What is stealing? It is the act of taking one’s property without the property owner’s consent. Simple concept, right? How can taking property not be stealing? Ans: only when the property owner gives permission.
If I want to take John’s property, should I ask David, or John for permission? If David gives permission for me to take John’s property, does that make it ok? No, it is still stealing.
So, isn’t taxation stealing? Someone once told me that it’s not stealing because, “as a democracy, we all voted and agreed to have taxes levied, so this is how we gave consent for the property to be taken from us, thus it is not stealing.” Without getting into the whole other debate of what a democracy or republic actually is, I can say that that person ignored the definition of stealing. See, the only way the taking of property cannot be stealing is if the property owner gives consent. It doesn’t matter what the simple majority of a country the property owner lives in thinks, because the property does not belong to the simple majority, it belongs to the property owner. So, only the property owner can give consent. Therefore, all taxation is stealing and likely immoral, according to both secular and religious standards.
Someone once told me that taxation isn’t stealing because it’s a “fee for services”. What a pleasant sounding way to mask the rights violation as something that resembles a free market exchange. A more accurate description would be “forced fee for services not requested”. It’s not voluntary, so it’s still stealing, by definition. What if I came up to you in the street and stole $15 dollars from your wallet, then I used part of it to buy a baloney sandwich you didn’t ask for, pocketing the rest because I am the middle man, and then I give you the sandwich, and look at you like I didn’t just steal your money? Even if you eat the sandwich, I still stole from you because I forced the trade against your will. After all, you might as well eat the sandwich if you’ve got it after you were forced to pay for it regardless of whether you ate it. Similarly, just because an anti-tax person, like myself, uses and takes advantage of various government services doesn’t mean that the taxation for those services is no longer stealing. For example, even if I use public education, the taxation for it is still stealing because I’m being forced to pay for the education even if I don’t use it, so I might as well use it.
Some people, like Jon Stewart, say “I don’t mind paying taxes for (such and such). So, I voluntarily do this.” This is an attempt to make taxes sound voluntarily. This is irrelevant. If you want to voluntarily give money to the government, then, fine, do that. Yes, it’s not stealing in your own case because you, the property owner, gave consent for your own money. However, this has nothing to do with taxation on other people who do not consent. For those who do not consent to be taxed, it is stealing, by definition.
Someone once told me that it’s not stealing because the government printed the money. This doesn’t even come close to making sense and has nothing to do with ownership or stealing. The printer is irrelevant. Someone once told me that it’s not stealing because the government provides the faith backing of the fiat money we use since the dollar is no longer backed by gold. This is irrelevant. It also doesn’t make sense because, if extended consistently, it would mean that all of everyone’s money is owned by the government, not just the taxed portion, which is ridiculous. Even fiat money represents actual value of actual labor and products, and any fiat money we earn is still our property, not the government’s. Remember that the only reason money exists in society as an intermediate medium of exchange instead of barter is that it is lightweight and easily divisible. It is a placeholder to represent real things that are exchanged. If the real things/labor that are exchanged are your property, so is the money that is intermediately used to represent it. Besides, the government is the one who forced the fiat system on us in the first place and outlawed other currencies that actually could be backed by something of real value.
I’m not necessarily saying that we should have zero taxes, although one should give this option serious ethical thought. Without even saying whether or not we should tax, we should at least first agree merely on what taxes are: stealing. That step is just identification.
Maybe stealing is ok in some circumstances. We are all familiar with the question of “Is it wrong to steal bread to feed your child?”. Maybe yes, if it’s a temporary fix and you’re trying your hardest to get a job so that you don’t have to steal in the future. I’m not sure. Can we then find ethical justifications for taxes? We probably can find some justifications for unique and narrow circumstances. In such cases, one would correctly say that taxes are a “necessary evil”.
But, listen to the public discussion. Taxes are not talked about as if they are a “necessary EVIL”. Taxes are instead treated like a normal ethical way of life, where the politicians light-heartedly spend tax money on anything that they think is a reasonably beneficial and good idea at the time. They don’t treat it with the seriousness and weight of an immoral, evil act. Can anyone deny this?