Taxation as theft
The position that taxation is theft, and therefore immoral, is found in a number of political philosophies considered radical. It marks a significant departure from conservatism and classical liberalism. This position is often held by anarcho-capitalists, objectivists, most minarchists, right-wing libertarians, and voluntaryists.
Proponents of this position see taxation as a violation of the non-aggression principle. Under this view, government transgresses property rights by enforcing compulsory tax collection, regardless of what the amount may be. Some opponents of taxation, like Michael Huemer, argue that rightful ownership of property should be based on what he calls "natural property rights", not those determined by the law of the state.
Defenders of taxation argue that the notions of both legal private property rights and theft are defined by the legal framework of the state, and thus taxation by the state does not represent a violation of property law, unless the tax itself is illegal. Some defenders of taxation, such as Matt Bruenig, argue that the phrase "taxation is theft" is question-begging, since it relies on presupposing a particular theory of property entitlement.
In the 17th century, John Locke takes the position in Second Treatise of Government 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." Taxation could be viewed as theft since, according to Lockean natural rights doctrine, government authority must obtain their rights from the citizenry.
Lysander Spooner, a 19th-century lawyer and political philosopher, who had argued before the United States Supreme Court, wrote the essay No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority. In it he stated that a supposed social contract cannot be used to justify governmental actions such as taxation, because government will initiate force against anyone who does not wish to enter into such a contract.
No open, avowed, or responsible association, or body of men, can say this to him; because there is no such association or body of men in existence. If any one should assert that there is such an association, let him prove, if he can, who compose it. Let him produce, if he can, any open, written, or other authentic contract, signed or agreed to by these men; forming themselves into an association; making themselves known as such to the world; appointing him as their agent; and making themselves individually, or as an association, responsible for his acts, done by their authority. Until all this can be shown, no one can say that, in any legitimate sense, there is any such association; or that he is their agent; or that he ever gave his oath to them; or ever pledged his faith to them.
The 19th-century French economist Frédéric Bastiat described taxes as legal plunder. Bastiat held that the state's only legitimate function was to protect the life, liberty, and property of the individual.
Now, legal plunder may be exercised in an infinite multitude of ways. Hence come an infinite multitude of plans for organization; tariffs, protection, perquisites, gratuities, encouragements, progressive taxation, free public education, right to work, right to profit, right to wages, right to assistance, right to instruments of labor, gratuity of credit, etc., etc. And it is all these plans, taken as a whole, with what they have in common, legal plunder, that takes the name of socialism.
Murray Rothbard argued in The Ethics of Liberty in 1982 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."
Andrew Napolitano attempts to justify the position that "taxation is theft" in his book It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong where he asks a series of rhetorical questions like "Is it theft if one man steals a car?" and "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?", showing what he believes are similarities between theft and taxation.[non-primary source needed]
Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel assert that since property rights are determined by laws and conventions, of which the state forms an integral part, taxation by the state cannot be considered theft. In their 2002 book, The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, they argue:
...the emphasis on distributing the tax burden relative to pretax income is a fundamental mistake. Taxation does not take from people what they already own. Property rights are the product of a set of laws and conventions, of which the tax system forms a central part, so the fairness of taxes can’t be evaluated by their impact on preexisting entitlements. Pretax income has no independent moral significance. Standards of justice should be applied not to the distribution of tax burdens but to the operation and results of the entire framework of economic institutions.
Another justification of taxation is contained in social contract theory. Proponents argue that the public has democratically allowed people to accumulate wealth only with the understanding that a portion of that wealth would be allocated for public use. In their view, to accumulate wealth without taxation would be to violate this social understanding. They argue that since public infrastructure provides the foundation for wealth creation, a portion of economic gains should be used to fund basic provisions that provide for infrastructure and enhance economic growth. The libertarian response to this is that they do not consent to the social contract, and that any compact that would involuntarily bind people to it is tantamount to slavery. Indeed, John Locke himself argued that the social contract was a voluntary arrangement.
- Debates within libertarianism
- Excess burden of taxation
- Land value tax (proposed exception)
- List of countries by tax revenue as percentage of GDP
- Murray Rothbard
- Natural-rights libertarianism
- No taxation without representation
- Non-aggression principle
- Property is theft!
- Property rights (economics)
- Tax haven
- Tax noncompliance
- Tax protester arguments
- Tax resistance in the United States
- Taxation as slavery
- Views on taxation
- Voluntary taxation
- Goff, Phillip (29 September 2019). "Is taxation theft?". Aeon Magazine. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
Some radical libertarians hold that all taxation is immoral, on the grounds that it amounts to the state stealing the money of private citizens. This is an extreme position, but the sense that tax…
- Frank Chodorov (26 February 2007). "Taxation Is Robbery (Mises.org, reprint from Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist, by Frank Chodorov; The Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1962, pp. 216–239)". Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Edward Feser. "Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft (The Independent Review, Fall 2000, pp. 219–235)" (PDF). Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Chris R. Tame. "Taxation Is Theft (Libertarian Alliance Political Note No 44, 1989)" (PDF). Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- "Is Taxation Theft? (Libertarianism.org, Spring 2017)".
- Murphy, Liam; Nagel, Thomas (2002). "Myth of OwnershipTaxes and Justice – Oxford Scholarship". Oxfordscholarship.com. doi:10.1093/0195150163.001.0001. ISBN 9780195150162.
- Bertrand Badie; Dirk Berg-Schlosser; Leonardo Morlino (2011). International Encyclopedia of Political Science. SAGE Publications, Inc. p. 2132. ISBN 978-1412959636.
Hence, private property cannot exist without a political system that defines its existence, its use, and the conditions of its exchange. That is, private property is defined and exists only because of politics.
- "Violence, Property, Theft, and Entitlement".
- L.K. Samuels (2013), In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action Review, Apple Valley, CA: Cobden Press, pp. 308–309, ISBN 9781935942085[dead link]
- L.K. Samuels, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, Apple Valley, CA, Cobden Press, 2013, p. 308
- "Lysander Spooner – No Treason No. 6: The Constitution of No Authority". Molinari Institute. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
- "Section XI – Lysander Spooner". Mises Institute. 12 August 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
- Frédéric Bastiat. "The law" (PDF). Retrieved 9 July 2018.
- Murray N. Rothbard (May 1998). "The Moral Status of Relations to the State", chapter 24 of The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press 1982, New York University Press 1998. ISBN 978-0-8147-7506-6. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Murray N. Rothbard. ""The State versus Liberty", excerpt from chapters 22–25 of The Ethics of Liberty (LewRockwell.com, 2007)". Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Napolitano, Andrew B. (18 October 2011). "Chapter 13 Theft by Any Other Name". It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom. Thomas Nelson Inc. pp. 221–225. ISBN 978-1-59555-350-8.
- Dave Johnson (9 August 2010). "Tax Cuts Are Theft (Huffingtonpost.com, August 9, 2010)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Woods, Tom. "Ep. 865 Taxation Isn't Theft, Because of the Social Contract | Tom Woods". tomwoods.com. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
- Locke, John (2015). Bailey, Andrew (ed.). The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Peterborough, Can.: Broadview Press. p. 87. ISBN 9781770485488.