Why is taxation not theft and why is the state legitimate?

This has been bothering me lately. Why is taxation not theft and what gives the state its legitimacy? I’m interested in both Catholic and rationalistic explanations.

I consider it to be paying for the services that the government provides. (Military defense, police, firefighters exc.) Over-taxation is theft, though.

… asked Ammon Hennacy and Dorothy Day.

Why is it theft? The state provides things for you, security, infrastructure, etc. Its not like you give money and get nothing back.

Taxation itself isn’t theft because the those who are taxed live in society and benefit from the use of the money. However, misuse of the tax dollars for one’s own gain could certainly be considered theft.

Social security is theft b/c it won’t be around for younger people yet they are forced to pay into it as if it will be.

Theft is where one individual takes the property of another without the latter’s consent, usually for the former’s benefit.

Although it’s implicit, you do consent to the state’s authority to take taxes and indirectly benefit from its activities for society even as an individual.

I think that you would be interested in Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. All have very different ideas on how society should function, but they all shed light on what it means to live in and be a part of society, how and why the state has legitimacy, what you owe your state and what it owes you in return, and how much individual sovereignty you should be expected to give up to live in a society and gain its benefits. Very interesting stuff.

This is true even if that benefit isn’t direct. For example–even if I pay taxes from a bridge I never drive across, I still might benefit from it indirectly because it facilitates transportation and commerce, which affects my local economy and in turn my grocery bill.

Theft is a legal concept and is therefore defined by the state. The state therefore defines what is and is not theft. To use English law as an example as that’s what I’m familiar with, theft is “dishonestly appropriating property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of the property.” Dishonesty is a specific legal concept but certain circumstances mean dishonesty can not be present and therefore that there is no theft. One is that the taker believed he had a right in law to take the property. Taxes are authorised by law and therefore there is a right in law to take them. Other legal systems probably bring you to a similar place by a slightly different route.

That bolded bit. Yes, theft usually comes with the expectation that you won’t get it back. :slight_smile:

To your point Obama has racked up over 5 trillion in debt since his Presidency. What did we get? Well 47 million on food stamps, record poverty levels, never ending 8% unemployment, $500 million wasted on Solyndra, roads and infrastructure still a mess.

Never covet your neighbors wealth.


That’s one reason everyone should pay something in the way of income taxes. They also learn that it takes money to run a government, and they too can give of themselves for the common good.

Taxation without representation IS theft. Many of the “fees” we pay in addition to our income tax (which should not be progressive, IMO, “The more you make, the more we take”) are put through government agencies that we have not elected to appropriate our money. That portion of our taxes, which can be substantial, qualifies as theft.

We stop the thievery with our votes. VOTE THE (fill in the blank) OUT!

The problem is we cannot avoid being robbed unless we can get 51% to agree not to rob you. (BTW “robbery” is the right word if one is speaking of taking your property/money by force or threat of force.)

Consider this:

Under most circumstances, everyone agrees it would be wrong for Joe to take money from his neighbor Bill. Joe would not dream of stealing Bill’s money; he knows it is wrong, and he also knows he could get punished for stealing.

Would it make any difference if Joe can convince 20 other neighbors to gang up and take the money from Bill and give it to Joe? No? What if hundreds or thousands get together and demand the money? What if they call themselves a government? What if they make a law to take Bill’s money?

Obviously, if the government takes Bill’s money, it doesn’t call it theft—it calls it taxation. The question is why is that not a theft? To say that I get “services” doesn’t cut it. Tell that to Catholic parents paying Catholic school tuition while paying for their neighbors public school kids. Is that just? When most taxation NEVER comes back to me, how have I not been robbed?

And this, from St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4:

Remove justice, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What do you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.’

Would you support a fee for service system of collecting payments?

I disagree.

You might benefit from Senators and ex presidencts flying all around the world and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars for giving a speech too.

So the state gets to take my money without my consent and then also gets to define what that is and why it’s something other than theft.

Sounds like a brilliant racket to me…

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