Is Taxation Theft?

Libertarian thinker Timothy Wirkman Virkkala parses out the common radical libertarian slogan "taxation is theft!" and finds it represents an unfortunate lack of understanding of the way most non-libertarians think. The heart of a long and very interesting disquisition:

Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.

Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.

To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment's notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.

So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.

Well, not all, since libertarians do support some forms of expropriation. They have no trouble expropriating the loot of thieves from thieves, after court adjudication. And they have no trouble expropriating from a person found liable, in court, to a tort claim.

They just don't support taxation.

My Contention: The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as taxation is theft do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I'm not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.

They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.

...............

It may be that we will someday be able to support all worthy public projects without any taxation.

But however we manage to do this....it will have to be done within the framework of the rule of law.

And people in such a future society will have to regard the means used at that time in something other than constant revolutionary mode. Even if they can think of better ways, they will have to show some respect for the rule of law of the day.

While I found Virkkala's thoughts intelligent and interesting, as he never fails to be, I still think the "taxation is theft" slogan is a useful way to get people thinking about the ways in which how the state operates can be seen as violating standard western notions of justice that most people accept and believe in as much as they believe in the state themselves; the cognitive dissonance that might result can lead to an understanding of some truths about the nature of the state that are otherwise difficult to get at. But for those who enjoy thinking about how the "revolutionary mode" of some libertarian ideas rub against the grain of standard American thinking, his whole essay is well worth reading.

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  • ||

    He says rule of law.

    You say notions of justice.

    Seems to me that you are talking past each other and neither should be confused for the other.

  • Pat||

    The problem with his differentiation between legal (taxation) and illegal (robbery) expropriation depends entirely on the premise that because something is legal, it must be moral or right. The converse being that because something is illegal it is, therefore, wrong or immoral.

  • ||

    "It may be that we will someday be able to support all worthy public projects without any taxation."

    What if I don't agree that something is a "worthy public project"?

  • b-psycho||

    It'd be more accurate to say that radical libertarians support expropriation only in retaliation for harm of some sort.

    Although, I do agree that some of our methods of debate are off-base. With more radical statements like "taxation is theft", you can't just say it as a self-proving remark, because many people see taxation as just payment for services rendered. Instead, you have to explain how the return on tax dollars is distorted: point out what the money tends to actually go towards, the amount of waste in the buereacracy, corruption, blatant abuse of power, and how little regard for results there is by the people who decide what money goes where. Once someone understands that, they'll either reason that taxation is fraud (more accurate than theft IMO), or start coming up with (futile) "reform" ideas. Even if they do the latter, you already have them doubting government for once, its a crack in the wall.

  • fyodor||

    Libertarians (using the term broadly to incorporate the non-radical, or minarchist, or whatever) will invariably run into the argument that unless one is against taxation absolutely and without exception, one cannot legitimately cite the coercive nature of taxation as an argument against any particular government program. On a certain level of foolish consistency, the argument is sound. But it's somewhat sad and ironic that allowing that taxation may be a necessary evil of sorts to maintain a secure society somehow justifies yanking money out of people's pockets whenever 51% of voters (or actually legislators) decide to do so.

  • Wild Pegasus||

    Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as taxation is theft do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

    Then, perhaps, the best avenue of attack on the state is attacking the idea that the state's laws have anything to do with morality or justice, except incidentally.

    - Josh

  • ||

    Back in mid-90s, when I still lived in Slovakia, everybody - including mass media - used the word "ransom" for taxes. Later, Slovakia adopted a flat 19% tax rate. I know, correlation doesn't mean causation, but there may have been some relationship.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    That was great.......Absolutely fabulous. I hadn't read any of his stuff in a decade and forgot how good he is.

    TAXATION IS THEFT

    Strong language and although I fully agree with the sentiment, normal people do see that as a statement of lunacy. I take a different tack with my friends and clients that goes something like this.......

    It is your money to begin with. You earned it, you worked hard, you sit in traffic five days a week, both ways. Nobody asked your permission to take your money and worse, the government is going to spend it on something you don't like. I don't care if you're a liberal, moderate, or conservative, they will spend it on something you don't like. Plus all the taxes you pay over a lifetime will be tossed down a rat hole inside of thirty seconds. Therefore, it is in your best interest to arrange your affairs so as to pay the least amount of tax that is legally possible.

    This approach is far more effective. Then you can move from there.

    Baby steps.

  • Pat||

    Then, perhaps, the best avenue of attack on the state is attacking the idea that the state's laws have anything to do with morality or justice, except incidentally.

    It's pretty easy to do this. Ask someone if they believe laws are inherently moral. Then ask them if something as simple as hugging their own child was made illegal if that would make that act immoral.

  • ||

    """What if I don't agree that something is a "worthy public project"?"""

    That's easy Aresen, I'll agree to vote on your "worthy public project" if you agree to vote on mine.

    That's how it works in Congress.

    I agree with Pat. Taxation is legal, maybe not fair, but legal, therefore it is not theft since that would imply the illegal taking of money.

    I personally expect to pay tax, it is necessary for government to survive and to provide services to its citizen.

    The problem is with how much? I say half your pay is too much. I'm willing to bet if you added all taxes you pay, sales, property, ect, and taxes on your services (phone, electric bill, water bill, ect.) You are paying half.

  • Guy Montag||

    Is Taxation Theft?

    Yes.

  • Pat||

    I agree with Pat. Taxation is legal, maybe not fair, but legal, therefore it is not theft since that would imply the illegal taking of money.

    Murder is wrong not because the law says so but because it is inherently immoral to violate the right to life of another. Same thing with theft regardless of whether or not the legal definition fits.

  • ||

    Free riding is theft.

    If you benefit from the collective actions of the community you live amongst without contributing, you are stealing. Taxation is an attempt to replace an arbitrary taking by individuals from the group with an ordered one by the group from individuals.

    Not a perfect solution.

  • Penry||

    The problem with an absolutist slogan such as "taxation is theft" is that even in a libertarian utopia there would still be some (diminished) government, and that government would require funding though a mechanism functionally eqivalent to taxation. Taxes are a necessary evil. If you equate something to theft knowing full well that you would not, could not, abolish it, then you're not really being serious.

  • Pat||

    If you benefit from the collective actions of the community you live amongst without contributing, you are stealing.

    Where do I start?

    There is no contract stating my obligation in this manner.

    A jewelry store can't send me a set of diamond earrings that I didn't want in the mail and then claim that I am stealing from them when I don't send them a payment for them.

  • ||

    His point is more compelling as a universal: Failure to foster an environment where you can hash out differing definitions and other meta-criteria for discussion dooms you to being misunderstood and your message to being dismissed.

    "Taxation is theft" is a useful attention getting piece of rhetoric that might get people to wander over to (or away from) your booth, but in a discussion it is a mind closer. To a liberal it says, "Don't take my privileged money and give it away to lazy brown people." To a conservative it says, "Don't bogart my doobage money for making your fascist bombs to kill poor people."

    If you can't encourage someone to really understand what you mean by it, they will take it to mean what fits their stereotypes. That is just how the human brain works.

    In a way, it is something of a "duh!" in that he's saying that rhetoric doesn't make for good persuasion. The same can be said for "Just Say No", "Stay the Course", "Hate is Not a Family Value", and "Arms Are for Hugging".

  • ||

    I agree with Pat. Taxation is legal, maybe not fair, but legal, therefore it is not theft since that would imply the illegal taking of money.

    Please. Taxation is not treated as theft by the laws of the land. That does not mean it isn't theft. Police officers get to exceed posted speed limits when in pursuit of a suspect. That doesn't mean they aren't speeding, it just means they won't be punished for it.

    Now it just so happens that we probably want officers to speed if need be to apprehend a suspect. So maybe it's a good idea to promise not to punish them for doing so. And maybe there is some reason to want a centralized body to take people's money is spend it as it chooses. But let's not pretend it isn't theft. At best it's socially beneficial theft.

  • ||

    If the government took our money and kept it for themselves, I would think of that as theft. The fact that they take our money and give it to their friends infuriates me as it does everyone else (except the recipients), but that is another issue. Taxation itself is taking money in return for services ostensibly rendered.

    I had a discussion on a conservative message board once about a proposal in Florida to tax toilet paper in order to fund an improved septic system. The tax was minimal, the service provided was a legitimate use of government to build infrastructure and I can't imagine how a better septic system would not benefit everyone equally, at least everyone who uses toilet paper. Some of the people on the board agreed with me, but a couple were convinced that "taxation is theft".

    Slogans like "Taxation is theft" may or may not be effective at getting people riled up, but I think it would be much more intelligent and useful to argue on a case-by-case basis, rather than by making generalisations.

  • ||

    The problem with an absolutist slogan such as "taxation is theft" is that even in a libertarian utopia there would still be some (diminished) government, and that government would require funding though a mechanism functionally eqivalent to taxation.

    Not if it were an Anarcho-Capitalist libertarian utopia. Say what you want, but those guys are pretty intellectually consistent.

    Free riding is theft.

    No, free riding is being an ass. You are not taking anything, it is being given to you. Now, it may be that those conferring the benefit on you can't help but do so if they're to enjoy the benefit themselves. But you're certainly not expropriating something from someone else in free riding.

    The same can be said for "Just Say No", "Stay the Course", "Hate is Not a Family Value", and "Arms Are for Hugging".

    Quality point. I want a bumper sticker that says "My worldview won't fit in a slogan."

  • ||

    Penry,

    There are a number of very serious proposals that fund government without compulsory taxation. Some are remarkably practical and have a demonstrated history of success and some are purely conjectural.

  • ||

    I'm not fond of the standard moral attack on taxation both because I'm a minarchist and because it generates sufficient horror to damage the cause of liberty.

    That said, the flip side of Mr. Virkkala's argument would seem to be "Is there anything immoral about a 100% level of taxation on property and income that becomes codified in the system of laws?" If so, there is nothing special about property in that government can revoke its protection at a will. If not, we have a heap problem to contend with - how much taxation is permissible before there is a moral implication?

  • ||

    Yeah, that last post was incoherent and had yummy grammar.

    Trying again: If there is nothing wrong with 100% taxation, property doesn't mean much. If there is something wrong, we have a heap problem.

  • ||

    Libertarians:

    Whatever you do, don't give up your lunatic slogans. They're your only saving grace. Your slogans opperate like a pipe and a crumpled suit. They make the unsuspecting think there might be something substantive behind them. Without the slogans, even your transitory audience will disappear.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Ted, why are you here?

  • roger||

    I don't see how taxation could be anything but theft, since it is obvious that property is theft. Owning land is, of course, impossible - it is a 'fictitious commodity,' to use Polyani's felicitous phrase - and since the whole structure of capitalism is built upon exchanges that are fundamentally larcenous, theft is built into the whole system. So instead of beginning by abolishing taxes, one needs to begin by reclaiming land: refuse to obey trespassing signs, use any land as you see fit and pass on, and remember - a house is only a free hotel. Break into one today!

  • ||

    Wine comonsewer

    I love the absurdity of fanaticism and marvel at how dim fanatics can be, especially when they think they're being profound. It's very entertaining.

  • ||

    Senator Kennedy!
    You're back; come to dazzle us with more of your closely reasoned arguments and subtle Senatorial rhetoric?

  • ||

    P Brooks

    You couldn't follow a subtle argument if you had it on a leash.

  • Pat||

    Ted, why are you here?

    Don't worry about him too much. He doesn't seem to offer anything constructive or that could be considered a rationale argument. His posts are typically ad hominems and strawmen with a dash of red herring thrown in for balance.

  • ||

    Property is theft, all right? Therefore, theft is property. Therefore, this ship is mine.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Well Ted, glad to be entertaining, but hanging around with fanatics that you find dimly absurd doesn't seem like much of a hobby.

  • ||

    Pat | December 29, 2006, 1:44pm | #
    The problem with his differentiation between legal (taxation) and illegal (robbery) expropriation depends entirely on the premise that because something is legal, it must be moral or right. The converse being that because something is illegal it is, therefore, wrong or immoral.


    This is right on. Illicit drug use is illegal, but does that make it wrong? Prostitution is illegal, but does that make it immoral? Tapping random phones is now legal, does that make it right?

  • ||

    "So, Senator," he said, keenly aware of the pre-pubescent Amish ghosts glaring their disapproval, "how's Starbucks been treating you?"

  • ||

    It's very entertaining.

    Not nearly as entertaining as the posts of a snide-assed troll, namely yourself.

  • Larry A||

    Murder is wrong not because the law says so but because it is inherently immoral to violate the right to life of another.

    Suggestion: Lose the "immoral" clause. Murder is wrong not because the law says so but because it violates the right to life of another.

    Once you insert morality into the legal equation you open the floodgates for all sorts of laws by all sorts of people who, in your best interest, want to be sure you lead what they see as a "moral" life.

  • ||

    "worthy public projects"

    Bullfuckingshit. The neocons thought Iraq was one of these. Leftoids think income resdistribution is likewise.

    The point is, no one will ever agree, ever. The only thing left is to:

    - pay for what you use
    - pay for your infractions/injustices
    - volunteer your money to those who need it. "need" determined by you and no one else.

  • ||

    "There are a number of very serious proposals that fund government without compulsory taxation. Some are remarkably practical and have a demonstrated history of success and some are purely conjectural."

    Rimfax,

    i'd love to hear about these. have a link? seriously, not calling you out (damned limitations of web-dialog!) i've just never heard of any and you've got me seriously curious.

    as far as my own thoughts on taxation as theft - well, i'm not sure that the phrase is particularly useful. it does give off a bit of a loony toon vibe to most people.

    overall, i'd have to say that my objection is not against paying taxes as i value a variety of public services that would probably keep me from being considered a libertarian (schools, libraries, transit, some others). the trick as always is how much to pay and to what?

  • ||

    You couldn't follow a subtle argument if you had it on a leash.

    Bud-dup-tsh. I have a million of these, well, 101 anyway - $19.95 on Amazon;-p And I can out-type any of you libertards with my right hand behind me back (or otherwise occupied, practice makes perfect).

  • ||

    downstater,

    I was wondering if anyone would. I was also hoping that someone more knowledgeable would bite on my prompt.

    I'll work up some links and send them in a few minutes. Meanwhile, my understandings of the alternatives break down into these categories:
    * fees for services (possibly with a margin)
    * fees for access to unownable resources like radio frequencies or ocean fish stocks
    * voluntary payments

    As I said, I am only tangentially knowledgeable, so I'll do a bit of research and post again.

  • ||

    Ted,

    Did you just retort to your own insult? Or is that someone posing as you? Or are you posing as someone posing as you? Is it a sockpuppet if it has your name? Who's eating this chicken?

  • ||

    don't break your neck over it. i figured if you had it handy that would be great.

  • ||

    Downstater-

    I can't say what Rimfax has in mind, but I personally favor pay-for-service arrangements or user fees.
    Example: I consider per-gallon gasoline taxes at the pump to be an acceptable proxy for a user fee (there is also the option of toll roads); a proper system of highway taxes would collect enough money to build and maintain an efficient system of roads, and only that; no siphoning off highway fees to the "general fund" or to subsidize mass transit boondoggles based on wishful thinking or political pandering.

    User fees for invading and occupying foreign lands- that's a tough one to arrange, which is not a flaw, as I see it.

  • ||

    Taxation in and of itself is not theft, although a great many thing the government spends that tax revenue on are unconstitutional (i.e not pursuant to any ennumerated power as required by the 10th Amendment) and are therefore illegal.

    As I see it, the issue is what is the proper methodology to fund government provided goods and services. And to my way of thinking, fairness in funding these things in the public sector is no different than it is in the private sector - on a user fee basis.

    A lot of what government does via tax and spending policy is overt and deliberate wealth redistribution - something that no private sector company could ever get away with. If Home Depot can't charge Citizen A for the lawn mower purchased and delivered to Citizen B, then government should not be able to do the equivalent of that either.

    As it stands now, the top 50% of income earners pay 96% of the federal income tax. The bottm 50% are using and/or getting the benefit of a hell of a lot more than 4% of government services.

    Government should, to the greatest extend possible, move toward funding all of it activities on a user fee basis to make all those freeloaders start paying for the services they are getting.

    A significant part of the cause of the massive increase in the size of government is the fact that more and more people are not being required to pay for any of it but are reaping the benefits of the spending. Freeloaders have no incentive to keep government spending in check.

  • Jadagul||

    Those of you pointing out that legal != moral: I don't think Virkkala disagrees with you. He's more saying that "taxation is theft" is like "tricking someone into giving you money that he thinks is going to charity is theft." Both are wrong; both are expropriation of a sort. But the correct terms are "taxation" and "fraud" respectively, not "theft." Of course, you can have a theory and a broad definition of theft where all forms of expropriation are called theft; but that's not how the average person uses the word, so you shouldn't use is that way when you're trying to persuade the average person. He's not saying you shouldn't make the argument that taxation is an unjustified expropriation of the wealth of others; he's just saying that "taxation is theft" is an ineffective way of communicating that argument, and that while it may be incendiary, it won't lead to real discussion.

  • shan||

    taxation is an involuntary confiscation of property, but that does not mean that it is not possible to support government through voluntary means.

    If the state is seen as the only legitimate and functional institution for securing an individual rights, as many minarchist libertarians would tend to agree, then it is not entirely impossible to see the state as a moral and just institution which could be funded by voluntary means.

  • uncle sam||

    Unless you find him entertaining, the best thing to do is totally ignore him.

  • ||

    A quick bit of research reveals the links below. None of these are particularly scholarly takes on the subject. If anyone has a better link or book reference, that would be appreciated.

    Tax Day Reflections by Bryan Caplan
    * voluntary payments

    Voluntary Alternatives to Taxation by Stuart K. Hayashi
    * voluntary payments
    * selling government assets
    * fundraisers
    * dividends

    Funding Government Without Taxation by Edward W. Younkins
    * service fees

    Replace Taxation with Innovation by Dave Ridley
    * lease advertising space on public land
    * sell government assets

    found with a Google search for "alternatives to taxation"

  • ||

    "tricking someone into giving you money" is *theft* where I come from.

    ---------

    "...taxation is an involuntary confiscation of property, but that does not mean that it is not possible to support government through voluntary means."

    It always amuses me, in a perverse way, to know that the people I see on television telling me that taxes should be higher are, in all likelihood, paying tax consultants thousands of dollars per year to minimize their own tax liabilities; they could, after all, set an example by tallying up their gross incomes, and sending a check for half of that amount to Uncle Sam.

  • Jadagul||

    P Brooks: in a broad theory of property rights, I suppose it is theft. But most people would call it "fraud" and distinguish it from theft. If you're talking to them, using the word theft just makes them think you're being silly. Even if you're right, you're not persuasive.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Who's eating this chicken?

    That's not what Ted's doing with his chicken while outtyping us libertards with his other hand.

    Or, maybe he's double jointed.

  • ||

    Rimfax,

    thanks for the links!

    "found with a Google search for 'alternatives to taxation'"

    i said don't break your neck over it!

    happy new year everyone - the office is dead, so i'm outta here!

  • Jon||

    The crux of this argument is, in my view, a lot more intuitive, and a hell of a lot less ethically puritanical, than the "radical libertarian" contingent makes it out to be. Differentiating between the "Some Taxation" argument and the "Some More Taxation" argument is a matter of needing to distinguish between tenable and untenable. It's untenable to suppose that a huge number of people may live on one land mass without expecting their collective condition to devolve into abject anarchy. Anarchy and liberty are not approximations of each other; the rule of law is not possible in anarchy. True social and political liberty requires a State that is strong and able in narrow, limited categories. I might be myopic in this, but I can't imagine how a government can exist if it cannot tax. And if a government cannot sustain itself, it cannot maintain the monopoly on force necessary to prevent murder and other forms of violence, protect private property, issue money, trade with other nations, or protect its own territory. Being born into civilization seems to be enough to require taxation as an ethically proper trade-off, for the public good - because there is a such thing in even the libertarian conception of justice.

  • Jon||

    My third sentence made no sense. What it should have read:

    "It's untenable to suppose that a huge number of people may live on one land mass in total political anarchy without expecting their collective condition to devolve into an approximately equal level of chaos."

  • ||

    As I commented on a thread yesterday...

    Government is, quite simply, that organization that can kill people without threatening or being threatened by the social order.

    It is an open question whether a government is needed in any particular society. But when you say, "Government is required to solve this problem," what you are really saying is, "An organization that can kill people without threatening or being threatened by the social order is required to solve this problem."

    When you imagine something that government needs to gather taxes to do, let the gravity of that phrasing provide at least some limit...

  • ||

    And if a government cannot sustain itself, it cannot maintain the monopoly on force necessary to prevent murder and other forms of violence, protect private property, issue money, trade with other nations, or protect its own territory.

    Preventing murder and violence and protecting private property are private goods. They are highly likely to be provided even in the absence of government. In particular, note that the police do not generally stop murder or theft: They merely investigate and apprehend afterward. And if you argue that the poor cannot afford private provision of such security services, you should note that the people who are more likely to be murdered or stolen from in today's US are not the rich.

    Issue money? This was not a function of the US government before 1913. Why should you consider it a necessary government service? As for trading with other nations, this happens in spite of government. The only thing government can do here is get in the way, which it unfortunately does often.

    Protecting its own territory is pretty much the only thing on your list that is arguably not a private good that can be privately provided without taxation. But the lessons learned from getting all the other private goods out of public governence might lead the way to a solution here too.

  • ||


    Preventing murder and violence and protecting private property are private goods. They are highly likely to be provided even in the absence of government. In particular, note that the police do not generally stop murder or theft: They merely investigate and apprehend afterward. And if you argue that the poor cannot afford private provision of such security services, you should note that the people who are more likely to be murdered or stolen from in today's US are not the rich.

    The results from those investigations, if successful, acts as a deterent for furture crimes.

  • ||

    This is what never fails to amaze me... most of these people just assume that Libertarians - mainstream, minarchist or even the anarcho variety - are against taxes. I would put forth that many of us aren't (no matter which Libertarian view we take) as long as they are apportioned and not unapportioned.

    That's why I hate the 16th amendment because unapportioned taxes lead to so much power for the state to suppress peoples rational thinking through raising all of those unaportioned taxes and then using the press and media to attack their sensibilities. It never ceases to amaze me how gullible people are.

    The Federal Government has raised then abused and wasted all of that money. Now where the hell are we at? Fiscally insolvent is where we are.

    What a load of crap these spinsters weave!

  • ||

    BTW, all this does is tell me that Libertarians are making inroads as people get exposed to our ideas. I say this by evidence of all the states minions who are increasingly attacking us for our positions.

    Keep up the good fight Reason and all you other Libertarians. Ideas are indeed powerful!

  • ||

    The results from those investigations, if successful, acts as a deterent for furture crimes.

    And if investigation, prosecution, adjudication, and punishment were privately produced, it would provide the same deterrent. Indeed, if a private producer got the reputation of punishing capital crimes by throwing the guilty through a wood chipper, it would probably provide more deterrence.

    It can be argued that the historical reason police and justice are publicly provided is that private markets could very well overproduce those services, resulting in consequent injustice.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Saying "Taxation is theft" is about like saying "poison oak is jock itch." Taxation sucks, theft sucks, but they're different in a lot of ways.

    There's always going to be authority and power in society. The trick is figuring out how to balance all that authority and power to create a free society.

  • ||

    Actually, saying "Taxation is theft" is most like saying "Conscription is slavery". People of a progressive bent who boggle at the former may even agree with the latter. Or not... There have been a lot of calls for universal service lately.

    Taxation and theft are indeed different in a lot of ways. Nonetheless, the statement is accurate to the first order. Whether taxation is a necessary theft is a second order question. But it is clearly theft.

  • Mike Laursen||

    "Conscription is slavery". Yes, that's a better analogy.

  • ||

    I see taxation as theft by the state in the same way the state accomplishes everything, at the point of a gun.

  • ||

    As I've said before, taxation has always been with us. It's either called "taxation" paid to the gov't, or "protection money" to the Mafia. Take your pick. At least with the gov't, we have a chance of voting them out of office.

    The problem with usage fees as replacement for taxes is that they can end up being very regressive. At least with an income tax, poor people don't get hit for services so much.

    Oh, and those of you who are perfectly willing to act as free riders on the present day communal system? I take it you won't mind if the rest of society votes you off the island, right?

  • thoreau||

    The phrase "taxation is theft" illustrates the difference between being right and being persuasive.

  • ||

    At least with the gov't, we have a chance of voting them out of office.

    At least with the Mafia, we have a chance of organizing or paying a competing protection racket.

  • ||

    Doesn't the government of Dubai support itself without any taxation? I thought I had heard that the oil companies pay for all public services.

    Taxation might seem like a necessary evil for many past and present governments but it's entirely uncertain, if the Dubai example is correct, that financing of public services by taxation is an inevitable evil. In fact, future societies may one day look back on taxation as a medievalist relic, just as we look back on slavery as relic of a more unelightened era.

  • Mike Laursen||

    grumpy realist, essentially you're right, except that there are many, many more possibilities than the nation state and the Mafia.

    I don't know exactly how to form the ideal free society, but it would exhibit individualism, tolerance and respect towards others, and widespread distribution of the capability to use force.

    The non-initiation of force principle doesn't yield all the answers nor ethical wisdom to tell us how to form the ideal free society nor how to get from our current society to the ideal.

  • Mike Laursen||

    An illustration of a situation where the non-initiation of force principle isn't enough: Israel and Palestine. The non-initiation principle is all about "who started it", and dwelling on "who started it" is the least productive thing someone trying to bring peace to the region would want to do. The non-initiation principle needs to be accompanied by an ethics of reconciliation.

    It is also flawed in that it says nothing about responding to an initiation of force with a retaliation that is out of proportion to the initial transgression.

  • Adam Selene||

    Pat said:

    The problem with his differentiation between legal (taxation) and illegal (robbery) expropriation depends entirely on the premise that because something is legal, it must be moral or right.


    Pat, you are making a typical argument that has no basis in fact. In fact, nowhere in his essay does Virkalla equate legal with moral. He does make the argument, and a good one, that rule of law is important. And, further, that taxation within the law is not theft. That does not mean it is either moral, or immoral.

    The problem with your argument is that most people consider the exercise of their franchise to be a voluntary contract that empowers the Legislature to levy taxes. Thus, whether you believe taxation is moral, or not, doesn't matter. The majority of the population of the USA (a super-majority, in fact) does believe it is moral. What they disagree on is how the taxes should be used and how much should be gathered. If you want to change the debate in a substantive way, focus on whether the Federal Government should be in the business of central social planning, or not.

  • ||

    Set the WABAC Machine to August, 1982.

    (waving hands...) {doodle-oodle, doodle-oodle...} (waving hands...)

    I had returned to college after an extended absence. A few courses shy of majors in Political Science and History, I was filling in my schedule of night classes with some distribution requirements and lower division electives meant to broaden my knowledge, collect the minimum hours needed to graduate and, I hoped, pad my GPA. I signed up for the first course in the Economics catalog, Introduction to Microeconomics. Our university's econ chairman was an Austrian, so it was no surprise that ECON 1 was micro, and you didn't get macro until your second semester. The night section was filled with adults with jobs trying to complete their degrees or meet the prerequisites for the MBA program. We also had a good number of journalism students. You might think, "good, the journos are required to take ECON so they can competently write news stories about the economy." So sad, that wasn't true. The econ class was only required of those taking a business concentration, so they could get jobs on the business side of a paper's "Church and state." Yup, the guys who were going to sell classifed ads had to take econ, while those who were going to cover the Ways and Means Committee wouldn't have to. But I digress.

    When the expected instructor didn't show up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the department chair, that Austrian whom I had only ever met at an election night party for a Libertarian candidate, step to the podium. He explained that the instructor hired to teach the course had bailed at the last minute, so he'd be taking over the section. I was pleased, but also a bit worried that the course would now becone a great deal of work.

    The Chairman began by discussing various types of economic transactions. He pointed out that some are made freely, while others are coerced. Asking for examples, some students mentioned theft and robbery. I piped up with "taxation." The Prof agreed, but allowed as it could be a special case, to wit:

    Both taxation and theft are coerced economic activities. Theft and robbery are plainly so, as is taxation in a tyrannical regime. One could argue that in a state which has representative institutions, while compliance with taxation may require force or its threat, many if not most people comply voluntarily. To the extent that they are vested in the decision-making apparatus of the state, and are convinced of the legitimacy of the government, their participation is in large part voluntary. The flip side of "no taxation without representation" is "taxation with representation is OK." This has its limits, of course. If the state seems to be grasping beyond the norms of its constitution, written or unrwritten, the public will resist. Sometimes that resistance is political, as tax-cutting candidates are supported in elections. Sometimes it is personal, as folks arrange their affairs to reduce the incidence of taxes, or participate not just in tax avoidance, but in outright evasion. Post WWII, Italians consistently voted for high-taxing pols, while tax evasion was essentially the national sport. They could have elected deputies who would have lowered tax rates to match the reality of what people actually paid, allowing folks to rearrange their lives so that they no longer had to game the system, but then they'd have to admit that they weren't really soaking the "rich", just inconveniencing them. Italian cabinets in the second half of the 20th century were just too fragile for such honesty.

    What makes the Libertarian Macho Flash of "taxation is theft" so tempting is that many people have never considered the coercive essence of taxation, combined with the average libertarian's frustration with never having a anyone in the councils of power who accurately represents his views. Calhounian theories of virtual representation aside, no candidate who fundamentally agrees with me has ever been elected in any district where I was then a resident. From time to time I've voted for a "winner", usually the least worst candidate in a runoff election. But I am NOT represented on the county board, in the city council, in the State legislature or in the Congress. That brings us back to "no taxation without representation."

    I'm a minarchist. I recognize that, should fees based on use or other voluntary or "voluntaryish" revenues fall short of fully funding minarchist public expenditure, some taxes will be necessary. I don't like it, and will continue to try to dream up ways to avoid it. (Hmmm, wealthy Athenians used to outfit naval ships as a way to raise their status. Maybe the DoD could get people to sponsor M-1 Abrams tanks...?)

    Kevin

  • twv||

    The full original piece now resides at
    http://www.wirkman.com/Wirkman.....theft.html

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