If you know enough libertarians, you will have certainly heard them complain that taxation is theft. Most people do not seem to agree with this assessment, and thus think the libertarian position to be, at best, ridiculous. Libertarians, in turn, do not seem to understand how nobody else can see something that to them is so obvious. What gives?
There is a way in which most kinds of taxation are undeniably theft. Equally, there is a way in which taxation is not theft in the least, and it is tax evasion which is properly understood to be theft. The libertarians make an explicit assumption that support the theft conclusion, while everyone else makes an implicit assumption that supports allowing taxation.
But enough of the teasers. Let’s get to the meat of the issue.
Libertarians work from the assumption of private property. They assume that the land and the house I have on that land are fully mine. Further, they assume that when I work for someone for a wage, that that wage I am paid is mine. The money paid in wages was fully the employer’s before I worked, and it is fully mine after I work. The property rights to that money (and my house and land) are absolute. Given these assumptions, if someone comes along and tells me that I am to give them my money — or even a portion of my money — they are engaged in the act of theft. If the person is a private actor — a mugger or a burglar, there is no question in anyone’s mind that theft has occurred. This is also the case if you are mugged by a street gang, or if you are shaken down by the mafia. There is no question in anyone’s mind that this is theft. The libertarians argue that even if you call your group of people a government, forcibly taking others’ money is theft. If a private actor threatens to kidnap or kill you unless you pay up, such a person would be arrested on a number of charges — especially if they got the money. If a government actor makes the same threat, that’s simply taxation. The libertarian wonders what the difference really is, given the assumption of private property. What the money is used for is not at all relevant. Complaining that the government cannot do what it has to do unless it takes your money is not at all relevant. It’s not relevant if the mugger is going to buy food with the money or if he is going to buy crack. Theft is theft. The mugger who wants to buy food should have gotten money some other way, in a more honest way. The same with government.
Everyone else works from the assumption that taxation is legitimate. For that to be the case, they require the assumption — an implicit assumption, since few if any have thought it through — that the land and the house I have on that land is not fully mine, but is really, in fact, the government’s land (and house). Further, they assume that when I work for someone for a wage, that money I’m being paid with is in fact the government’s money first and foremost. I am not the owner of my land, my house, or my money. Therefore, it is legitimate for the government to keep a portion of my wages, and to take my house and land if I don’t pay the rent (property taxes). If the government is the true owner of all property, including money, then the government can legitimately keep or demand a portion of it. If I refuse to pay my taxes, it is I who am the thief. I do not own anything; rather, I am merely the steward of the government’s property If private actors take that property, it is legitimate for the government to go after them, since they are not the proper stewards of the government’s property. Given this assumption that we are really only ever the stewards of the government property, there is nothing untoward in the government keeping or demanding a portion of their own property for their own use. This stewardship is a contract, meaning the government cannot just do what it wants without courts being involved, but ultimately, the property is theirs.
Perhaps only libertarians consider your property to be, properly, your own. Everyone else, based on their support for the very existence of taxation, and because people do not like contradictions in their thinking when they’re pointed out, have the implicit assumption that it is the government who truly owns all property. In other words, there is no such thing as truly private property. There is only stewardship of government property with a certain degree of assumption of privacy to keep down government intrusion. Further, our economic transactions are but a shell game on top of the reality that everything is in fact owned by the government. In other words, our government in fact owns the means of production, meaning every CEO, business president, etc. is a steward of the government’s businesses (which can thus be regulated as the government wishes, seized when the government wishes, and bailed out when the government wishes). Our economy cannot be at all considered a free market system, but rather stewardship socialism. If ownership of the means of production is the definition of socialism, that’s what we have in the U.S. All that is ever under negotiation are the details of our stewardship contracts.
So let us stop calling the U.S. economy a free market. It is nowhere near a free market. It is a capitalistic stewardship socialist system. The government can allow you to be a steward of its property, or it cannot. It can take your property according to the contract it has with you, but it can change that contract almost at will. It can decide if you should continue being a steward or not, and in the latter case, if it finds gross negligence in your stewardship, you can be sent to prison. If we understand the economy as being stewardship socialism, practically everything our government does makes sense, and is perfectly legitimate. If, instead, we have a free market system, the government can never legitimately take your property or tell you what to do with your property (including your body, assuming self-ownership). Given the assumption by the vast majority that the government can in fact legitimately do these things, our system is not and should not be called a free market system. Let’s get our definitions straight.
The United States has a stewardship socialist economy. Now that you know, there’s no excuse in calling it anything else, other than to cynically mislead others.