Is All Taxation Theft?

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“Taxation is theft”. This is a powerful anti-state slogan. Whenever I write that taxes can be voluntary, I get e-mails to the effect that a tax is a forced payment and that failure to pay is punishable by law, and that therefore a voluntary tax is an oxymoron. Then some frosting on the cake like “a voluntary tax is a price paid for a service”.

Taxation is indeed theft for non-consenting people forced to pay. There is no disagreement with that. My argument is that there are political arrangements that some people accept, whereby there are rulers external to them who decide on a tax. Accepting these political arrangements means accepting a tax law and forcible collection. Some or many American colonists had a slogan “No taxation without representation”. They didn’t demand an end to all taxation. Then Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…” This envisions a Government that has powers, including taxation, but which is endorsed via consent of the governed.

Taxation is theft to anarchists personally because they reject the state. They want no taxation with or without representation. No government with taxing powers has their consent. However, anarchists do not speak for everyone, all people or a people. If there are colonists or Jeffersons or living Americans or Turks or Iranians who endorse and consent to their political system and it imposes taxes, then taxation is not theft in their eyes. Taxes are to them something they accept as part of a larger political package. We can’t know how many people are in this category until citizenship and its accompanying obligations to pay taxes become voluntary. Then we will see how many people accept a political package. We can attempt to persuade others that they are being robbed, that they have made a bad bargain and that they’d be better off in a world where choice of government was optional; but we cannot validly say that all taxation is theft for everyone at all times  and places and under all political arrangements.

There is a benefit to the slogan “taxation is theft”. It helps persuade and solidify those in opposition to big government financed by what to them are forced levies. There is also a cost. The slogan is too extreme, and it alienates potential sympathizers to the panarchist libertarian camp. We simply do not know how many people consent to the existing government and its taxes. Among those that do consent, there may be some who can be persuaded that it is morally objectionable as well as socially dysfunctional and harmful to have a government based solely on an arbitrary thing like borders. Shouldn’t people willingly and voluntarily choose their own government no matter where they live? Isn’t that what is meant by consent of the governed?

5:14 am on June 7, 2013