Taxation is theft.
That’s right. Sorry, Steven, but taxation is theft.
This piece intends to serve as a rebuttal to an article recently published by Being Libertarian, written by Steven Sadowski. The article in question presents to the reader a primarily semantic argument as to why taxation is not theft. However, as well written as it was, it simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
This is not to say I disagree with Steven’s view of taxation, one in which all members of society have consented to abide by a social contract, a social contract which requires fiscal maintenance and provides the citizens with a set of benefits, and which requires taxation to function.
The concept of collective contribution for collective gain is, indeed, a noble one. However, to say that when that contribution is taken by force it cannot be considered theft, since a benefit can still be received, is fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with libertarian principles.
The crux of the argument put forward in his article is that while taxation is the act of threatening individuals into relinquishing ownership of their assets, this act does not constitute theft. In fact, according to Steven, by saying taxation is theft one is “endorsing the notion that government has come to you like a thief in the night, taken your money, and left you with nothing in return…”
As beautiful as this imagery may seem (picture Nixon creeping through your home in the early hours of the morning, clutching a sack with “SWAG” printed on it), it is unfortunately erroneous in its analogy.
No one is claiming the government to be robbers; in truth, the act of taxation is more closely analogous to that of the mugger pointing a gun at your head and demanding that you empty your pockets, than it is to the robber creeping through your home at night.
And this fact is recognized within the article, as the author goes on to say that “you do get something for your tax money, and, by definition, that is not theft; it is extortion…”
Extortion it is indeed, my good fellow, but what, pray tell, is extortion? Are the muggers who threaten your life on the street, or the gangsters who threaten your business whilst running a protection racket not thieves? Of course they are. The mere fact that they offer you some form of service in return does nothing to sweeten the bitter taste of forced compliance.
This is the aforementioned semantic argument, which posits that extortion, whilst serving to the exact same ends as theft, is an entirely different kettle of fish.
I am sorry to say, but this simply is not true.
Black’s Law Dictionary gives a definition of extortion as merely a specialized form of theft. Under “extortion,” Black’s states “Extortion is closely related to bribery and robbery since they are all forms of theft/larceny.”
This comes from the concept of theft being the unlawful seizing of private property from another individual; an action that can be carried out in a manner of different ways.
If this action of theft is carried out via direct threat of violence to an individual or any of their immediate connections, it is considered to be extortion, but still theft. Similarly, if the action of theft is carried out via the stealthy entering of someone’s home and the removal of their possessions without threat to the individual or, even in some cases, without the individual knowing, it is considered to be robbery, but still theft.
Now, again, this is not to say I do not agree with Steven’s views of taxation being a necessary evil to ensure the maintenance of the social contact, but it does not mean that it is not theft.
If one kills in self-defense, they are entirely justified in their action; however, they are still a killer. This is my main point of conjecture: We must separate the concepts of necessity and principle. It is entirely possible for one to be, like Milton Friedman, principally opposed to the concept of taxation but understanding of the current nature of necessity enveloping it.
It is in fact, I would argue, this understanding of necessity that fundamentally brings anarchists over to libertarianism. The recognition of the ideal and the pragmatic.
So, overall, I agree completely and wholeheartedly with the sentiment behind Steven’s article, that being one of pragmatism in opposition to idealism. However, both grammatically and logically, his argument, as shown above, simply is not a factual one.
And, after all “Libertarians should be arguing how to make the necessary functions of government fair, efficient and constitutional.”
And, with all of that said, I will leave you with this: Taxation is theft – it is necessary theft, but theft nonetheless.
* Harry Wilkinson, who often goes by the Bardic name Kailedy, is a biomedical science student, studying at Birkbeck College, the University of London. He has, in the past, worked for several think tanks including “La Decentrale”, the Swiss permaculture think tank where he advised operatives as to decentralised community organisation and food reliance. Being a libertarian of principle but also understanding the necessary actions a state must take to ensure its survival and standard of living, Kailedy attempts to reconcile the two into a pragmatic and governmental philosophy with the potential to offer the highest societal benefits whilst retaining the lowest cost and level of coercion to the individual.