No it’s not your money: Why taxation isn’t theft

12 Sep

Many political arguments start from the assumption that taxation is the government taking ‘our money’ off us. When austerity hit the arts in 2011, Dr Steve Davies of the pseudo-think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs argued on Channel Four news that the 20% cuts to the arts didn’t go far enough: art funding should be entirely abolished on the grounds that it’s unfair to take people’s money off them by force to pay for something they may not want. Again and again the economic right stoke resentment at the state allegedly taking what’s ours by force, and use this resentment to build support for a programme of small government.

But even those who believe in relatively big government tend to share this understanding of taxation as the appropriation by government of ‘our money’. Most on the economic left start from the assumption that it is all things being equal a bad thing that the state takes our money from us, but hold that this prima facie bad is justified by the public goods which taxation makes possible. Well-meaning public intellectual Alain de Botton encourages us to think of taxation as charity: we give up what’s ours for the greater good of our society.

So both sides tend to agree that one has some kind of right or entitlement to one’s pre-tax income. The economic right believe that the right to pre-tax income is inalienable, or at least that it is trumped only by the absolute necessity of providing the basic requirements of society, such as roads and rule of law. In contrast, the economic left tend to value the good of making society more equal, or of providing a basic standard of living for all, above the good of letting people keep their own money.

This feeling that your pre-tax income is ‘your money’ is difficult to shake. It’s hard not to see the pre-tax figure on your payslip as representing what’s really owing to you for the work you’ve done, and hence to feel that the state is taking away from you something that is yours by right. However, a little careful reflection shows this almost universal assumption to be utterly confused. There is no sense in which you have a right to your pre-tax income.

To see this, we have to ask what kind of right it might be supposed one has to one’s pre-tax income. Presumably, it is either a legal right or a moral right. Once we separate out these alternatives, we can see that the former option is incoherent, whilst the latter is utterly implausible.

You clearly don’t have a legal right to your pre-tax income, as you are legally obliged to pay tax on it. This is a simple analytic truth that follows from the definition of taxation. People who don’t take pay their taxes go (or at least legally ought to go) to gaol.

So if there is a general right to one’s pre-tax income, then it must be a moral right. But it is implausible to suppose that each person has a moral right to his or her pre-tax income, for that would imply that the distribution of pre-tax incomes the market happens to throw up is perfectly just, and this is clearly not the case. There is no justice in the fact that the pre-tax income of a City banker is many hundreds of times the pre-tax income of scientist working on a cure for cancer. This is just an accident of the way our market economy is structured. To hold that each person has a moral right to their pre-tax income would be to hold that the market economy just happens to deliver to each person exactly what they deserve, and this is clearly not the case.

Perhaps there are specific cases in which a person happens to deserve their pre-tax income; these would be rare and happy co-incidences in which the market happens to deliver exactly what is deserved. But the mere fact that your pre-tax income is £X does not entail that in any morally significant sense you are entitled to £X. The money the market happens to throw at you is not necessarily the money you deserve. No doubt you have worked hard for that money; no doubt you have made a contribution to the public good; you have special talents that others lack, etc. But others also work hard/are talented/make a contribution, and the market has not taken these morally significant factors into consideration in working out what to give to whom. For better or worse it’s almost certainly not fair that you have what you have relative to what others have got.

It’s the responsibility of law makers, then, not to respect pre-tax incomes, but to disrespect pre-tax incomes. Insofar as the market fails to yield a just distribution of incomes, the state should work to correct that distribution. Of course, to some degree the scope for such correction will be limited by economic realities. The pragmatic argument between right and left as to the relationship between tax levels and incentives to work or invest is a perfectly sensible one. But it is crucial to distinguish the pragmatic argument of the economic right, ‘We must lower taxes in order to encourage investment’, from the moral argument of the economic right ‘We must lower taxes in order to give people more of their money’. The former argument is based on an empirical claim which stands or falls with the data. The latter argument is based on the wholly confused notion that there is something morally significant about the distribution of incomes the market happens to have thrown up.

Your pre-tax income isn’t the money you deserve; it is the money the amoral market has gifted you. A government may have cause to respect the whims of the market as a matter of practical necessity. But the state has no moral reason to respect the whims of the market. The only legitimate bar to redistribution is economic reality. Any politician who thinks it a good thing, in and of itself, to give people more of ‘their money’ is confused.

(A similar argument is made at length in ‘The Myth of Ownership’ by Murphy and Nagel, published by Oxford University Press).

74 Responses to “No it’s not your money: Why taxation isn’t theft”

  1. Rosscoe September 12, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    When it comes to deciding the value of labour and just rewards I’d far rather trust the “amoral market” or, as it’s otherwise known, “the people who voluntairly choose to pay their fellow citizens what they think their goods/services are worth”, than a bunch of moralising lefties who want to stick their hands in everyone elses wallets to pay for their pet causes.

    • conscienceandconsciousness September 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Rosscoe.

      Two things in response:

      1. The growth that we produce is hugely dependent on taxation, i.e. on there being roads, rule of law, educated and healthy people, not to mention state support for business. Your pre-tax income is not the same as the money you would have if there were no taxes.
      2. I don’t think we can straightforwardly equate a purchase of X with a judgement about how much X is worth. One has to buy basic necessities even if one takes them to be overpriced. However, we can more plausibly equate a citizen’s vote with a decision about who they think should govern, reflecting among other things how much they think we ought to be taxed and where public money should go. So if you really care about what the people voluntarily choose, you should look to what the democratically elected government decides rather than what the market decides.

      • Rosscoe September 13, 2013 at 10:29 am #

        I think that both of those points are arguable:

        Given that we currently have very high levels of taxation and government intervention (compared to most of our history) there are many who would argue that the average persons pre tax income could be significantly higher if we had less government. Though I accept your basic premise that certain functions carried out by the state do increase economic growth (the argument about which ones is best left to another day!) that does not in itself negate the argument of taxation being at best a necessary evil and at worse theft.

        Secondly I think that a market made up of billions of voluntary transactions everyday gives a far better picture of the value that people place on things than a vote cast once every 4-5 years by 60% of the population for members of a political class who are more or less indistinguishable from each other aside from the colours of their rosettes!

      • James July 25, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

        1. False. The growth that we produce is hugely dependent upon roads, law, educated and healthy people. It is NOT dependent upon taxation, as those things do not require taxation. One would have much more money if there were no taxes.

        2. Of course we can. One either values one thing more than another, or one does not. Your judgment of “overpriced” is irrelevant. You either want food more than $100 (or whatever you deem to be overpriced), or you do not. If you value the food more than the $100, the food is worth more than $100 at the time of purchase.

        “So if you really care about what the people voluntarily choose, you should look to what the democratically elected government decides rather than what the market decides.”

        False. Government is not voluntary. Try again.

      • code4liberty June 14, 2016 at 2:22 am #

        The person who is elected is forced onto the people who did not vote for that person. I cannot decide to not purchase the services provided by the victor of an election like I can decide to not purchase goods and services from a price gouger.

        Furthermore, the person who was elected probably made promises that he or she could not keep. Rarely is an elected official removed based on such promises not coming to fruition. When I buy a product, I can return it if it breaks during the warranty. That does not happen in politics.

        Furthermore, people have varied views on government. Rarely ever can you find a candidate that you agree with 100%. And even if you could, the likelihood of that candidate winning the election is quite low. You either vote your conscience knowing he or she will not win or you vote for someone you think can win despite the fact that you disagree on a lot of issues. Most people pick the later. Therefore, we end up with a system that more people don’t even like and are unhappy with. The approval rating of Congress is indicative of this.

        Furthermore, it appears that Congress responds more to the will of the wealthy than that of the people as demonstrated by the artfully crafted video produced by represent.us.

        Even when you write your Congressman, you are lucky to receive a canned response of how they feel on the issue. And these letters are said to carry the weight of 3000 voters. If Congressmen can ignore the will of 3000 votes, the value of 1 vote hardly carries any weight in the political realm.

        Therefore, I fail to see how you can claim that somehow this one decision we make every few years that requires us to compromise to such a degree and gives us no guarantee that our voice will be heard or acknowledged is somehow more moral than the decisions we make on a day to day basis in voluntary exchange. Especially when evidence has demonstrated that Congress responds better to the wealthy than the average voter. When the choices made by government officials are more likely to be in favor of the wealthy, I fail to see how they can be considered to be more moral than those made by consumers on a daily basis.

      • conscienceandconsciousness June 22, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

        I wouldn’t disagree with any of your criticisms of democracy. As the cliche goes it’s the best worst system.

        But what’s the argument that the market distribution of wealth is the moral distribution of wealth? You say it’s based on ‘decisions we make on a day to day basis in voluntary exchange’, as though we live in a world as though we were living in a pure capitalist world, with no state-funded education, healthcare, infra-structure or R&D support. In reality, the generation of wealth is hugely dependent on these things (educated and healthy workforce, use of infra-structure, R&D support) which are state funded, and the market does not fairly compensate teachers, healthcare workers, tax payers who have paid for infra-structure via their taxes, for their contributions to the generation of wealth.

        Perhaps your view is that we ought to move to a pure capitalist world, in which we have only minimal taxes to pay for the police. But I, and the majority of people, don’t want such a world: we want a world with universities and state funded education and health care. Why should you be able to impose the kind of world you want on the rest of us??? Surely the fairest way to decide is via the ballot box, in perfect as it is.

      • Donald MacKenzie July 30, 2016 at 4:12 am #

        There is no service provided for by the monopoly of the state that cannot be provided for on a voluntary basis. You don’t even know how the free market is meant to work, and yet instead of reading some Milton or something, you wrote this useless piece advertising your ignorance and faith in statism.

        We own economic growth to taxes because of infrastructer? who is holding infratustre innovation back? The market would do a better job because of competition.
        This was just poor.

      • conscienceandconsciousness August 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts, although I think you’ve slightly missed the point of the piece. As I say in the piece, we must make a sharp division between *pragmatic* arguments for low taxation, and *moral* arguments for low taxation; this piece was focused on the latter, whereas in your reports you’re focusing on the latter. Also, you haven’t given any arguments or evidence for your claims, so it’s difficult to know how to respond.

      • Fox February 27, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

        Most of our tax money DOES not go to roads, schools, hospitals or other public works. It goes back to the Federal Reserve, to pay off the interest. You are feeding more lies to the already taxed to death populace. You are just a pawn. You should be ashamed.

    • conscienceandconsciousness September 14, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Could you please provide some evidence that tax and government intervention are historically high level, as my own research leads to me think that precisely the opposite is the case. Tax rates were much higher in the ‘golden age of capitalism’ from after the war until mid/late 70s. Thatcher brought top rate of tax down from 83 to 60 to 40. In US and UK average growth was much higher in the 30 post years of relatively high taxation and regulation than it was in the next 30 years of deregulation/low taxation.

      In any case, this is irrelevant to the argument I am making. I separate the empirical question of the effect tax rates have on economic growth, from the moral question of whether we have some kind of automatic entitlement to our pre-tax income. If I am right that we don’t, then it makes no sense to talk of tax as ‘theft’.

      You seem to be relying on the idea that a purchase is a decision about how we want to economy to be shaped, which seems to me psychology absurd.

      • JP September 16, 2013 at 11:17 am #

        Apologies if this is covered elsewhere in the thread, but I think there are two things here – 1) you are confusing headline rates with burden; the actual burden of taxation is a function of both rate and base; tax everything at 10% and you’ll get more revenue than if you tax a tenth of your economy at 90%. Comparing tax revenues to GDP is a far better measure than just looking at headline rates.

        Secondly, if you’re looking at the development of societies, you can think longer than 30 years, which I think is what Rosscoe is thinking of. Parkinson’s “The law and the Profits” covered this in typically light hearted fashion back in the 60s; income tax started off at rates around 5p in the pound for the top 1% of society, and now hits most households at 20p in the pound minimum (citation needed; top of the head numbers). The burden ratchets up with every major conflict (Napoleon, Crimea, WWI, WWII etc ) but never back down. Tax really is at a comparatively high level vs most of our history – as is state provision of benefits; they go hand in hand. I think if you google KPMG and tax wedge some of the research there will emphasise how little you should trust tables of tax rates in trying to work out who’s heavily ‘taxed’ and who isn’t.

    • sonnemichael0 December 16, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      Rosscoe- what an intelligent response. I would specifically like to applaud “bunch of moralising lefties”.

    • Loland December 15, 2016 at 3:02 am #

      I’d argue that the market doesn’t always get what’s best for people, EVEN THOUGH all transactions are (in theory) voluntary.

      It’s possible that everyone benefits from taxes, but no one wants to pay them.

  2. Steve Cooke September 12, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    An interesting post, thanks. Doesn’t your argument beg the question somewhat though? As I understand it, many libertarian-leaning thinkers argue that your right wealth and income isn’t necessarily dependent upon you deserving to be richer than another or upon a particular distribution being desirable, it’s dependent upon you having acquired wealth without violating the rights of others. Furthermore, those thinkers also often claim that good luck in the distribution isn’t morally relevant. Finally, they claim that the state rectifying the whims of the amoral market, even if it were desirable, requires an undesirable loss of freedom. So, your argument seems to miss the point of the ‘taxation is theft’ claim. I’m not claiming that your conclusion is mistaken, but I don’t think your argument fully succeeds on its own terms (perhaps I’m missing something?).

    • conscienceandconsciousness September 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      Thanks Steve,

      No you haven’t missed anything. You’re absolutely right that I haven’t given as conclusive an argument as I would have been obliged to if this were an academic article. I am trying to make accessible some arguments which I think aren’t widely known, which inevitably involves not covering all possible responses.

      My argument relies on the premise that the distribution the market happens to throw up is not thereby justified. A Nozickian could question that in the way you suggest, and we would then get into an argument about whether the Nozickian can come up with a notion of property rights that can make sense of that. I Ultimately think the Nozickian view fails because property rights follow from, they are not prior to, the law.

      In this I was just trying to A/ get across the basic thought that it cannot be taken for granted, as it almost always is, that we have any kind of entitlement to our pre-tax income, B/ argue that plausibly we don’t have any such entitlement, given the plausibility of the premise that the distribution the market happens to throw out is not thereby justified (of course this premise can be argued against, but I think the onus is on my opponent to do so).

      I guess I think the argument about loss of freedom is a sensible one, in the same way the argument about incentives is a sensible one. My target was just arguments of the form made by Steve Davies on the clip I link to. These arguments are, however, very common.

  3. Fiona Woollard Lambert September 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    Great post! I think you are absolutely right that it is wrong to think of my pre-tax income as my money. For me, the key thought is that you raise in your response to one of the comments above “Your pre-tax income is not the same as the money you would have if there were no taxes.” Pre-tax income is in many ways an arbitary figure that only makes sense within a system of taxation. It’s not real money!

    The best way to live is to do PAYE (so your taxes go right out your paycheck), fulful (or get as near to fulfilling as you can) your obligations to voluntarily donate money through GAYE (so your donations go right out your paycheck) and regard the rest as your money.

  4. James Benson September 13, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Isn’t your argument simply that the tax and benefits system should have some element of redistribution in it to make it “fairer”. We already have that as there’s already significant redistribution of wealth in the tax and benefits system. For instance we have different progressive rates of income tax and benefits are primarily targeted at the least well off. The government spend on schools and health system is targeted at the 99%. The top 1% tend to opt out for these services. So it seems to me generally accepted that redistribution is the right thing to do and it already happens to a very significant degree. The only question is whether people think it’s enough. I am in favour of lower taxes generally. For example I don’t think anyone should pay income tax until they earn at least £20,000. I also think that the government has an absolute duty to be as efficient as possible but still provide an effective welfare system. What is wrong with asking whether we are getting value for the £700bn that is spent annually before asking for yet more taxes?

    • conscienceandconsciousness September 14, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      Not everyone agrees with progressive taxes. There is a growing movement for the utterly unprogressive flat tax. And there is a continuous pressure for lower taxes, partly on the basis of an assumption that one has some kind of prima facie entitlement to one’s pre-tax income, and it is this assumption that I’m suggested is totally confused (see the youtube clip of Steve Davies for a classic example. I agree we should expect the government to spend public money well. I don’t think we disagree about much.

  5. @VoluntaryAnarch September 13, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    “But it is implausible to suppose that each person has a moral right to his or her pre-tax income, for that would imply that the distribution of pre-tax incomes the market happens to throw up is perfectly just, and this is clearly not the case. There is no justice in the fact that the pre-tax income of a City banker is many hundreds of times the pre-tax income of scientist working on a cure for cancer.”

    The thrust of the argument here is that you do not think a City banker is worth what they earn, relative to other professions that you think are more worthwhile. This is entirely arbitrary. A market system is not arbitrary, it is based on people determining your contribution to be worth, on the basis of supply & demand and the value that you generate.
    A free-market system is not amoral at all – just because its outcomes are not what you desire, does not make it amoral. It is moral because you have acquired wealth without force, through voluntary interactions. You are given your salary in exchange for your labour by someone who deems your contribution worthwhile to them, it is a win-win scenario. Do I believe that wages in our society are moral? No, I don’t – because our current system of wage distribution is not representative of a free market system. The state currently rigs the system in a number of ways (whether by accident or design) to drag money upwards from the People to large banks and corporations. It does this through the legal privileges of incorporation, raising barriers of entry, enforcing patents and intellectual property and all manner of direct subsidies as well as making taxpayers pay for infrastructure projects that benefit big businesses. Banks are specially privileged by the state, their profits are privatised, their losses are put onto everyone. Does this mean the state that privileges these banks, should also regulate their wage levels? No. The fact that the state manipulates the market, creating winners and losers, is not an argument for further empowering the state to meddle further and create more (or different) winners and losers; it is an argument for the removal of the state.
    If a scientist actually does discover the cure for cancer, in a market society they will become very rich indeed. It is not about your intentions, it is about results.
    ——————————–

    “No doubt you have worked hard for that money; no doubt you have made a contribution to the public good; you have special talents that others lack, etc. But others also work hard/are talented/make a contribution, and the market has not taken these morally significant factors into consideration in working out what to give to whom.”

    Working hard does not necessarily add value. A man can work incredibly hard digging a hole and filling it again, but it is benefits no-one. A lazy man could come up with a way of working so that he gets more done in one day than is normally done in a week. Who ‘deserves’ more money? The man who works a whole week and produces 100 units or the lazy man who works a couple of days and produces 200 units?
    Nor is it about contribution to the “public good” as you wish to define it. It is about your contribution to other individuals who are paying you, which when aggregated, does contributes to the benefit of all.
    There are seven billion people on this planet, there is no way to “work out” what to give to whom on the basis of your perceived morality or how hard they might be working.
    ———————————–

    “Insofar as the market fails to yield a just distribution of incomes”

    And how do you propose to define a “just” distribution of incomes?
    ————————————-

    ‘We must lower taxes in order to give people more of their money’.

    No, by lowering taxes, the state does not “give” people more of their money, it merely takes less of their money.

  6. Voluntary Anarchist (@VoluntaryAnarch) September 13, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    “But it is implausible to suppose that each person has a moral right to his or her pre-tax income, for that would imply that the distribution of pre-tax incomes the market happens to throw up is perfectly just, and this is clearly not the case. There is no justice in the fact that the pre-tax income of a City banker is many hundreds of times the pre-tax income of scientist working on a cure for cancer.”

    The thrust of the argument here is that you do not think a City banker is worth what they earn, relative to other professions that you think are more worthwhile. This is entirely arbitrary. A market system is not arbitrary, it is based on people determining your contribution to be worth, on the basis of supply & demand and the value that you generate.
    A free-market system is not amoral at all – just because its outcomes are not what you desire, does not make it amoral. It is moral because you have acquired wealth without force, through voluntary interactions. You are given your salary in exchange for your labour by someone who deems your contribution worthwhile to them, it is a win-win scenario. Do I believe that wages in our society are moral? No, I don’t – because our current system of wage distribution is not representative of a free market system. The state currently rigs the system in a number of ways (whether by accident or design) to drag money upwards from the People to large banks and corporations. It does this through the legal privileges of incorporation, raising barriers of entry, enforcing patents and intellectual property and all manner of direct subsidies as well as making taxpayers pay for infrastructure projects that benefit big businesses. Banks are specially privileged by the state, their profits are privatised, their losses are put onto everyone. Does this mean the state that privileges these banks, should also regulate their wage levels? No. The fact that the state manipulates the market, creating winners and losers, is not an argument for further empowering the state to meddle further and create more (or different) winners and losers; it is an argument for the removal of the state.
    ———————————

    “No doubt you have worked hard for that money; no doubt you have made a contribution to the public good; you have special talents that others lack, etc. But others also work hard/are talented/make a contribution, and the market has not taken these morally significant factors into consideration in working out what to give to whom.”

    “Working hard” does not necessarily add value. A man can work incredibly hard digging a hole and filling it again, but it is benefits no-one. A lazy man could come up with a way of working so that he gets more done in one day than is normally done in a week. Who ‘deserves’ more money? The man who works a whole week and produces 100 units or the lazy man who works a couple of days and produces 200 units?
    If a scientist actually does discover the cure for cancer, in a market society they will become very rich indeed. It is not about your intentions, it is about results.
    Nor is it about contribution to the “public good” as you wish to define it. It is about your contribution to other individuals who are paying you, which when aggregated, does contributes to the benefit of all.
    There are seven billion people on this planet, there is no way to “work out” what to give to whom on the basis of your perceived morality or how hard they might be working.
    ————————————

    “Insofar as the market fails to yield a just distribution of incomes”

    And how do you propose to define a “just” distribution of incomes?
    ————————————

    ‘We must lower taxes in order to give people more of theirmoney’.

    No, by lowering taxes, the state does not “give” people more of their money, it merely takes less of their money.

    • conscienceandconsciousness September 14, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      There seems to be two thrusts to your argument:

      1. A positive point: a free market yields a just distribution
      2. A negative point: there is no other plausible way of determining a just distribution.

      On the positive point, I’m glad you appreciate that we don’t have anything like a free market, but then it seems you ought to agree that we don’t deserve the pre-tax income our market actually yields. And yet you still say there should be less (no?) tax, as this would entail the government taking less of ‘our’ money. But given that we don’t have the kind of free market that would yield (according to you) a just distribution, it seems that there is no morally significant sense in which my pre-tax income is ‘my’ money.

      But more importantly, the kind of Nozickian view you are defending depends on a very robust notion of property rights, which must have moral force prior to the law. We can’t talk of people freely giving what they own until we can make sense of people owning stuff. But such a conception of property rights is, to my mind, completely implausible. Property rights follow from the law, they don’t precede it. So we should work out how society ought to be, the law (inc. tax law) should reflect such decisions, and then property rights follow from the law.

      On the negative point, there is no easy answer to what makes a certain distribution just, as there’s no easy answer to any ethical question. I can give you my own views: I think it would be a good thing to have a society with minimal levels of inequality, in which every working person has enough to have a good standard of living, and a basic legal right to good health care and education. To be clear, I don’t take myself to be stating what I want, but my view about what ought to be the case. You have your own views about what ought to be the case, but I think those views are rooted in a confused notion of property rights. So we have to look to other considerations to determine how society ought to be.

      • Steve June 11, 2016 at 7:49 am #

        Property Rights predate God in the sense that say my body is my property, if you kill me or harm me you are violating my property rights. Your agreeing that positive rights are justified through the use of force.

        Clearly you can acknowledge that. No one understands negative vs positive rights and just lump everything into rights these days.

        Pro free market thinkers believe the market can better decide what is best for the collective than politicians, and empirically that has been proven. Be it education, healthcare, taxation, government intervention, etc. the best system to lift people out of poverty is free(r) markets.

        Suggesting we use income tax for roads, schools, etc. is an asinine argument since those taxes are (should be) applied outside of income tax.

      • conscienceandconsciousness June 11, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

        @Steve It’s pretty plausible that one has a moral right not to have one’s body harmed. But no one has ever come up with a plausible theory of how such rights are extended to parts of the material world outside of the body. When we get outside of the body, we’re dealing with *legal* rather than *moral* rights, and we can decide as a society how we want to shape such legal rights. That’s the essence of my argument.

        Can you make clearer the point you’re trying to make vis a vis positive and negative rights? My claim is that one has neither a negative nor a positive right to one’s pre-tax income. You haven’t said anything in response to my argument, nor have you offered an argument for the opposing view.

        The other comments you make are not relevant, as I’m focusing in this post simply on arguments against taxation based on the idea that it’s somehow theft. These need to be sharply distinguished from pragmatic, economic arguments for low taxes. You provide absolutely no evidence for the claims you make in the last two paragraphs, but in any case these claims are not relevant to the discussion.

  7. James Benson September 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    “You clearly don’t have a legal right to your pre-tax income, as you are legally obliged to pay tax on it”. Does this fail to recognise that legal rights and taxing rights can easily be split? For example, say I put £1m in a Swiss bank account and earn interest on it. I am a UK resident. Under Swiss law I have full property rights to the gross income but no Swiss tax. If someone steals the money I have the protection under Swiss law for the full gross amount that goes missing. In the UK I don’t need to rely on any of the UK’s property rights to protect me. I do, however, need to pay UK tax on the interest earned. So here, tax obligations and property rights are set independently by different States. It seems to me your netting argument falls over at this point.

    (If I own a car I’m legally obliged to pay insurance. Does this mean I only own the after insurance cost of my car?).

    • conscienceandconsciousness September 14, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Sorry James, I’m not clear how this effects the argument. I was just trying to make the trivial point that I am legally obliged to pay tax on my pre-tax income. I don’t think you’re disputing that are you?

      • James Benson September 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

        You mentioned that there was either a legal rights argument or a moral one. You gave the legal rights argument very short shrift and concentrated on the moral argument. I was suggesting the legal argument is not as simplistic as you indicated.

  8. Roger Christan Schriner November 25, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Excellent points, Philip. And I highly recommend the chapter in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond called “From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy.” Kleptocracy, of course, means government by thieves. Diamond shows that as soon as some people became full-time political leaders, they set up social structures that efficiently siphoned off wealth from the majority so as to enrich a small minority. Diamond writes on p. 276: “The difference between a kleptocrat and a wise statesman, between a robber baron and a public benefactor, is merely one of degree: a matter of just how large a percentage of the tribute extracted from [workers] is retained by the elite….” That may sound like an argument against government, but without government kleptocracy would obviously become even worse, enforced by the thugs of whatever militia happens to control your town. Electoral democracy is desirable because allowing people to influence government at the ballot box reduces the ability of elites to squeeze money out of us. And in some cases it even enables us to reshape society according to agreed-upon values.

  9. dennisrichardson30 May 17, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    The Hebrew God is going to straighten you out. Income & property tax are both theft. You will not do well on your knees before the Most High God of Israel on Judgement Day. I think you will pee your pants in fear of what is about to happen to you next.

  10. Pol Mag Uidhir March 12, 2015 at 5:23 am #

    This article completely misses the moral argument against taxation. The argument is presented thusly:

    Most people act as though each human being is an individual. Furthermore, we are individuals capable of making voluntary decisions. For instance, I could clean your house, and in exchange you could fix my car. We could make this arrangement voluntarily.

    Most people also believe that actions can be forced. For instance, I could hold a gun to your head and say, “Go fix my car.” This exchange would not be voluntary, but forced. In other words, instead of offering you something peaceful in exchange for a good or service, I threaten to harm you in the case that you don’t give a good or service to me free of charge (many people include “strong arming” into the category of force – i.e. holding someone down).

    Even further, most people believe that it is wrong in most cases for one individual to force another individual to do something. But this is where the moral theory of many people becomes inconsistent. They say, “Of course it would be wrong to hold a gun to someone’s head and make them fix your car.” Then they turn around and say things like, “But it wouldn’t be wrong to threaten a business owner with prison in the case that she doesn’t offer maternity leave in the voluntary negotiations between herself and a potential employee.”

    This is the important part of the argument: before the gun entered our car fixing arrangement it was voluntary. Similarly, before the government (with its guns and prisons) enters into ANY negotiations between individuals, most negotiations are voluntary.

    And this is where taxation arises. When it comes to raising money for “public goods”, we have several options. Some of which are … 1. convince others peacefully to make voluntary donations (which happens all the time in society), 2. convince investors to invest in a company or organization (which also happens all the time in society) or 3. we could amass a powerful police force and use it to threaten people into doing things (this happens very rarely … by which I mean very few organizations use this business model).

    Let me ask you this: If Steven Jobs had the following business model, how well do you think Apple would have succeeded:

    First, gather a small group of armed men. Second, send a letter out to everyone in a particular geographic location saying that if they don’t give Apple money, they’ll be arrested by the armed men. Third, instead of allowing each individual to decide what kind of electronic device they’d like to own, have everyone vote on what kind of electronic device everyone will get. Fourth, take a large percentage of the “earnings” and invest it in the Armed-Man fund, making the group of armed men larger. Fifth, take the remaining, small amount of money and make inferior goods with a smaller selection.

    Ponder your response for a moment …

    Now, ponder the idea that this is the business model for every government that ever existed.

    If you think it’s asinine for a company like Apple to use such a business model, then why do we praise the government for doing it? After all, the government is just another organization who purports to offer individuals goods and services. If the other 99% of organizations have to earn their money through peaceful negotiations and conduct business on a voluntary basis, then why is government allowed to use threats of violence and imprisonment?

    This is the moral argument. If it is wrong to force a peacefully-behaving person to do something, then it is always wrong. Otherwise, we are constructing a moral theory in which potentially always acceptable to force others to do things. To conclude, one either has to believe that taxation is wrong, because it is founded on the use of force (i.e. initiation of violence), or that all uses of force are potentially acceptable, which leaves very little room for saying anything is actually right or wrong (or in your words just or unjust).

    For a more in-depth look into this argument I recommend reading Universally Preferable Behavior by Stephan Molyneux. This book can be found for free at freedomainradio.com.

    • conscienceandconsciousness March 13, 2015 at 9:22 am #

      Thanks for your thoughts. This is a natural way of thinking about taxation, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

      The problem that a libertarian ‘minimal government’ also involves coercion, it’s just that the coercion is directed exclusively toward protecting peoples’ supposed right to the income the market delivers to them. If I try to walk on Donald Trump’s estate the police will stop me. This is fine if we think that Donald Trump has an inalienable moral right to the money the market happens to throw at him, and that the most important thing the state can do is protect that right. But I don’t believe there is any moral significance to the distributions of the market.

      You seem to think market distributions have moral significance because they are voluntary. But before I can freely give something I have to own it, and so we’re back to the question of what grounds property rights to the world’s resources. On the classic libertarian view of Nozick I have a right to land/natural resources if I get their first and mix my labour with them. I don’t find it plausible that this grounds a deep moral right to that land/resources which the state ought to protest. Why should the person who happened to get their first have an inalienable claim on the land?

      I see no other way to make sense of natural property rights which are essential for the libertarian view. This doesn’t mean there are no property rights; it just means that property rights are merely legal: they follow from, rather than shaping, just law.

      So we don’t have a contrast between a coercive state and a non-coercive state. All states are coercive. It’s just matter of whether the state’s coercion is directed towards protecting natural property rights, or towards some other conception of justice, e.g. equality or human flourishing. There is no plausible theory of natural property rights, and so the former kind of coercive society is irrational.

      • Pol Mag Uidhir March 13, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

        So can you explain what types of property individuals can own, and what principled system you use to come to that conclusion.

        I’ve presented the libertarian socialist (i.e. voluntarist or anarchist) system as a principled moral argument against taxation. It doesn’t claim that force or violent coercion are wrong. Rather it points out the logical truth that if force is wrong sometimes it is wrong always, lest we want a world where it is potentially always acceptable – in which case it can’t possibly be wrong only sometimes. This is not a moral theory based on whim. This is a moral theory based on one basic widely accepted moral principle taken to its logically sound conclusions.

        Furthermore, let’s call ownership the power to control something. It seems from your article that you would agree with that definition. Now, please explain how it’s logically possible that I don’t own the money that I’ve spent time earning, yet other people do own it (i.e. have the power to control it).

        You don’t seem to believe that money isn’t owned. You seem to think that I don’t own my money, but other people do own my money, and they also own their own money. You’re not saying “This money isn’t anyone’s”. You seem to be saying “Only certain people, in certain special interest groups (e.g. government) deserve the right to control everyone’s money.” It doesn’t matter if that special interest group is the majority or Donald Trump. You seem to want to have certain people in charge of all money, and other people subjugated to that group, but you don’t have a system by which to come to this conclusion. You throw out words like justice and the greater good, and then all of a sudden it’s okay for men with guns to coerce me into paying them, yet it is wrong for me to do the same to anyone else. How does that make sense?

        Have I missed something here?

      • Pol Mag Uidhir March 13, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

        Sidenote: I know many people use the term Libertarian to mean American Libertarian. In case that’s what you mean, I’d like to clear something up. When I use the term Libertarian Socialist, I am referring to the 18th and 19th century European movement in which citizens rose up against their monarchical governments with the belief that individuals had the right to free association, by which society is run by itself instead of by an elite or royal group. This was the anarchist Libertarian Socialist movement from which the modern term (State) Socialism is taken today … although the two have very little in common.

  11. Pol Mag Uidhir March 13, 2015 at 8:15 pm #

    In other words, the traditional Libertarian Socialist school believes that government coercion is not necessary when organizing society. Rather, free/voluntary association between peacefully acting individuals will bring about the same or superior social order. And quite frankly if one believes otherwise, then one does not have faith in the abilities of the common human … i.e. one believes that the common human is inferior to the elite group(s) in government. When applying this to your points, one who opposes voluntary association in this way believes that the average person and the voluntary associations (s)he makes are incapable of evenly or fairly distributing wealth … or at least less capable than when using violent coercion through the state.

    Which brings up another point: if so many people don’t want wealth distributed evenly, that we need massive, violent police forces, then whose will is the government actually carrying out. The will of the people, or its own will (i.e. the will of those in power)?

  12. conscienceandconsciousness March 14, 2015 at 11:29 am #

    You say: “Rather it points out the logical truth that if force is wrong sometimes it is wrong always, lest we want a world where it is potentially always acceptable – in which case it can’t possibly be wrong only sometimes.”

    It’s certainly not a logical truth that if force is sometimes wrong then it’s always wrong (compare: it’s sometimes lunch time therefore it’s always lunch time), and it’s not even very plausible. Most people would agree that forceful detention of a psychopath who would certainly rape and murder if not detained is right, whilst forceful detention of those who criticise the government is wrong. I think it’s wildly implausible to think we could have a civilised society which involves no coercion whatsoever.

    Regarding property rights, my point is that they are *merely legal notions*, and hence have moral force only to the extent that the law that gives rise to them is just. I legitimately own something just in case (i) law X says I own it, (ii) law X is just. There used to be laws according to which people owned slaves, but nobody legitimately owned a slave, because the laws which gave rise to ownership rights over people were not just. Similarly (although obviously much less serious) there is no just law according to which people legitimately own all of their pre-tax income (In fact there could be no such law, as you can’t have a market without tax revenue to fund enforcement of the law and market institutions).

    Therefore, nobody legitimately owns all of their pre-tax income. If a just law determines that I have property rights only over 30% of the money the market throws in my direction, and the other 70% ought to go to the government, then there is no sense in which the government violates my property rights, or takes what’s ‘mine’, when it taxes me at 70%.

    How do we determine what a ‘just law’ is? I’m not saying there’s a simple formula. My own view is that the fundamental political concept is human flourishing: we should try to shape laws which are conducive to human flourishing. I’m inclined to think a society conducive to human flourishing will be one in which people have a certain amount of property which they are legally entitled to do what they want with, and in which there is a certain amount of inequality but the extent of inequality is constrained.

    That’s my opinion, but others may differ in the view, so how do we practically decide what laws we ought to have? Here’s a novel proposal: political parties propose manifestos and people vote on them.

    • myth buster June 12, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

      Actually, there is a non-sequitur in your conclusion: the justice of taxation does not imply the justice of INCOME taxation. To demonstrate that the income tax is just requires that you prove not only that taxation is just, but that taxing income is a just manner in which to collect the taxes society needs. The justice of taxation is obvious to me for the following reasons: You have a natural right to life, liberty and property; therefore, you have the right to redress if someone else violates these rights, including the right to protest your innocence if you are accused of violating someone else’s rights. Therefore, others in society have the duty to provide you this redress, but they retain the natural right to their own labor. Therefore, those charged with securing the rights of and providing redress to members of society are entitled to wages for their services. Therefore, society has a right to assess taxes to pay these wages and also provide the tools necessary for the job. This syllogism begins with the assertion of life, liberty and property as natural rights, and that there is no such thing as a right that cannot be enforced, nor a duty to do the impossible.

      This does not, however, prove a right to any given quantity or manner of taxation. It is logically consistent to say that taxes are legitimate, but that the income tax is immoral because it confiscates a portion of a man’s labor, which is his by natural right, or that the property tax is immoral because once I buy something, I own it, and no one should be able to charge me merely for keeping it, though I may incur expense in maintaining it. Such a position holds that the manner of taxation is a moral question because asserting a right to tax something is a claim of ownership, at least in part. A sales or excise tax would then be a claim that the buyer must compensate the government for the cost to society in general related to the production of his goods, whereas an income tax is a claim of ownership by the government of the taxpayer or his labor, and a property tax is a claim of ownership by the government of the taxpayer’s property. It is therefore logically consistent (though not necessarily right) to say that it is morally licit for a government to impose sales or excise taxes, but not property or income taxes.

      • conscienceandconsciousness June 16, 2015 at 8:21 am #

        What does a ‘natural right to property’ entail? That I have a certain amount of property? That nobody take from me any of the money the market happens to throw in my direction? The former sounds plausible; I cannot see the justification for the latter.

        Perhaps in some sense I own my body and hence own my labour. But do I have an inviolable right to the entirety of what somebody is willing to pay me for that labour? Well it depends on whether they have a inviolable moral claim on the money they are willing to pay me with. But the money the wealth my employer has is to a large extent dependent on public investment: roads, public education, public health care, rule of law. How do we carve out from this complex web of dependencies what wealth a given person has fundamental property rights over?

        Ultimately I don’t think we can make sense of morally fundamental property rights, at least not in the real world as opposed to a very different world in which government barely exists, and I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of world. We should work out what a just society looks like, and then shape legal property rights to try to get closer to it.

  13. Pol Mag Uidhir March 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    I (and many other voluntarists) would include the detention of a psychopath in the category of self defense, which is permitted in the voluntarist system. Sorry, I wasn’t being clear earlier when using the term “force”. When I was using “force” I meant force initiated upon peacefully acting individuals, not force used in self defense. So, when I say that force is either always wrong or always acceptable, I mean to say it is either always wrong or always acceptable to initiate violence against peacefully acting individuals. We can’t have it both ways without including arbitrary rules (e.g. the following cannot stem from a logically consistent moral theory: it’s wrong for a mugger to initiate violence against me on the street, but it’s acceptable to initiate violence against someone who chooses to ingest certain plants, while not harming others).

    I don’t have much time to respond now, but I will say the following: I agree that humans don’t have fundamental rights to anything. Rights are given to subjects by rulers. The only things we inherently have are our abilities to protect what we earn. My main qualm with your last reply is the following:

    You say, “In fact there could be no such law, as you can’t have a market without tax revenue to fund enforcement of the law and market institutions”. There are two problems with this thinking. Firstly, it assumes that individuals can’t voluntarily hire security companies, arbitration companies, insurance companies, etc for self defense. It’s not only false that such a system is impossible, but such a system already exists. I use to work for a prominent insurance company. They used the government legal system very seldom. Instead, they used a private dispute resolution organization to help solve problems between them, members and employees. And it worked really well. In fact, it worked better than the legal system into which they were forced to invest through taxation.

    Secondly, let’s analyze what you’re proposing: you’re essentially saying that we need a small group of people (government) to violently extract money from us in order to protect from people who want to violently extract money from us. Do you see the problem?

    I’d like to discuss what money is in general and the history of money, because money in our current fiat system (for the sake of brevity) a sham, but I’ll have to do that another time.

    In the mean time, I recommend hunting down a copy of the book The Lost Science of Money by Stephen Zarlenga. Also check out The Creature from Jekyll by G. Edward Griffin. You seem to take issue with the current distribution of wealth in society. This distribution of wealth did not come about through a voluntarist “free” market. It came about through a very government controlled market. And I question whether the solution of more government control over money is an appropriate solution to the problem of excessive government control over money. It seems akin to saying, “Hey that guy just got shot, let’s heal him by shooting him a few more times.”

    Well, I apologize if this rambling is a bit unclear. I’m in a hurry. Thanks for replying.

  14. marco June 15, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    Tax is legalized theft

    No concent + no contract =Theft
    Acts,statutes and legislations only apply to PERSON`S and coperate goverment employes.

    Becoming a “taxpayer” is entirely VOLUNTARY. (But you didn’t enter in that contract fully informed). Most people do this all unwittingly. You become liable once you receive your membership card to “Social Security” with a Social Security number (SSN), or Social Identification Number (SIN). The problem is that most of us have done this unknowingly. Have you filled out a W-2? Have a Social Security Card? Do you claim to be a U.S or British Citizen? “NO”

    When we signed our first tax return or W-4, the government didn’t explicity inform us as “nationals” and “nonresident aliens” who have rights, that we would be giving away those rights by lying to the government in admitting that we are a “U.S and British Individual” in the upper left corner of the form. Did you ever notice, for instance, that the upper left corner of the IRS form W-4 says “Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate” and yet within the Treasury Regulations that the government knows you will probably never read in your lifetime, they instead call this SAME form a “Witholding Agreement” Who is doing the agreeing here anyways? It’s YOU! Your public servants do not want you to know that they need YOUR CONSENT to take your money.

    – All Acts of Parliament are ‘statutes’ known variously as legislation, regulations or rules. They are not laws. Statutes are often incorrectly referred to as laws by ‘trained’ barristers and solicitors, but the correct interpretation would be ‘black letter law’ (meaning statutes) which are distinguishable from ‘law’ i.e. common law – and for a purpose, the purpose being that statutes and laws are different. If Acts of Parliament were laws they would be called ‘Laws of Parliament.’ Parliament knows the distinction which it quite rightly maintains. Look at any Act of Parliament and you will notice the absence of the word law – that will give you the first clue that there is a difference. Parliament maintains the distinction between statutes and laws because those ‘in the know’ use this knowledge for their personal benefit.

    So, what is a person? A person is a fictitious legal entity, created with the hope that as the child grows up, he will be fooled into believing that he is actually the person (which he most definitely is not) and pay all sorts of imaginary costs and liabilities which get attached to the person by con artists.

    Related Legal Terms
    JURIDICAL PERSON, ARTIFICIAL PERSON, NATURAL PERSON, FATUOUS PERSON, IN PERSON, KEY PERSON, THIRD PERSON, REASONABLE PERSON, INTERESTED PERSON, EXISTING PERSON,STRAWMAN,CITIZEN,INDIVIDUAL.

    “Do your own research”

    • conscienceandconsciousness June 15, 2015 at 2:52 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts. You haven’t really responded to any of the arguments in my piece though. If taxation is theft then I must own my pre-tax income. I don’t legally own it, as I’m legally obliged to pay tax on it. So you must mean that I own it in some moral sense, i.e. that I have some kind of moral claim on it. I can’t see any good reason to think that I have a moral claim on the money the market happens to throw in my direction.

      • James July 25, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

        Markets don’t “throw” you money. They trade you money in exchange for your labor. You own your labor, therefore you own your income.

  15. RandomAgorist July 23, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    How do you not have a moral right to something? You’ve traded your labour in exchange for money with another person. Even if it wasn’t perfectly just it is perfectly moral since it was a voluntary agreement on both sides and it does not warrant the threat of violence that taxation implies.

    And even if, somehow, only perfectly just distributions of income were moral, who are you to determine what justice is? Why can an arbitrary majority decide what justice is?

    • conscienceandconsciousness August 8, 2015 at 11:56 am #

      Sorry for late reply; I’ve been on my honeymoon. I’m cutting and pasting a comment I’ve made above:

      Perhaps in some sense I own my body and hence own my labour. But do I have an inviolable right to the entirety of what somebody is willing to pay me for that labour? Well it depends on whether they have a inviolable moral claim on the money they are willing to pay me with. But the money my employer has is to a large extent dependent on public investment: roads, public education, public health care, rule of law. How do we carve out from this complex web of dependencies what wealth a given person has fundamental property rights over?

      Ultimately I don’t think we can make sense of morally fundamental property rights, at least not in the real world as opposed to a very different world in which government barely exists, and I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of world. We should work out what a just society looks like, and then shape legal property rights to try to get closer to it.

      You also worry about how we decide how society ought to be. There is a tension in your making this point, as yourself have a theory of how society ought to be, i.e. the state should protect market transactions. So we just have to try to decide through careful reflection which view about how society ought to be is right, and then vote for the political party which best represents that view. I think your view is incoherent, which makes it easier to rule out as an option.

  16. Some Guy July 25, 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Your screed is idiotic. Taxation is the forcible taking of money and/or property. It’s theft, by definition.

    • conscienceandconsciousness August 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

      We could define ‘theft’ either as ‘the forcible taking of what one has a *legal* to’ or ‘the forcible taking of what one has a moral right to’. Taxation is not the former, as one is legally obliged to pay tax on one’s income. And it’s not the latter unless market transactions yield a perfectly just distribution of income, which is implausible.

  17. The Oncoming Storm (@hippertheflippe) July 25, 2015 at 2:17 am #

    Ok, so if individuals don’t have an individual right to their income how does the government acquire a collective right to their income? If you’re claiming some kind of BS social contract that won’t work, since a party to a contract can’t contract away something he or she doesn’t own in the first place.

    So again, if an individual has no right to his or her income the government cannot possibly claim a collective right to that income.

    • conscienceandconsciousness August 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

      I don’t think rights are morally fundamental. If you want my positive view, I think human flourishing is the only morally fundamental good. So the law, the tax system, and the system of property rights ought to be shaped to maximise human flourishing.

      • James October 25, 2015 at 4:22 am #

        What makes what you think, any more righteous than what anyone else thinks? You cannot rule by tyrannical style dictatorship by imposing a forced law system over everyone else’s heads just because you THINK your viewpoint is somehow superior or better than them.

        Yet, this is precisely what you are deeming appropriate.

        Just because you have a good reason to steal the income of other people, doesn’t mean you SHOULD!

  18. James July 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    The market doesn’t “gift” you your income. You trade your labor for that income. Therefore, your income IS your labor. A government does not have a moral right to your labor, therefore it does not have a moral right to your income. Whether or not you think pre-tax income is “just” is irrelevant to the discussion. Slavery is wrong and so is theft, and actions don’t cease to be slavery and theft simply because one uses euphemisms.

  19. James October 25, 2015 at 4:15 am #

    To the earlier commenter that supposed that the government has a right to dole themselves a portion of your income (because it really belongs to them, anyway, right?) then I would like to ask you where this all will end.

    If your $$$ is really their $$$ then there is no need to work. Tis their property after all, so no-one will have a reason to do anything to support the overbearing slave masters.

    And where will it end? How much do they “have a right to take”, or is this some figure that can be stretched to the high skies without limit, should they suppose?

    Guess you are figuring that whether the feds steal 10% of YOUR income, or 25%, or 95%, why question them? Can’t question robbery when it’s legal, can you?

    Benefits? Public services? Just because there are good potential purchases that can be made with stolen money, doesn’t mean that it should be stolen. “Good” criminal thieves just do NOT exist!

    Stealing used to be a crime, but now it’s legal. Taxation is robbery.

    Hope they don’t try to prosecute criminals, because we are ruled by them.

    • conscienceandconsciousness October 26, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

      You’re still not quite getting the point. It’s not that the state owns everything. It’s that facts about who owns what *follows* from the law. There are no facts about who owns what prior to the law.

      So we ought to try to have just laws, which will determine just property and just taxation, and then the facts about who owns what will follow from these laws. If just laws determine that the state owns 30% of what the market delivers to person X, then we cannot say that the state steals that 30% from X; to the contrary there was never a sense (either moral or legal) in which X owned that 30%.

      Now you could rephrase your point as follows: How do we know what the just laws are? What’s to stop the government setting crazy laws which take all our money.

      This is a big and difficult question: How do we work out what society ought to be like? But it’s a question both of us have to answer somehow. The problem with your answer is that it involves a fundamental confusion concerning the nature of property and its relationship to the law.

      In practice, how we decide these matters is democratically, which I think it the right way to do it.

  20. rayray March 19, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

    You’ve conflated legislation and law.

  21. Nunayo Bidness March 26, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    Your argument is essentially a Machiavellian one. That because taxation produces “good” results, it is therefore okay to do it. This is a very dangerous rationale because it puts no restraints on what government would do other than through voting, and we’re seeing what an inept system voting can be. Also, you assume that government services cannot be provided by the private sector.

    • conscienceandconsciousness March 28, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

      @Nunayo Bidness

      I do not claim that there are no constraints on what a government is able to do. My argument implies that government is not constrained to respect market distributions of wealth. But why on earth would we think that the government is constrained to respect market distributions (other than indirectly through economic necessity)? But there could well be many other constraints on what governments can do.

      Nor do I assume that government services cannot be provided by the private sector. This is only an argument we would have to get in to if there were some moral problem with funding public services through taxation, and I have tried to show that this is not the case.

  22. Pelagius March 26, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    This whole post is basically one big circular argument. “Taxation isn’t theft because you are legally obligated to pay taxes.”

    • conscienceandconsciousness March 28, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

      @Pelagius A circular argument assumes the truth of the conclusion in the premises. The argument which you report does not do that. It is logically trivial that legally prescribed taxation isn’t ‘theft’ in the legal sense, but I don’t see why that’s a weakness of the argument. Moreover, I distinguish between ‘theft’ in the legal sense, and ‘theft’ in some moral sense. For taxation to be theft in the moral sense, it would to be the case that one has a moral claim on the money the market throws in one’s direction. My argument is that that is implausible. How is that argument circular?

  23. chazmania May 17, 2016 at 6:00 am #

    What a crock of absoulte bull shit word salads linquistics manipulated tripe..money is not gifted to you..its traded for your labor its no gift you fucking clown.

    • conscienceandconsciousness May 17, 2016 at 6:32 am #

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure you’ve quite got the argument though. I never said the money was gifted. I’m just questioning whether we have any moral reason to respect the market distribution of wealth. Do you think there is such a reason? You might also be interested in my most recent blog post, on a similar theme.

  24. charles June 10, 2016 at 4:21 am #

    “The money the market happens to throw at you is not necessarily the money you deserve.”

    I “deserve” what my employer and myself agree upon as appropriate compensation for my work. Wages for services are a contract between two entities. I have the moral right to freely negotiate contracts with other entities and receive the terms of those contracts, its the cornerstone of freedom and one of the reasons SCOTUS rejected minimum wage laws for so long. If my contract states that I get paid $10 an hour I am entitled to $400 at the end of a full work week (40 hours). It was a contract, the money is mine, and I “deserve it” because I reached an agreement with another person to get that from them.

    If the government taxes me on that money they are committing theft by taking my property without consent, property I gained through freely negotiated contracts.

    Taxation is theft and people are entitled and “deserve” whatever amount of money they are being paid by the basic principle of freely negotiated contracts and interacts.

    • conscienceandconsciousness June 10, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

      @Charles Perhaps if my employer has an inalienable right to their pre-tax profits then they have an inalienable right to pass that on to me without government interference. But a company’s profits are dependent on the existence of a properly functioning legal system, roads, infra-structure, and educated and healthy workforce, in many cases R&D grants, the vast bulk of which is state funded. Why doesn’t that compromise their exclusive right to those profits?

      • Charles September 13, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

        That is completely different subject and businesses should be charged for the resources they use that aren’t theirs aka receive a bill. However taxes on business profits is theft too.

  25. Steve June 11, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    Subbed

  26. rockenomics June 11, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    The greatest good that can be done is to respect the right of the individual to choose how to distribute the fruit of his labour. When ‘the geater good’ is misapplied to the collective, one inevitably starts the long slow trek from freedom to communism with no stopping point in the middle for your beloved socialist state.

    • conscienceandconsciousness June 11, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

      @rockenomics But the point of my argument is that we cannot equate ‘the fruits of X’s labour’ with ‘the money the market delivers to X’. The labour of teachers contributes to economic growth, as they educate the workforce. Why on earth would one suppose that the market would distribute to teachers due recompense for that contribution? A worker contributes to the profits of a company through her labour. Why on earth should we suppose that the market will distribute due recompense for that contribution? What is your argument for the equation of ‘the fruits of X’s labour’ with ‘the money the market delivers to X’?

      Do you have an argument that there’s no middle way between rampant capitalism and communism? In the 30 years after the war we had highly taxed, highly regulated capitalism in UK and US, and it delivered higher growth and zero financial crises. What’s your argument that such a mixed economic is impossible?

  27. Charles LaBrecque January 19, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

    What a crock of linguistic manipulative bull shit..

    • conscienceandconsciousness January 20, 2017 at 9:21 pm #

      hahaha. Thanks for the constructive feedback Charles! If you do a serious response to my argument let me know… x

    • George February 5, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

      But there’s a reason. There’s a reason. There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason the tax system SUCKS, and it’s the same reason it will never, ever, EVER be fixed.

      It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you’ve got.

      Because the owners, the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now, the BIG owners! The Wealthy… the REAL owners! The big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.

      Forget the politicians. They are irrelevant. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice! You have OWNERS! They OWN YOU. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought, and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls.

      They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying, LOBBYING, to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want MORE for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want:

      They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. Thats against their interests.

      Thats right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!

      You know what they want? They want OBEDIENT WORKERS. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly higher taxes, increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming for your Social Security money. They want your retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later cause. They own this fucking place! It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it! You, and I, are not in the big club.

      By the way, it’s the same big club they use to beat you over the head with all day long when they tell you what to believe. All day long beating you over the head with their media telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy. The table has tilted folks. The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people continue, these are people of modest means, continue to elect these rich cock suckers who don’t give a fuck about you….they don’t give a fuck about you… they don’t give a FUCK about you.

      They don’t care about you at all… at all… AT ALL. And nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. Thats what the owners count on. The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue dick thats being jammed up their assholes everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth.

      It’s called the American Dream,because you have to be asleep to believe it.

  28. Swander Photography February 11, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

    Very wordy but it misses the argument. The philosophy that you own your labor and therefore the fruit of your labor is different that the philosophy that everyone has equally valuable labor. The value of labor is set by the market which is fair as long as its not controlled with violence.

    At the end of the day income tax means you don’t own your labor, you have no choice but to enter the agreement that government can tale it and if you object they will take it violently.

    Thats why it’s immoral. You are forced into an agreement of pseudo-slavery backed by violence.

    It would be much harder to argue it was immoral if government only used your wages to provide citizens with a safe environment to engage in free market transactions but they don’t do that.

    • conscienceandconsciousness February 12, 2017 at 10:15 am #

      Thanks Shawn for thoughtful comment. The best defence of the position you’re attracted was by the philosopher Robert Nozick in ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’, which is a fantastic book if you haven’t read it. But it suffers from a crucial problem. The problem is: (A) it’s pretty plausible that we own our own bodies, labour and talents, but (B) it’s also pretty plausible that we own the world and its resources in common, or at least that no one has any more right over them than anyone else.

      This basic and equal stake of each person in the world’s resources must be respected, and it’s clearly not respected in the society you describe. To take an extreme case to make the point, imagine two children equally intelligent and diligent: Clare is born into poverty with nothing, and Jane is born with enormous wealth. Both have an equal right to the resources of the world, but Jane has much more than her talent and diligence deserve, and Clare has much less.

      Think of it this way: if we all just relied on our own bodies and labour, e.g. weaving clothes for sale from our own body hair, then maybe it would be wrong for the state to tax us. But almost all wealth generation is dependent on the world’s resources; we all have an equal right to those resources that are used to generate wealth; and it’s the job of the state, through the tax system, to ensure that right is respected. This doesn’t mean total equality; we can still reward hard work and intelligence. It just means compensating for the fact that the wealth distribution is dependent not just on talent/hard work/intelligence, but on an unfair distribution of the world’s resources.

  29. Fox February 27, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

    No, just wrong. Keep feeding the snake. You are part of the problem. You parasite. Who even wrote this?

    “The decrease in purchasing power incurred by holders of money due to inflation imparts gains to the issuers of money.” -Federal Reserve
    (the FR is not our government, we pay taxes to a government, [conviently signed in 1913], which in turn pays the FR, to try and pay off its interest.)
    This is FRAUD, a pyramid scheme, it is a Ponzi scheme, it’s a scam and it is a lie! Our entire monetary system is nothing but a form of legalized theft.

    Whover wrote this is a tool.

  30. B. Cruz April 14, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    We need roads; tax my fuel so I am paying my share and only my share. We need firefighters and police; tax me at the register. Anything society NEEDS can be paid for at the register. Our current tax system is absolutly, without a shadow of a doubt, the immoral part of our governing system. Redistribution of wealth is always theft unless it is voluntary and I pay because I am forced. We are not a collective. Our constitution was formatted to preserve individual rights above all. And as for having a legal right to MY “pre-tax” income; due process (bill of rights bub) is non-existent in dealing with the IRS and therefore is unconstitutional as it stands. The income tax ammendment currently stands in conflict with my constitutional right to due process and my constitutional right to privacy. If I lived with two roomates and they voted to take my cash I would put up a very leathal fight. Our republic is constantly being confused with a democracy and there is no greater threat to liberty than allowing a majority to vote the wealth out of the minority’s pocket.

  31. B. Cruz April 14, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    We need roads; tax my fuel so I am paying my share and only my share. We need firefighters and police; tax me at the register. Anything society NEEDS can be paid for at the register. Our current tax system is absolutly, without a shadow of a doubt, the immoral part of our governing system. Redistribution of wealth is always theft unless it is voluntary and I pay because I am forced. We are not a collective. Our constitution was formatted to preserve individual rights above all. And as for having a legal right to MY “pre-tax” income; due process (bill of rights bub) is non-existent in dealing with the IRS and therefore is unconstitutional as it stands. The income tax ammendment currently stands in conflict with my constitutional right to due process and my constitutional right to privacy. If I lived with two roomates and they voted to take my cash I would put up a very leathal fight. Our republic is constantly being confused with a democracy and there is no greater threat to liberty than allowing a majority to vote the wealth out of the minority’s pocket. (I just made this arguement from the perspective of an American. I still think that there is a universal right to ones material wealth and every fight or war in history says this is nature.)

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