Taxation is a form of expropriation. Libertarians like to say it is theft.
I have been pretty iffy about that statement. Taxation is an odd form of theft, if it be theft indeed, in that it is not mere confiscation, not ad hoc or makeshift, and is almost always announced in advance. Taxation is expropriation by the state according to some rate or rule. And the fact that it is widely considered just or necessary seems to have some bearing on the advisability (or accuracy) of the “theft” charge.
My “iffiness” was perhaps most forcefully expressed on my old blog:
Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.
Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.
To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment’s notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.
So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.
Well, not all, since libertarians do support some forms of expropriation. They have no trouble expropriating the loot of thieves from thieves, after court adjudication. And they have no trouble expropriating from a person found liable, in court, to a tort claim.
They just don’t support taxation.
My Contention: The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as “taxation is theft” do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.
Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I’m not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.
They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.
This is one reason why I choose my words more carefully — or at least differently — than radical libertarians. I wish to address normal folk in normal language. I believe it is incumbent upon me to make every step towards a revolutionary mindset clear. I wish to pull no wool over any eye. I believe we have to approach greater liberty with complete honesty. No rhetorical trickery.
And I regard slogans such as “taxation is theft” as something close to rhetorical trickery.
Whatever else we may say of it, however, taxation cannot be univocally defined as a good thing. Every tax taken diminishes the wealth and wherewith of the mark, er, taxpayer.
So, two things are obvious:
1. we have, other things being equal, good reasons to wish to diminish taxation as much as possible; and
2. we should inquire deeply into the proposals of those who suggest, or insist, that we reconstruct society to provide the necessities of civilization without the inconvenience and horrendous burden (not to mention moral horror) of taxation.
But we see a lot of pushback against the idea of low-tax or no-tax society.
Unfortunately, most of this online discussion is witless. I argue against one typical instance here:
NOTE: In this video, I mistakenly refer to Peter T. Leeson as “Peter Levin”; sorry, Professor Leeson.
I greatly enjoyed Leeson’s book on pirates. Getting his name wrong is unfortunate. (Leeson is Professor of Economics and BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at George Mason University.) His book, in the image at top, is required reading on the subject of a tax-free society that still can sport an industrial, market order.
Related to the issue at hand, but on a more subtle level, is the Hume essay I wrote a foreword to, for Laissez Faire Books. It can be found on Amazon as a Kindle book, or on iBooks, or on LFB.org. From the same publisher, I also recommend the fascinating Instead of a Book. A great book, despite the name. And, unlike my video, but like most of the books shown at top (all recommended), that book does not eschew the “A word,” anarchy.
More on that, anon.