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Taxation is Theft Because it’s Involuntary and Permanently Denies People their Property

Over at C4SS’ Stateless U in ATP 101 we’re reading The Market for Liberty. Here are my comments on one of the discussion questions.

“Is taxation theft? Why or why not?”

Taxation is theft because it is the use of aggression to deny another person their property. It doesn’t matter what their property is to be used for or what complicated arguments are made to justify it. Taxation is involuntary and it results in a person’s property being permanently taken. This is all that is necessary for our thesis to be proven.

Some will claim that taxation is a voluntary process and it is true that some people avoid paying all or some of the property demanded by governments. But this is simply a lucky break, a crack in the government’s nightstick through which a fortunate few escape. This does not blot out the fact of government’s blanket threat of aggressive acts should they decide you haven’t paid your fair share. Every year, innocent human beings are put through government wringers in search of unpaid taxes. Taxation is not voluntary. If it were, it would be called something else, like dues.

Others argue that taxation is a requirement for continued residence in the territory claimed by a particular government. As long as you stay, you owe what they must consider a kind of rent. This assumes that government is the owner of all the land under its domain, an implicit claim that the government in question doesn’t permit private property. If it did, it would recognize that each land owner holds sovereignty over his individual plot, and could not be summarily denied his property. This argument is just a second, greater threat. “Pay 20 per cent of your income to us – or we’ll take it all!”

Yet others will claim that taxes are payment for those services government provides. What if one doesn’t want those services? What if they are substandard? There are no answers to these questions because these alleged services are provided involuntarily. You can hardly call that a voluntary arrangement.

One final argument might be that taxation is not theft because the taking of property is not permanent. After all, governments claim to serve their citizens by returning tax payments to them in the form of roads, parks, wars, defense services, courts and schools. Is it stolen or simply repurposed and returned? This argument might carry weight if title to the property were returned to the individuals involved. But it is not. It is held under title of the state. State enforcers are hired to ensure it is not used as each individual taxpayer sees fit, but as state officials decide. Thus, this argument fails.

Taxation is theft because it involves a first use of violence in order to permanently acquire someone else’s property. State apologists may make excuses or wild conjecture in a vain attempt to justify this theft. But the fact remains that is theft. The only valid way to acquire someone else’s property is through voluntary interaction. Taxation is involuntary.

Photo credit: lostprophet. Photo license.

By George Donnelly

I'm building a tribe of radical libertarians to voluntarize the world by 2064. Join me.

15 replies on “Taxation is Theft Because it’s Involuntary and Permanently Denies People their Property”

Indoctrination. Even at the tender age of 12 I remember asking my dad if I needed to file taxes, probably on my allowance and money made from lawn-mowing. I remember feeling like it was my civic duty. Filing taxes was like an ennobling experience for me. I imagined it made me greater than I alone could be. And perhaps that is the allure of collectivism/statism/authoritarianism – it promises to make you greater than just you as an individual are.

Unfortunately I was brought up to believe taxation to be charitable. That without it people starve. That without it the horrible nightmare of ‘anarchy’ would hurt and rob us. Not until I was rejected from parts of the system for not fully and voluntarily complying in aspects I misunderstood did I find that I didn’t know a damn thing.

Planting the seeds of humanity in the inhumane through simple example does change people. You do great, thank you George.

Interest concept.
So taxation should be voluntary?
What is the quality of voluntary healthcare, voluntary national defense, voluntary police, voluntary judicial system, voluntary fire service, voluntary education system, voluntary infrastructure building, and so on?

There is something intrinsically wrong with your article. It might be due to the fact that you don’t understand who the world works.

Let us break it down.

1. In order for the government to recognize “private property”, there has to be:
a) a government – a body that creates the law
b) a judicial system – a body that decides who possess the “property”
c) an enforcement system – a body that ensure that possession isn’t deprived.
I’m assuming that you’re smart enough to understand that these are not free. Assuming that taxation is voluntary, how much would people pay to maintain the three systems? What ever they want? Nothing if they want to? How efficient are these systems when they are run by voluntary contribution? Think hard. If you say, extremely efficient then provide real life proof.

2. In order for you to travel from your house to your friend’s house, you need a footpath. Who build that footpath? When would that footpath be built? Who is going to pay for maintenance of that footpath when you don’t use it? Since you’re advocating voluntary contribution as oppose to taxation, what prevents your friend from not paying for the footpath while you do? What would the quality of the footpath be when you only contribute $1 to the construction?

If you think taxation is theft this is what I suggest you do:

Buy yourself an island. Build your house there. Hire bodyguards, assuming the body guards is obligated to not kill you. Pay for infrastructure such as sewage, electricity, telecommunications, transport. Figure out a way to earn an income without paying tax to external government. I suggest you grow you own food.

And live there without paying tax.

Hello James and thanks for your two comments. I’m glad to have the perspective of someone from down under. :)

Voluntary taxation is an oxymoron. Since taxation is a payment made under threat of violence, it can not ever be called voluntary. A more appropriate term might just be payment for services rendered.

In my experience, voluntary services, such as the ones you named, are better than those provided by force. Keep in mind that when I say voluntary that excludes state-chartered corporations. Corporations are part of the involuntary sector to some extent, as they are not only creatures of the state but must function in the state’s extra-market sphere.

In order for the government to recognize “private property”

Your first point is what is intrinsically flawed in your argument. There is no need for government to “recognize” property (‘private property’ is redundant). The recording of deeds (property titles) can be performed by enterprising individuals on a voluntary basis. Government is not uniquely qualified for this task and in fact is at a disadvantage. As a coercive monopoly, government acts outside the marketplace of voluntary relations and is therefore prone to corruption. All it takes is a few well-connected individuals in the government to steal land by manipulating the deed records. Where multiple providers are able to enter the marketplace, it is not so easy to lie, cheat and steal.

Assuming that taxation is voluntary, how much would people pay to maintain the three systems? What ever they want? Nothing if they want to?

How much do you pay to maintain the food delivery system? The housing provision system? One pays as much as is necessary in order to get what one needs, and no more. There is an ongoing negotiation with trading partners. We negotiate on price, features, delivery speed and many other factors. We seek to find terms of trade that both trading partners can be happy with.

We can apply this same manner of voluntary relationship to the provision of law, dispute resolution and security services. There is a huge amount of work on this, with relevant successful real-life examples.

Here is a quick summary of some thoughts on private law:

http://morelibertynow.com/opinion/murphy-private-law-market-anarchy

Here is a summary of a scholarly article that found aspects of libertarian anarchist societal organization in 19th century western US.

http://morelibertynow.com/opinion/wild-west-anarcho-capitalist

The credit reporting system in the US is an example of voluntary relations working very nicely. Are you familiar with it?

The credit card system (for example, Visa) is another example of voluntary relations working nicely, even on a global scale. Of course, one has to keep that distinct from the heavily-controlled banks and state control of the various currencies.

How efficient are these systems when they are run by voluntary contribution?

How efficient are those sectors of your local economy that are most free from coercion? Around here I found those to be the most agile, the most accountable, the most responsive and the most satisfactory.

In order for you to travel from your house to your friend’s house, you need a footpath. Who build that footpath? When would that footpath be built?

You’ve left out the most important question: whose footpath is it? That person or collective is responsible for paying for its construction and upkeep. It is also responsible for determining who may use it and under what conditions. Also, is a concrete sidewalk always needed? I see in many cities the state lays down too much concrete. It’s very damaging to the environment.

Buy yourself an island. Build your house there. Hire bodyguards, assuming the body guards is obligated to not kill you. Pay for infrastructure such as sewage, electricity, telecommunications, transport. Figure out a way to earn an income without paying tax to external government. I suggest you grow you own food.

You’ve conflated individualism, or liberty, with hermitry. This is a logical fallacy. Individualism does not imply seclusion. Trade and healthy social relations do not require a coercive monopoly on any sectors of the economy.

Let’s get back to basic logic here:

1. “Private property” by itself is meaningless. If you occupy a land, there is nothing stopping me from removing you from that land by force. American Indians, Australian Aboriginals would be happily point that out to you. Thus without a commonly accepted protocol, sometimes this is called law, and an enforcing body, this is sometimes called police, you would be forever remain in “your property” preventing others from overtaking it. In addition, you can’t claim anything is yours without others agreeing, this is also called law, that it is yours.

You got this far? Good.

So now that we need some sort of law and and some sort enforcement to protect “private property”. Now the question is where do you get those laws and enforcement from.

You suggested “multiple providers”. But all that does is push the question down the chain. Who prevents the providers from colluding? What stops your current provider from taking your payment and still take “your property”? Since your real estate can’t be moved, do you think you can honestly stop paying for one provider who “controls” one geographical area and pay for another without being harassed?
It starts to sound a lot like the mafia world now doesn’t it? Except this time, you don’t have a unified system of law and enforcement to prevent these providers from doing anything “unethical”. Most importantly, what prevents another nation, say China, from completely invade the land mass that you called “America”? Do you think your “providers” will work together to prevent an external invading force or do you think they are too busy competing against each other?

Look the society that you imagine in your head sounds great. It works for small tribes like American Indians and Australian Aboriginals. It doesn’t work so well on a large scale of millions and billions of people.

Go and find me a modern society that has more than thousands of individuals who are voluntary contributing to social services.

How much do you pay to maintain the food delivery system? The housing provision system? One pays as much as is necessary in order to get what one needs, and no more.

Brilliant logic. It works for A so therefore it must work for B. A hammer works great for banging nails, therefore it must work great for cooking eggs.

So how do you determine how much to pay for national defense? Obviously you only need it when you get invaded, so let’s quickly purchase weapons, train people, organisation when you get invaded by China. You’re so smart.

So how do you determine how much to pay for healthcare? Only when you needed it right? So only when you are old, out of work, you deserve to die right?

So how do you determine how much to pay for a legal system? Only when you needed it right? So only when you got ripped off, swindled, cheated you pay for a guy who called himself “a lawyer”, pay for people to build court room, pay for the electricity to that court room, pay for a guy who called himself a “judge”, etc. That’s a crap load of paying. And let’s hope your “lawyer”, “builder”, “judges” don’t rip you off or swindle you as well.

You’ve left out the most important question: whose footpath is it? That person or collective is responsible for paying for its construction and upkeep.

It’s a footpath directly outside of your own house. So who pays? If it belongs to a collective and you are part of that collective, are you “forced” to pay for the upkeep? Surely you can’t be forced, because that’s … taxation.

Who prevents the providers from colluding? What stops your current provider from taking your payment and still take “your property”? Since your real estate can’t be moved, do you think you can honestly stop paying for one provider who “controls” one geographical area and pay for another without being harassed?

What prevents market providers of security from colluding against you? Their competition and their customers. A bad firm will lose its customers (and thus its bottom line). A bad firm will find its competition strengthened. It will be inundated with lawsuits. Market providers of security will not have the power to steal and kill that governments have, since they are by definition not coercive monopolies. Thus they will be much weaker than governments. They will rarely have geographical exclusivity.

It starts to sound a lot like the mafia world now doesn’t it?

No. The mafia is what exists now.

Except this time, you don’t have a unified system of law and enforcement to prevent these providers from doing anything “unethical”.

That doesn’t exist now. The state enables unethical behavior because it suspends the most powerful regulation inherent in natural human relationships. For example, it artificially limits the liability of corporations.

Most importantly, what prevents another nation, say China, from completely invade the land mass that you called “America”?

It’s much more expensive for a state to mount an invasion when there are no centralized levers of power for them to capture. This is likely why anarchism survived in Celtic Ireland for 1,000 years.

Do you think your “providers” will work together to prevent an external invading force or do you think they are too busy competing against each other?

Competition does not exclude cooperation. Businesses cooperate in joint ventures all the time.

You admit anarchism works for small groups. What is a million people but many small groups?

Go and find me a modern society that has more than thousands of individuals who are voluntary contributing to social services.

It is well known that Americans are very generous in their charitable giving. In fact, I have seen reports that giving rises when the state economy falters.

Your second post is a descent into logical fallacy and ad hominem that doesn’t merit a response.

It’s a footpath directly outside of your own house. So who pays? If it belongs to a collective and you are part of that collective, are you “forced” to pay for the upkeep? Surely you can’t be forced, because that’s … taxation.

If I voluntarily joined the collective and part of the contract I signed to join involved payment for upkeep of footpaths, then the relationship is voluntary, not coerced.

Any further comments from you that are dominated by ad hominem will not be published.

A bad firm will lose its customers

Explain how it would lose customer? You pay for the security of your home. Your security firm screw you up by harassing you and threaten you. What are you going to do? Go to another firm while knowning that your home is in the vicinity controlled by the harassing firm? Do expect them to have gun fights with each other just for you?

It will be inundated with lawsuits.

What lawsuits? You don’t have a government, there is no law. There is no courts.

Market providers of security will not have the power to steal and kill that governments have

Why not? They are the one with the guns. They have all the power. There is no government to stop them.

… since they are by definition not coercive monopolies

Yes they are. When you live within a vicinity controlled by a security firm, then can coerce you to pay them anything they want. They monopolizing the area that they control by force. What are your alternative? Move?

That doesn’t exist now. The state enables unethical behavior because it suspends the most powerful regulation inherent in natural human relationships

The states provides law enforcement to protect you from mafia. Whether something is unethical is completely subjective. Is it ethical to make a mother care for her young? Is it unethical to allow a mother to give birth, leave a baby on the ground and walk off?

It’s much more expensive for a state to mount an invasion when there are no centralized levers of power for them to capture.

Yes that works out so well for American Indians. Obviously it was too expensive for Spanish, British, French, Portuguese to mount an invasion when there were no centralized Indian lever of power to capture.
Obviously people invade to capture power instead of expand their natural resources. How stupid of me.

This is likely why anarchism survived in Celtic Ireland for 1,000 years.

Yep and that survived so well in the 21st century. Oh wait it didn’t. Celtic Irish were completely obliterated by a stronger national tax-paying British force.

Competition does not exclude cooperation. Businesses cooperate in joint ventures all the time.

I guess if it works so well with business ventures, it must work well with national defense. I guess since I am a great carpenter, that makes me a great doctor. Logical fallacy much?

You admit anarchism works for small groups. What is a million people but many small groups

Oh same bad generalisation logic again. If it works for one special scenario, it must work for every scenario. It’s hilarious that you keep smacking into bad logical argument.

It is well known that Americans are very generous in their charitable giving. In fact, I have seen reports that giving rises when the state economy falters.

I’m talking about social services. Like enforcement system, sewage removal system, national defense, health system, legal system, education system. If you think a charity is going to pay for all of those system for the entire nation, you’re an idiot. Charity are sporadic and not sustainable for the entire nation for 300 millions people.

If I voluntarily joined the collective and part of the contract I signed to join involved payment for upkeep of footpaths, then the relationship is voluntary, not coerced.

The converse to this is that if you refused to join the collective for the upkeep of the footpath, the footpath will be built around your house, leaving you with nothing but dirt. In addition, you should not be permitted to cross to your next door neighbor’s house on the footpath. You would be perfectly happy for this?

Look mate, here’s the bottom line:
You don’t know what logical fallacies are. Calling out the idiot who thinks the earth is flat is not a fallacy and or an ad hominem.

I’ve proven to you that currently, right now, at this very instance, you are in fact a hypocrite. Why? Because you do not have the balls to leave the nation that is taxing you and find somewhere else without tax. You do not have the balls to go against the system that you hate.

You sit on your bum calling for individualism and liberty without realizing everything that is sustaining your lifestyle right now can only be built by tax. Right now, at this very instance, tax pays for:
+ Soldiers to defend for your nation
+ Roads that you drive your car on
+ Police and firemen to protect your property
+ Nurses and doctors for when you are incapable to work and pay for it.
+ Electrical grid that connects your remote home to a power station 1000 miles away.
+ Sewage pipes that connect your shit to a treatment farm.
+ Legal and justice system to ensure that you’re not currently a slave.

You’re benefiting all from it. And yet you whine like a selfish greedy 10 years old because you don’t want to pay tax.

I don’t really give shit if you don’t post this. I’m getting bored of bashing the retarded kids.

It’s normal for people to fear the unknown. For the same reasons battered wives cannot imagine life without their abusive spouses, many are nervous about a possible life without the iron hand of the state guiding their society.

Explanations of a free society are expected to include a provision for every little thing, while the statist world burns around us.

Numerous examples of private security and dispute resolution exist everywhere, but somehow remain invisible to the defenders of the status quo. These defenders also imagine that government police are preventing crime and protecting property, and government courts are faithfully delivering impartial justice. What a joke!

Instead of imagining all the worst case scenarios possible in a free society, why don’t we focus on the real life horrors of the current system?

Hundreds of millions of souls exterminated and trillions of dollars plundered by statism… Please tester, explain how this system is even remotely sustainable and desirable? It would be tragic if this is all humanity is capable of.

BTW, anyone interested in free market dispute resolution, you might like this:
http://www.freedomainradio.com/free/books/FDR_5_PDF_Practical_Anarchy_Audiobook.pdf
(“Dispute Resolution Organizations” begins on page 70.)

Great comment, Jim.

James (aka tester), how do bad firms lose customers now? Now imagine there was no state to provide them with no-bid contracts, limited liability, favorable tort law and other corporate welfare.

What lawsuits? You don’t have a government, there is no law. There is no courts.

That’s simply false. Just to take one example, Celtic Ireland made it 1,000 years without government but with law and courts – until the British overwhelmed them.

You forget that without government, there is no gun prohibition. Everyone can have the means to defend themselves, even from bad businesses.

When you live within a vicinity controlled by a security firm, then can coerce you to pay them anything they want. They monopolizing the area that they control by force. What are your alternative? Move?

Your premise is mistaken again. Just like the Acme supermarket competes in the same geographic area with Shoprite and a dozen other produce providers, so do private security firms (even now). Geographical exclusivity is a characteristic of government, not voluntary relationships.

Yep and that survived so well in the 21st century. Oh wait it didn’t. Celtic Irish were completely obliterated by a stronger national tax-paying British force.

Just because one example of anarchistic societal organization didn’t last forever doesn’t discredit it. There are other examples, such as Iceland for several hundred years and present-day Somalia. There are still other areas where there is a titular government but it’s power is severely limited. See Zomia for example.

I guess if it works so well with business ventures, it must work well with national defense. I guess since I am a great carpenter, that makes me a great doctor. Logical fallacy much?

What is national defense but a business, a service that is provided for payment. Your analogy doesn’t work.

Oh same bad generalisation logic again. If it works for one special scenario, it must work for every scenario. It’s hilarious that you keep smacking into bad logical argument.

You didn’t actually respond to my point. What makes a group of 1,000 qualitatively different from a group of 1,000,000 as it applies to anarchistic societal organization?

I’m talking about social services. Like enforcement system, sewage removal system, national defense, health system, legal system, education system. If you think a charity is going to pay for all of those system for the entire nation, you’re an idiot. Charity are sporadic and not sustainable for the entire nation for 300 millions people.

All of these are services that are paid for like any other service.

Tell the enormous global non-profit sector that charity is not sustainable.

The converse to this is that if you refused to join the collective for the upkeep of the footpath, the footpath will be built around your house, leaving you with nothing but dirt. In addition, you should not be permitted to cross to your next door neighbor’s house on the footpath. You would be perfectly happy for this?

No. If one has to join the collective, say a homeowners association, in order to buy the house, then it’s already built-in. Refusing to meet the obligations you voluntarily entered into is a form of aggression. The collective has every right to take you to arbitration and be made whole for your contract default.

In any case, transiting someone else’s property is never a right. You always have to get permission. People find voluntary solutions to this kind of problem, as it is in no one’s interest to be isolated.

I’ve proven to you that currently, right now, at this very instance, you are in fact a hypocrite. Why? Because you do not have the balls to leave the nation that is taxing you and find somewhere else without tax. You do not have the balls to go against the system that you hate.

No you have not. It is impossible to leave the USA. The USA is a corporation, not a land mass, and they claim ownership of me no matter where I travel. If you had taken the time to read my blog a little you would see that I resist injustice as much as I feasibly can, which is quite a bit.

You sit on your bum calling for individualism and liberty without realizing everything that is sustaining your lifestyle right now can only be built by tax. Right now, at this very instance, tax pays for:

No, it can not *only* be built by taxes. You have not even begun to argue that point, much less prove it.

+ Soldiers to defend for your nation

No, they advance the interest of the state. They do not defend me. In fact, they help to maintain my subjugation.

+ Roads that you drive your car on

I pay for the roads I use where the state makes it possible. Otherwise, my use of them constitutes homesteading of unowned property.

+ Police and firemen to protect your property

I am prepared to pay for fire protection service, but they won’t send me a bill. Police do not protect me. They are a gang of thugs who advance their own interests.

+ Nurses and doctors for when you are incapable to work and pay for it.

I pay my medical bills in cash.

+ Electrical grid that connects your remote home to a power station 1000 miles away.

You’re just making that up now. I pay my electric bills.

+ Sewage pipes that connect your shit to a treatment farm.

I get a bill for that.

+ Legal and justice system to ensure that you’re not currently a slave.

Legal system to ensure you are currently a slave. FTFY.

You’re benefiting all from it. And yet you whine like a selfish greedy 10 years old because you don’t want to pay tax.

Taxation and other forms of state aggression destroy good people so that governments might get their cut and keep up appearances. There is a better way. Once you’ve calmed down I’m sure you’ll give it more reasoned consideration. Meanwhile, not a single further ad hominem will be published here from you. Any post containing such unnecessary attacks on my person will be deleted.

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