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.
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