Myths/taxation is theft

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Myth: Taxation is theft.

Myth

Examples

The Google Ngram for the phrase "taxation is theft" shows the phrase first appearing in 1961. (There really are no known uses before that.)
  • 2016-08-09, comment on Google+: "Taxation is theft -- yes it is. Anytime some person (Al Capone?) or an agency (the Government?) forcibly take something from you, whether you would agree with it or not, especially your precious Blood Sweat, and Tears, it's theft." (A more complete argument follows that is worth reading in order to better understand the thinking behind this claim.)
  • 2015-03-09, comment on Google+: "Taxation is legalized theft no matter how you try to rationalize it."

Origins

A Google Ngram search shows the phrase first surfacing in 1962, in the journal Political Science Review volume 1, published by the Department of Political Science at the University of Rajasthan (India): "...therefore, that the tax-payer today feels that taxation is theft, even when he is convinced that taxation forms only a normal activity of all governments. However, extravagance in a spending spree and taxation go together." (The remainder of the context for this conclusion is not currently available online due to copyright restrictions.)

The second occurrence, an article in The Indian Libertarian from 1965, suggests that the phrase may have originated with Gordon Hewart, 1st Viscount Hewart: "The Late Lord Chief Justice Hewart proclaimed that Taxation is Theft. When a Government stoops to theft it is to create a Loan Market for Bankers counterfeit, costless, Credit as money at interest. That Government enslaves its whole population to an Alien Power. It is surely a Treasonable Act..."

Reality

If taxation is theft, then theft must go something like this:

  • The thief only takes a percentage of what you earn over a certain amount.
  • If you earn less than that, you don't get robbed.
  • If you think the thief is asking too much, you can file a complaint.
  • Your employer volunteers to do the robbing automatically.
  • If you accidentally pay too much, the thief sends back the extra.
  • If you resist being robbed, the thief may respond with threatening letters and (ultimately) a court summons, where you may be robbed of additional funds at gavelpoint.
  • The thief uses what they have stolen to provide a number of vital public services.

Taxation is actually the best solution so far found to the problem of funding social infrastructure. Steven Flaeck probably explains it best:

Taxes are a really awesome invention, probably the best ever.

Prior to taxation, the following schemes dominated the Earth:

  • Raiding: people would show up bearing arms and quite literally take all your stuff on pain of death. There's no "resist hard enough", it was "resist at all" and "maybe we'll kill you anyway". Worse, you might just end up enslaved as payment. Better hope you have the goats and grain! You may notice that, in the absence of taxes, the state has been turning to this through civil asset forfeiture and "offender pays" schemes like what dominated in Ferguson. Not a fun time.
  • Corvée: labor provided to the state, for free, over some period of time. This is the taxation scheme which very literally built early civilization. It definitely built the pyramids and probably every ziggurat as well. This actually seems to have been well-received historically, which is odd to us, but it was probably a really great advance. One of its defining features was "payment" in daily rations which were actually pretty good, adding to its popularity. This system exists deep into the modern era as a general form of payment and, IIRC, still happens in some countries. The last US state to outlaw it, Alabama, did so in 1910.
  • Feudalism: ultimately, feudalism is a way of extracting value from workers in a money-less society. Much like corvée, labor is involved. It's not technically coerced, however: your liege-lord is such because you swore that oath. Now, it's not like you had much choice since, because your father swore that oath, you don't actually have property of your own and don't have any reasonable places to exit to. But you did swear it and now, by god, you'll sharecrop for life and like it. Also not fun.
  • Oligarchical collectivism: while the term belongs to Orwell, it's a pretty good descriptor of the system which, for millennia, operated alongside all of these. Ancient societies were profoundly collectivized with agricultural workers under the command of government figures like official priesthoods. Corvée built the pyramids, but oligarchical collectivism, complete with personality cult of the pharaoh and daily hate rituals against Set, fed Egypt. When I say that corvée was popular, it mostly seems so vis-a-vis this system.
  • Capitation: this is actually a form of tax, but it has a distinct flavor of oppression. Often escaping the corvée was merely a matter of paying a flat tax of some amount levied on each person or household. Rich and poor alike owed however many drachmae or goods in trade, such was the magnificent equality of the law. If you couldn't pay, see corvée or raiding above.

So now we have taxation. You send in a check that's some percentage of your income. No matter what, you can pay it and, unlike in earlier years, the burden falls primarily on people who can afford it rather than on the poorest (and therefore least armed) people. You can spend your time doing what you want because, after all, you can always afford your taxes and you don't need to show up for tomb-building periodically. Sure there are some legitimate gripes about it, but the alternatives are all much worse and, as I pointed out, have been making a reappearance in places committed to ever lower taxes.

Taxes.

Greatest. Invention. Ever.

Actual Theft

Actual theft from individuals and from the commons includes items like having to pay for basic healthcare, privatization of public services and property, etc.

Discussion