soft variant of communism.
Human morality is a universal concept that does not disappear because your organization names itself “The Government.” Since they are nothing more than groups of people, they should be bound by the same rules as any other group or individual.
What is most telling when it comes to those who proclaim taxation to be just is their statements only apply to governments. Defense attorneys would never dream of asserting that a client’s actions were justified because they used the money they stole in a socially beneficial way. It would be very entertaining to see a criminal in court use social contract theory as a means of defense. We do not expect many suspects seriously suggesting they’ve committed no crime because the victim could move to a new neighborhood if they don’t consent to being robbed. Most of us would believe such people in need of psychiatric care. The reasons the same doesn’t hold true with the state are our anxieties about the future and the fact that most of us spend years being indoctrinated at their schools. If we want the most amount of freedom possible, we have to start pushing back.