Is All Taxation Theft?
In chapter two of For A New Liberty, Murray Rothbard writes:
…The State habitually commits mass murder, which it calls ‘war,’ or sometimes ‘suppression of subversion’; the State engages in enslavement into its military forces, which it calls ‘conscription’; and it lives and has its being in the practice of forcible theft, which it calls ‘taxation.’”
While all of these accusations may be true, they don’t always have to be.
Civil governments could follow a defensive-only war policy with strict orders to not harm non-combatants. This would be compatible with the non-aggression principle and wouldn’t entail “mass murder.” Governments could follow the practice of not having standing armies and military needs could be volunteer-based, thereby escaping the charge of “enslavement.” Taxation, however, is foundational. Some form of taxation will be implemented in any form of government. Our anarcho-capitalist friends say all taxation is theft due to its compulsory nature. The individual is forced to give a portion of his money to services that he doesn’t want, nor has he given his consent to be stolen from. Is this correct? Is government based on an immoral practice?
Determining if taxation is theft depends primarily on what God has authorized governments to do. It’s clear that God has authorized the institution of civil government for the purpose of executing justice. Apostle Paul even calls civil rulers “God’s ministers” (Rom. 13:1-7). While the Bible doesn’t command a specific method of paying civil rulers for their service, we know that the laborer deserves his wages (1 Tim. 5:18). Just as ecclesiastical ministers are paid through tithing, so civil ministers are paid through taxation. The terms are different but the concepts are the same.
When civil rulers use their authority to protect the righteous and judge the wicked according to God’s wisdom, they are performing the job he has ordained for them. Each citizen within a localized jurisdiction would benefit from this service and should happily pay their portion of the tax – which I believe would be under ten percent (1 Sam. 8:10-18). Under this scenario, paying the tax would be no different than paying for any other product or service that you enjoy. Like tithing to the Church, it would be “voluntary” but not optional.
Taxation only becomes theft when civil rulers deviate away from God’s direction and start using tax money for unauthorized purposes. When they force you to pay for someone else’s grocery, education or medical bill, they are taking your money unlawfully through wealth redistribution. When they force you to fund wars of aggression and prohibitions against alcohol, plants or milk, they are taking your money for a purpose that God has not given to them. That is theft: taking what doesn’t belong to you. But God says the authority to execute justice does belong to them, and the responsibility of funding that service belongs to us.
What about the individual who didn’t consent to the system? He did not choose to be under the authority of civil ministers; it’s his “natural right” to be free. Well, this person did not consent to exist. He should practice humility and realize that he is the product of two people coming together and making their own free choices. Similarly, governments are the product of people coming together and making the free choice to share burdens of the community. They do not form through coercion. If the person wished, he could move away and take his chances with another government. But whether he decides to stay or moves elsewhere, he is choosing to be under civil authority and to abide by the rules of that jurisdiction. He cannot escape authority absolutely because he is a creature of God; yet he still makes free choices because he is an image of God. This is to say that we do consent to be governed, even if passively. Freedom and submission are not opposed to one another.