Taxation is theft. This concept is central to anarcho-capitalistic thinking. And it’s wrong.
It’s not that aggression is okay. It’s not that taxation is reasonable. It’s not that taxes are the “fair” price for government “services.” It’s none of the reasons that came to your mind in the first ten milliseconds.
Taxation is not theft because tens — perhaps hundreds — of millions of people in the United States alone are not just totally fine with paying taxes but they’ll also passionately defend the practice of taxation against dangerous radicals such as myself.
Is taxation theft for me? Yes. Is taxation theft for you? You tell me. Is taxation theft for my next-door neighbor?
Not in the least.
Why not? Because he’s happy to pay.
Oh I gave him a dozen fine arguments why he shouldn’t be happy to pay. But he still claims he is. Further, I’m bonkers for disagreeing with him.
Liberty is about the individual. I don’t get to dictate to another person what they should and should not do. Because that’s collectivism. That’s a failure to respect their right to self determination — their liberty.
Therefore, taxation is not theft, not for everyone. Because some are happy about it. A lot, in fact. The attempt to dictate to them that it really is theft, when they believe it is not, is a form of collectivism and is antithetical to liberty.
Step one of libertarianism is to respect the individual and her right to make her own choices. Libertarianism is not about identifying your own personal truth and forcing that dogma on others.
Therefore, objectively, taxation is not (always) theft.
That makes the concept “taxation is theft” an intellectual fail.
On a strategic level, “taxation is theft” is an example of an obsolete marketing pitch. It only resonates with the few hardcore ancap faithfuls — those for whom the utility of hearing it is lowest. And most of those people pay taxes day in and day out, despite their intellectual “fidelity” to the cause.
The insistence on promoting “taxation is theft” shows an egotistical tone-deafness, a catastrophic failure to listen and an abysmal lack of creative thinking on the part of libertarians.
“Taxation is theft” is like running George McGovern or Barry Goldwater for president. It’s like opening a new broadcast TV station or building a steel mill on the South Side of Chicago in the 21st century. It’s like going door to door to sell typewriters, film cameras or rotary phones to people who own MacBooks and iPhones.
These are all stupid ideas, borne of a failure to listen to the marketplace.
The marketplace of ideas is telling you that “taxation is theft” isn’t working. It isn’t convincing anyone. Its success rate at inspiring tax resistance or less oppressive tax laws is so low you couldn’t measure it if you tried.
If anarcho-capitalists, market anarchists and other libertarians with new ideas for Government 2.0 are to meet with any success, we need to evolve our pitches over time. We need to invent new concepts, present them to the public, listen and adjust the pitch by discarding non-working ideas or evolving them until they work.
Libertarians are facing fifty years of irrelevance because we are lost in the inner worlds of Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard. We’d rather be right in our own minds than relevant to the minds of the world. We’d rather drink craft beer and ridicule the stupid statists as they burn than lift a finger to build a freer world.
We talk a good game about markets and laugh at failed products without realizing that our own ideology is a failed product the markets have rejected.
Worst of all, we’ve given up. It’s plain as day when you hear libertarians talk about how we’ll never have liberty in our lifetime. It’s as obvious as the sky when you see people pushing the same talking points that offer the same non-traction — such as “taxation is theft.”
If you want to change that, leave your ego at the door and let’s talk about how to move forward in the comments.
Photo Credit: Martha Soukup CC-BY
18 replies on “Taxation is not Theft (for the 99%)”
George, You are correct: I believe the only way to educate people is to demonstrate to them through successful alternative ways of meeting needs. Cooperative voluntary associations, such as cooperatives and clubs, can accomplish a lot more than trying to get people to understand “taxation is theft” for the very reasons you so lucidly set forth.
Just as home schooling is gaining more positive connotations due to the outstanding successes of home-schooled students, who are winning academic scholarships and excelling in their colleges and universities, so must we design and develop successful societal structures that meet individual needs better than their government counterparts. We already have UPS and FedEx doing a better job than the post office. We have private community schools, entirely separate from government schools, where order, peace, and learning are the focus of efforts, rather than mayhem, police and violence as is often the case in government schools.
I think we can do best to talk less and do more. I cannot think of one thing that attracts people as well as does success. We can start barter clubs (Crag’s list on local levels), participate in private Community Supported Agriculture, join local cooperatives, whether baby-sitting or house-building, and we can take a few minutes to develop and then share a coherent summary of the benefits of our voluntary associations.
Thank you for that thoughtful article.
Iloilo M. Jones
Thanks Iloilo and best wishes.
I agree that telling someone “taxation is theft” won’t enlighten. It will confuse most, and alienate you from them.
I would suggest saying: I don’t pay taxes willingly. I feel insulted when I am forced to pay when I would have gladly paid as an expression of my moral values. I feel I have been robbed of the chance to be a moral person by someone who assumes I need to be forced because I’m immoral. Why else would force be applied?
No one can tell you what you feel. They can try to convince you not to feel that way, but you have not challenged what they feel, or why. You can make the conservation about the logic of your feelings, which you can explain are the result of your values: the sovereignty of the individual, and how that implies respect for others, and yourself. That, out of self respect, you insist on picking the way your money is spent, because after all it is your money, earned by you, and that means no one else has the right to take it, especially when doing so robs you of a chance to be charitable or honorable or magnanimous.
The spending of my money says something about me. It allows me to express myself, my values. If my money is taken, my self expression is taken, and I have a right to free speech, which in this case means spending freely.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Don.
When you give “a dozen fine arguments” is that tyrannical? Is a reasoned argument the same as violence, threat thereof, fraud? I think not. Therefore, you are not “dictating” when arguing.
But if someone uses force against you, and you resist, are you dictating? I think not. This is the case with taxation. Most think taxation (theft) is legitimate (moral and practical). They don’t stop with themselves, they want to force it on everyone. You say that is their version of “self determination”. I say their self determination stops at my self determination. How is insisting on my rights “dictating”? How is it collectivism?
I don’t care how “happy” taxation makes them. That is not an argument that justifies my unhappiness, my rights violation. And the % is of no consequence here. If I am one against a million, the million are still in the wrong. Once human sacrifice made the people feel protected. It was justified the same way taxation is, necessary for the “general welfare”, i.e., “common good”, i.e., “national security”.
Perhaps picking a common activity that most take for granted as their right and suggesting it is anti-social and should be outlawed would be helpful. After they argue with you that they have the right to do it even if a poll would be against them, you can reply: “Now you know how I feel about keeping my money”.
Don, I’m saying that when you tell them taxation is theft that from their POV that is untrue and an attempt to arm-wrestle them into doing what you think is right for them, and in this sense it becomes collectivist and dictatorial – in their eyes (the ones that matter from a PR standpoint, which is what the slogan “taxation is theft” is all about – PR).
Of course, for you and I taxation is an abominable thing and an abrogation of our human rights. But not for them. Therefore, like I said, taxation is *not always* theft.
“Taxation is theft” is a blanket, collective statement that is actually untrue for what seems like most people. To find a more effective argument against taxation, we need to abandon this collective approach and go more individual, which is our forte anyway.
IOW, we need to accept the reality that has been kicking us in the nose for the last few decades: that many if not most people accept taxation as necessary and proper. Accepting this facet of our reality, we can evolve to construct more persuasive talking points on the subject of taxation, talking points that are more in line with our individualistic philosophy.
By talking about yourself so much, I feel you’ve missed the point of my article. I’m mostly talking about coming up with better marketing for libertarian ideas. Marketing is about the customer, the guy you want to persuade. All this me-me-me stuff is how we got here in the first place.
From a philosophical point of view, of course we have to stand and defend our individual rights. But from a marketing point of view, we have to meet the people we want to persuade where they are. And the “taxation is theft” slogan doesn’t do that.
I suspect that trying to make others feel bad is not going to be a successful marketing strategy but why not try it with some people or in a blog post and share your results?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Don! Much appreciated.
You didn’t address the argument (question, claim) in my 1st/2nd paragraph.
You seem to have missed my main point. I would love it if everybody would “check their premise” that coercion is valid and consensus validates (makes moral). But before that, I want to point out to them that I am willing to let them adopt any life style they chose, i.e., that I agree to not use coercion or “arm-wrestle” them or “guilt them” into changing. I am willing to respect their choice of social system. I assume they would be happy with my position to “let them be”. If I ask: “Would you like me to change my position and force you to change yours?”; they would reply, “Hell no, that would be anti-social!” And so, I would point out we have found a point we can agree on. They have morals. They want those respected. I do.
Next, I would explain that I do not share their beliefs (superstition), but since I am willing to “live & let live” they are not threatened. Then, I would ask, if this is how they want me to treat them, are they willing to respect my beliefs, to “let me live”?
I have now asked them if they follow the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a universal moral premise that is in all religions.
Lately, it has become “politically correct” to respect all cultures (all values). This means that it is not socially acceptable to condemn minority views. The libertarian view (about 2-5%) is to assert the right to life, liberty, property, as universal and inalienable. That is not the popular belief, although most like to claim it is, while contradicting themselves. I am GENTLY pointing out to them their hypocrisy when they support taxation of those who abhor it.
Don, I believe I did address it.
All of us in the liberty community would be thrilled if we could have conversations like the one you described, but that’s never how it goes with these folks. I linked to a couple examples of how it really goes in the OP.
This is another reality kicking us in the teeth and I wonder why you don’t see it. Only 10% of the population are rationals, at most. And not all of us rationals are actually rational all the time. For a huge number of people, tradition is more important than reason. For others, feelings are more important than anything else.
This is the reality we live in. Once we accept reality, we can begin to change it.
I agree. But I can only argue using logic. I can’t step into “their world” of feelings as fact. I can argue my feelings, demanding respect, as I respect theirs, but I gave you an example of that approach and you didn’t like it.
You seemed to think it was emotionally threatening, or a “collective” approach. While I do address all statists as a group based on their collective superstition, I represent voluntarists as a group based on their principle of NAP. That is not “collectivism” it is the formation of two concepts based on a two conflicting beliefs, statism and voluntarism.
I thought I had “accepted the reality” of an irrational society. Coming up with a way to address their emotion based, contradictory ethics is the problem.
How, specifically, would address the problem of a superstitious society?
You can only argue with logic but you can stop arguing and do something else, like:
– building: make the philosophy real, something that’s impossible to argue with.
– empathizing: which is precisely stepping into other peoples worlds so you can understand the world as they do.
It’s not that I don’t LIKE your approach. It’s that I’ve tried it countless times and realized it doesn’t WORK.
What’s collectivist, again, is when you say taxation is theft. Because you are claiming to speak for everyone but in fact, many, if not most, people claim to be happy to pay taxes, when asked about it. Therefore, taxation is not always theft.
In the nineteenth century a black woman who freed about 200 slaves said she could have freed 1000 more, “…if only they knew they were slaves.” Would you reply to her that she was being a collectivist? Would you claim a person that believes he “should be” owned is not a slave?
Two people have a financial transaction. One says he donated his money to a worthy cause. The others says he took the money at the point of a gun. Which one is correct? The first? The second? Both? It’s either theft or it is not, The rationalization by the first does not change that. The rationalization by both does not change that. If there is coercion, actual or implied, it is theft.
The “claim to be happy” is highly questionable. People lie to themselves. For example, how many of these people pay extra, more than asked, to increase their happiness? None. How many would pay extra, if they came into big money, more than they could spend in their lifetime? None.
If a person who is – or whom you consider to be – enslaved swears up and down that they are happy with their situation – even going so far as to calling you a kook for suggesting otherwise – who are you to tell them any different?
If libertarians refuse to begin from the point of respect for the right of individual self-determination, then we’re just another breed of central planners who wish to move the world to suit our own personal tastes.
If libertarians refuse to take individuals at their word about what they want, then we are attempting to dictate their lives to them.
We’re not *listening*, which is unquestionably a known libertarian flaw.
“One says he donated his money to a worthy cause” — This is the only opinion that matters because it comes from the person whom you wish to make out to be a victim. But he disagrees. Are you saying you know his life better than he does?
“People lie to themselves.” — Unless you can read minds, you can only offer this as speculation with respect to any specific instance.
When we stop taking people at their world and start dictating to them the way their lives should be, we become authoritarians who know what’s best for others. This is is the complete opposite of the libertarian way.
“who are you to tell them…?” Excuse me for not being explicit. I don’t want to live on the same planet with them, let alone try and argue them out of their delusion. I learned 60 years ago that I couldn’t use logic with “most” religious people. Their minds are made up, and they don’t want to be confused by the facts, so I stopped debating them on religion. Later, in the seventies, after 5 years of time/money working to educate people on the libertarian principle I came to the conclusion it was just as hopeless. Now I know why. Both religion and statism are superstition.
The superstitious constantly demonstrate a common trait. Their actions contradict their words. I trust their actions. And yes, as a professional poker player for 50 years, I learned in the mid sixties that I knew how people would play their hands better than they did. How can that be? They were clueless as to the reasons for their play, but I wasn’t. They didn’t or couldn’t think.
This is not speculation, it is a lifetime of critical analysis while observing words and deeds. Therefore, I don’t take people at their word, and I don’t dictate, advise, how a person should think or act. I made a living off of their stupid mistakes.
But when I am forced to live by those stupid mistakes (superstitions) I am hurt; then I get mad; then I can’t remain an observer anymore. This is clear self defense, not authoritarianism when I resist their “righteous”coercion.
Don, you seem to have changed the subject. You took a question I asked in my last comment and then went off on a tangent without answering it.
If you want to treat taxes like a matter of self-defense and start poppin’ caps in IRS agents, well, that’s your call.
But I don’t think it will turn out well. I think you know that, too, otherwise you would have already tried it.
So we can wallow in our rage, we can continue to argue in vain, or we can try something new. I’m going for the third option. That’s the point I’ve attempted to make over and over again.
The subject (you chose) was, to quote again: “…who are you to tell them any different?” I gave you my history(experience) so you would know “who” I am.
Then I explained why I can claim I know some people better than they know themselves. Last, I told you why I “tell them off”. I’m not trying to save the world, but since I am suffering from those who want to “save” me from myself, from my choices, and I insist on being sovereign, I find it necessary to remind them that I am not coercing them, and I expect the same consideration. You may claim I “argue in vain” but I refuse to sacrifice on principle, or pretend to respect coercion in any way, shape, or form.
Don, I guess I wasn’t clear. “Who are you to tell X person Y thing” isn’t a request for backstory. It means, what right, standing or place do you have to do it?
Do you see the irony I wonder in on the one hand saying you know some people better then they know themselves and, on the other, claiming you’re suffering from those who want to save you from yourself?
You can stand and get run over by a situation or you can step back and position yourself to take control of the wheel. I prefer the latter.
If X is telling me everybody should be forced to obey “the law”, i.e., rules drawn up by an elite, I have the right to assert my sovereignty, no if, ands, or buts. That’s who I am. Who are you?
I am reacting, not acting. I am practicing self defense, when I am being threatened by X, and I tell X I won’t threaten, or be threatened, because a live & let live society, a non-violent society, a voluntary society, is the only civilized society, the only creative, life enhancing society.
This is one way I deal with a coercive person (society). The other is by taking evasive, often covert action.
You want to “take control of the wheel”? If that means taking control of the means of coercion, the govt., then I decline because I don’t want to coerce. If not, explain.
And no, I don’t see any irony at all in saying I know some people better than they know themselves and saying I suffer from their delusional coercion. Please be more specific.
You’ve gone off on a tangent, Don, and you don’t want to come back, it seems. You’re fighting with stawmen and repeating points I’ve already clarified. This conversation has become pointless. Best wishes.