Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Taxation: What's the worst thing it can be called?

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

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.


a: the act of stealing; specifically: the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it b: an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property
obsolete: something stolen
: a stolen base in baseball 

In the above case nothing was stolen. This means that none of the conditions in the aforementioned definition have been met. The only possible avenue to argue against the above is by disputing this definition of theft. However, there is a problem with doing this. Language has no objective basis. In other words, any statement saying "theft is <insert definition here>" can neither be true or false. Ultimately, then, any argument of that sort is really a contest for the most popular definition of theft, and in either case, the argument "taxation is theft" or "taxation is not theft", by extension, can never be true or false. It too becomes the focus of a popularity contest.

Now what about the business owner?

Business owner: I want to set up a supermarket. Having at least the essential minimum amount of knowledge of what is expected of me, I know that I will have to give a certain amount of money from each sale to the government as tax. This time, I have 3 options.

Option 1: Set up the business in full accordance with the law. This might mean having to declare yourself self-employed, signing certain pieces of paperwork etc. In the end, I have a supermarket where people come in to buy items, I keep most of the money minus running costs, wages etc. and the rest is VAT.

Option 2: Set up the business. Avoid declaring yourself self-employed, signing all relevant paperwork etc. I pay no tax of any sort, and I'm operating outside the law. The chance of being caught for tax evasion is very high.

Option 3: Don't set up the business. No money is earned, nothing is paid in tax.

Options 1 and 3 are similar enough to the customer scenario that the same conclusions can be drawn. Where the "taxation is theft" camp have their strongest point, however, is option 2. In option 1, you've explicitly expressed your consent to the government in multiple forms. You might not like their terms, but you've agreed to comply with them. Nothing can be said to have been stolen from you there. Option 2, however, is different. You've not, explicitly at least, agreed to anything. You've set up your business, the government has got wind of your tax evasion, and they are now acting. How they act is location specific but you could be fined, you could have letters sent to you asking you to comply or you will have to be taken to court, or you may just be arrested right there and then.

Many people in my comment section have, in some form or another, pointed to this specific case as an example of the government committing theft. What the government deprives you of is location specific but it could be your money (fine), and is always your business premises, unless you comply with the terms they set to bring your business operations into the realm of being legal. Back to the definition.

The government have taken your premises (and perhaps money) off of you without your permission. This would certainly then seem to be an example of theft. However, I would argue that in this case, there is an overriding factor.

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.


: a tribute anciently exacted on the Scottish border by plundering chiefs in exchange for immunity from pillage
a: extortion or coercion by threats especially of public exposure or criminal prosecution


: the act or practice of extorting especially money or other property; especially: the offense committed by an official engaging in such practice
: something extorted; especially: a gross overcharge

These definitions lead to some very interesting conclusions. For example, every law ever made fits the second definition of blackmail as long as it's enforced. Anarcho-capitalists could certainly use this, but to call taxation blackmail under such circumstances would then be fairly hollow. If your ultimate aim is to argue that taxation is morally bankrupt, this broad definition devalues that effort. Since blackmail is defined to be a special case of extortion, I think we can leave it there.

There were 3 main arguments raised in response to my video. 1 was the legitimacy argument, which I've addressed. The other 2 are analogies.

Mafia analogy

"It is not theft then if you set up a business in a mafia controlled area of a town, and the mafia visit your business to demand protection money."

In the Mafia analogy there are again 3 options but some are different:

Option 1: Set up the business in the mafia controlled part of town.
Option 2: Set up the business elsewhere.
Option 3: Don't set up a business at all.

Only out of ignorance or outright support for the mafia would someone even consider choosing option 1. Let's assume they do though, as the other 2 options avoid the situation altogether. There are a number of differences in this scenario.

- The mafia's route to violence is more direct. It is highly likely they will kill you right there and then if you don't pay up. The government could issue fines, give you a court date, or at worst arrest you. If they did kill you, firstly, it could only happen in a country with armed police, and then it would be for 1 of 2 reasons. Police brutality (a separate issue) or because you threatened them with deadly force. From a morality perspective, this alone, in my opinion, would make the mafia worse. It doesn't however address the issue of theft.

- Unless the mafia own a certain percentage of your business, and were there telling you their rules when you set it up, they have no claim over the land on which your property is situated. If they were there in the beginning, you agreed to their terms. If they departed from their terms, it certainly would be theft. If they didn't, what action they took might fit the legal definition of theft, but "taxation is theft" necessarily addresses a non-legal one. Nonetheless it is still theft because they did not grant the initial property rights and have no claim over the business' land. In the case of the mafia not being there in the set-up stage, it is certainly theft. Because the government controls the terms and conditions of property rights, however, it is not theft in that case.

"Gunman in a country" analogy

"I tell you now: “If you choose to walk in North America I will require that you give me $100 every time I ask you for some money. If you refuse I will use violence against you to seize it from you against your will.” Now imagine that at some time in the future I meet you walking along in North America. I say to you, “Hi there, may I have some money?” You reply, “Sorry, I don’t have any money that I want to give you right now.” I reply, “Well that’s too bad. Either give me your money or else I will use violence against you to seize it from you against your will like I said I would before.” You reply, “What are you, insane? I thought you were only joking in that article that time.” (Or maybe if you were smart you would claim that you did not remember the article in order to persuade me that what I was doing to you was theft =P ). “Maybe I am insane, but I want your money,” I reply. I pull out a loaded gun and aim it at you. “Give me your money,” I say. Scared to death, you take out your wallet and hand me the $100 that I demanded. “Here, take it, you immoral *******!” you exclaim. “Don’t you mean, ‘you thief’?” I reply."

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.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Sweet Dissent

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

3 days ago, I posted my last video: "Taxation Is Not Theft". I've never received a response quite like the one I got to that video. I knew there was a significant and passionate anarcho-capitalist presence on YouTube but it's one thing to know that and think they might stumble across the video, and another when they actually do it. And it feels great!

Over the past 3 days, I have had many valuable discussions with these people. At times it has been stressful, and all of them have responded to absolutely everything I've said. Some didn't understand my argument, many others did. My position hasn't changed, but my understanding of the issue has significantly developed, and surely it has worked both ways. Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree, but I've been waiting for this for a while. As a skeptic, there is simply nothing like civil disagreement.

On YouTube, many discussions end in drama. I've seen many and even played a minor role in 1. What happened on my most recent video is what needs to happen more often. Nothing was ever conceded in these discussions, but what's important is why you think what you think. If you end up more rational as a result of these discussions, you've benefited from them.

That's all for now, my next response will take full advantage of the blog format to respond to all the arguments that were raised and to look as deeply as possible at the issue. If it was on YouTube it would be one of my epics like "William Grim's "Aesthetics of Hate" - A Debunking" or "Variablast and the All Powerful N-Word".



Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

So I have a YouTube channel and a HubPages blog, why post here as well? It's very simple. HubPages has its own community. I joined because my fellow YouTuber, InModiasWeTrust, also had a HubPages blog and it seemed a good alternative to the video format. However, there was a pressure that I don't have here. It seemed weird to me to talk about YouTube in the confines of an unrelated community. Here there is no such situation. This is my domain, I can write about whatever I feel like without feeling like it needs to fit in some context. I might still write there but this seems better to me. I should've done this to begin with.

Let me outline my current situation. The last video I uploaded was now 3 days ago. Over the last few months, I've not uploaded much and I still can't really go into the reasons why. All I can say is that any attempt to remedy the situation has so far been hopeless. I can't make videos on a regular basis but I can post here. Whenever I would normally make a video, I will post here. This will serve as a direct substitute to my YouTube channel until I can sort out my situation. It's not the same as watching a video, but in many ways I'll find this to be better because first of all, I write better than I talk. Ever wondered why all the jump cuts? Yup. Secondly, I won't feel rushed. I can stop writing at any time and come back to it, whereas making a video, I'd have to fit whatever I could into whatever time I had.

Based on the response to my HubPages blogs, even the ones I linked to in videos, I can't expect there to be a great turnout here. Nonetheless, time will tell.