Is Taxation Theft?

There’s an argument you get a lot from either Libertarian-types or Republican economic-conservative types in general, which goes something like, “My money’s my money, and it’s not only a bad idea (in a pragmatic way) for the government to take it, it’s morally wrong.” The argument is that taxation is non-consensual taking of money with the threat of force, and as such, is no different than any other non-consensual taking of money with the threat of force … theft, in other words.1

I’m not interested in arguing whether or not progressive taxation is a good idea, or whether higher or lower tax rates are the way to go … not here, anyway. I’m just addressing this argument, that taxation (especially progressive taxation) is morally suspect.

My argument is essentially that America is a club, with a membership fee.

It’s a club dedicated to wealth creation.2 Members of this club get access to an infrastructure and institutional support that allows for better wealth creation than most similar ‘clubs’ around the world, but as part of that, the club charges a fee.

Now, the good news is, the fee charged varies with how well the club’s methods have worked for the wealth creation of the individual … they only start charging larger fees when the club’s program is really successful for someone.

And, if it turns out that you don’t like your membership, you’re free to leave the club at any time! The only thing you can’t do is take advantage of the infrastructure, security, and programs the club offers without paying your membership fee. You can’t be a free rider, in other words.

The most obvious objection is, “hey, I never signed up for any damn club.” And that’s true. By virtue of the way countries work, most people are born into one, rather than going country shopping and choosing carefully.

That having been said, I think that this is where we discuss childhood, a period in which you learn the rules of the club, bear few of the costs, and receive only a limited set of the club benefits.

During this period, your, “trial membership,” to the club, you learn when a full membership will accrue, what the benefits are, and what the costs are. You get to test-drive membership for 18 years. There are no secrets or surprises. You get a trial period in which you learn the rules. You get an opportunity to decide to live elsewhere.

If, granting all of that, the club works out really well for you, you make a lot of money, and the club bills you for your membership … well, it’s hard to muster much sympathy. If you keep living here and reaping the benefits, you’ll be expected to contribute to the upkeep.

The crux of my argument is that there are arrangements much like the governmental arrangement that exist (or might reasonably exist) as a matter of private initiative, and that Libertarians generally find these arrangements unproblematic.

Another argument for the involuntary/morally suspect nature of taxation is that the cost of changing country (or government) is so high that it ought not be considered a voluntary option. I’m somewhat sympathetic to this, but I have to ask those who agree with this argument whether they consider most work arrangements voluntary?

I have no hard data on this (of course), but I’d wager good money that the number of people who would like to relocate to another country but are stopped by the cost of doing so are absolutely eclipsed by the number of people who would like to leave their jobs but are stopped by the cost of doing so. More people feel, “trapped in their jobs,” than, “trapped in their country.”3 So, yeah. If you’re arguing that it’s involuntary for me to go to work every morning, maybe I agree, but I’m surprised that you’re4 making that argument.

The second argument is that even if the individual were to decide to change location, there are no ‘cost-free’ or non-taxing alternatives … from a libertarian point of view, you must choose between taxation and … taxation. Thus, the availability of relocation is immaterial.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t find this very persuasive either, in terms of determining how voluntary things are. The fact that nobody will give you a corned beef sandwich for free doesn’t make it somehow involuntary when you buy it. Nor does it make it more involuntary if all available food costs money.

The final argument goes to the initiation of force. “Wait, Myca! A simple club doesn’t have armies and policemen and the IRS ready to KILLLLLLL you if you skip out on paying its dues!”

My response? Sure it does. If you commit theft of services or trespass (which is what continuing to use club facilities without paying club dues is), then you’ll be arrested. Because a private actor will rightly consider your actions the initiation of force, and will respond by getting the government involved. My understanding has always been that Libertarians stood in favor of government protection of the enforcement of private contracts. The fact that your health club doesn’t have armed guards doesn’t mean that they can’t get some there with a single phone call. This is a distinction without a difference.

Please do not comment unless you accept the basic dignity, equality, and inherent worth of all people. (And please keep this on topic)

  1. For examples see Taxation is Robbery or Nozick’s Parable of the Slave []
  2. Note to my friends on the left: I’m not saying this is awesome, but I think it’s true. []
  3. This only goes for countries like the US in which emigration is essentially unrestricted. I’ll happily agree that North Korean taxation is theft. []
  4. The “Libertarian you.” It’s like the “royal we.” []
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83 Responses to Is Taxation Theft?

  1. 1
    Franklin says:

    This is an incredibly bad analogy based on a false premise. the Purpose of the state is decidedly NOT wealth creation. Truly I do not believe you have thought this through, if it were we should be removing those people (I’ll leave it up to you to decide what ‘removing’ means) who are not productive and/or simply a drain to wealth creation. Thankfully that is not the goal of good government. Good Governments only goal should be to protect ‘natural’ human rights (by that I mean rights that all humanity possess in and of themselves, not made up ones that require stuff to be given to them e.g. jobs, housing etc)

    secondly what ‘dues’ are the poor paying? Nothing. Actually they get direct payment of others ‘dues’. If they don’t pay then they are put in jail. The people paying the dues use much less of the services of your ‘club’ then the people who are not paying any dues. should we not ‘kick out’ those using services and not paying dues?

    Freedom is the goal, not wealth. Let people decide for themselves if they desire wealth or not, and if they do allow them to prosper without outside help or constraint.

    Freedom, Liberty, Property. These are what the government should be protecting. Wealth will take care of itself.

  2. 2
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Interesting post.

  3. 3
    Johnny Pez says:

    Here’s a completely unrelated argument for why taxation isn’t theft.

    Take out a dollar bill. Look at it. See the name printed there? UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. That tells you right away that the dollar bill you’re holding isn’t your money, it’s the government’s money, because the government’s name is printed on it. The dollar bill is a government service, a medium of exchange that the government created for your convenience so that you don’t have to resort to barter every time you want a bag of Cheetos and a Mountain Dew. As with most other services you receive, you have to pay a fee for the use of it, and taxation is that fee.

    I don’t know how well this particular argument would go over with a libertarian. I suspect not well. Still, it is an argument.

  4. 4
    KellyK says:

    I really like this analogy. You’ve nailed the most frustrating thing about the “taxes are evil” crowd–they want the benefits of living in a country, but not the costs.

    Another way the metaphor can be extended is that taxes, like many gym memberships, are all-or-nothing, rather than fees for individual services. My gym has lots of equipment I never use, and it offers classes I may never take. But, I don’t get a reduced fee for not using them, and it would be silly of me expect to pay less because I’m not taking Zumba or using the free weights. Yet, people without kids (or whose kids are grown) complain about taxes supporting education, and people lucky enough never to need unemployment or welfare argue that they shouldn’t be paying toward those services.

  5. 5
    KellyK says:

    Franklin @1. The argument that poor people don’t pay taxes and therefore aren’t paying their dues isn’t quite accurate. First off, everybody pays sales tax. Everybody who owns property pays property tax. If you’re renting, your landlord has probably figured their property tax into your rent, so you’re paying some of their dues (and providng them an income) in exchange for a place to live.

    You might say, “oh, but those taxes are paid out of welfare benefits.” But most people on public assistance are working at jobs that don’t pay their bills, not just sitting home receiving a welfare check. They are, in fact, contributing. They’re paying their own dues and usually providing cheap labor that’s making money for a company which is, at least in theory, taxed.

    As far as services, wealthy people don’t get welfare, but they get better services from the government in some areas. Nicer, pricier neighborhoods have things like better schools, better roads, better police and emergency services. In some cases (like school funding being based on property tax), these things are directly related. So, really, should the poor person be paying the same dues toward their kid getting a sub-par education than the wealthy person in an expensive neighborhood pays for a public school with a nice teacher-student ratio and the newest and best materials and facilities?

  6. 6
    Jake Squid says:

    secondly what ‘dues’ are the poor paying? Nothing. Actually they get direct payment of others ‘dues’.

    This is exactly why I’m convinced that we’re doomed.

  7. 7
    Robert says:

    I agree with Franklin that the analogy is poor. America, like other states, does not exist for the purposes of wealth creation. States exist to protect their citizenry (or subjects) from brigandry and piracy, internal and external, and to provide the physical security which makes a peaceable life plausible.

    The premise of your analogy also has a hole in it, in that “The only thing you can’t do is take advantage of the infrastructure, security, and programs the club offers without paying your membership fee. You can’t be a free rider, in other words.” is only sort-of true. Anyone who chooses not to work, or who is unable to work, is completely a free rider on the system. There’s no test to walk on the roads, no did-you-pay-the-membership-fee check when you get your driver’s license, the cops don’t ask whether you’ve paid your taxes before they respond to your call for help, your kids get to go to the public school and library regardless of what you yourself do, etc. etc. ad infinitum. This premise is simply gibberish.

    If you mean “people of means who illegally evade the responsibility to pay the membership fee for their income level, eventually get punished up to and including being tossed in the clink”, then sure, that’s true. But to say there’s no ability to be a free rider is just grossly counterfactual. We have both deserving poor and undeserving poor, and both get the same free ride.

    All that said, taxation is not theft. Taxation is a mandatory fee for more-or-less mandatory service: you pay your taxes, and in return you get roads and schools and cops and soldiers and judges and welfare programs for those deserving poor so that you don’t have to trip over their festering carcasses when you walk out to your (taxes-paid-for) mailbox in the afternoon. You have to pay the taxes if you have any income at all; you get the services but are not usually FORCED to use them. (You can’t help that the 7th Fleet is out there looking for communist subs, but nobody stops you from teaching your children yourself or putting them in a private school.)

    Looking at taxes as FFS makes considerably more sense, and also maps much more coherently to the actual political positions that people take.

  8. 8
    Sebastian says:

    The people paying the dues use much less of the services of your ‘club’ then the people who are not paying any dues.

    On a topic full of stupid, this one takes the cake. It is completely and utterly amazing that someone who is not trolling would think that a homeless person drawing welfare is receiving more from society that an engineer like me, a artist like Amp, or even a plant owner like the one I work for.

    The poor guy gets a pittance, barely enough to keep him from being too much of a nuisance. The rest of us get infrastructure allowing us to specialize, protection from those who would abuse us, a set of enforced standards for the goods we purchase, etc, etc, etc… I feel dumb just having to say this.

    Of course, the original club analogy is nearly as dumb. It misidentifies the purpose of government – it’s not about creating wealth. It’s all about protecting rights that make it possible to do anything, including creating wealth. We all, from commies to fascists, only disagree on which rights need protecting.

  9. 9
    Myca says:

    Re: Poor people

    Since part of the prosperity engineered by Club America involves guaranteeing a certain level of unemployment (so as to keep inflation down), and requires the presence of a low-wage global underclass in order to keep the price of goods and services low, there are certain services that Club America offers to its members who have had such bad luck or poor judgment so as to end up extremely poor.

    They’re not enough to live on, certainly, and anyone claiming that “the people paying the dues use much less of the services of your ‘club’ then the people who are not paying any dues,” is delusional. Really, they’re a consolation prize … “The American system didn’t work out for you, kid. Sorry ’bout that. Better luck next time.” They’re part of the system, though, and everyone knows what the system is when they choose to participate in it.

    To take advantage of the services (infrastructure, security, education, economic stability, regulation, etc.) that Club America offers until you’ve amassed your wealth and then argue that the club’s benefits ought not apply to those who haven’t been as successful is a low thing.

    —Myca

  10. 10
    Myca says:

    it’s not about creating wealth. It’s all about protecting rights that make it possible to do anything, including creating wealth.

    Good Governments only goal should be to protect ‘natural’ human rights

    I’m approaching this in a descriptive way, rather than proscriptive.

    You may think that the only worthwhile (or ‘only’) goal of government should be to protect individual rights, but it’s clear … absolutely and obviously clear … that all governments do much more than that.

    My point is not to argue whether this is good or not, remember. My point is that taxation is not theft. Because we knew what we were getting into ahead of time, because we had an ample chance to opt out, and because we still have that chance.

    —Myca

  11. 11
    Myca says:

    Also, pay attention to this part:

    The crux of my argument is that there are arrangements much like the governmental arrangement that exist (or might reasonably exist) as a matter of private initiative, and that Libertarians generally find these arrangements unproblematic.

    It’s less important whether or not, “America is a club dedicated to wealth creation,” than it is that if such a club existed (you sign up, they offer you some benefits that help with wealth creation and a few modest benefits if you utterly fail, but if you succeed, you promise to help fund the club), few “taxation is theft” types would have a problem with it.

    Taxation is a mandatory fee for more-or-less mandatory service

    I’d say fee-for-access (y’know, like the health club KellyK referenced), but yes. You can always opt out of the access and stop paying the fees, but few do. Instead, they insist that they not have to pay for their continued (and successful) access.

    —Myca

  12. 12
    MisterMephisto says:

    KellyK said:

    But most people on public assistance are working at jobs that don’t pay their bills, not just sitting home receiving a welfare check.

    Ah yes… The old myth of the “eeeeevil poor” conspiring to rob the rich by staying poor on purpose. That old chestnut.

    I mean, I can understand with the occasional Octo-mom and whatnot out there that it becomes convenient for people, as a whole, to be intellectually lazy about the whole thing.

    But I’d think that anyone that wanted their statements to be taken seriously would come up with better “facts” to back their arguments.

  13. 13
    squirrel says:

    I’ll agree that taxes are coercive. There is much that the government does that is coercive, otherwise why police and prisons? And I do care about the coercive nature of taxation, but I care much more about, as you say, people who are trapped in jobs due to economic coercion and the way our society perpetuates cycles of poverty for the benefit of the wealthy, or the racist war on drugs, or the appalling way this country treats undocumented immigrants, etc. etc.

    Progressive taxation is one of the strongest tools the world has to address economic coercion and injustice. I have little sympathy for people who only care about taxation out of all the forms of governmental and non-governmental coercion that happen. Right now, taxation is a net lowering of the amount of coercion in the world, because of all the good that money can do. We’ll talk when that’s no longer the case, which I imagine will occur sometime after the abolition of all prisons and the destruction of the upper class as we know it today.

    Also Robert wrote: “We have both deserving poor and undeserving poor, and both get the same free ride.”

    The notion that some people deserve to be poor and therefore should receive no government assistance is a miserable, classist one. Nobody deserves the shit we put poor people through.

  14. 14
    Robert says:

    You can always opt out of the access and stop paying the fees, but few do. Instead, they insist that they not have to pay for their continued (and successful) access.

    Nobody insists this. Instead, they propose that the fee, and the services, both be reduced – that we change the balance of the system’s inputs and outputs. That proposal is part of the democratic system that legitimizes the process – to use your own example, that makes us not North Korea.

  15. 15
    Myca says:

    Nobody insists this. Instead, they propose that the fee, and the services, both be reduced – that we change the balance of the system’s inputs and outputs.

    Right. They insist this after taking advantage of the system as it stands to make their money. And, of course, their arguments are almost always focused on how they can pay less money and get greater benefits.

    But yes, broadly, I agree about democratic legitimacy of this, and that it’s democracy that makes whatever level of taxation and service acceptable, I just also want to emphasize that that’s it … there is no moral element here, merely a pragmatic one.

    —Myca

  16. 16
    Robert says:

    The notion that some people deserve to be poor and therefore should receive no government assistance is a miserable, classist one.

    People who are capable of work, but prefer to freeload, deserve to be poor, in the sense that they have no inborn entitlement to the fruit of others’ labor. Why should I tax hard-working Sally, taking bread from the mouths of her children, to give bread to lazy Larry who is perfectly capable of getting a job but chooses not to?

    I grant you that this is far from the most pressing social problem we have, and that the quantity of lazy Larry’s is relatively small in our society. But I’ll also assert that people are adaptive, and the more a system makes it possible to be lazy Larry and still have an OK life, the more people will make that choice.

    Right now, taxation is a net lowering of the amount of coercion in the world, because of all the good that money can do.

    This is a non sequitur. The money “could” do the same amount of good left in the hands of its creators/earners. Taxation can result in a net increase in coercion (we tax the people to build the labor centers where we force them to sort widgets), a net decrease in coercion, or no particular change. Non-taxation can result in a net increase in coercion (Bill Gates uses his untaxed billions to enslave people and force them to fight in his underground Labyrinth of Pain), a decrease (Bill uses his untaxed billions to fund liberty movements in totalitarian nations), etc.

    Taxation is a way of switching the end point of economic consumption from privately-made decisions to publicly-made decisions. Those decisions can be better or worse, depending on how you define better and worse, but there is absolutely no logical mandate that publicly-made decisions will be somehow magically less coercive. Indeed, the intrinsic structural logic of coercion would tend towards government economic decisions being more coercive simply because governments have more power going in.

  17. 17
    marmelade says:

    I like the analogy very well.

    As part of my membership I got a public education that has enriched my life immensely. I get to use public museums and spaces. I have not-for-profit emergency response entities on call. I don’t have to feel too guilty about impoverished elders and children. There’s a co-pay for many of these services, and if the guilt/poverty thing is not working out so well for me, for example, I can chip in a bit more through charity, sort of a voluntary co-pay.

    I’m happy to pay the required dues for this bucket of services – heck, I’d pay even more dues for these services if you gave me a good argument. I think I’ve gotten a terrific deal by subscribing so far.

    Perhaps the purpose of the club is to create wealth, or to protect human rights, or to provide security. Perhaps that we can’t agree on the purpose of the club is the problem. I’m happy to pay dues for a club that offers education, museums, the internet, support for the poor. I’d opt for an even more full-service club! Other people, though, feel that they are forced into a deluxe membership, when all they want are a few police, military, and judges around, and will do the rest through private purchase. No wonder we have such trouble passing a budget.

    And I don’t know why, but I’ve never thought “that money was MINE before the government stole it away” just like I never think that my landlords steal rent money away from me. I’ve always been genuinely confused by the viewpoint that the government is stealing our money. To me, MY money is the stuff that hits my bank account after all the bills have been paid.

  18. 18
    Robert says:

    They insist this after taking advantage of the system as it stands to make their money. And, of course, their arguments are almost always focused on how they can pay less money and get greater benefits.

    Again, nobody insists on anything. Very few people ever go John Galt.

    And, they aren’t necessarily making these proposals after they’ve made their pile. Many of the people who want lower taxes are people who inherited their money and never used the system to do anything. Many other people who want lower taxes – me included – are not wealthy by the standards you’re applying. I want lower taxes and lower government benefits, in part because I think that balance of the system would make it easier for me to improve my economic status.

    If your characterization of the system was accurate, then the Republican Party would consist of a handful of billionaires on private compounds. But conservatives range the gamut from very rich to very poor and account for 25 to 50% of the population (depending on how you define conservative). So your view of who believes what might be true for a very tiny sliver of people, but it quite obviously cannot be true for tens of millions of others. Why does Joe Sixpack want low taxes? It’s not so he can protect the enormous pile of wealth that he already made.

    Also, your analysis is temporally static. If you are wealthy in the system, you need the system to continue to function through time in order to protect both your title to your wealth and its ongoing value. Paris Hilton doesn’t end up rich in the anarchy that you appear to think she’d want. You also assume no value to the system to the people for whom it isn’t currently working, the ones that you characterize as getting a consolation prize of social welfare. But those people have opportunity and the ability to climb up the system, if it’s working properly. So they have a stake in the game as well.

  19. 19
    nobody.really says:

    I often find libertarian analysis useful, if only to help anticipate where a policy would face resistance. All else being equal, I favor pushing decision-making down to the lowest level possible. And that includes decisions about the use of resources; in other words, all else being equal, I favor lower taxes rather than higher ones.

    I think much libertarian analysis founders, however, on the notion that the optimal or “natural” rate of taxation is 0.

    To some extent, this reflects the libertarians’ desire to minimize “coercion” as they understand it. Natural phenomena – floods, earthquakes, plagues, fires, avalanches, lightning strikes, hurricanes, droughts, meteors, birth defects, genetic disorders, cancers, etc. – are not “coercive” in the eyes of libertarians. But government taxes to raise funds to mitigate the risks or harms of natural phenomena – THAT’s coercive. Drowning doesn’t impinge on your autonomy; paying a tax for a lifeguard – THAT impinges on your autonomy.

    I rarely find this natural/man-made distinction useful. I seek strategies to increase benefits and reduce harms FROM WHATEVER SOURCE – natural, human, Marsian, whatever.

    And I’ve made a discovery: I have to pay to live. First and foremost, I need food. I need water. I need shelter and clothing. Etc. These are all NATURE’S TAXES. If I refuse to surrender whatever resources are required to get these things, I DIE – a fact that is not made any less coercive simply because it is not imposed by government. If taxation is theft, then Mother Nature is perhaps the biggest thief of all.

    Ironically, government may take actions that reduce what I must pay for food, water, shelter, clothing – for example, government may build roads between the farmer, the market, and me. In this fashion, government may reduce the amount I must pay to live. Let me say that again: Government action may REDUCE NATURE’S TAXES. Indeed, this has become one of government’s principle roles in the modern age.

    Bottom line: I don’t know what the “natural rate of taxation” is, but it’s not 0. Libertarian policy analysis would benefit if it started from the realization that life itself imposes certain costs. We might all look for greater efficiencies so that we can minimize those costs. But the fact that those costs do or do not flow through government hands really is beside the point.

  20. 20
    Myca says:

    You also assume no value to the system to the people for whom it isn’t currently working, the ones that you characterize as getting a consolation prize of social welfare. But those people have opportunity and the ability to climb up the system, if it’s working properly.

    Sure, I agree with this. I’m not sure why you think I’m assuming no value to the system for poor people, though. Access to the system is a value. It’s just that in a capitalist system that requires low wage employment and a certain constant level of unemployment, making being poor suck less is a reasonable thing for the organization to do.

    Bottom line: I don’t know what the “natural rate of taxation” is, but it’s not 0. Libertarian policy analysis would benefit if it started from the realization that life itself imposes certain costs. We might all look for greater efficiencies so that we can minimize those costs. But the fact that those costs do or do not flow through government hands really is beside the point.

    Bingo.

    —Myca

  21. 21
    nobody.really says:

    It’s a club dedicated to wealth creation.

    Freedom is the goal, not wealth.

    I see genuine philosophical dispute here. But there may be more overlap than people have acknowledged.

    A libertarian might characterize the state as a club organized to defend/maximize the members’ autonomy. He’d say that the role of government is to keep me from imposing on you, and keep you from imposing on me, and keep foreigners from imposing on either of us.

    Now, what powers should I want government to wield in this endeavor, assuming my goal is to maximize my autonomy? Taxation intrudes upon the autonomy I exercise over resources. But I may have greater autonomy paying taxes to be protected from thieves and invaders than I would by keeping by tax dollars but having to provide my own defenses against thieves and invaders. Thus, taxation may actually maximize my autonomy.

    But what if other government actions would provide me equal or greater protections at equal or lesser tax burdens? Thus, I might recognize that government programs promoting productivity or reducing threats – infrastructure, currency, education, regulations of market power/fraud/etc., public health, management of youth/people with mental illness/people with chemical dependencies/etc., diplomacy, intelligence gathering, etc. – might increase revenues or decrease costs, thereby maximizing my autonomy.

    People will often dispute methods, and argue about whether the benefits of a policy is worth its costs. But the goal of maximizing autonomy does not actually preclude as many policies as some libertarians suggest.

  22. 22
    Robert says:

    But the fact that those costs do or do not flow through government hands really is beside the point.

    I seriously doubt that you believe this. Rather, where the necessary costs (which I agree are nonzero, but I don’t know why you think libertarians don’t acknowledge this) flow is critical.

    Everybody has to eat. Would you prefer a system where you decide what portion of your income will go to food, you decide what you will buy and prepare, and you decide when and where to eat it? Or would you rather have the government tax everyone and run a series of cafeterias that you are obliged to chow down in?

    Ditto for housing. Ditto for clothing. Ditto for transportation.

    In many of these areas there is a solid liberal argument to be made for government involvement in the process, whether nibbling at the edges (the FDA makes sure that Tyson doesn’t ship offal-logs labeled as chickens) or taking on a very major role (Amtrak runs the trains between New York and Boston).

    But whether the costs flow through private or public hands (and thus, private or public decisionmakers) is *critically* important, not “beside the point”.

  23. 23
    Franklin says:

    @KellyK

    “First off, everybody pays sales tax.” The argument put forward is for Club America – not Club (pick your state) we have no federal income taxes. Are you advocating we move off a income tax to a national sales tax – I would applaud that.

    “Everybody who owns property pays property tax. If you’re renting, your landlord has probably figured their property tax into your rent, so you’re paying some of their dues” Be careful here, sounds an awful like trickle down economics to me! I agree though high taxes on the rich hurt everyone.

    As far as services, wealthy people don’t get welfare, but they get better services from the government in some areas….” We are mixing apples and oranges here. Local (property taxes mostly) vs Federal taxes. There is a world of difference between the two. Moving out of your city and migrating out of your country cannot be put on the same field – also one person has input into their city council (i.e. they can actually make changes) where one cannot in DC. I thought we were talking about Club America here. Not subsidiarity (more government as close to the people as possible and less farther away) which I agree with and that way people do pay for what they use (your example here).

    In club america the poor pay no taxes in fact the bottom %50 of income earners pay %2.7 of the total taxes taken in. Most of them actually get a check back. they actually pay nothing, yet receive most of the benefits. This simply a matter of fact.

    Taking from one person and giving it to another is theft. How would you define it any other way? Myca’a analogy defines America as a Mob or Gang that comes to your Home and says “you need us to ‘Protect’ you, so pay up or you may get hurt.” Guess you have to move or you are ‘opted-in’ to their ‘Club’ – wonderful world we live in.

    and that is why I agree completely with Jake Squid “This is exactly why I’m convinced that we’re doomed.”

  24. 24
    Myca says:

    Taking from one person and giving it to another is theft. How would you define it any other way?

    As a voluntary and consensual agreement you’ve benefited from your entire life that you’re now complaining about.

    Myca’a analogy defines America as a Mob or Gang that comes to your Home and says “you need us to ‘Protect’ you, so pay up or you may get hurt.”

    Yes. If you commit theft of services, you may be arrested.

    Guess you have to move or you are ‘opted-in’ to their ‘Club’ – wonderful world we live in.

    Yeah, you can’t keep living in the shared apartment you’re born into if you refuse to pay rent either.

    —Myca

  25. 25
    nobody.really says:

    Would you prefer a system where you decide what portion of your income will go to food, you decide what you will buy and prepare, and you decide when and where to eat it? Or would you rather have the government tax everyone and run a series of cafeterias that you are obliged to chow down in?

    The more illustrative comparison is this: Would you rather be obligated to chow down in a cafeteria at a cost of $20 a meal, or in an identical cafeteria charging $10 a meal? Would the answer to that question vary if you learned that the cafeteria charging $10 is run by government?

    To be sure, loss of choice is a kind of cost; I don’t mean to minimize that. But government programs need not deprive people of choice; consider vouchers. Admittedly, with taxation you largely lose the choice not to pay. My point is simply that in many circumstance – such as food – you largely have lost that choice anyway; if government provides the best way to deal with a given circumstance, I see no stigma in choosing the government option.

  26. 26
    Myca says:

    if government provides the best way to deal with a given circumstance, I see no stigma in choosing the government option.

    Right. Me neither. I don’t believe that there is anything ‘magically’ bad about government. Sometimes it’s the right solution, sometimes it’s not, but we judge based on the quality of the solution. Loss of choice is part of judging that, availability is part of judging that, quality of food, etc …

    Incidentally, I don’t believe that there is anything ‘magically’ bad about private enterprise, either. I think that it’s the appropriate solution for many (even most) things.

    To me, this is the essential difference between pragmatism and ideology.

    —Myca

  27. 27
    rosie says:

    I would like to point out that the U.S., alone of the major countries of the world, taxes its citizens/green card holders regardless of where they are living. Rather than the income that is taxed being dependent on being created in the United States, the tax is on the citizen/permanent resident regardless of where the income has been generated. Meaning that I get double taxed. I pay income taxes in the country where I am living and unless I make under a certain amount (which only sounds like a lot until you factor in cost of living), I also get to write a check to the IRS just for having a U.S. passport.

    Even if I were to give up my citizenship (which I never would, partly because I don’t have another option), I would still be liable for filing U.S. income tax for at least ten years after, so changing government is not a way to avoid U.S. taxes.

    The U.S. government nickles and dimes its overseas citizens in a way that no other country in the world does. If I have to write a check to Uncle Sam, that means I can’t take a trip home and spend my money in the States visiting with family and shopping which I think goes a lot further than paying it out in taxes.

    My real question, though, is why aren’t more Americans complaining about what they don’t get for their taxes. Seriously, you know how (the somewhat mythical, it’s actually quite a range,) 42% income tax in Sweden gets you your health care, your daycare, your university education, retirement, plus sound infrastructure and incredibly high standard of living? Well, if you’re in the 28% tax bracket in the U.S., you pay another 7.5% in Social Security, plus whatever percentage of your income is your health insurance, so maybe now we’re up to 39% plus if you live in a state where you have income tax and you easily hit 42%. What on earth is the government spending your money on?

    No, it’s not theft (unless you live overseas), but I wouldn’t say that the government is doing its best with the money it’s given. I know, it’s a lot more complex than my oversimplification, but I do find our government’s spending frustrating and somewhat counterintuitive and those wars are taking so much money from places where it offer far more value.

  28. 28
    nobody.really says:

    Myca’a analogy defines America as a Mob or Gang that comes to your Home and says “you need us to ‘Protect’ you, so pay up or you may get hurt.” Guess you have to move or you are ‘opted-in’ to their ‘Club’ – wonderful world we live in.

    Yes, this is the world we live in. I sense libertarians live in perpetual frustration because they have difficulty reconciling the world in their heads to the world we live in.

    I favor The Mob analogy. Our government extorts money out of us whether we like it or not. Why sugar-coat it? But as Churchill remarked, democracy is the worst form of government ever devised – except for all the others. The chief advantage to our government is that we all get to help steer The Mob – including steering policies on taxation. But ultimately one principle achievement of any government, just like one principle achievement of any extortion racket – is to displace rival systems. Our lousy, stinking government is what ensures that we’ve not governed by an even LOUSIER, STINKIER government such as you’ll find in most of the rest of the world.

    Don’t like it? Take up arms against government. Sure, you might get killed – but isn’t that what you’d expect when dealing with The Mob? Or feel free to go someplace you prefer. If you can’t find one, that should tell you something.

    I don’t aspire to good government – just government that is better than the alternatives. Got an actual, viable alternative? Let’s talk.

  29. 29
    KellyK says:

    Franklin, you have a point about conflating local vs. state vs. national. *However* Myca’s point that a big part of our system is founded on unemployment and cheap labor still stands.

    Working poor people don’t *earn* enough to pay dues, but they *generate* income for the companies they work for. Since they’re not getting to keep even enough of that generated revenue to have food and a place to sleep, it’s more than fair for them to receive something to scrape by.

    In club america the poor pay no taxes in fact the bottom %50 of income earners pay %2.7 of the total taxes taken in. Most of them actually get a check back. they actually pay nothing, yet receive most of the benefits. This simply a matter of fact.

    Receive most of the benefits?? Please, show me a statistic that most of the country’s spending goes to welfare benefits. That’s a tiny, tiny fraction compared to things like defense spending. Even if you’re including every bit of infrastructure that poor people use (schools, hospitals, roads), those are equally available to wealthy people. (If they choose to spend their money on alternatives they like better than what their dues provide, that’s fine for them. It doesn’t make the dues theft.)

  30. 30
    nobody.really says:

    [Taxes are like club dues.] The crux of my argument is that there are arrangements much like the governmental arrangement that exist (or might reasonably exist) as a matter of private initiative, and that Libertarians generally find these arrangements unproblematic.

    I think this is a fairly good argument even from the perspective of libertarians. After all, a person who washes up on the shore of an island he does not own would become liable to pay whatever sanction was imposed for trespass or pay whatever rent the landowner demanded – or, alternatively, assert his freedom to swim back out to sea. The fact that the person might not “assent” to the trespass laws or the rent would not be relevant.

    A libertarian might object that he already owns land ”in fee simple”and thus need not worry about paying for trespass or rent. But how does one acquire original title to land via libertarian principles? Do you create land? Do you contract with all other entities – both existing now and for all times into the future – to secure their assent to your claim? As far as I can tell, all rights in land arise from the threat of force. Thus, “fee simple” ownership of land is ownership subject to the sufferance of those with the greatest force – that is, the state. Don’t like it? Then become your own state: wield superior force. Otherwise, suck it up. If you claim rights in land, then you’re living by the sword; you have no basis to whimper that other people wield bigger swords.

    (I have grudging respect for people who actually adjure coercion. The libertarians I’ve corresponded with claim to oppose coercion, yet also claim to support property rights. When you tell them that you’d like to walk off with their property, you see how strong their objection to coercion is.)

  31. 31
    nobody.really says:

    Taking from one person and giving it to another is theft. How would you define it any other way?

    I’d define it as insurance:

    There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has attained, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. There are difficult questions about the precise standard which should thus be assured …. but there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody….

    Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for these common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance — where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks — the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong…. [T]here is no incompatibility in principle between the state’s providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom. To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state’s rendering assistance to the victims of such “acts of God” as earthquakes and floods. Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

    Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chap. 9, “Security and Freedom”

  32. 32
    mythago says:

    Why should I tax hard-working Sally, taking bread from the mouths of her children, to give bread to lazy Larry who is perfectly capable of getting a job but chooses not to?

    Robert, I have no idea why Sally should shoulder more of the tax burden so that Larry can pay less from the dividends off the trust fund Grandma left him. He is perfectly capable of getting a job and amassing more wealth if he likes, of course, but if he’d rather spend his days partying in European clubs then I don’t think he has much call to bitch and moan about the capital gains tax rate – certainly not if the bitching and moaning means he gets a special tax cut, just for him, while Sally gets no benefit.

    Taking from one person and giving it to another is theft.

    Ah. So Franklin isn’t one of those folks who believes that the only appropriate role for government is to enforce private contract rights.

    Let’s say I hire Robert for a job and don’t pay him because I think he didn’t meet the specifications in our contract. As it turns out, he is able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he did; I’m just delusional and don’t believe him. What are Robert’s remedies?

    1) Seeking government enforcement of his contractual rights through a lawsuit; if he wins, which he likely will, I will be ordered to pay him money, and if I don’t it will be taken from me by some means. In other words, government will take from one person (me) and give it to another (Robert). Isn’t this, by Franklin’s definition, theft? Isn’t it especially theft from my delusional point of view, because I firmly believe I don’t owe him the money?

    2) Realizing that he has no legitimate means to actually get the money out of me, telling everyone he can that I am a big cheatyface, in the hopes that everyone will stop doing business with me and I will die penniless and alone. This requires no government enforcement or “taking” whatsoever.

    Does anyone really believe #2 is the better option?

  33. 33
    April says:

    Why should I tax hard-working Sally, taking bread from the mouths of her children, to give bread to lazy Larry who is perfectly capable of getting a job but chooses not to?

    How much bread does Sally’s kid need? Because no one’s suggesting we take money from poor folks to give to poor folks. We’re talking about the wealthy. Are you suggesting that the wealthy are/could end up being taxed SO MUCH that Sally couldn’t even FEED her kid, while Larry is feasting? Come on.

  34. 34
    Robert says:

    Robert, I have no idea why Sally should shoulder more of the tax burden so that Larry can pay less from the dividends off the trust fund Grandma left him.

    Oh. Well, they have economics classes you can take. It would be a bit hefty of a lesson for a blog comment.

    Does anyone really believe #2 is the better option?

    Not generally, although there are some circumstances where #2 provides a better outcome, a lower cost of justice, or both. For example, if we both work in a small town and you have a limited labor pool, it could be the case that social pressure and shunning by workers of your dishonest employment would incentivize you to behave properly quicker and easier than dragging it all through the courts.

    But I’m not quite sure what the point of your comment was. Libertarians don’t think that government has no role to play in settling contract disputes. Indeed, preserving contract and upholding agreements is one of the core functions of government that libertarians nearly universally endorse. Theft involves the unlawful taking of property which one person has a rightful claim to, not transfers (even forced transfers) done with due process of law as part of the core function of upholding the rule of law.

  35. 35
    mythago says:

    Oh, Robert. “There’s plenty of information but you’re too dumb for me to explain it here, nyeah nyeah” because you’re mad that your moral argument maps elsewhere?

    But I’m not quite sure what the point of your comment was.

    Compare the last line of your comment with “Taking from one person and giving it to another is theft”.

  36. 36
    Franklin says:

    mythago,
    Living in my own home that I paid for is not theft. the mob coming and telling me that I have to pay for protection from them is. Paying taxes for legitimate security of my human rights is not theft, paying taxes to give the money to someone else is.

    The government legitimate role is to protect contract rights for everyone. Human rights for everyone. Anyone can use these services, there is no discrimination as is not the case with welfare, SS etc. this is not taking from one person and giving it to another. This is securing natural human rights. It is available to everyone. Food is not a right, shelter is not a right. the only legitimate rights government has comes from the rights of the people. It cannot confer rights to people that they don’t already have. anything else is theft. when %51 of the people vote to take the money from the other %49 and give it to themselves that is not a ‘club’ thats a mob and yes theft.

    nobody.really – I’ll take my insurance dues back please, I don’t want it. “there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody” – This is simply untrue, unsustainable and immoral. There are no assurances.

    KellyK
    ” it’s more than fair for them to receive something to scrape by.” Whenever someone says ‘fair’ I always know it means “I want something you have”. Life is not fair, and steeling does not make it so. If the workers value to the employer was more they would get paid more. They get paid exactly what they are worth if the employee does not feel it is fair then they do not have to work there.

    Who receives (FY 2010) benefits?
    $695 billion – Social Security(we’ll just remove this one for now as it is not yet draining the general fund – but very soon will)
    571 billion (−15.2%) – Other mandatory programs (low income stuff, food stamps, student loans etc)
    $453 billion – Medicare (we’ll cut this in half as of today that is the amount that is taken from the general fund – it is set to rise dramatically) $222.5billion
    $224 billion – Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
    $360 billion – Unemployment/Welfare/Other mandatory spending
    $78.7 billion – United States Department of Health and Human Services
    $47.5 billion – United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
    $9.7 billion – Social Security Administration

    by my count that is $1.7 Trillion of a 3.55 Trillion budget (staggering no?)

    The rest you could make an argument is at least split (most of that should still be cut or eliminated entirely Education,Energy,NASA but you could make an argument that the rich are not helped by them as much as the poor are not helped by them) ALL the above 1.7 trillion expenses are stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Clearly the bottom %50 receive most of the benefit of your mob
    Defense? less than %19 of total spending (but better than half of total discretionary spending)
    $663.7 billion – United States Department of Defense
    -Compare it to historic (%of GDP) levels it is quite low(but I would agree we should cut it too) In any case both poor and rich benefit from the military. You will get no argument from me if you propose getting out of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan – then we can lower defense spending as well. At least it is not theft.

  37. 37
    Franklin says:

    doh – forgot to remove half the Medicare from my total
    $1.5 Trillion not 1.7Trillion – but what’s a few hundred billion between friends?

  38. 38
    nobody.really says:

    Living in my own home that I paid for is not theft.

    Please elaborate.

    True, current law does not define it as such – just as current law does not define taxation as such.

    If you wish to argue from libertarian principles, then please justify land ownership on libertarian principles. Whereas contractual rights govern the relationship between two consenting parties, property rights purport to govern the relationship between the property owner and all other people. Did they all consent? In not, then why should those who have not consented honor your land claim?

    You can claim to have bought title from someone who bought title from someone who bought title…. but by what authority is the original title claimed? Someone had to assert the right to control the use of land to the exclusion of all other people’s right in that land. In short, efforts to control the use of property represent a theft from all other people who might want to use the land in some different way.

    (Similarly, controls on polluting a river represent a theft from all people who might have had an interest in dumping their sewage in the river. Controls on polluting the air represent a theft from all people who might have had an interest in pumping waste into the sky. Etc.)

    I am not aware of any libertarian theory to justify such controls. Yet libertarian theory claims to rest on property rights. In brief, the theory seems to amount to “I got mine, Jack! Coercion is bad – unless it’s coercion to promote my interests.”

  39. 39
    nobody.really says:

    nobody.really – I’ll take my insurance dues back please, I don’t want it.

    Fine; that’s a perfectly respectable point of view. But you can’t take back the proceeds of an insurance policy AFTER the insurable event has occurred.

    So, what kind of events do government policies insure against? Natural disasters, health emergencies, transportation, public health concerns, etc. It’s sometimes suggested that people might “unsubscribe” from such services. You don’t really want clean water? Check. You don’t want emergency rooms to treat you without first obtaining insurance information? Check. You don’t want rescue from the forest fire? Check.

    But then there are the larger things government insures against. Governments provide a lot of support for developmentally disabled people, for example. To decline this kind of insurance, you’d have to specify it prior to being born. John Rawls provides a good discussion of this.

    I don’t know Franklin personally, so I can’t really evaluate his request to forgo insurance. I’d find it more credible if he reported that he has autism or is in a coma. Otherwise, his claim looks a lot like the claim of a guy who tells his insurance company that he doesn’t want to pay the bill for the coverage he had LAST year, because he now knows that he wasn’t in any accidents last year. Sure, everyone who did not get into an accident last year might make a similar statement. But to make such a statement belies a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of insurance.

  40. 40
    Joe says:

    I think there’s a much more basic flaw in the “Taxation is theft” argument, which is the presumption that the concept of “theft” (and, incidentally, the concept of “private property” upon which the “theft” concept depends) exists outside of the rules and customs that we call civilization. Anybody arguing otherwise needs to explain why a modern Westerner, a 19th-century colonialist, and a member of a pre-agricultural tribe might see the same action in vastly different ways.

    Incidentally, your assertion that those who do not wish to be part of our club can leave whenever they like, does not depend on easy emigration. Those who wish to opt out may do so, by simply disregarding any rules that they do not like. They will cease to be part of Club America and instead join Club Might Makes Right; of course, what they seem not to understand is that it would then be unreasonable for them to insist on any of the priveleges (such as private property, or personal security) afforded to members of Club America.

  41. 41
    JutGory says:

    nobody.really @ 38:

    If you wish to argue from libertarian principles, then please justify land ownership on libertarian principles.

    I do not know if this is specifically libertarian, but I think it was Locke’s rationale: land ownership comes from the investment of labor. If there is an unoccupied piece of land, and I invest labor to clear the trees, till the soil, build a house, and raise vegetables, the outcome is a product of my labor. Someone can not simply come on to what is now my land (as my labor has made it so), sleep in my bed and eat my vegetables without STEALING from me.

    I believe he also thought that this notion was self-limiting. If I stop tending toward the land, someone else could come in and invest labor and take ownership of that (the law still recognizes adverse possession, which is consistent with this point of view).

    It was also a self-limiting idea because one person can only control so much land. His ideas preceded factory farms that could tend millions of acres. An individual could only invest so much labor into so much land that there would be enough left over for others to do the same.

    -Jut

  42. 42
    Myca says:

    I think nobody.really’s point goes back to a logical extrapolation of Nozick.

    Nozick’s argument was that the only thing that made ownership (whether ownership of money, land, property, etc) legitimate was a chain of legitimate, voluntary transactions. Transactions that were illegitimate would be involuntary takings, under which he included taxation, robbery, conquest, etc. Nozick also believed in self-ownership, so slavery would be a sort of illegal taking too.

    The problem should be obvious. Just looking at the US, there is no chain of legitimate ownership for land, whether we’re dealing with Native Americans, England, Mexico, Canada, the Phillipines, etc. African Americans were the subjects of involuntary taking of their persons. So have been women, Native Americans, Latin@s and others.

    The odds are good that the clothes you wear and electronics you use do not measure up to Nozick’s chain of ownership either.

    So the problem is … it’s rank intellectual cowardice and hypocrisy to draw a line in time around 1965 and declare, “no involuntary takings after this moment, but we’re sure as hell not doing to do anything about the involuntary takings before this moment.”

    So, if you’re a Nozickian libertarian (which at least is less fucking middle-school than being a Randian), you have to try to account for how you’ll make amends for the involuntary takings which have lead to the state of enrichment of (for example) white people in North America. Compared to the theft of a continent (and oh yes, under Nozick, it is theft, baby), progressive taxation and the welfare state are small potatoes.

    —Myca

  43. 43
    Myca says:

    Hey JutGory, do you believe that you qualify to comment in this thread?

    Please do not comment unless you accept the basic dignity, equality, and inherent worth of all people. (And please keep this on topic)

    That includes things like equal rights for GLBTQQIA folks, gender and racial equality, etc. I’m not saying you don’t qualify, I just wanted to ask you to do a self-check.

    —Myca

  44. 44
    nobody.really says:

    do you believe that you qualify to comment in this thread?

    Please do not comment unless you accept the basic dignity, equality, and inherent worth of all people. (And please keep this on topic)

    On occasion topics get cross-posted at The Alas Debate Annex, with its more relaxed expectations of “decorum.” Indecorous people such as myself appreciate it when posters provide that alternative forum for discussion.

  45. 45
    Myca says:

    On occasion topics get cross-posted at The Alas Debate Annex, with its more relaxed expectations of “decorum.” Indecorous people such as myself appreciate it when posters provide that alternative forum for discussion.

    Fixed.

  46. 46
    mythago says:

    Paying taxes for legitimate security of my human rights is not theft, paying taxes to give the money to someone else is.

    Taking from one person and giving it to another is theft.

    Well, make up your mind. Is taking money from you on threat of force theft, or isn’t it? What does the purpose the stolen money is used for have to do with anything?

    And what is the difference between the government stealing money for your ‘legitimate security’ and the mob demanding protection? You adore the former and condemn the latter, but assuming the mob actually does offer you the protection it claims, why are they not precisely the same thing?

    JutGory @41: You misunderstand the concept of adverse possession.

  47. 47
    JutGory says:

    Mythago:

    JutGory @41: You misunderstand the concept of adverse possession.

    Um, you mean Open, Continuous, Exclusive, Adverse, and Notorious? I think I have the concept down. I am not sure what you mean by it.

    Myca:

    Hey JutGory, do you believe that you qualify to comment in this thread?

    More so than you know.

    -Jut

  48. 48
    mythago says:

    JutGory @47: I mean the idea that adverse possession is related to a Lockeian concept of ‘better use’ leading to the moral right of ownership.

  49. 49
    Myca says:

    More so than you know.

    Okay.

    You understand that I’m not asking, “are you a Libertarian, or have otherwise strong opinions on questions of economics.” I’m not saying that you don’t qualify, like I said. Maybe you’re a professional activist for issues of racial, gender, and sexual equality, but looking at your past comments, on this and other sites, I’d be very surprised.

    —Myca

  50. 50
    billwald says:

    All men may be created equal but some are born to rich parents and others, to poor parents. The poor parents work hard day and night (for wages or as share croppers, serfs) to keep their family alive and spend close to 100% of their income every year for current budget needs. This has been statistically true for 6000 years of human history.

    Rich people don’t work for wages or walk behind a plow. Their annual increase comes from owning stuff. A very few worked their way to being rich but most inherited wealth from their parents.

    Most of the old money rich own real property and businesses. Most of the new money people own shares of stock – paper assets. There is a BIG difference. If an old money person wants to sell a million acres to another old money person, the national economy is not effected. If Bill Gates were to sell 10 million shares of Microsoft the stock market would crash.

    The modern rich person spends maybe 10% of his annual gain on his personal needs. He could blow it all but then he would not be a rich person for long. The modern rich person knows that “money” is no longer a store of value but only data stored in a computer. He knows it is foolish to store assets as “money.” He buys more hard assets and businesses.

    Every year the rich person’s accumulation of hard assets and businesses increases by 20% (assuming 10% profit, original stake plus roughly 9% plus 10% of THAT total) Every year the poor person’s savings increases by maybe 10% if he is VERY able to handle money.

    Isn’t this the expected outcome in a pure Libertarian economy?

    How many years will it take for the length of the food chain between the bottom 10% and the top 10% to double?

  51. 51
    Elusis says:

    “What the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes.” See item #1, “Poor Americans do pay taxes.” And the rest of them.

    Personally, I am glad to excuse from taxes the person who invents the time machine such that s/he can go back in time and re-arrange hir personal timeline so as to not ever travel on any government-built roads, attend any government-funded schools, eat or drink any government-protected food or water, work at any jobs restricted by federal dictates such as minimum wage or the 8-hour day/40-hour week, and so on.

    However this rearrangement will need to go back to conception, and to be safe should probably cover the lifetime of hir parents as well since the freedom not to be born into indentured servitude or slavery, the lack of exposure to toxins accumulated in or consumed by hir mother during pregnancy, the benefit of hir parents’ government-funded education, etc. etc. also depends on use of taxes. Possibly we should include hir grandparents’ generation as well since establishment of citizenship for the more recently (European) immigrated, passing along of accumulated property and other wealth, cumulative effects of successive generations of education, government-sponsored research into vaccines and other contemporary medical procedures, and so on might change the course of hir personal history were they eliminated.

  52. 52
    Libertys Rest says:

    http://libertysrest.blogspot.com/2011/04/foundations-5-foundation.html

    Taxation is theft because, like you said, it is extorted through violence or the threat of violence. The question then becomes what makes this coersion appropriate? There is a saying that “democracy makes legitimate the coersion of taxation.” It is an interesting saying, but what it really boils down to is that anything that 51% of people want to do is inherently legal.

    In that article linked above I discuss the foundation of libertarian beliefs. I think that what makes the threat of violence in support of taxation legal is that it is ONLY used to protect from further violence (i.e. creation of a military and police force). I discuss the specifics of how taxation could be viewed as retaliatory violence instead of initiated violence, as well. The point is that when you start using it for other things, it stops being legitimate force and becomes coersive force, aka the theft you mention.

  53. 53
    mythago says:

    Libertys Rest @52: That still makes no sense. If I rob you at gunpoint and use all the money in your wallet to pay for an upgraded alarm system for your house, is what I did no longer robbery?

  54. Pingback: Want a Receipt With Your Taxes? « Dialogic Magazine

  55. 54
    Sender says:

    @Franklin:

    There’s no such thing as a right you possess in and of yourself; for a thing to be a right (prescriptive), as opposed to a biological or circumstantial fact (descriptive), requires the possibility of losing it or otherwise being without it. Put it another way, to say “it is a gross injustice when a person doesn’t have a liver” or “when a person hasn’t had any water to drink for fifteen years” would be nonsense; to say “it is a gross injustice when a person is imprisoned without being told the charge” is meaningful because the right in question is not self-inherent but something conditional, that we can apply an “ought” to. Without the possibility of an “isn’t” there is no “ought.”

  56. 55
    Franklin says:

    nobody
    John Locke. 2nd Second Treatise on Government. Read it.

    mythago,
    “Well, make up your mind. Is taking money from you on threat of force theft, or isn’t it?” It is theft if it is taken to be given (e.g. write out a check, food stamps, welfare etc, etc) to someone else. it is not if it is taken and used for the benefit of the person it is taken from (i.e. protecting their rights.)

  57. 56
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Hmm. not a libertarian, but it seems that most any political position can be attacked. The issue isn’t which position is entirely right or logical (none of them are) but which position is more right.

    It makes sense IMO to compare the “taxation is theft” model to something else, but it doesn’t make sense IMO to simply say “there are problems with the theft model, so it’s wrong.”

    As an example, does the theft model involve arbitrary cutoffs? Yes. But of course pretty much everyone uses arbitrary cutoffs. The question of who gets to start with “free” goods is not an objective act.

    Do some people get continents for “free?” Do they get exempted for any internal conflicts they may have had over territory? How far back do those exemptions go? Did people cross the land bridge to the Americas because they were, locally, winners/conquerors or losers/exiles? How many years do you look back for balance: 10? 100? 1000? 10,000? At what point are outcomes the result of a society’s choice to focus on one thing over another, versus being the result of something beyond their control?

    Those are arbitrary lines in the sand and they exist everywhere, not just in conservative spheres.

  58. 57
    billwald says:

    >Do some people get continents for “free?”

    These days every square inch of land is claimed. I propose an international treaty on land stealing. Invade another country, hold the land for 10 years and title passes by adverse possession. This might prevent wars from dragging on for centuries. For example, the Arabs might get over being kicked out of Spain by Ferdie and Isabella in the 1700′s. Might settle Lincoln’s war.

  59. 58
    billwald says:

    Anyway, most people don’t want more theoretical freedom. Most people want:

    1. People want peace, stability, food, shelter, clothing . . . and the sports channel.

    2. People want to be taxed and ruled by their own “kind” of people, governed by their own social contract.

  60. 59
    Franklin says:

    Sender,
    please do not confuse ‘ought’ with rights. If a person does not have a liver one could say that they ‘ought’ to have one, but they do not have a right to a liver. Rights cannot be conferred or removed they can only be denied. there is no such thing as a ‘new’ right (a corollary to ‘removed’ – if it cannot be removed it only makes sense they cannot be added either) therefore you could never say you have a right to ‘internet access’ as it would be a new right. A violation of the ‘conferred’ test might be food or water. you do not have a right to food because that would imply that right is being conferred to you from someone else. human rights do not come from other people they are inherent in and of themselves.

    mythago,
    “If I rob you at gunpoint and use all the money in your wallet to pay for an upgraded alarm system for your house, is what I did no longer robbery?” If you are doing that within the bounds of the law then you are correct it would no longer be theft. stupid and should be changed, probably a violation of their rights (depending on how that law worked i suppose) but not theft.

  61. 60
    Chris says:

    Franklin:

    If a person does not have a liver one could say that they ‘ought’ to have one, but they do not have a right to a liver

    Quick! Someone get an ice chest and a scalpel, because I’ve just been informed that it would not be a violation of Franklin’s rights if I steal his liver.

  62. 61
    Sender says:

    @Franklin-

    I understand. You are saying people only get negative rights, never positive. But you suggested these are natural. What I’m wondering is on what basis you say that. In the nature that I’m aware of, the only things that inhere in people are organs.

  63. 62
    SebastianS says:

    I have no idea what franklin is saying, either. What the Hell is an ‘old’ right, as opposed to a ‘new’ right? There is no right to life, property, or self-determination without the force to defend it. If tomorrow someone who can coerce everyone on Earth declares that everyone wearing yellow can pull everyone else’s nose, that’s a right just as valid as the right of freedom of assembly. Which of course did not exist until recently.

    Or are you one of those who only believes in rights descending from the One who can bully everyone? Because He has been rather lax in protecting them. So until He starts laying down the smite again, the only ‘real’ rights are the ones the local society agrees on. Ain’t democracy a bitch?

  64. 63
    JutGory says:

    Mythago @ 48:

    I mean the idea that adverse possession is related to a Lockeian concept of ‘better use’ leading to the moral right of ownership.

    No, I don’t think they are related in the sense that one sprang from the other. @41, I said,

    the law still recognizes adverse possession, which is consistent with this point of view

    Perhaps, Locke got his ideas from the notion of adverse possession, a form of action that probably pre-dated him.

    My only point was that there is a strain of thought that the use of land is what confers ownership of it. Locke and adverse possession are two examples of that way of thinking.

    -Jut

  65. 64
    mythago says:

    Franklin @55: That’s a very odd definition of theft, focusing as it does on what the thief uses the ill-gotten gains for, and then retconning the act of theft into not-theft. You’re also trying to have it both ways in @59, arguing that even though taxation to pay for (say) libraries is perfectly legal, it is still theft; but simultaneously arguing that if a law said “armed robbery is perfectly legal if you give the proceeds to the victim’s Neighborhood Watch program”, then such armed robbery is not-theft.

    So I hope you’ll pardon me if I am a bit skeptical that you really believe it is OK to take someone’s property against their will and/or by force, as long as you use the proceeds of that taking for their benefit – whether or not they wanted to use the proceeds in that way. (“Oh, you wanted to buy groceries? Too bad, I’m giving your paycheck to the police department in your town. Suck it up.”)

  66. 65
    nobody.really says:

    If you wish to argue from libertarian principles, then please justify land ownership on libertarian principles.

    John Locke. 2nd Second Treatise on Government. Read it.

    Today’s reading from Two Treatises on Government, Book II, Chapter 5: Of Property

    § 31. But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself, as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest, I think it is plain that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right to say everybody else has an equal title to it, and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot enclose, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners, all mankind. God, when He gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth – i.e., improve it for the benefit of life and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that, in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled, and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.

    § 32. Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough and as good left, and more than the yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left him to quench his thirst. And the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same.

    In short, you can obtain title to land by working the land, provided your taking land does not create a scarcity – that is, that “there was still enough and as good left, and more than the yet unprovided could use.”

    This kind of reasoning seems laughably naive to contemporary eyes; where exactly are people to find good land for the taking? Yet it’s hard to imagine that this kind of reasoning would have seemed any less loopy in the 1680s as the pattern of enclosure was spreading throughout England and displacing the peasants. Why didn’t these displaced peasants – who had spent their entire lives working fields – simply start cultivating some of the unlimited swaths of good land the John Locke suggests should be available to them? Curiously, Locke doesn’t say.

    It is then perhaps not surprising that Locke’s works would receive little acclaim in England. They would receive much better reception in the New World, where land for the taking actually existed – because colonists were only too happy to ignore the inhabitants of those lands.

    As George Orwell – a man with some reputation for spotting bogus rationalizations — remarked,

    Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

  67. 66
    billwald says:

    >If you wish to argue from libertarian principles, then please justify land ownership on libertarian principles.

    OK. The people who are voluntarily living in a geographical area are justified in determining the details of the social contract under which they live. “Voluntarily” means that they can leave the community if the rules become sufficiently objectionable and take their portable property with them.

  68. 67
    Wild Clover says:

    The whole taxation is theft thing is stupid simply because in a republic with a representational form of government, by your vote you have empowered someone to decide which services government will provide and our price tag for them. If you hire a personal shopper and they go buy out Neiman Marcus, don’t scream your bill is theft by NM. Now,you might argue that your employee went against your instructions to shop WALMART. This is not precisely theft either,but something you can sue over.
    Point being, everyone in society benefits when kids are educated, more so now when jobs that used to need a HS diploma need college, when water,food,and air is safe, when grandma is not living in her child’s house on an air mattress,when everyone is vaccinated, treated for illness. We all benefit that there are not hungry mobs roaming the streets, homeless freezing in doorways, and the mentally ill on their meds. I don’t _personally_ benefit from condom/clean needle exchanges, homeless shelters, or student loans, but society functions better and more cheaply in the long run by not having hep B and AIDS spread, by folks not breaking into places to keep warm (or dying in the street) or losing their job because they lost their home and need to shower before work. We benefit by having educated people moving into the workforce. If the economy is better, I can assume my personal finances to be better. As far as I can tell, none of the taxes I pay to Uncle Sam don’t benefit me,except those going towards wars for oil (that were going to pay for themselves), tax breaks to companies making record profits while shipping jobs overseas,and tax breaks for the top income earners who are NOT creating jobs or lowering prices/cheapening credit/raising salaries with all this largess. I may never drive on rte 66, but I’d bet if upkeep were ceased, the resultant costs in repair to trucks and wasted gas would raise the cost of things I my buy shipped that route- or of materials shipped to someone who then makes something I buy.
    If it is taken from me but used for my benefit, then it isn’t theft, wasn’t that the argument? I think the libertarian view suffers from a lack of ability to see society as connected as it is, so too narrow a view of “benefit” is taken. Kind of like the “Keep your government out of my Medicare”…. They directly benefit from something and see its value. They will mainly indirectly benefit from the ACA- their kids/grandkids, fewer sick people on the streets to infect them, cost savings to the economy,making any of their investments more valuable- and don’t see it and rail against “Obamacare”. Supporting a park in Arizona doesn’t directly benefit me,but I see a value to society that makes us all richer. The libertarian view is that the penny of their tax spent for this is theft.
    I almost became a libertarian when I was young, until I actually read stuff by Lyndon La Rouche and saw how simplistic their worlview actually is. I’m a firm believer in enlightened self-interest as a model for society,which means I give others my money for stuff I don’t care about because they will 1) reciprocate or 2) somehow benefit me/society by having this.

  69. 68
    Brad Spangler says:

    re: “By virtue of the way countries work…”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

  70. Pingback: Taxes as Membership Fees? | Raybonomics

  71. 69
    A Person says:

    The statements ‘taxation is theft’ or ‘taxation is not theft’ are too simple.

    One person can consider taxation to be theft and another can consider it not, so it is subjective to the individual. There is not an objective truth here.

    But if one person truly considers that taxation is theft, then it is theft in that instance.

    So, taxation is imperfect and history rather bears that out. So, taxation as a system is wrong from an historic perspective, as a karmaic tool it may be acting in a fair fashion though.

    It is helpful to to imagine a small group of people, give each say 20 square meters, some seeds and some livestock, assume the terrain type is even throughout, and give them different pesonality types, so leaders, followers, individuals and if you are honest and fair you will see that taxation generally comes about through something negative, and you may also notice that there is generally another solution that could work as well, that doesn’t need taxation.

    Taxation is really just an effective means of control, that control can be good or bad, but it does impede liberty and freedom, so what is more important and can control exist without affecting liberty or freedom.

  72. 70
    Eytan Zweig says:

    One person can consider taxation to be theft and another can consider it not, so it is subjective to the individual. There is not an objective truth here.

    But if one person truly considers that taxation is theft, then it is theft in that instance.

    So, according to you theft is a purely a matter of taste like “nice” or “bad”? I guess I just haven’t been keeping up with the lingo these days. That’s so theft of me.

  73. 71
    KellyK says:

    Yeah, I agree with Eytan. Words mean things. “Depriving someone of something they have a right to” is theft. (We can then argue over what people have a right to and how that’s determined.) But if it’s just “whatever we want it to mean,” then I’d be justified in getting very upset that the government stole my pony. And by “stole” I mean, “didn’t give me” and by “my” I mean “I want one.”

  74. 72
    Robert says:

    “Words mean things.”

    Prescriptive FASCIST.

  75. 73
    billwald says:

    The US is a condominium and taxes are condo fees authorized by our social contract AKA Constitution and case law. You don’t like it? Feel free to move out (while you still can).

  76. 74
    A Person says:

    - So, according to you theft is a purely a matter of taste like “nice” or “bad”? I guess I just haven’t been keeping up with the lingo these days. That’s so theft of me.

    No, I certainly do NOT consider theft purely a matter of taste.

    Theft is the act of depriving someone else of the results of their labour and hence property without their consent.

    Some people consent to taxation others do not. The subjectivity resides in the consent, not the subjective meaning of words. The meaning of words has to be objective or you cannot discuss a matter, it is just meaningless.

    Taxation is not equal to theft, but taxation is akin to theft in many instances.

    The problem is, what some may describe as positive things have been placed, into taxation. I may call for zero taxation, and personally think that nearly all taxation in my life was a theft to me. But, others may cite personal experience where taxation has helped save the life of a loved one.

    They may not consider taxation theft. I could argue that their loved one could have been saved without taxation or even that taxation may have been a cause that threatened the safey of their loved one, but they have actual experience of taxation being used to save that loved ones life.

    Subjective morality tends to centre around the idea that consent and free will is the only objective morality, so you can do anything you like as long as you gain consent but it has to be true consent, not consent via trickery.

    Taxation is false consent through a lot of trickery and coercion, in my opinion.

    I support the right of anyone who genuinely wants to be taxed, but I do NOT support the right of someone who wants to tax others who are unwilling to pay tax.

    – You don’t like it? Feel free to move out (while you still can).

    A lot of people will have moved out of the due to taxation, but it is a form of exile, how about devolution combined with taxation refunds in a variety of commodities?

    Appeals to the law as a form of contract without explicit non coerced agreement, runs counter to most legal systems own contract law.

    i.e. no contract was actually formed because no consent was given.

    A social contract where contracts do not have to be agreed to, is at best paradoxical and is generally tyrannical.

    If someone puts you into a condo without your agreement, then should you pay for the condo or feel obliged to follow their convenants?

  77. 75
    Eytan Zweig says:

    A social contract where contracts do not have to be agreed to, is at best paradoxical and is generally tyrannical.

    So, according to your claim, if I dislike your house, it is quite legitimate for me to set it on fire? I mean, I certainly don’t remember ever agreeing to a social contract with you that states that you have a right to keep property which I disapprove of. It would be paradoxical and tyrannical for anyone to say otherwise, no?

  78. 76
    A Person says:

    What do you mean by legitimate?

    Anyway, no is your answer, according to my claim it would not be legitimate for you to set my house on fire. I don’t feel like a tyrant for saying no, though nothing stopping you thinking I am a tyrant for saying no, I suppose.

    As to being paradoxical, well that is interesting:

    Could it be legitimate to burn someone else’s house down without their consent, unfortunately it can be and the social contract idea can help legitimise these type of tyrannical actions.

    Look at Nuremberg Race Laws, and Federal Indian Law, legitimised in part by this idea of a social contract.

  79. 77
    Jeremy says:

    Could it be legitimate to burn someone else’s house down without their consent, unfortunately it can be and the social contract idea can help legitimise these type of tyrannical actions.

    Government does some bad things therefore all types of government is bad is logical fallacy. Some people have murdered by hammers therefore we need to get rid of hammers. People do good things and bad things. Governments, hammers, cars, and boats are all tools that people make and use. Since these are used by people they will be used by for both good and bad.

  80. 78
    A Person says:

    Well, I am not calling for a ban on all governments.

    The issue of governing without gaining full agreement from those purporting to govern, should be examined more.

  81. 79
    Jeremy says:

    There is no such thing as unanimous consent, there is always going to be someone who disagrees.

  82. 80
    IronCarbon says:

    The core issue is the force issue. If the taxation were 100 percent voluntary like a charity, there would be no issue. The problem is this: The government using force, violence, imprisonment, against non-violent people for victimless offenses. Show me the victim. The individual, who you have victimized, by not consenting to such things. This goes across the board for many things considered crimes. Seat Belt Laws. Is it probably a good idea to wear a seat belt when in a car? Sure. But there are counter arguments against it, too, such as people who had their lives saved by not being buckled into a seatbelt. The government should have no right to use force against a person who is not directly violating the rights and freedoms of another individual person. That is what the US Constitution is based on. This goes back much further than the 1700s and is a God-given and God ordained thing.

    The government should not have the “teeth” of enforcement. The FDA and other federal agencies and all government should not be able to use violence and imprisonment against people if they are not violating the individual rights and freedoms/Constitutional rights of other people. They should only be allowed to educate and provide information, and allow you the individual to make the final choice. If someone is foolish enough to make the wrong choice, they should suffer the consequences. If someone is smart enough to make the right choice, they should benefit.

  83. 81
    Sebastian says:

    I’ll assume that you are not a troll, and I will try to honestly explain why I think you are wrong.

    You seem to believe that a person who is not paying his taxes is blameless. But unless he gets no benefits whatsoever from the government, he is simply a thief. And thieves need to be discouraged. For that, you can’t beat violence, or at least the threat thereof.

    Now, many people, who like to call themselves libertarians, seem to think that as long as you do not receive a check from the government, you are not getting anything. They look at a working stiff living in government assisted housing and complementing his meager income with food stamps, and at a small business owner paying a plethora of taxes, and think that one of them benefits from the government, while the other one is a suffering victim.

    Well, I am a business owner, and my second highest expense, not that it counts as one, is taxes. (The first one is salaries and gas is a distant third.)

    But it is ridiculous to say that I benefit from government less than someone who has next to nothing. I drive to my customers on decent roads, I do not have to protect my tools, cars, and fees from people who like to use them, I do not have to worry about being enslaved by someone who needs a big guy’s labor, I do not have to negotiate an exchange rate every time I am hungry, or need something that I do not care to do myself. My employees, my customers and I do not have to worry about enforcing our agreements, we do not have to worry about protecting our savings, and we do not have to station on of us at a machine gun to watch our office and protect our accountant.

    All of these are things that we have because of government. The rights we have do not come from an almighty god, nor from a kind and wonderful human nature. They are a benefit from living in the most advanced society on Earth, and they came about because a bunch of people ganged together to enforce what they believe is right… through violence.

    So, if you want to share my the US with me, you better pay your taxes, the way I pay mine. The richer you are, the more the government does for you, and the more you need to pitch in. And if you do not, I’ll cheer on the man with a gun who came around to kick your ass.