Taxation as theft

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Loot and Extortion. Statues at Trago Mills (near Liskeard, Cornwall), poking fun at the UK Inland Revenue Service

The position that taxation is immoral because it is a form of theft is a viewpoint found in a number of radical political philosophies and 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 clear violation of the non-aggression principle.[1] Under this view, government transgresses property rights by enforcing compulsory tax collection, regardless of what the amount may be.[2][3] Some opponents of taxation, like Michael Huemer, argue that rightful ownership of property should be based on what he views as natural property rights, not those determined by the law of the state.[4]

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.[5][6] 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.[7]


In the fifth century AD, Augustine of Hippo, who was a proponent of just taxation, described kingdoms as robbers, citing Alexander the Great having faced a similar argument seven centuries earlier:

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."[9] Taxation could be viewed as theft since, according to Lockean natural rights doctrine, government authority must obtain their rights from the citizenry.[10]

Lysander Spooner, a 19th-century lawyer and political philosopher, who had argued before the 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.[11][12]

19th century French philosopher Frederic 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.

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."[14][15]

How many men?[edit]

How many men? is a thought experiment used to demonstrate the concept of taxation as theft. The experiment uses a series of questions to posit a difference between criminal acts and majority rule. For example, one version asks, "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?" or "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.[16]


Supporters of taxation usually assert that since property rights are determined by the state, taxation by the state cannot be considered theft. In their 2002 book, The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel 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.[5]

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.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Frank Chodorov. "Taxation Is Robbery (, reprint from Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist, by Frank Chodorov; The Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1962, pp. 216–239)". Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  2. ^ Edward Feser. "Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft (The Independent Review, Fall 2000, pp. 219–235)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  3. ^ Chris R. Tame. "Taxation Is Theft (Libertarian Alliance Political Note No 44, 1989)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  4. ^ "Is Taxation Theft? (, Spring 2017)".
  5. ^ a b Murphy, Liam; Nagel, Thomas (2002). "Myth of OwnershipTaxes and Justice – Oxford Scholarship". doi:10.1093/0195150163.001.0001. ISBN 9780195150162.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Violence, Property, Theft, and Entitlement".
  8. ^ Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume II/City of God/Book IV/Chapter 4
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ L.K. Samuels, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, Apple Valley, CA, Cobden Press, 2013, p. 308
  11. ^ "Lysander Spooner – No Treason No. 6: The Constitution of No Authority". Molinari Institute. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  12. ^ "Section XI – Lysander Spooner". Mises Institute. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  13. ^ Frédéric Bastiat. "The law" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-07-09. p. 14-15
  14. ^ 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 2012-09-02.
  15. ^ Murray N. Rothbard. ""The State versus Liberty", excerpt from chapters 22–25 of The Ethics of Liberty (, 2007)". Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  16. ^ Napolitano, Andrew B. (October 18, 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.
  17. ^ Dave Johnson (2010-08-09). "Tax Cuts Are Theft (, August 9, 2010)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-09-02.

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