Not long ago, I rebutted a piece on BeingLibetarian.com by Steven Sadowski where he argued that taxation is not theft. Harry Wilkinson of BeingLibertarian.com also wrote a response to Sadowski, arguing like me that it is incorrect to say that taxation is not theft. The difference is that Wilkinson holds that the theft is justified since “all members of society have consented to abide by a social contract.”
The social contract does not exist and the idea of it should be rejected. My bigger issue with Wilkinson, however, is how nonchalantly he rationalizes that theft is justified.
Now, again, this is not to say I do not agree with Steven’s views of taxation being a necessary evil to ensure the maintenance of the social contact, but it does not mean that it is not theft.
If one kills in self-defense, they are entirely justified in their action; however, they are still a killer. This is my main point of conjecture: We must separate the concepts of necessity and principle. It is entirely possible for one to be, like Milton Friedman, principally opposed to the concept of taxation but understanding of the current nature of necessity enveloping it.
It is in fact, I would argue, this understanding of necessity that fundamentally brings anarchists over to libertarianism. The recognition of the ideal and the pragmatic.
What makes killing someone in self-defense justifiable? It is not enough that the killing is done in self-defense for it to be ethically acceptable. Is it okay to kill someone because he is trying to steal a paperclip from you? The answer is that it depends. Is he trying to use up to and including lethal force to take the paperclip? If he is, then killing him would be justified. If he is not, then killing him, even though it is in self-defense, is murder.
In other words, the only way that killing the thief is justified is if there is no other option for your survival. It is not justified because you happen to have a gun on you or that he is standing at the edge of a cliff.
To put this more broadly, a normally ethically inexcusable act can only be justified if it is the only way to prevent a greater evil from occurring. It must be a last resort.
How is this applied to taxation? The theft associated with taxation can only be justified if it can be proven that the state is solely capable of providing some good or service. This means that if the market were left unfettered to come up with a solution, the outcome would be worse than (as Wilkinson puts it) a “mugger pointing a gun at your head and demanding that you empty your pockets.”
With so many market solutions for state institutions being offered, how confident should a libertarian be in saying that all of ideas put forward by market proponents are wrong? And should a libertarian be so confident when some of these market solutions are already being used in practice?
Nothing says “pragmatic” like ignoring reality.
What is especially interesting is that the benefit of the doubt is more likely to be given to the killer and never to the taxation advocate. Getting jumped on the street requires split second responses. Lines are blurred and it’s not exactly wise to ask a person holding a knife to you if he intends to murder you. Taxation, on the other hand, is not a practice that requires these instantaneous life or death decisions and its justification has been theorized for years. No one is going to die if taxes are not collected.
Well, that’s not true. The state will escalate your refusal to hand over tax payments to killing you if they decide to.
So how creepy is it to advocate for taxation when you acknowledge that it is theft?
Most people either don’t understand the concept or experience cognitive dissonance over the conflict in their beliefs. To say that the state has the right to steal from individuals of course means that individuals would also have the right to steal from each other. In order to delegate to the state the authority to steal, the individual must have the right to steal. The argument for taxation immediately falls flat on its face. Yet Wilkinson and those like him are more than happy to say that you deserve to die if you refuse to remit to the state.
Libertarians ought to be seeking ways to mitigate and eliminate forms of coercion. It is an abomination of libertarianism to rationalize it.