Voluntaryism: Taxation = Theft , Govt = Slavery , Voting = Violence

grarpamp grarpamp at gmail.com
Fri Sep 23 19:47:52 PDT 2022


Some people say that taxation is theft. What do you think about that idea?

I disagree with it.

man and woman arguing [1]

Great! I'm a bot made especially for people who disagree that taxation is
theft. I'll be answering from a libertarian perspective.

You'll be finished in about five minutes. Even if you don't end up
changing your mind, this simulated conversation might be useful for
increasing clarity about your own political views.

What do you think theft means?

Theft is taking something without the owner's consent.

Yes, I agree. Here's another question about property to make sure our
intuitions are the same before we go on.

palm tree [2]

Imagine you get stranded on a remote island. No one else is there. You
gather a supply of food and store it under a shelter that you built. Later
on, another person arrives on the island. Do you consider yourself the
owner of the food you have gathered?

Yes, I feel as though the food I stored is my property.

Good. It looks like we agree so far that property and theft are concepts
that are meaningful even without a state or legal system.

Extortion is a form of theft in which the thief uses the threat of force
to take the victim's property. Libertarians believe taxation is theft, and
more specifically extortion.

bars [3]

Here's Micheal Huemer [4] explaining how libertarians see taxation.

When the government "taxes" citizens, what this means is that the
government demands money from each citizen, under a threat of force: if
you do not pay, armed agents hired by the government will take you away
and lock you in a cage. This looks like about as clear a case as any of
taking people's property without consent.

So with the phrase 'Taxation is theft', what's the most important mistake
you think libertarians are making?

Without taxation the government couldn't exist.

Government, as we know it, wouldn't exist without taxation. But this
doesn't have any bearing on whether or not taxation is theft.

Yes, alright, but it seems like an important thing to keep in mind.

Is there some other mistake you think libertarians make when they say that
taxation is theft?

The citizens have agreed to be taxed.

How has this agreement been established?

Most of us pay taxes willingly. If something is given willingly, it can't
be theft.

It's hard to know how many willingly pay taxes because the government
enforces unpleasant penalties on those who don't cooperate, ultimately
including violence or imprisonment.

donations [5]

Perhaps you would voluntarily pay even if you knew you could safely
refuse. Let's imagine that many people felt the same way, and that for
this majority the threats of violence the government maintains were
redundant. Even so, many others would not pay under those circumstances.
At least by this group of people the funds are not given willingly.

Is there any other reason to suppose that citizens willingly pay taxes?

Citizens democratically elect political representatives who run tax

ballots [6]

There are a few problems here. Voting for a political party is not the
same as consenting to the rules that party imposes once in power. For
instance a vote may be cast as a defensive move to try to prevent the
'greater evil' from gaining power. Even the winners of voting contests do
not have the endorsement of the entire population - most often the
population who voted for the winner is a minority.

So the idea that 'the people' elect the ones who end up in power obscures
the reality that at very best, a numerical majority voted for them.
Libertarians believe that the results of elections cannot establish that
the citizens have agreed to be taxed - since even in the best case some
minority do not agree.

Is there any other reason to suppose that citizens willingly pay taxes?

By living in a country you implicitly agree to abide by the rules of the
state, including taxation.

This reply assumes that the state is the rightful owner of the land.
Since, if the state was not the owner, it would have no right to impose
conditions on anyone staying on that land. Just like I don't have the
right to impose conditions on you if you continue to live in your house.

On a libertarian view the state is not the owner of the land. Libertarians
believe that you can come to be the owner of a thing either by being the
first to put it to use (homesteading [7] or original appropriation of an
unowned thing) or voluntary transfer from a previous owner.

M16 [8]

The state's control of the land depends on conquest and threats of force.
Its claim is not grounded in a chain of voluntary transfers and original
homesteading. So on this view the state cannot be the legitimate owner of
the land.

I see.

Is there any other reason to suppose that citizens willingly pay taxes?

The citizens have the right to overthrow a government that doesn't
represent them. As long as revolution isn't happening, the citizens must
consider the government legitimate.

A popular revolt might be good evidence of the illegitimacy of government,
but the lack of such a revolt can't establish the legitimacy of the

Although a joint effort by a large part of the population may be enough to
topple a government, such an undertaking is risky, especially in light of
what we've learned about the surveillance practices of modern states.
Unless many people revolt spontaneously and simultaneously, the few who
try to initiate such a change can expect to be targeted and to experience
unpleasant treatment at the hands of the state.

aeroplane [9]

Here's an analogy. Even though none of the hostages on the aeroplane is
trying to overpower the gunman, that isn't enough to conclude they're all
comfortable with the situation. The people wanting to change the balance
of power are worried about what may happen to them if they attempt to
assert their will unsuccessfully.

Another problem is that opinions about the legitimacy of government differ
among the citizens. The number of people who oppose the government may be
too small to overthrow it even if they did all act together. In this case
the risks of attempting revolution are much greater. Reluctance to
endanger yourself in a risky rebellion isn't the same as consent to being

Is there some other mistake you think libertarians make when they say that
taxation is theft?

Taxation isn't theft, it's a fee for all the services that government

coins [10]

The state does provide services that many people value and are happy to
have carried out. But libertarians object that, unlike a normal purchase,
these services were never requested. And not everyone who is made to pay
for the services wanted the state to carry them out.

bomb [11]

As well as services that most feel positively about, the state also
carries out tax-funded operations that are much less popular, and very
expensive. Like participating in the bombing of citizens in foreign
countries. Not only is this activity unrequested by most, it's an activity
that a great many oppose and yet are compelled to pay for all the same.

We would condemn a private business if it operated this way - imposing
unwanted 'services' on unwilling clients and then demanding payment. We
would not consider the demands for payment that it made against these
'customers' a legitimate fee. So whether or not you are happy to pay taxes
yourself, taxes cannot correctly be described as a fee for services
rendered by the state.

Is there some other mistake you think libertarians make when they say that
taxation is theft?

We are the government, so payments to the government can't be theft

Here's how Murray Rothbard explained the problem with the idea that we are
the government in his book Anatomy of the State [12].

The government does not, in any accurate sense, "represent" the majority
of the people. But, even if it did, even if 70 percent of the people
decided to murder the remaining 30 percent, this would still be murder
and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered

Is there some other mistake you think libertarians make when they say that
taxation is theft?

Without taxation how could we fund the public services that society needs?

Libertarian thinkers have given accounts of how services like law [13],
roads [14], and national defense [15] could be efficiently provided by
private businesses.

coins [16]

But even if life without taxation would mean that we'd have to do without
all the services currently provided by the state, this wouldn't help to
answer the question of whether or not taxation is theft. It could be the
case that taxation is theft and we'd be worse off without it.

Have your own views on the claim that taxation is theft changed at all?

Maybe. I need more time to think about it.

Of course.

reading [17]

If you'd like to investigate further here's [18] a page with links to
resources that you might find useful or interesting.

Thanks for taking a look at this resource. If you like, you can support my
work at patreon.com/tomaszkaye [19].


4. https://www.libertarianism.org/columns/is-taxation-theft
7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead_principle
12. https://mises.org/library/anatomy-state
13. http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Law_as_a_private_good/Law_as_a_private_good.html
14. https://mises.org/library/privatization-roads-and-highways
15. https://attackthesystem.com/national-defense-and-foreign-policy/
18. https://exploreistaxationtheft.com/links.php
19. http://patreon.com/tomaszkaye

Explore - Is taxation theft? Links


[1] The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism
[2] Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections
[3] But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?
[4] Mises Institute


[5] The Machinery of Freedom
[6] The Problem of Political Authority
[7] A Spontaneous Order

Audio / Visual

[8] George Ought to Help
[9] You Can Always Leave
[10] The Machinery of Freedom: Illustrated Summary
[11] Anarcho-capitalism
[12] The Tom Woods Show


[13] Reddit /r/Anarcho_Capitalism
[14] Reddit /r/GoldandBlack
[15] Liberty.me


1. https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block26.html
2. https://mises.org/sites/default/files/longanarchism.pdf
3. https://mises.org/library/wouldnt-warlords-take-over
4. https://mises.org/
5. http://www.daviddfriedman.com/The_Machinery_of_Freedom_.pdf
6. https://www.amazon.com/Problem-Political-Authority-Examination-Coerce/dp/1137281650
7. https://www.amazon.com/Spontaneous-Order-Capitalist-Stateless-Society/dp/1512117277
8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGMQZEIXBMs
9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fasTSY-dB-s
10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTYkdEU_B4o
11. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAFF05CF660EE27F6
12. http://tomwoods.com/podcasts/
13. https://www.reddit.com/r/Anarcho_Capitalism/
14. https://www.reddit.com/r/GoldandBlack/
15. https://liberty.me/

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