Why liberals should concede that “taxation is theft” to get to conversations worth having with libertarians

If you have ever been in a political argument with a libertarian, at some point they will tell you that “taxes are theft” or “taxes are violence”. Most people will spend time arguing this point, instead of conceding it and moving onto more substantive topics.

I’m encouraging you to accept the idea that “taxes are theft” because it is reality of taxation.

What is theft?

According to Wikipedia, theft is “taking of another person’s property without that person’s permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it”.

Now as simple as this definition will seem to most, like all language it can get fairly dicey when you start to parse it out. Which is why I won’t do that here. We have to agree that it is possible to rightfully own property and that if someone takes your property against your will, they are stealing from you. Some people do not believe in property or that it is possible for an individual to rightfully own it, but that is a much deeper debate that is not worth discussing here.

Theft is not inherently immoral

Without going into the endless debate about what morality is, I think most of us can agree that theft is usually wrong but sometimes completely justified.

To illustrate, let’s say an evil villain locks a baby in a box and lites it on fire. It would be completely moral to steal the key from the villain to unlock the box and save the baby. The fact that you stole the key from the villain is indisputable, but so is the fact that you did a good thing.

Real world situations are always more complex than this, but the point is that violence can be used for good. That is the nuanced reality of violence.

To Recap

  1. Property is a real thing that individuals can rightfully own
  2. Theft (or violence) can be used for good

If you agree with those two statements, it shouldn’t be difficult to accept the fact that taxes are theft.

When the government taxes you, they are taking your money without your consent. Either pay what they ask or they will force you to pay what they ask. Accepting this as the reality of taxation may feel like the end of the conversation about taxation, but it is really just the foundation of an interesting debate.

So when a libertarian tells you that taxes are theft, the only thing to say in return is “I agree”. Now you can debate how taxation benefits or hurts society, the economy, and the environment.

Or how the morality of taxation changes for different styles of government (e.g. democratic republic vs dictatorship).

Or your respective breaking points on taxation (i.e. how much taxation is too much?).

These are conversations worth having with people that think differently than you.