Yesterday we had a lively discussion on our Facebook page that ended up delving into topics such as the privatization of the oceans and the viability of anarcho-capitalist societies, to the point that I almost forgot how the discussion began. The initial topic was whether government taxation should be thought of as “theft”. While some of our readers likened it more to “extortion”, most seemed to generally agree that taxation is an act of theft.
Of course this was no scientific double-blind study, and I would imagine that people who read this site and might follow us on Facebook are probably more inclined to hold this view than the average fella. I’ve had many discussions with “big government” friends where they just can’t seem to admit that taxation is theft, and will vehemently deny that it is the same thing. Phrases like “social contract” – I don’t remember signing anything, do you? – will be tossed out in discussions like these, but never a coherent explanation as to just why taxation is any different than theft.
The fine folks at Merriam-Webster define theft as:
a : the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it
b : an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property
Government has done a fine job of negating parts of the definition of theft by codifying under the cover of law its ability to tax the citizenry. Let’s try looking at this definition again after removing the words “felonious” and “unlawful”.
a: the act of stealing : the taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it
b: a taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property
When I expend my labor and receive payment in exchange, it is clear that the money I receive is now my “property”. It is also clear that whenever government levies a tax, it intends to “take and remove” that property of mine, and it certainly intends to “deprive the rightful owner (me) of it”. It is clearly “taking my property”.
There are some, like career tax leach Harry Reid, who even try to claim that paying taxes is “voluntary”. No, really, he actually said this. Watch this short (and mind-boggling) interview Jane Helfield did with Reid several years ago if you don’t believe me.
Reid tries to make the silly argument that since people willfully fill out their tax forms that this makes it voluntary. As Helfied points out, if you don’t give the government the money, they will “take it from you”. And they will use force to do so.
If I don’t pay my income tax, and don’t file tax returns, at some point the government will come “asking” for the money. It may begin innocently enough, with a strongly-worded letter. If I ignore this it will escalate to the point that eventually, government agents with guns will come to take me away and lock me in cage. And perhaps, seeing myself as the free man that I do, I don’t allow these agents to take me to to jail. At this point they will use their guns to force me to go, or take my life if I physically resist.
Let’s compare this to if I were walking in an alley and a mugger comes up and points a gun at me, demanding my wallet. If I don’t decide to try out my limited martial arts experience and go all Bruce Lee on him, I will likely just hand him my wallet so that he doesn’t decide to shoot me. Does this mean I “voluntarily” gave him my money? Of course not. Almost any reasonable individual would agree that what just occurred is theft.
When government uses the same methods, somehow it is justified because it “needs the money” to “build roads” ,”feed the hungry” , “care for the sick”, or “kill terrorists” . Now we can ( and have! ) make the argument that anything government does now could be done in a private society without coercive taxation. But whether the government “needs” the money or not is irrelevant to the question at hand.
The mugger may have a daughter with cancer. He may “need” the money in order to get her medical care. This is a sympathetic situation. It also in no way changes the fact that the act of holding me up at gunpoint in an alley is theft.
Taxation. Extortion. Bank levy. Theft.
It doesn’t really matter what term we use, they are all describing the same thing: using force or the threat of force to take someone else’s property.
But first, can we all agree?
Taxation is theft.