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Taxation is Theft Q.E.D.

This article was originally published in West Coast Libertarian for April 1996.

The old saw says "nothing is certain but death and taxes", but the Income Tax was introduced during World War I as a temporary measure. If it was never intended to be permanent, why can it not be repealed? In fact, there is no logical reason why taxes cannot be abolished. We cling to them out of force of habit, resignation and a widespread belief that taxes accomplish some good.

Libertarians have long argued the opposite, that taxes not only do not accomplish any good, but in fact, are evil and immoral. We argue that taxation is the moral equivalent of theft. Nay, more than that! We argue that taxation is theft.

This is not some idle assertion but soundly based on reason and logic. Logic deduces conclusions from premises. If the premises are sound, the conclusions are sound. Here is the libertarian thesis stated in point form:

Premise: Theft is the taking by force or by fraud of the justly owned property of an individual or group of individuals by another individual or group of individuals.

Premise: Taxation is the forcible taking of the justly owned property of some individuals (taxpayers) by another group of individuals (politicians and bureaucrats)

Conclusion: Taxation is theft. Q.E.D.

Central to this argument is the concept of "justly owned property". Justly owned property is property that was acquired in a just manner. This means property that was acquired by homesteading previously unowned property, by trading one's labour for the property, by trading some of one's property for a different kind of property (e.g. money for groceries), or property that was acquired as a gift from someone who gave you his or her justly owned property.

Those who support taxation, like the "ethics" columnist for a local daily, argue that taxation accomplishes much good. About a year ago he wrote an article entitled "Does the tax revolt revolt you?" He railed against self-absorption, ingratitude, general public whininess and a lack of public spiritedness. He argued for a "sense of community, the sense that we're all responsible for the country". He listed all the things he's happy to receive as a taxpaying citizen - libraries, sewers, unemployment insurance, the CBC and so on.

While appreciating that many of the things listed are good in themselves, I mean, who can gainsay the benefits of good hospitals and roads, nevertheless he misses an important ethical point here. The things he lists are all ends to be aimed at.

The point he (and other government apologists) miss is whether ends are the determining factor of ethical behavior. For instance, it may be argued that supporting one's family is a good thing. But there is a vast difference between supporting one's family by working or by stealing. Both methods have the same end in mind - supporting the family, but few of us would hesitate to condemn stealing as immoral. We would argue that the means by which one supports one's family determines whether the action is ethical or not.

The basic difference between the libertarian way of thinking and the state apologist way of thinking is that libertarians judge all behavior by, I guess you might call it, a means test. Statists judge behavior by an ends test. Libertarians don't care how much wealth or lack of it an individual might achieve. Libertarians are interested in how it was achieved. If the wealth was achieved by voluntary interactions between consenting adults, i.e. by trade, or as a gift, then we applaud it. If the wealth was acquired by force or fraud, we condemn it.

State apologists, on the other hand, look at the ends achieved. If someone acquires great wealth by honest means and someone else is in dire poverty, even through his own foolishness, the statist sees this as intrinsically wrong and wants to strip the honest man of some of his wealth and give it to the wastrel. The ends are what determines the ethics of the situation for the statist.

This does not mean that libertarians are opposed to hospitals, the CBC, unemployment insurance or helping the poor. As long as these worthy objectives are achieved by moral means, we applaud these things. But the moment these things are pursued by immoral means, in other words, by force or by fraud, we condemn them. And to the extent that they are achieved by coercive laws and taxation, they are pursued by immoral means!

To the extent the CBC is supported by voluntary donations and commercial revenue libertarians can support it. To the extent it is supported by money taken from unwilling victims at gunpoint we condemn it. (And let's be clear about this - all taxes are extracted from the citizenry at gunpoint. If there were not guns backing up the government's taxation efforts, no one would pay them!)

There might be a rejoinder from the state apologists of the world that governments are different than individuals. Governments are the people acting collectively and so can do things individuals can't. Libertarians dispute this. We argue that the state is nothing more than a collection of individuals. Actions that are immoral for an individual to do, such as stealing, are immoral for the state to do. Might does not make right.

Those who would persuade the state to support some pet cause with tax money, be it the opera, a football stadium or a political lobby group are, in fact, demanding that the state perform acts that they themselves would not do because they are immoral and they know it.

If the Fraser Institute , for example, petitioned the government for a grant to further their work, they would be demanding that government force, at the point of a gun if necessary, all its citizens, including trade unionists, the above-noted ethics writer and others who might despise the Fraser Institute to financially support it. They wouldn't dare do it themselves (accost people and forcibly take their money), but somehow morality gets thrown out the window when government enters the picture. To the Fraser Institute's credit, it doesn't seek or accept any government money. Ironically, this virtue of the Fraser Institute is routinely condemned by the left who believe it is nobler to live off the avails of legalized theft than by voluntary donations!

Libertarians view the seeking after government funding by people who would never personally take people's money by force as the rankest hypocrisy and the basest evil. We look to a world where all individuals interact by mutual voluntary consent and force and fraud are outlawed. Not just force and fraud committed by individuals, but by governments. We look to a society where the ends do not justify the means. We look to a world of good where institutionalized evils like taxes are abolished forever.


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