Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects. – Murray Rothbard
Here are a few dictionary definitions of tax:
- a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes,property, sales, etc. (dictionary.com)
- a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes (webster.com)
- a pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property owners to support the government, and is a payment exacted by legislative authority. Essential characteristics of a tax are that it is not a voluntary payment or donation, but an enforced contribution, exacted pursuant to legislative authority (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1979) http://www.mindserpent.com/American_History/reference/1979_Black_5/sec_t.pdf
The third definition leaves no room for confusion. The source for this definition is “the most widely used law book in the United States”. By definition, taxes are not voluntary (i.e. they are theft).
The first two definitions strongly imply that taxation is not voluntary. Money is either demanded or charges are imposed. Some would argue that since services are provided, the money demanded or charges imposed do not equal theft. After all, if you go into a restaurant and order a steak, it is not theft when the bill is “imposed” and then you are “demanded” to pay it. This and similar criticisms is what I will be writing in response to.
- Driving on the roads, using services provided by taxation, etc., implies consent.
This a circular argument. The conclusion that using the roads and other services demonstrates consent to taxes relies on the premise that the taxation used for them is voluntary in the first place. Then this is used as evidence that taxation is consensual. To illustrate, imagine that a gang of thieves extort money from you. Then they decide to provide “services” with your money that they now possess. The money used for services (roads, etc.) that they “provide” were not obtained by consent in the first place. Concluding that by using the “services” they provide with your stolen money proves that you consent is fallacious.
- Not paying taxes is like ordering food and then not paying.
When you enter a restaurant, it is completely voluntary. No one forces you into it, and no one forces you to buy anything. This is wholly different than the services produced through taxation. You can’t simply decline to pay for the tax funded service in the same way you can simply decline to order food. If you are not happy with the service at a restaurant, you can choose to not pay them anymore. If you are unsatisfied by tax funded services, you are still forced to pay for them. Payment of taxes is not dependent on the services consumed. You are charged for services even if you don’t use or ask for them. Whether or not you pay at a restaurant is directly dependent on receiving a service or product. A simple but effective way to determine whether or not a service is truly voluntary is to find out if you can decline the service and decline the payment. If you can decline the service but are forced to pay, it is not voluntary.
- Since you have the option to leave, staying proves consent.
The only thing this proves is that you would rather stay than leave. This alone does not establish what is or what is not consented to. The happiness gained from staying in an area close to family and a good job could simply outweigh the negatives of being taxed. To give a simple example, imagine that you live near all of your family and friends, you have a good job, and the weather is perfect. However, the area you live in has a high crime rate. Let’s say the crime rate is so high that in any given year, there is a 95% chance your car will be broken into. Deciding that staying near your family etc. is more important than avoiding burglary does not prove that you consent to being stolen from. The robbery does not become voluntary just because you would rather put up with it than abandon your family and home.
If you live in a neighborhood and the Mafia takes it over, staying would not prove consent to their rule or “laws”. If staying in the area that the State claims territory to proves consent to taxation, then this same reasoning would have to be used to prove consent to the Mafia’s extortion. Both groups assert a forced territorial monopoly on certain services, but using those services does not prove consent. The threat of violence is used to prevent competition. This necessarily means there are no choices. There is no possibility for consent when choosing all other alternatives is violently prevented.
- Without taxes, how will X Y and Z get done?
My purpose here was to show that taxation is theft and respond to a few common criticisms. How society could function without institutionalized theft is a different subject.
All of the services commonly thought to require the State—from the coining of money to police protection to the development of law in defense of the rights of person and property—can be and have been supplied far more efficiently and certainly more morally by private persons. The State is in no sense required by the nature of man; quite the contrary. – Murray Rothbard
For the best critique of taxation, see No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner
On public goods and free riders, see Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft: Reply by Edward Feser
Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security by Hans-Hermann Hoppe