Taxation Is Theft. Always.

Column by Jim Davies.

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In a blog post on June 7th, Mike Rozeff offered the surprising opinion that taxation is not necessarily always theft, because some people accept the need to pay it and do so willingly. He called that an example of the “consent of the governed.” I've engaged him in a friendly email exchange since, but we still disagree.

Professor Rozeff is quite correct to observe that today, a large part of the population is content with its status. Death and taxes, we're told, are equally inevitable – so, many people accept the latter as fixed, and make the best of it. Also, some actually do well out of taxes – they are net winners in the system, like the 40 million or so employed by government or by its contractors. Add the recipients of the many forms of welfare, and it would not surprise me if 100 million Americans soothe their consciences by denying that taxation is theft.

However, my interest – and I thought his, too – is to look to the future, when society is moving towards anarchism. He visualizes some segments of the population then purposely choosing to stay in a governed status, paying taxes more or less as we know them; the key factor here is choice. Anarchists are nothing if not tolerant, so it's no business of yours or mine if some folk were to make such a benighted pick, hence isn't it false to say that taxation is always theft?

The result would be a kind of patchwork, sometimes called “panarchist,” with society in some geographic area like the present USA consisting partly of self-ruling anarchists and, nearby, others being ruled by a government. The division could be territorial, with borders, or not; Mike prefers the latter and I agree it would be less unlikely. The contrary would require a huge relocation. For example, all desiring to be governed would have to live East of the Mississippi while those wishing to rule themselves would need to move to its West. So let's assume non-territorial panarchism and suppose that of ten families in a street, five might be subject to a government--by choice--and the other five, not. So long as the government of the first five doesn't interfere with the second five, what objection can anyone raise, who believes in everyone living his or her own life, his own way?

None, on those premises. But let's check the premises.

There are three with particular importance. One: that the choice to be governed is a valid, feasible choice. Two: that governments will leave anarchist neighbors in peace. And third, supposing an affirmative answer to those two, could it last?

Choosing to be governed – to request “Rule Me, Please” is one choice no human being can make. Here's why.

It's not just incredibly foolish (and in fact I've never heard anyone say it) but it's also impossible – for humans are self owners. Imagine that you tried to contract with a governor, to own and operate your life from then onwards. Since he or they would be taking control of your life, you would be entering slavery. I can't imagine what might be the quid for the quo, and that's another obstacle, but notice that the instant before the deal was consummated, you would be a self-owning human being about to transfer control to another. However, the instant after the transfer, you would also be a self-owning human being because you and I are not capable of changing our core nature – and hence, the supposed deal is fraudulent. The buyer would have been sold a slave, but would find himself in charge of a self-owning curmudgeon.

“Consent of the governed” is therefore an oxymoron, a phrase cunningly crafted by the Founders to induce Americans to suppose government can be limited. If one gives consent, one is not being governed, and if one is being governed, there can be no consent. Voluntary slavery is impossible. The first premise above is completely false. Now let's check the second.

Will government leave neighbors in peace? Not if it sees a net advantage in aggression. None ever has yet, and the core, central nature of government is to govern all within its reach.

Currently the FedGov has no visible designs on either Canada or Mexico--simply because no net gain appears attainable. When a net gain did appear feasible, it did actually wage war on each of them (in 1812-15 and 1846-48), but today, the latter particularly would bring much more trouble than a war is worth. Likewise in Europe, all the nation states have learned from two terribly devastating wars in the last century that costs now greatly exceed potential gains. Acquisition of extra land and influence, though, remains of primary interest to all governments, and it's no coincidence that the Feds are now on top of history's largest empire. The belief that the government of some panarchist segment of society would renounce any and all such violent or acquisitive intentions is absurdly naïve. If the targets were scattered throughout a society without borders, as above, that notion would be particularly ridiculous. Self-ruling, anarchist neighbors would be picked off one by one with overwhelming force.

Could it last if such an incredible arrangement were somehow put in place? No. It would be inherently unstable, or Utopian.

First, only the leeches would try to choose it; they would unthinkingly assume that their tax-funded society would be joined by productive people ready to be exploited for their benefit. When they found that they had to actually grow their own food, build their own homes, cars, roads, etc., the bloom would swiftly vanish from the rose. Living off taxes is lucrative only if there's someone else to pay them; for it to work at all, there has to be a slave class.

Second, sooner or later their true human nature would surface, so that they would wish to make their own decisions instead of being governed.

Third, while residents of such a state would have declared their belief in a system of tax, many or all of them would even so try to minimize their own tax payments. I deduce this from the fact that today, tax avoidance is practiced by government employees just as it is by others; nobody (or negligibly few) knowingly pays more than he is forced to pay. Even top government leaders have been reported as having “forgotten” to pay taxes for household employees, for example; that spells trouble for you and me, but Tim Geithner was rewarded with the job of overseeing the IRS. So, with many tax-feeders trying to reduce their payments to their government, that government will run short. As all of them eventually do.

And fourth, the population of such a governed state could not be isolated from what its free neighbors were doing, and the large and increasing shortfall in their relative standards of living would eventually drive home the conclusion that their choice was a huge mistake. One must hope that at that stage, unlike North Koreans, they could do something about it.

All three of these key premises are therefore false. So the proposition fails, panarchism is ludicrous, and taxation remains what it always was.

What the above has done is to apply the natural law of identity, also known as “A is A.” Humans are indivisible, self-owning, rational animals, so nobody can serve two masters – himself and government. Government, too, has a central character or nature, it is an entity that governs. If it doesn't govern, it's not government. The two are therefore incompatible.

Now finally notice what “tax” is, in itself and by its own nature and definition: it is, according to, “a sum of money demanded by a government for its support.” Elsewhere I've seen it defined as a “forced exaction” for that purpose; the essential characteristic of taxation, as distinct from a price for offered goods or services, is force. It is levied whether someone wants to pay it or not, and whether he thinks it fair or not, and he is punished if he refuses to pay, whether he receives and uses government services or not. That's also an adequate definition for “theft”; the two walk and quack in harmony, so are close to synonymous.

The importance of grasping what the word means is that it is so regardless of what various people may think of it or may call it. A car is a car is a car, if it has wheels, seats, an engine and controls; whether some think it is well or badly styled, colored, powered or priced and even if somebody calls it a bicycle or a horse. Tax is the forced removal of property from its owner regardless of his wishes, so it's theft, period – even though the thieves solemnly declare it to be non-theft (gee, who would have guessed) and even if some folk raise no objection and call it something other than what it is. But the taxation itself is still theft. Always.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Thunderbolt's picture

Laura Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) and David B. King (The Objectivist) deliberately kept their incomes below taxable levels to help defeat the empire. Professor Robert Higgs suggests one might create an alternative universe to avoid taxes. I suspect he has heard of Bitcoins. Now that the empire has attacked the bitcoin exchanges, a new free-enterprise exchange has arrived, called Local Bitcoins: Coffee-shop style, person-to-person transactions in most cities. All the gods hate taxation. Armed Robbery is perhaps more descriptive than theft. Professor Rozeff is a sharp cookie, and I love all his articles, but you are correct on this topic, Jim. If there were governments without weapons, perhaps.
I have not seen one. Nice article by Butler Shaffer on LRC today correlates fairly well with your thoughts.