As promised, here's the follow-up to my most recent and most controversial video ever: "Taxation Is Not Theft". The libertarian/anarcho-capitalist community on YouTube has come down like a tsunami on this video so there's a lot to address here. Let's get to it.
The first thing I want to say is that in that video, I was not espousing any opinions on the greater issue of the merits of taxation. Most people assumed I disagreed with them on that greater position. I deliberately didn't want to get into that because then the arguments would be off-topic. I wanted the issue of the video to be addressed. Despite these assumptions, I was, for the most part, successful. All discussions were mostly on topic.
A lot of people, it seems to me anyway, failed to understand my argument. Not all, but enough to warrant a restatement and a closer look so let's do that now.
I'm going to go through a specific type of tax. We'll start with VAT (value added tax, or sales tax in America). Aside from the government, there are 2 relevant perspectives to look at: that of the customer and the business owner.
Customer: I walk into a supermarket. I scour the shelves for my weekly produce and when I'm finished I take it to the counter or self-service checkout. Now, VAT is not paid on all items but let's assume that in this example, everything I've bought is tax-deductible. At the checkout, I have 2 options:
Option 1: Pay for my items. At this point I will be handing over the money including the cost of the VAT. I can't choose not to pay the VAT.
Option 2: I take my items back, and walk out without having bought anything or paid any tax.
So what's happened here? Well, I had the option to pay for my items and hand over the money myself, some of which will go to the government, or to leave and not part with any of my money. No-one took any money from me against my will in either case, and no-one forced me to hand it over under threat of violence. Now let's look at a dictionary definition of theft. Specifically Merriam-Webster.
The government rules the country. What this means is that they get to set the rules for what goes on in the country. Another way of saying this is that the government has control over the land within the country's boundaries. There are other types of property besides private property: public and state. State property can be said to be "owned" by the government: zoos, libraries, legislative buildings, museums etc. Public property is everything else. In the case of all 3 types of property, their existence is predicated on the existence of the claim that the government has over the country's land.
At this point I'd like to bring up the "legitimacy" argument which proponents of the "tax is theft" argument left in my comment section:
"The only thing that matters is whether the government has a legitimate rule over the country. If they do not, taxation is inarguably theft."
The problem with this argument stems from the word "legitimate". By what set of criteria can a government be judged to be legitimate? It can't simply be your personal opinion otherwise all I need to do to refute your argument is disagree with you. It again boils down to a popularity contest over the most popular set of criteria. No, an objective basis is once again necessary. So what could that objective basis be? Democracy? No, that would mean anyone could vote out the owner of anyone's property. The Constitution? Where does it get its legitimacy from? The Founding Fathers? Same problem. 1 person suggested that we start with the idea that you own your own body and progress from there: you own the products of your labo(u)r, you own what you trade from those products. While this is probably the strongest basis, it is still not objective. Why do I own my own body? Because I control it? Because it's part of what makes up me? No, it is me. If ownership is synonymous with identity or having control of something, the product of your labo(u)r doesn't fit this description. Even if someone were to hack one of your limbs off and run away with that, you no longer have control over that limb and since it's no longer a part of your body, it's no longer a part of you. All I have to do is ask why you own your body and any possible argument ultimately leads nowhere or leads back to the premise and is therefore circular.
Without an objective basis for having a legitimate claim over the country, no property is legitimate. The idea of property rights itself is no longer possible and by extension, theft is impossible.By asserting that taxation is theft, you are asserting that property rights do exist, and so someone must have a legitimate claim over the country. Without this claim and some rule the claimant has made as to how property rights function in the country, there is no rule so there is no basis for attaining property or asserting that you have it. The fundamental axiom of property rights then is that someone must have a claim over the land in order for property to exist at all. There is no such thing as inalienable rights, the ruling government determines the terms and conditions of these rights. Any counterargument which involves the Supreme Court or the Constitution is inapplicable because the government ultimately decides whether to follow the edicts or rules of either. Democratic and Republican governments alike have ignored both on multiple occasions with no more consequence than public outrage, if even that.
Back to the business owner's option 2 in the VAT scenario. He hasn't explicitly agreed to pay any tax, but by setting up a business at all, he has attained private property on which to build his supermarket. Whoever previously owned the property (or who still does in the case of a lease) is irrelevant, the existence of those property rights at all is contingent on the government's claim over the country. When the government gets wind of the rogue business owner's activities, if any action they take involves confiscating the business owner's property, what they are doing then is enforcing the terms and conditions of those rights. The government has now deemed the business owner unworthy of those rights for failing to comply with the terms and conditions they were granted under. In other words, something is only your property in so far as you agree to comply with the terms and conditions of the property rights.
I must emphasise that I am simply arguing here that the government is not committing theft, I am not passing a moral judgement on what they are doing. You are still free to condemn the government for their actions, it is just inaccurate to specifically call it theft.
Now another question? If taxation can't be called theft, what's the worst that it can be called? Blackmail? Extortion? Let's have some Merriam Webster definitions for both.
This analogy comes from the following blogpost:
This analogy represents a far better understanding of my video's initial argument than the mafia one. The victim knows what will happen if he enters North America. Knowing the terms and conditions, which the gunman has set out, this person chooses to enter North America anyway. He claims to not have the money upon meeting the gunman and so the gunman persuades the victim, by means of his gun, to hand over the money, which he does. This analogy would be perfect if 2 changes were made.
1. The gunman applied his edict to everyone.
2. The gunman was the ruler of the country.
The first change is not an essential one, the outcome would still be theft. The second is the one that makes all the difference. As ruler, you determine property law for the country, including the terms under which property rights are granted. If the gunman is not this ruler, this person has no claim over any property in the country and so would be committing theft.
There is a complicating factor in this analogy. The money is coming in from another country. The victim acquired the money under a different ruler's jurisdiction and so under a different set of property rights. If the 2 changes were made to the analogy the gunman/ruler would be acquiring property given to the victim outside of their jurisdiction. If a currency conversion took place, this issue would be avoided since it would have been converted to US or Canadian Dollars, created within the jurisdiction of the USA or Canada, but if it was the victim's home country's currency, this could legitimately be called theft even if the gunman was ruler.
In conclusion, I'll say something which is absolutely true. Whatever your position on whether taxation is theft, neither of us is right or wrong. It depends on how you define theft and language always changes according to popular usage. Ultimately, your position is "taxation is bad". This is a far more constructive argument to have, what was happening on my last video was an argument over semantics. I should also mention that if there is any conflict between this post and my video, this post is to be taken as the most true representative of my opinion. That or I've written something mistakenly here.