Taxation as theft

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Loot and Extortion. Statues at Trago Mills, poking fun at the UK Inland Revenue Service.

The identification of taxation as theft is a viewpoint found in a number of political philosophies. Under this view, government transgresses property rights by enforcing compulsory tax collection.[1][2] Autarchists, anarcho-capitalists, as well as objectivists and most of other minarchists see taxation as government violation of the non-aggression principle.[3]

Murray Rothbard argued in The Ethics of Liberty that taxation is theft and that tax resistance is therefore legitimate: "Just as no one is morally required to answer a robber truthfully when he asks if there are any valuables in one’s house, so no one can be morally required to answer truthfully similar questions asked by the State, e.g., when filling out income tax returns."[4][5]

Supporters of taxation usually assert that no such violation of rights is taking place. Supporters argue that "theft" must be considered in the context of the system of government in place.[6] One justification of taxation is contained in social contracts.[7] The general view is that taxation is required to fund basic provisions that enhance economic growth (i.e. law and order, transport/telecom/energy infrastructure) though some economists claim taxation is forced wealth distribution very similar to theft and just as crime it has a major negative impact on a country’s GDP.[8][9]

In the classical liberal tradition of John Locke, taxation could be seen as theft. In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke takes the position that government authority arises from the consent of the governed, and not through the accidental birth of rulers. L.K. Samuels asserts in his “Rulers’ Paradox” that since the citizenry is the holder of all rights, governmental bodies derive their authority to govern society via elections of government officials. In that vein, Samuels maintains that citizens can only give rights which they have. The Rulers’ Paradox comes into play when governmental bodies exercise rights that the citizens do not hold or could not hold. According to Samuels: “If ordinary citizens could assassinate, steal, imprison, torture, kidnap, and wiretap without incrimination, that authority could be transferred to government for its democratic arsenal of policymaking weaponry”.[10] Taxation could be viewed as theft since, according to Lockean natural rights doctrine, government authority must obtain their rights from the citizenry.

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