Tax is not theft, it is the price of civilised society

tax is theftAttending a debate on tax avoidance at the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation earlier today, I met an academic who angrily proclaimed to me that “all tax is theft”.

I replied that if one holds that view one should probably never use a hospital. One should probably not use roads or trains either, send one’s children to school or sit on one’s porch reading one’s copy of Libertarian Lately safe in the knowledge that one is protected from external and internal threats.

Unless you have private health insurance, travel by private jet, send your children to private school and have your own private army, tax is not theft. It is your contribution to the state that keeps you safe and well.

And if you do have all of those things, it would take a pretty callous person to expect the minimum wage single mother to go without healthcare, schooling, transport and personal safety just because she can’t afford them too.

It can be fairly argued that some taxes are regressive, punitive or overly burdensome. But all tax is not theft. Tax is the price we pay for civilised society. And of course those with the broadest shoulders should help carry the load for those who are struggling. Otherwise we all fall down.

2 thoughts on “Tax is not theft, it is the price of civilised society

  1. I would call tax a compulsory transaction. If I don’t wanna pay tax and don’t, well i will be sent to prison. if i want to support an industry like military or public healthcare, i can do that with my own money and on my own terms and not have it taken from me and spent in an ambiguous and haphazard way. Taking money from other people without their consent is ALWAYS theft, regardless if they are benefiting from the outcomes.

  2. I don’t feel that it’s inconsistent to think that all tax is theft, and still use those services. It is reasonable to accept that all tax is theft and simultaneously accept that some taxation is, unfortunately, a requirement to a functioning society. I feel that the argument “all tax is theft” properly puts into the right perspective the question “when is taxation ok?”. The answer would be, only under circumstances in which you would consider theft justified, or only under circumstances where there is no viable alternative.

    Stealing a car to drive someone to the hospital to save their life is simultaneously theft, and morally justified. I do not see a contradiction there. I feel that people who want to believe that tax is not theft are unwilling to accept that things that are generally bad (such as theft) may be situationally justified or necessary (such as taxes sometimes are).

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