Because I find it self-evident, it amazes me how hostile many are to the notion that taxation is theft, even approaching the issue defensively as if it were a personal attack. Frankly, as Dr. Jordan Peterson says, when discussing topics of significance, you have to risk being offensive, because if the issue truly matters, someone is going to be offended by it.
To approach issues of significance effectively, one must analyze objectively without ascribing emotional personality to the arguments, so let’s apply this method to the statement “Taxation is theft.”
Merriam-Webster defines theft as “(a) the act of stealing; specifically: the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it,” and, “(b) an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property.”
Simply put, theft is the removal of an individual’s property without their consent. That’s the key: consent. This is a comparison used by many libertarians: what is the difference between love-making and sexual assault? Consent. Similarly, what is the difference between the free gift of goods and theft? Consent. Taxation involves no consent; it’s the government taking a portion of your property, which is a direct violation of natural property rights. The sole purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people, and taxation is a violation of their rights; it’s the exact opposite of what government is supposed to do. Taxation is an inherently violent principle. It proposes that you either hand over a portion of your rightfully earned property, or you’re going to be thrown in a cage. Its existence is contrary to the “live and let live” fundamental of liberty.
I find the claim that “Taxation is the price we pay to live in a civilized society” particularly absurd because the truth is the direct antithesis. Taxation is the price we pay for not being civilized enough. We, as a society, have yet to thrive in developed communities without stealing from each other.
Many people uncomfortable with the proposition that taxation is theft respond to this argument by claiming that we need taxation because we have to fund the roads. I find this argument to be ridiculously fallacious, firstly, because it doesn’t negate the original statement. The definition of theft does not involve what the property, in this case, money, is used for by the thief after it is stolen. If I rob you of $100, and I donate that money to a local charity, I have still robbed you of $100. Secondly, this argument doesn’t hold up because only a fraction of tax dollars are used to fund infrastructure. The exact numbers vary from state to state, but with so many programs the government is funding, infrastructure tends to fall by the wayside. Thirdly, as a libertarian, I completely support the privatization of the roads. The free market, by its nature, produces higher quality products. The system that taxes the people to pay for the roads, not only involves theft, but results in inferior infrastructure.
Despite the Bible’s clarity that theft is wrong (Exodus 20:15), I’ve seen Christians defend it’s existence using Jesus’ quote in Matthew 22 saying, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This simplistic defense fails to consider historical or textual context, but a thorough analysis of this verse is a whole other conversation within itself. For the sake of argument, let’s take it at face value. Even so, Jesus is simply saying that a Christian should pay taxes if the government is demanding it of them. This teaching is consistent with that of Romans 13 which says that Christians should be subject to their governing authorities. Jesus’ quote in Matthew 22 holds no commentary on the system of taxation, it simply orders Christians to pay taxes should the government require it. Claiming that this verse justifies taxation is the equivalent of claiming that Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5 to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute you justify slapping someone on the cheek and persecution. Matthew 22:21 commands Christians concerning how they should respond to taxation: they should pay their taxes, but it bears no commentary on whether taxation is justified.
Another argument proposed by some, even Christians, is the idea that taxation is justified because of the benefits given to the elderly, the disabled, low-income families and individuals, etc. The libertarian response to this is simple: voluntarism. Voluntarism is a central pillar of Libertarianism: the idea that you should take care of the poor out of your own free will, not by stealing from others. Libertarianism doesn’t say that the poor will receive no assistance. It says that the poor will receive assistance from people because they choose to be generous, not because the government stole money from someone else. Not to mention the fact that redistributionist policies and the welfare state are extremely harmful to individuals and society as a whole. It amazes me when Christians present this argument because it contradicts the teachings of Christ. The Bible is extremely supportive of voluntarism as it strongly promotes free-will generosity and condemns theft. (Proverbs 22:9, Matthew 5:42, Luke 3:10-11, Ephesians 4:28, Hebrews 13:16)
Theft is the act of taking an individual’s property without their consent. Taxation requires no consent of the individual. It doesn’t matter what you think should be funded using tax dollars, as the free market and voluntarism would be more effective and more ethical. As a Christian, the Bible teaches that I should respect the governing authorities and pay my taxes, but this does not justify taxation. Scripture strongly supports voluntarism and generosity, while condemning the sin of theft. Taxation is theft. It is an immoral act, and should therefore be opposed by anyone who respects the sovereign rights of the individual.