Taxation is not stealing

| April 24, 2009 | 21 Replies

It’s amazing to me that we need to spend so much of our time dealing with arguments that have no factual or rational basis.   These distractions lessen the time available for developing any positive agenda (trying to reduce human suffering, preserve the planet, systematically explore nature, including human animals).1040-tax-form-lo-lo-res

At Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse spend some time attacking an idea commonly expressed at the FOX sponsored teabagger parties: that taxation is essentially the government stealing your money.   As usual, Ebonmuse clearly sets out the argument, then demolishes it.  Here’s an excerpt, but I highly recommend visiting his site and reading the whole thing:

Libertarians say that taxation is like theft because it takes property from the unwilling. What they ignore, time and time again, is the crucial role of democratic consent. Taxes are not arbitrary impositions decreed by a faceless government. Rather, taxes are the dues we pay in exchange for membership in a society and access to all the services it offers.

The situation can be compared to a private club that charges a membership fee in exchange for providing benefits and amenities to its members. Obviously, the club is within its rights to charge whatever price it believes fair in exchange for this. If you believe the price is too high, you’re free to renounce your membership and leave the club. What you’re not free to do is to refuse to pay, but demand that you still be allowed to sit in the club and use its facilities.

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Category: Economy, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (21)

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  1. Rabel says:

    I agree with comment(Cerus) #4:

    "When there is better accountability in government for bad/corrupt fiscal policy, I will stop considering these programs (rather, the tax increases that fund them) to be theft."

    "I'm not an evil person, I'm not excessively selfish, if I could get a guarantee that 90+% of the taxes I paid were being used as efficiently as possible for truly humanitarian or utilitarian aims rather than to further some politicians power agenda, I would give gladly. I'm unfortunately fairly certain that my guarantee will never come without some serious political reform."

    What selfless act I can do for my country is? Pay into social security (which I have for 27yrs.), but I'll waive my government pay in lieu of complete abolishment of the "income tax". Demographically speaking, there is not enough workers to pay for retirement.

    Unless jobs come back to the U.S., we will have to fend for our own families, plain and simple.

    Please support HR1207: Auditing the Federal Reserve. Contact your Representative, because there needs to be responsibilty to the folks who determine what you buy, borrow and save.

    Rabel

  2. Dan says:

    There are some problems with the thinking though.

    1. What happens when the money taxed is spent on stupid things like for example the Iraq War? If I don't support the killing of people in the middle east and don't pay the tax, some officials come to my door and will eventually arrest me if I refuse.

    2. Why not go with voluntary taxation for services rendered? If I drive on roads and want my kids in school and enjoy the services, I'll gladly pay those taxes as I'm directly using those. But other things that I don't want to support, I don't have a choice. I would like a system where you could pay for things that you do use while not having to pay for things you don't. Obviously this has some 'murkiness' to it when it comes to social programs but there are ways of rendering the problem without being total jerks to the poor and allowing options for those who want choice.

    3. When did someone actually agree to pay these taxes or 'join' society in the first place? It's an assumed reality that someone wanted all these services and wanted a government over them. No one signed up. Many of these decisions were made before they were born and in some senses before their parents were born. So how can you not argue that it's just a "mob rule" mentality when you say, people at one point in time had a majority and they will force you to submit no matter if you had a vote in the matter or not?

  3. Jay Fraz says:

    I prefer the opposite argument. Property is theft.

  4. I like Dan's second recommendation. I've thought for years there should be a way to check off on your tax returns just what you want your money to go to.

    Now, I like this in a perverse way—because I think it would be a disaster, but one that would be instructive. If we ran the country's finances that way for four years, things would quickly become a mess. We could then see clearly why things are done the way they are done. We could then dispense with this silly argument.

    As to the broader point of not supporting certain things, well the same thing could be done—we already have conscientious objector status for people unwilling to serve in the military, we should have it with taxation. Opting out of direct fiscal support would be a good way to count popular sentiment.

    But the larger point is, everyone has something they don't want to spend money on—and, more, things we would really like to spend money on that most of the rest of the country thinks unnecessary. I'd like to see NASA's budget quintupled. It doesn't work that way.

    I see taxes as rent. We pay taxes for services, for maintaining the building, for living here. Rent. As renters we have a say in what the landlord does with the place, but not an absolute say. Because we're also the landlords.

    Imperfect? Yeah.

  5. Jay,

    Then we are all thieves and therefore that is the consensus. We should take that as a given and find ways to live better within it.

  6. Dave Jenkins says:

    Dan, what would be so "silly" about letting people allocate their taxes where they want them to go? I've been advocating exactly that for 20 years.

    If I made $100K, I would owe about $25K in federal taxes. There's no getting out of these taxes, but I could decide where they go: $5K for defense, $10K for the national parks, and $10K for NASA, because that's how I roll. My neighbor would give her $25K to the dept of education, PBS, and the DOT.

    Departments would have to market; they would need to show me why we need 10 new stealth bombers or a new freeway or whatever. If they make their case, they get my investment. Lobbyists would become marketing agencies.

    Pretty soon, the farmers that scream for corn subsidies every year would realize they're the only ones giving money to the Dept of Agriculture, but for every $25K they send to Washington, only $22K is coming back (the other $3K was lost in bureaucratic overhead). Voila! The corn farmers would form collectives to pool their monies for price supports completely independent of the government.

    I have a feeling our budget would get in line very, very quickly.

  7. Jay Fraz says:

    Yes, wouldn't be great if we voted where our tax dollars went? It is not like one department can PR their way to convincing you that they are better than another.

  8. Dave says:

    Jay,

    Your mention of the PR was likely said with some sarcasm, but that's actually what I would hope for: each dept having to PR and market their case on the good they are providing me, the customer. I want the DOT to show me reductions in accidents and commute times. I want the DOD to give a reasonable explanation why that 11th aircraft carrier is a better use of money compared to getting 100 more unmanned drones. I want the Dept of Edumacation to show how they are raising textbook standards in Math and Science, or are promoting free access to university-grade texts…

    Those same depts are already doing these PR and marketing activities, but they are aimed at 95 old men and 5 women in the US Senate, who are far too overworked, easily bribed, and usually confused about the tubes.

    Opening the tax budget to assignable allocation would be the ultimate act of transparency. To be honest, it doesn't even have to be 100% of the income tax– we could try 80-20: just give us 20% allocation, and watch how things will get cleaned up.

  9. ragnar_rahl says:

    "Democratic consent?" A vote makes it not theft?

    If there are three men in my house, and I am but 1, does the fact that they put it to a vote clear it of burglary?

    There is no we. There is you and there is I.

    And no, I am not at present free to renounce my membership. People try that every once in a while. Doesn't take long for the government to track them down if they have any sort of success afterwards.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      ragnar: In your example, does the "victim" turn down the benefits he is offered as a result of the taxation? I find your example interesting, but not entirely analogous. When people are victims of stealing, they receive no benefits from the thieves. When people are taxed unwillingly, they usually get significant benefits.

  10. Jay Fraz says:

    ragnar : As long as you don't insist that your "property" be protected by the police, military or fellow citizens feel free to cry about taxation being theft. Of course good luck defending your "property".

    ANYONE can leave and renounce their citizenship btw, to insist otherwise is ignorant. Of course the people who the government tracks down are those who used this countries property rights to obtain their wealth and felt they owed nothing for it. Of course if you really wanna leave for those reasons go for it.

    These guys did, you'd probably like these guys.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Minerva

  11. ragnar,

    In principle I hear what you're saying, but frankly it's bullshit. Taxation is rent. You live in a community that must support itself. If you make a living—that is, make money to have nice things—you make use of the intellectual and material infrastructure the community provides in order to do that. It needs paying for. You don't want to pay taxes? Simple. Don't make any money.

    Oh, I guess that would mean you'd either be homeless or go on welfare…the latter of which is paid for by taxes.

  12. Sarah Connor says:

    I've got alot of problems with folks who think that wealth and/or income ought to be redistributed.

    While wealth may lead to power, power can achieved without wealth. Obama would not be president if that were not the case; nor would Bill Gates, Oprah, or Martha Stewart be powerful. They are self-made.

    A corporation can be very, very powerful. So can ACORN, AARP, or a labor union.

    Some folks don't have wealth because they don't work, don't save, or don't do either, but they can achieve power through membership in political interest groups or through affirmative action or by sheer effort. Others have jack shit in terms of power or potential, but they have access to public education (which is in need of improvement) and a whole range of social programs, so it isn't like nothing is being done. Opportunity is provided. Those who don't want to work need only feign a disablity and they'll be taken care of; it is too costly to discourage that behavior and society has come to accept it.

    People who pay a certain percentage of income in taxes toward the common good figure that is what they should do, the government should use the money wisely, and after that the people should be left the hell alone to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

    Shifting stuff around–wealth or income–without a corresponding contribution of effort, discourages personal responsibilty.

    All of this guilt and shame is a big shake down. Why is it morally wrong to sock money away for one's own needs–college tuition and nursing home expenses, for example? Why is it morally acceptable to fail to educate oneself, blow money on consumer goods, and then complain of a lack of power or money?

    Is having a net worth of more than $x dollars morally wrong? Should society start outing people and calling upon them to take the oath of not quite poverty–the amount of money or weath it is okay to have without violating some godless code of humanity?

    The government will always accept contributions. How many progressives pay extra taxes on a voluntary basis? How is failing to do so morally defensible?

  13. Jay Fraz says:

    [quote]Shifting stuff around–wealth or income–without a corresponding contribution of effort, discourages personal responsibilty.[/quote]

    One's wealth does not reflect one's contribution. Just because a heroine dealer makes more money than a doctor does not mean they have added more VALUE to society. Money does not equal VALUE. We could all go around smashing up windows, it would drive up the GDP but would add no VALUE. "Personal responsibility" is the first shield of economic ignorance.

    “I love it when I’m around the country club, and I hear people talking about the debilitating effects of a welfare society,” he said. “At the same time, they leave their kids a lifetime and beyond of food stamps. Instead of having a welfare officer, they have a trust officer. And instead of food stamps, they have stocks and bonds.”

    -Warren Buffett

    “If class warfare is being waged in America,” he wrote, “my class is clearly winning.”

    -Warren Buffett

    If you want to see the economy of "personal responsibility" in action their are plenty of them, we call them 3rd world countries, strange how they never seem to catch up. No regulation, no government interference, none of our business leaders are moving to them though they BS endlessly about how that is the right kind of economy. Everyone seems to forget that all these wholesale government supplied programs were what gave us our competitive economic edge. The government created the internet, the interstate road system and the power grid that gave us a massive comparative advantage over countries not willing to invest in their citizen. Now people don't believe citizens other than themselves are worth investing in despite receiving all the benefits of the last generation investing in them.

    Funny, people used to say they owe it all to AMERICA, now we hear, "All of this guilt and shame is a big shake down. " and murmurs of how useless the greatest country with the greatest democracy with the greatest accomplishments has become too expensive.

    The statue of liberty has changed. It used to represent DEMOCRACY, some people forgot this, then they got the idea that the most important opportunity was to take lady liberty and pimp her out, that they called "freedom".

    America, was once the Ferarri of countries, but we got cheap and apathetic, that is the problem. Instead of crying about broad terms we need to get nerdy, break out the numbers, and really look at what is going on, and if we can talk about those numbers WITHOUT referencing a think tank(IE CATO, AEI, CEI, Manhatten Inst. etc.), we might actually get somewhere.

  14. Sarah Connor writes:—"I’ve got alot of problems with folks who think that wealth and/or income ought to be redistributed."

    I find it interesting that no one has a problem with redistribution of wealth when it goes the other way—from the community at large to wealthy individuals or corporations. For instance, the huge pay-day KBR got out of the Iraq War through unnegotiated, bid free contracts.

    also:—"Those who don’t want to work need only feign a disablity and they’ll be taken care of; it is too costly to discourage that behavior and society has come to accept it."

    That's a stereotype. It's not that such people do not exist, but it's a tired old bit of nonsense that you can paint the whole group that way or even the majority.

    and:—"Why is it morally wrong to sock money away for one’s own needs–college tuition and nursing home expenses, for example?"

    We aren't talking about money for personal wants or needs, we're talking about wealth used to maintain a power balance. I personally could care less how much Bill Gates is worth as an individual—that's his, fine. But I have a huge problem with MicroSoft using its wealth and influence to manipulate the so-called "free market" to undercut competitors and secure the flow of capital out of one pot and into theirs. It is the fact of this enormous market manipulation that is at issue, not the accrual of personal wealth.

    —"Why is it morally acceptable to fail to educate oneself, blow money on consumer goods, and then complain of a lack of power or money?"

    It is not and no one says it is. But you would have to accept that you alone have the say in how many resources you are able to take advantage and that you can act accordingly without someone else undercutting your efforts.

    More importantly, you have to accept that what is going on is entirely a matter of personal choice. It's not. It's community choice, it's disempowerment, it's systemic manipulation by those in positions to conduct such manipulations.

    Finally—"Is having a net worth of more than $x dollars morally wrong? Should society start outing people and calling upon them to take the oath of not quite poverty–the amount of money or weath it is okay to have without violating some godless code of humanity?"

    Of course not. If the issue were only one of personal wealth, there would be no argument.

    But when the issue is one of maintaining a system whereby the control of capital—which is the real issue—is based on guaranteeing social inequities so that there is maintained a constant poor class that grows and shrinks according to inflation and other metrics, then we have to start asking serious ethical questions. The destruction of the small independent farmer, for instance, has led to a circumstance where Big Agriculture is able to dictate costs and distribution and use its influence to accrue more arable land, which displaces marginal farmers (who are working their butts off to keep their land) and makes it even harder for moderately sustainable independents to survive. This has nothing to do with personal wealth on either end. It has to do with power and control and money is just the way the score is kept.

    It is important that we stop looking at this issue in terms of classic American entrepreneurship and the dream of individual security. The money is not the issue. The distribution of it is, but not the way you seem to think it is.

  15. Erich Vieth says:

    Mark: I agree with the points you made here.

    Sarah: Are you NEVER your brother's keeper? Is it every person for himself (or herself)? Is there NO ROLE for governments to make sure that the playing field isn't unfairly tipped?

    I think of distribution of wealth as having an optimal point and two entirely unacceptable endpoints. One endpoint requires that you can never consider any of your money to be you own. The collective swoops in and takes it all away and you have no incentive to work hard.

    The other endpoint is dog eat dog. It's a world where some kid born into brutal poverty is told that it's all his fault. Screw him! He should have been born into a family like Erich's or Sarah's, where he would have been raised better. It's also a world where nothing stops large corporations from stifling competition because they've paid big money to usurp democracy, where desperate jobless people wander the streets begging, where mortgage companies screw people out of their homes and where some people nonetheless say "Isn't capitalism beautiful?" Under this dog-eat-dog scenario, how would you have fared? You know, you might have become a slave in someone's factory.

    My point is that there is an optimal balance. We ought to be working hard to find that balance rather than preaching the merits of either of the two hideous endpoints.

  16. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    "Redistribution of the Wealth"

    That's one Baddazz Bolshoi phrase that is usually used to mean "The rich giving back to the poor, many of whom were exploited by the rich in order to get richer"

    Lets look at how the wealth is redistributed.

    A lot of social security money goes to people with disabilities, as well as retirees. The social security Fund is sinking and while conservatives point and say "There's your proof!", but here is something you don't think about: The social security tax has a cut off at a little over $100,000 of income.

    So if you make less than $100,000 per year, you pay social security tax on all your income. If you make $500,000, one fifth of your income is taxed for social security. And if you are one of these CEOs with a two million dollar salary, you pay all your social security tax in January.

    The government uses a lot of tax money for various grants to aid the poor, to improve roads and to help college students.

    But they also bestow grants for research that benefits the corporations. Only 17 percent of new drug research in conducted by the Pharma companies, the rest is paid for by tax dollars, however, corporate accounting practices have become so shady that many of these corporation pay no taxes. Even with Billion dollar revenues show profit margins of under 5 percent.

    Meanwhile those of us at the median income levels don't make enough money in a year to benefit from any of the deductions other than the standard one.

    BTW, government grants have funded the development of automotive technology, manufacturing technology, and information technology that has made a few people wealthy enough that they don't have to pay taxes .

    And then there's Walmart. Walmart is very adept in the fine arts of manipulation the government to save money for Walmart. The negotiate tax breaks for new stores, employ most of their workers part time so the don't have to provide benefits for the workers.

    And who out there thinks of the bank bailout when they say "Redistributing the Wealth"?

  17. Anarkisti says:

    This is so inane I don't even know how to respond to it other than to print it out and burn it.

    1) 'Society' does not exist as anything other than a description of the cooperative efforts that exist between various individuals.

    2) Government is not society.

    3) Government is not voluntary, has no claim on the lands in its arbitrary 'jurisdiction', never arose as a voluntary compact and still is not a voluntary compact.

    Whether or not you want to admit that taxes are theft I don't care, but the fact that you compare them to club dues is absolutely inane. I can't believe I've managed to find something so stupid, even on the internet.

  18. TheThinkingMan says:

    Anarkisti,

    1. Where in this post or on DA was it mentioned that Society is anything but what you just described it to be? Since there is no place, let me define your point more succinctly: society is indeed the cooperative efforts of individuals. What you fail to remember is that members of society follow "norms," and have established principles by which the members of society are to adhere. As such, every individual in a society must contribute in some manner. Taxation is the manner by which this society has decided its members should contribute. I think, ultimately, your failure to understand the context of this entire post resides with your failure to understand exactly those descriptive qualities of "society."

    2.Government is not society. Also true. Once again, I fail to see where you read anyone make the opposing claim anywhere on this or DA. Also, again, allow me to clarify by defining Government as the force by which society has chosen to carry out and enforce its norms, organize its people and protect its resources. Every society HAS a government. Everywhere.

    3. As government is established by the members of the society, its actions are not voluntary. However, it is the members of the society that control the actions of the government, which in turn affects the people in the society under which the government has been established. Though government, in its own right, has no claim to anything, the people that make up the society and its government have rights and claims and therefore affect their ideals, through their government, onto said intellectual or physical properties.

    Perhaps your understanding of the analogy is limited, but that is not to say that you are inept. You may disagree with the ideals, but that does not make them inane. Quite the contrary.

    To compare taxation to dues is not necessarily the best analogy, considering that a "club" does not usually operate in a democratic manner and a government should not be given ultimate and final power to "change, alter, or add" dues where it sees fit.

    However, it is true that these dues will indeed change through necessity. However, they change through the education and involvement of the individuals of the society. The dues that its members pay should therefore be put to the best use that the society deems. Thus the point of a democratic republic.

  19. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Anarkisti,

    What kind of drugs are your friends slipping into your tea?

    "1) ‘Society’ does not exist as anything other than a description of the cooperative efforts that exist between various individuals."

    Not even close. Humans are social critters. By that I mean we form groups with common goals. These groups takes on an aggregate personality that is distinctly different while still reflective of the members of the group. In order to coordinate the "cooperative efforts"

    within these social groups, leadership arises from within the group. In a very broad sense leadership is government.

    "2) Government is not society."

    —BZZZZZZZ—- WONG answer!!!

    Government is a functional requirement of society. It that which set society apart from a riotous mob. It is also a sub-society within a greater society with it's own internal sub government.

    "3) Government is not voluntary, has no claim on the lands in its arbitrary ‘jurisdiction’, never arose as a voluntary compact and still is not a voluntary compact."

    Wrong again.

    Government is entirely voluntary.Government set and enforces the rules of the society. There are dissidents in every society, who often seek personal advantage for themselves by ignoring the rules in part or in the entirety. you always have a choice. You could leave the country for another which suits you better, you can choose to ignore the law on the chance that the gains may be better than the punishments when caught, you can abide by the rules while working within the to change it or you can choose to overthrow the government and replace it with the government of you choice.

  20. Anarkisti,

    Wow, don't know where to start. Maybe at the top.

    Society is a description of the confluence of interaction across a broad range of people. Naturally, this includes certain elements best described as "corporate" but to limit it to that is like saying the religion is only people going to a building to sing hymns and mouth aphorisms. Society is an emergent property of people being together.

    No government is not society, but it is part of it, the same way that commerce is part of it, that agriculture is part of it, that architecture is part of it. The larger the society the more potential for chaos and disruption in the absence of agreed-upon standards, i.e. Law, and once you have that as an established principle, government follows. This has nothing to do with how good or bad the government is, just where it comes from, so trying to tease them apart is impossible and asserting it this way is imperceptive at best.

    Given the previous two, you are completely wrong about that except in the sense that people got together and had a debate on whether or not they would have a government. That didn't happen, true. Instead we have continual debates on what government will look like (a revolution is a particularly forceful argument in said debate) but, like air, you have government as an inevitable expression of people doing things in a group. So while it may not be voluntary in the sense you're asserting, it is not imposed, either. Only the form is imposed, not the fact of its existence. Governmental forms ARE (or can be) voluntary compacts. If you weren't taking part in that discussion and don't like the results, start a new discussion, but don't assume you can simply dispense with government.

    Club dues is a bit facile and "cute", you're right, but taxes are the rent we pay for taking advantage of the infrastructure of where we live. You like to eat regularly? Be reasonably safe from diseases (mainly those spread by bad hygeine)? You want to be free to interact with others without having to deal with uncontrolled and wanton pillage? Do you like to read and have available to you things to read? You prefer to dress in cotton, wool, synthetics that are at least somewhat tailored instead of fig leaves and animal skins you have to stitch together yourself? Do you like the possibility of living a life more meaningful than working 15 hours a day just to eat and stay warm?

    Your taxes buy you that. You would probably like to assume you do all that on your own, strictly by the sweat of your brow, but for all those things to be available for that sweat to have any meaning there must be a society and that requires upkeep. Taxes.

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