Taxation as theft

Loot and Extortion. Statues at Trago Mills (near Liskeard, Cornwall), poking fun at the UK Inland Revenue Service.

The idea of taxation as theft is a viewpoint found in a number of political philosophies. Under this view, government transgresses property rights by enforcing compulsory tax collection.[1][2] Voluntaryists, anarcho-capitalists, as well as objectivists and most minarchists see taxation as a clear violation of the non-aggression principle.[3]


Murray Rothbard argued in The Ethics of Liberty in 1982 that taxation is theft and that tax resistance is therefore legitimate: "Just as no one is morally required to answer a robber truthfully when he asks if there are any valuables in one's house, so no one can be morally required to answer truthfully similar questions asked by the State, e.g., when filling out income tax returns."[4][5]

Supporters of taxation usually assert that no such violation of rights is taking place. Supporters argue that "theft" must be considered in the context of the system of government in place. One justification of taxation is contained in social contracts.[6] The general view is that taxation is required to fund basic provisions that provide for infrastructure and enhance economic growth (i.e. law and order, transport/telecom/energy services). However, this view has been criticized by Lysander Spooner, a 19th-century lawyer and political philosopher, who argued in his essay No Treason that a supposed social contract cannot be used to justify governmental actions such as taxation, because government will initiate force against anyone who does not wish to enter into such a contract.

No open, avowed, or responsible association, or body of men, can say this to him; because there is no such association or body of men in existence. If any one should assert that there is such an association, let him prove, if he can, who compose it. Let him produce, if he can, any open, written, or other authentic contract, signed or agreed to by these men; forming themselves into an association; making themselves known as such to the world; appointing him as their agent; and making themselves individually, or as an association, responsible for his acts, done by their authority. Until all this can be shown, no one can say that, in any legitimate sense, there is any such association; or that he is their agent; or that he ever gave his oath to them; or ever pledged his faith to them.[7][8]

In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke takes the position that government authority arises from the consent of the governed, and not through the accidental birth of rulers. L.K. Samuels asserts in his "Rulers' Paradox" that since the citizenry is the holder of all rights, governmental bodies derive their authority to govern society via elections of government officials. In that vein, Samuels maintains that citizens can only give rights which they have. The Rulers' Paradox comes into play when governmental bodies exercise rights that the citizens do not hold or could not hold. According to Samuels: "If ordinary citizens could assassinate, steal, imprison, torture, kidnap, and wiretap without incrimination, that authority could be transferred to government for its democratic arsenal of policymaking weaponry."[9] Taxation could be viewed as theft since, according to Lockean natural rights doctrine, government authority must obtain their rights from the citizenry.

Some economists claim taxation is forced wealth distribution very similar to theft and, like crime, has a major negative impact on a country's GDP.[10][11] Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, stated "Government income redistribution programs produce the same result as theft. In fact, that's what a thief does; he redistributes income. The difference between government and thievery is mostly a matter of legality."[11]

In their 2002 book, The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel argue that taxation is legitimate.

...the emphasis on distributing the tax burden relative to pretax income is a fundamental mistake. Taxation does not take from people what they already own. Property rights are the product of a set of laws and conventions, of which the tax system forms a central part, so the fairness of taxes can’t be evaluated by their impact on preexisting entitlements. Pretax income has no independent moral significance. Standards of justice should be applied not to the distribution of tax burdens but to the operation and results of the entire framework of economic institutions.[12]

How many men?

How many men? is a thought experiment used to demonstrate the concept of taxation as theft. The experiment uses a series of questions to posit a difference between criminal acts and majority rule. For example, one version asks, "Is it theft if one man steals a car?" "What if a gang of five men steal the car?" "What if a gang of ten men take a vote (allowing the victim to vote as well) on whether to steal the car before stealing it?" "What if one hundred men take the car and give the victim back a bicycle?" or "What if two hundred men not only give the victim back a bicycle but buy a poor person a bicycle, as well?" The experiment challenges an individual to determine how large a group is required before the taking of an individual's property becomes the "democratic right" of the majority.[13]

See also


  1. Edward Feser. "Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft (The Independent Review, Fall 2000, pp. 219–235)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  2. Chris R. Tame. "Taxation Is Theft (Libertarian Alliance Political Note No 44, 1989)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  3. Frank Chodorov. "Taxation Is Robbery (, reprint from Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist, by Frank Chodorov; The Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1962, pp. 216-239)". Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  4. Murray N. Rothbard. ""The Moral Status of Relations to the State", chapter 24 of The Ethics of Liberty". Humanities Press 1982, New York University Press 1998. ISBN 0-8147-7506-3. Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  5. Murray N. Rothbard. ""The State versus Liberty", excerpt from chapters 22-25 of The Ethics of Liberty (, 2007)". Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  6. Dave Johnson (2010-08-09). "Tax Cuts Are Theft (, August 9, 2010)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  7. "Lysander Spooner – No Treason No. 6: The Constitution of No Authority". Molinari Institute. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  8. "Section XI - Lysander Spooner". Mises Institute. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  9. Samuels, L.K. (2013), In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action Review, Apple Valley, CA: Coden Press, pp. 308–309
  10. James Gwartney. "The Size and Functions of Government and Economic Growth (US Congress, Joint Economic Committee Report, April 1998)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  11. 1 2 Williams, Walter E. (6 August 2008). "Government theft, American-style". WorldNetDaily. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
  12. "Myth of OwnershipTaxes and Justice - Oxford Scholarship". doi:10.1093/0195150163.001.0001/acprof-9780195150162. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  13. Napolitano, Andrew B. (October 18, 2011). "Chapter 13 Theft by Any Other Name". It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom. Thomas Nelson Inc. pp. 221–225. ISBN 978-1-59555-350-8.

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