“Tax equals theft”

Tax isn’t theft, theft is by definition illegal. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives the Federal government the legal right and ability to raise taxes, and it does not limit this right to sales taxes.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States

Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution

The legality aspect is sufficient to distinguish tax from theft, but simply being legal or illegal does not make something theft or tax. It is insufficient to determine what it is. Murder is illegal and it is not theft, and exercising free speech is legal but is not tax. Being legal is necessary but insufficient to define what tax is. Luckily, in addition to the Constitution making tax legal, it also defines what a tax is: money raised legally for the defense of the country and to invest in the public welfare of that country.

Tax-equals-theft person’s definition of theft

People subscribing to the tax-equals-theft philosophy define theft in several a much different way than the Constitution. They formulate their definition in a few ways that are meaningfully equivalent to one-another: “taking money through coercion,” “taking money against someone’s will,” “taking of something of value without the consent of the owner.” They define theft this way so they can define tax into the theft category. The problem is that when property/money taken through coercion is your only requirement to define something as theft, many things which objectively aren’t theft can be defined that way.

For example, a tenant who no longer wants to pay rent. A person comes to a landlord looking for lodging. The landlord draws up a contract that they both agree to at that point in time. The contract stipulates that if the tenant ceases payment to the landlord that landlord will take legal action, the threat of eviction, or other justified legal coercive means to force the tenant to pay their rent. At a future date, the tenant withdraws consent to pay rent and will no longer willfully give the landlord rent money. Based on the tax-equals-theft impoverished definition of theft, the landlord’s coercive legal responses to make the tenant pay their rent against their will would be theft. Coercion doesn’t cease being coercion because you agreed to its potential use against you at some point in the past.

I’m not making the argument that paying rent is theft, I’m pointing out that if one is operating on the tax-equals-theft woefully insufficient definition of theft, making someone pay rent when they don’t want to is theft. Of course the tax-equals-theft definition is designed to be overly encompassing because they want to apply theft to taxes, which it cannot otherwise reasonably be applied to.

So tax isn’t theft, because tax is legal and theft is not, and the tax-equals-theft definition of theft cannot be applied consistently without absurd consequences. But let us return to the legality of taxes. Of course not everything legal is ethical and not everything ethical is legal. Most people, though, would agree that collecting taxes for the purpose of defense and promoting the common good is perfectly ethical. It is true that governments often misuse taxes for things that aren’t for the common good, but that is an argument against the government using tax revenue irresponsibly, not against the concept of taxes. I fully agree politicians and governments should be held accountable for misusing tax dollars.

There is another thing wrong with the tax-equals-theft position and definition of theft. People often pay taxes perfectly willingly knowing that at minimum some good will come of it. So even if I accepted the tax-equals-theft definition (which I don’t), tax is only theft when someone is unwillingly pays taxes. Which means the most the tax-equals-theft definition could justify is “tax sometimes equals theft.” Tax does not equal theft when they are paid willingly.

This all demonstrates that there are fundamentally a lot of holes in the tax-equals-theft position.

If you are born in the United States you obtain US citizenship. This citizenship comes with many benefits and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is paying taxes if you are employed at a US business. Non-citizens who legally work here also pay taxes because the general welfare that tax dollars promote benefits anybody who has a job in the United States; they’re protected by labor laws, they are allowed legal recourse against employer abuses, they are protected by the military while in our borders, and many other things. Legal residents benefit from the spent tax dollars of others, and legal residents must contribute as well. Businesses that operate in the US consent to abiding by US laws and regulations, and if you want to be employed by a US business, you must consent to those terms too. If you don’t consent to those benefits or being taxed, simply work somewhere else and give up your citizenship.

The problem with tax-equals-theft people is that they pretend like they get no benefit from tax dollars. They act as though they spawned out of thin air as children (not benefiting from health regulations, requirements, government health subsidies, and WIC if their mom was low-income) and and singlehandedly created the civilization around them (not benefiting from technology other people built, the legal system that protected them, or anything else provided by society).

This is a cornerstone in ancap Right-wing libertarian ideology; for them, everything happens in a vacuum completely removed of the surrounding context, social or otherwise. You’re unemployed? It’s because you weren’t industrious or a hard worker, who cares about random misfortunes or mental health. You don’t have healthcare? It is because you were short-sighted and irresponsible, not because you had to spend what little money you had on children or your sick mom who just had cancer. I’m rich? It is because I was industrious and a hard worker, not because I was born with opportunities others didn’t have and had a good amount of luck. This is known in psychology as the cognitive thinking error call fundamental attribution error. The far Right is callous, self-serving, and willfully ignorant of any context that may not support their worldview.

In any case, arguing against taxes is stupid because in a world surrounded by countries with powerful militaries and robust social net programs improving the lives of their populace, we would be at a fundamental and existential disadvantage if we didn’t raise public revenue to fund exactly what the Constitution enumerated with the general defense and public welfare. Theft or not, ethical or not, the consequences of abolishing taxes would be far worse than the consequences of having them.

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