Image: DAVID OKWII
Is taxation theft?
In order to answer this question, let us first consult the Merriam-Webster dictionary on the definitions of these words. Stealing is defined as “ to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice”. A tax is defined as “a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes”. These definitions will serve as starting points for this argument.
Property would be that which someone owns. Money, which is the way people are paid, is used as a substitute for resources. You are paid with money because you and your employer both find it more desirable that you spend the money as you choose. As a result of your contribution to that market, you are given money which is now something you own. Some of this money is then taken by the state to pay for its affairs. In this situation I refer to the affairs of the state as such because one who does not partake in the actions of the state or vote for those who compose it would still be subject to taxes.
There is a reason everyone knows the date April 15th as “tax day”- because that is when you are required to turn in your tax forms. After this, the government decides whether to take more or give some back. This satisfies the “habitual or regular practice” piece.
It is simple, then, to see that taxation is, indeed, theft. Wherever you stand politically, an acceptance of definitions is important. A good gauge of whether someone is really being intellectually honest is to pose the question in the title of this article. There are a number of refutations to this statement which I will now respond to.
Taxation isn’t theft because you get something in return
This is fairly simple to rebut. Let us begin with an analogy: Suppose I am the state (if this is not a satisfactory comparison, simply imagine I was elected by less than half of the population and I had a gang of thugs working for me). I, as the state, decide I need some money, and you are a hardworking wage-earner. I decide to steal $1,000 from you to pay for a “public good”- in this case, a park. You do not like parks and only take your kids there once a year. The market value of a park trip is $10.
Would that not, even though you did receive the usage of that park in return, constitute theft? I say even if the benefit received were equal (which it is not for most people) to the amount taken, it is still theft. The reason you are paid in dollars, not a commodity to be used by all employees, is because most people value the ability to use their money to buy what they want more than being given collective use of some “good”.
Taxation isn’t theft because you consent by voting
The premise of this point is partially correct. If you agree to have your money taken, it is no longer a forceful act. The person making this argument must admit that most people do not vote, so if this is the basis to accept, you couldn’t tax those who did not vote. I would further take issue with the assumption that voting implies consent. There is a great book about this written in the early 20th century called “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority” by Lysander Spooner. If one votes to reduce their tax burden, they are simply using the means provided to them to combat the force of the state. Spooner refers to this as “defensive voting”, meaning you are voting simply to reduce the personal intrusion of the entity empowered by your vote, not because you wish to accept the outcome should it be unfavorable.
Taxation isn’t theft because you can move
This is the most widely accepted counterpoint. I do not believe that where you are born automatically obligates you to have some portion of the wealth you create taken from you. The founding fathers of this country took issue with the Crown’s levying of taxes, the creation of which they had no say in. “No taxation without representation” was the battle cry. There are people who work before they can vote. These people are still subject to taxes which they have no say in. Is this not taxation without representation? There are also adults who are taxed and do not vote, yet this is not something the founders would oppose?
Whether or not you feel it justified, taxation is theft. Most arguments not addressed above are a justification for taxes, rather than a rebuttal to whether they are theft. There are certainly some great points to be made for why taxes are necessary. This is not to propose that all taxes should be immediately abolished, but simply to demonstrate the reality behind taxation. You can use your morals and values to reconcile the reasoning above with your personal beliefs, but we need to have a conversation about the utility and morality of taxes, and every conversation should start with an acceptance of definitions.