Is Taxation Theft?

Posted on Posted in Ethics, Political Philosophy, Politics

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One of the arguments, or claims, that irks me the most is the claim that taxation is equivalent to theft. If you are familiar with analytic philosophy you probably know that Robert Nozick makes a similar claim (taxation is equivalent to forced labor).

On of the first papers I ever wrote was on this topic. The paper was a response to an argument that Milton Friedman makes in Capitalism and Freedom. The general idea was that contra the libertarian claim (like above) that the government has no right to take a persons money the government actually has an obligation to do so, even based on accepted libertarian principles.

Friedman’s argument goes something like this:

He claims that the government can’t do anything that an individual can’t do to another individual because the government is just a collection of individuals. ANd then states that since individuals can’t take wealth from other to redistribute it that the government also cannot do so.

The basic problem with this line of reasoning is that individuals have responsibilities to other individuals (depending on your choice of theory this is spelled out differently but in all theories there is some sort of obligation to others).

So, given a basic obligation to others, and given a government that is merely a collection of individuals you still get the idea that just like individuals the government also has a moral responsibility to execute the collective moral responsibility of the citizens of the government.

Taxation is not theft but rather it is the way that citizens discharge their responsibility to promote the common good. Individuals don’t have a right to steal from others but they do have a responsibility to promote the common good, and likewise, governments don’t have the right to steal from individuals but they do have a responsibility to promote the common good. That is essentially what all modern political philosophy (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Hume, Mill, etc) is all about, in some way or another.

So, no taxation is definitely not theft. God dammit!

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