Libertarians are wont to call taxation theft. Progressives who advocate government reallocation of wealth get livid when we say it, and Conservatives who generally hate taxes but want a strong national defense sometimes resort to the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” as they give up on the logical inconsistency of holding both views at the same time.
I recently admitted to a particularly intelligent, if hopelessly opinionated progressive that I am a little hyperbolic about taxation being theft. I thought I would take a minute to explain.
Theft is taking someone’s property without their consent. If a man with a gun came to your house and demanded that you give him 40% of your paycheck, you would agree with me. You would clearly feel threatened and would call the police when he left because you did not give the money willingly. You did not consent to it. You were coerced.
If the man came back on the evening of the next payday, he would not need to show you the gun. You would know that the gun was there because you saw it last week. Would you still give him the money? Of course you would. You are still being coerced, and you still aren’t consenting. You give it because you are afraid of the consequences of not giving.
Eventually, the collector could merely call you on the phone, as long as the threat of violence for not complying was real. He could even arrange to have the money taken out of your check before you got it. As long as you haven’t consented, you are still being coerced. It is still theft.
“But wait,” you say, “I like having government take a portion of my income and giving it to other people to spend.” Is that still coercive? Maybe not as far as you are concerned. I mean, I guess you can decide after the fact that you are okay with the system as it is. But what about the rest of us?
“But taxes are the price we all pay to live in a free and productive society” you might say. I might agree to an extent, but what if I disagree? When did I become obligated to participate? I had no choice where I was born. I had no choice where I would live, at least for the first 18 or so years of my life. I was brought into a system that I never agreed to, but am somehow obligated to participate in financially…regulated by the whims of the majority through a democratic process. I never consented to it. And I face the prospect of imprisonment (or worse) if I don’t comply. That, ladies and gentlemen, is coercion, whether or not I see the gun when my money is collected.
What I’ve described is called “social contract” theory, whereby it is assumed that all the members of a particular society automatically agree to participate. But contracts require a few things in order to be legitimate: both sides must understand the terms, both sides must enter into it willingly, and both sides must sign it. Social “contracts” are not contracts at all.
Do I personally believe so strongly that taxation is theft that I refuse to participate? Of course not. Aside from the prospect of life-time incarceration, I recognize that at least in the present time and place we need government and government needs funds in order to operate. So why the “taxation is theft” hyperbole? Because the legitimate power to FORCE people to give up their property, particularly their wealth, is an enormous power to have. Unchecked, that power has the capacity to rob us of all of our rights. And because of the nature of how government goes about collecting that money, it is easy for people to lose sight of how that money is being used. Often, the money makes the problem it is supposed to solve WORSE, not better. Without an option to opt out, the people are powerless to stop government and to address the problems in ways that make things better instead.
So consider my rants about theft and taxation a cry in the night if you must. Call me the crazy voice in the darkness, all worked up over so little. But maybe, just maybe, we need a few guys like me reminding everyone that there is a limit to what can be solved by throwing money at problems, and unintended consequences of blindly giving anyone, government included all the money they want whenever they want it. Good ideas don’t need coercion to get people to participate. Resorting to violence, or the threat of it is at least lazy and potentially immoral. There is no room for it in a free society.
Thanks for reading, and share with a friend if you think I’ve said something worth sharing.