Wayne Holland: The Irrational Universe

Why Taxation is not Theft

... context... January 13, 2016


The most ill-conceived sermon that libertarians preach has for its subject the absurd notion that taxation is a form of theft.

They do not seem to realize (or perhaps they deliberately choose to ignore) that the validity of this claim is based upon a preconceived notion that is highly questionable.

That highly questionable item is nothing less than the fragile concept that that which is being stolen from them is theirs in the first place.

Why is this a dubious notion?

The best answer to this question lies within the framework of yet another one, namely, what makes us think that anything is ours?

Whence the notion of ownership?

Mother Nature knows nothing of this fantasy, of private ownership, at least in the way that we as developed social beings speak of it.

It is true that she has indeed instilled in us (as well as animals) the sense of territoriality.

But being merely territorial is not quite the same as owning a piece of real estate.

The idea of legally owning property is a social one, a notion that is practiced only in more developed cultures.

Native Americans did not relate to our sensitivities about land ownership in nearly the same way that we do.

If there is something that you feel you own, it is only so due to the operation of higher social activities at work (in your psyche), activities within which you live and move and have your being (to borrow a biblical phrase).

We (as individuals) did not come up with the idea that something is ours all on our own. We had help. We got the idea from the society that made us, that brought us into the world, taught us how to speak and integrate ourselves into its own greater dynamic.

There is a structure, in other words, outside of us that makes the very idea of our ownership of something possible.

We did not make that structure, although - to be sure - we are a part of it, even a part of its continued existence.

In truth, circumstances are actually quite the opposite. The structure made us!

None of us has come into the world out of a clear sky, or out of the void. None of us may claim responsibility for our own creation.

Something outside of us is responsible for our being here, for our basic presence here. It is true, in time we do arrive at an age wherein we must assume personal responsibility, which is itself an idea that is not original with us, since it has been in place for thousands of years.

It is an act of cowardice to ignore, or otherwise disregard, that which is responsible for our very presence here. This is very likely what is behind the commandment to honor our parents.

I am of course not simply speaking of our parents, but the greater society that provided the framework for their existence, and continues to provide (and maintain) it for ours.

It is all too easy to get the impression that the libertarian/conservative types in our midst have embraced attitudes that suggest that they truly believe that they are responsible for their presence in our midst, that they are in no way the product of a greater society, that they did indeed somehow appear (by their own hand no less) from a clear sky.

Whether we like it or not we have a debt to the society within whose house we came to be, within whose boundaries we yet live and move and have our being.

If that society were to somehow vanish overnight we would find ourselves in the nasty, brutish and short state of nature that Hobbes referred to.

Compared to that, paying taxes doesn't seem so bad, and it sure as hell is not a form of theft.

The land upon which your house is built is ultimately the property of the greater state, a fact that occasionally becomes poignantly clear whenever the principle of eminent domain is enforced.

It is only due to laws that are currently in place in that state that you may assume the legal ownership of the land in the first place. (If said state were not in place any claim of ownership would be meaningless, without sufficient ability, or inherent structure, to support it.)

If there were no laws in place regulating the buying and selling of property, any claim to ownership of a specific piece of real estate would be meaningless. Those laws are indeed in place within the context of that greater structure that we call a state.

And do we even need to discuss the roads, law enforcement, fire departments, the public schools?

Libertarians and conservatives use the government-sanctioned highways as much as anyone else, but have the temerity to suggest that citizens are being robbed by the state to pay for such conveniences.

But by far the most important item that we pay for (that the government provides) is the means of payment itself: money.

How often have we heard the exclamation, "It's my money."? To be sure, there is a way in which the money is indeed yours, especially if the old saying about time being money is true, which I suspect it is. If you have invested time in the earning of the money, then it is indeed yours.

But on another level, the money is not yours. It is the legal property of the State that issued it and backs it. Any doubts on this score could easily be settled by a Secret Service Agent if/when he arrives on the scene to arrest you for defacing it.

Money is supposed to be taxed every time it changes hands. This is the primary reason that prostitution is not legalized. It is nigh impossible to tax it. It has nothing whatsoever to do with morality.

Essentially, the tax we pay whenever we use money is a use tax. We use money. We do not simply keep it in our pockets to carry around and show it off to our friends. In a very real sense it is not the money itself that is being taxed so much as the use of it.

Yes, we are paying use-tax whenever we are using money. We even pay it when we inherit it, since inheritance is also an instance of money changing hands. The deceased is using money as a way of securing their wealth as they see fit.

The State owns the money; we simply use it. And for that use they charge us. The State both issues the money and backs it. It is a valuable (and highly convenient) service for which they charge a fee. How could we possibly expect them to provide such a service for free?

It is virtually inconceivable that anyone would manufacture, distribute and back a product without charging something for that service.

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