This article is adapted from the opening remarks by Andrew Cooper at LibertyFest Brisbane 2019.
Taxation is theft. Who has heard of this term?
Those of you who read and think deeply about the writings of Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner or John Locke twill no doubt have a deeper understanding of these three simple words than I do but it is these words that are most responsible for my personal journey towards the liberty movement.
To get a grip on the idea that ‘taxation is theft’ we can use a popular thought experiment that some of you may have heard of and it goes something like this:
Imagine that you’re walking down a street in the evening and someone approaches you, pulls a gun out of their jacket and demands you hand over your cash or they shoot. Well, that’s robbery right?
Now, because it’s robbery, protecting your property by running away, hiding or threatening the robber is OK because it’s YOUR money and this clown is trying to steal it.
And how do we know it’s theft? Well it’s pretty obvious. There’s a threat and it’s backed by a gun. If you don’t hand over the cash, don’t run fast enough, don’t hide well enough… potential boom! On the other hand if someone asked for your money but didn’t threaten you with force then that’s begging. It’s not robbery if you give to the beggar, it’s robbery only if it’s taken from you by force.
Now, getting back to the robbers. Does it matter if, on another night, the robber returns with a bunch of mates who all approach and threaten you to cough up your cash and your iPhone, or else? It’s pretty much the same deal right? It’s still stealing. And now, because it’s a big gang you may not be able to outrun them all and return threats might get you bashed or killed. So you roll over don’t you? It’s logical really. What choice do you have? But it’s still theft! They’re still taking stuff from you and it’s not fair, but what choice do you have?
What if next time that gang was huge, I mean really, really big. What if the size of that gang was so big it made up, oh I don’t know, say 51% of the population? Now a gang of that size is, by definition, bigger than any other gang. And a gang that size needs a cool name. This gang happens to call itself The Majority.
The Majority is the biggest gang in town. When it comes to taking your money, how can you resist? The Majority make the rules, they create laws and regulations and they educate you to be ashamed of your preference to not be robbed.
The Majority is efficient at taking your money but not so efficient at using it, so The Majority gang needs more and more money. Like any shakedown crooks The Majority are insatiable. The Majority sets up a shakedown unit called the Tax Department to get more of your money in faster and faster. The Tax Department creates even more rules to make the shakedown easier.
Now, you may be thinking “isn’t taxation something that we’re happy to pay because it goes to a good cause, or because we have a ‘social contract’”? But are you voluntarily giving your money away like you would for a charity? Of course not.
This is how we know that taxation is actually theft.
Taxation is theft for one very obvious reason. You won’t voluntarily give your money to the Tax Department! You only do it because you’re dead scared that eventually a court sheriff with a gun will come around and drag you away. So you pay it.
Taxation is theft because it needs guns to work.
Whenever you hear politicians outlining new government programs, remember the money to pay for that is stolen using threats and eventually force with guns, real guns. The $130 million that went to the Clinton Foundation – theft. The thousand dollar baby bonus – theft. Overpriced submarine contracts – theft.
So, in my mind, there’s two important questions.
Firstly, under what circumstances can theft be justified? Under what circumstances are you prepared to use a gun to get money?
Will you use a gun to build a hospital? Well, no, because private businesses build hospitals all the time and they don’t need guns. Will you use a gun to build a school? Well maybe not because non-government businesses build schools all the time and they don’t need guns. This is the issue to ponder: what are the circumstances, the moral circumstances, in which you would use a gun to do something?
The second question is, because taxation is theft, the stealing of your property by others, a large gang called The Majority, can it be considered moral? Is theft moral and defensible? The answer to that may depend on your answers to the first question.
If taxation is theft and The Majority perpetrate a regular theft on you, is it not true that you have a moral right to protect yourself from that theft? Remember that earlier we agreed that resisting a mugger was OK. It’s OK to resist a gang of muggers, even a gang as powerful as The Majority.
Please note, I’m not saying you should resist The Majority. After all, that gang is massive and powerful and you might get hurt or locked away. All I’m doing is making the case that it is right and moral that a gang’s attempts to rob you be rightfully resisted.
Taxation is theft because it needs guns to work.
Liberty on the other hand, is the absence of constraints. It’s the absence of force. Liberty is moral because it does not rely on force.
That is why the concept of liberty is so important, to me and I hope to you.
Now I may not have convinced you that taxation is theft, but will you at least agree with me that it is a dangerous and disruptive idea?
Andrew Cooper is President of LibertyWorks and convenor of LibertyFest conferences.