Girl with gun to her head

Are taxes ethical?

If taxes are taken without consent, then they are theft.  If they are taken with consent, these are three possible reasons someone might argue:

  1. By voting, you give your consent to have taxes taken from you.
  2. By residing in the territory of this country, you give consent.
  3. By existing as a human, you give consent.

For #1 – Does that mean if I don’t vote, then I don’t have to pay taxes?  Of course not.  This pay-to-vote system existed in early American history, but it is not true today.

For #2 – This means that if you reside anywhere, you give consent to whatever government claims that territory to take your money.  This is untenable for the following reasons:

  1. By what right does any government claim any territory as its own except by right of conquest, a feudal concept?  That is not a civilized system at all, as it turns people into conquered subjects.
  2. Any government can (and does) expand its territory at any time it can, so there is no escape, even if you are in the wilderness.
  3. The US government claims authority over the entire globe, due to its global income taxation for American citizens, and recent limits on revoking American citizenship.   This shows that territoriality is a laughable rationalization.

For #3 – Here we get to the real meat of the argument, distilled into the pithy observation that only death and taxes are certain in life.  But this is slavery, not consent.

I can only conclude that taxes are unethical because they are not collected by consent, so they are morally indistinguishable from theft.

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Liberty pioneers, showing the way through the economic wilderness

Liberty pioneers: showing the world how to live without government

Libertarians living off tax money is unethical, but it’s an even bigger practical problem. It shows that living without the government teat is impossible, that living on theft is the only way. It is philosophically damaging to the idea of a voluntary society. It is also bad marketing to people who ask questions like “who will build the roads?”

There will never be a day when we simply “get rid of government”, such that everything is perfectly free. This is because no one wants to be the first to give up their government goodies. Just as unilateral free trade is better than mutual protectionism, unilateral voluntarism is better than mutual theft. We can only ever get rid of government by showing, in practical terms, how to make a living without it.

Is it difficult? Extremely! Will it mean less money and fewer opportunities than working for the government? Yes! That is the price of advancing liberty. Many people are not up to the task. But then don’t blow hot air about liberty, if you are unwilling to do what is required to bring it about. It reeks of hypocrisy. The pioneers of liberty are the ones who show how to make a living, or even be rich, without stolen tax money. If they show the way, others will follow, simply because it’s in their self-interest. And isn’t that what we say motivates people, rather than abstract principles that contradict their daily reality?

Receiving tax money is theft

Ethics of receiving government money

I had a couple of objections to my argument that living off the government is unethical.

First, if accepting a government wage is unethical, then using the roads must also be unethical.

But this is not the case if one uses the net tax payer vs. net tax taker standard.  Using the roads is simply redeeming what was stolen from me.  Earning a government wage is 100% theft.

What about using the roads without having paid any taxes?  Should the government compel this person to pay taxes in order to justify using the roads?

If one looks at the road as just a pile of stolen money, the ethical way to remedy a theft is to split the money proportionally to what was stolen, and return the money to the victims.  Since the road cannot be split physically, its use may be split, effectively as usage vouchers, for the expected lifetime of the road that was built from that theft.  In other words, privatized.

The person who infringes on the use of the road without having had anything stolen in the first place, is infringing on the usage of the people who were stolen from.  He would be responsible for compensating those privatized owners, not for paying new taxes, i.e. new thefts committed against him.

This standard is consistent with not accepting any of the government’s stolen loot, unless, and only in the amount that, one was stolen from.

A corollary objection is, doesn’t this imply a need for government borders, since illegals use roads without having paid taxes?

Punishing people collectively is not justified, just because they are foreigners.  Furthermore, no one has commited any violations prior to crossing the border, so no a priori punishment is justified.  Many end up working and having money stolen from them.  However, any who do receive more from the government than was stolen from, are also stealing, the same as Americans who do so.  So, there is no categorical difference between Americans and foreigners.  No national border is justified, any more than any arbitrary border within the country.

The second objection is, while it may be unethical to provide services to the government in exchange for stolen money, it is okay to simply receive the money, as in Social Security payments.

If someone steals your car, you can justly recover your car, since you hold the rightful title.  If they steal your car and give it to a friend, you can also justly recover your car from their friend, since they do not have any rightful claim on it.  It is unethical for the robber’s friend to receive the stolen car.

Similarly, it is unethical to accept stolen money, since the victims have a right to have their money returned, from the money handed out by the government.

Handing over money

Is it ethical to work for the government?

If taxes are morally equivalent to theft, is it ethical to make a living from taxes?  I don’t mean welfare or corruption or anything thought of as taking advantage of the tax system.  I mean government jobs and even private sector jobs that rely almost exclusively on government contracts, such as military contractors.  If I believe taxes are theft, shouldn’t I refuse to work in a job paid primarily by taxes?


I can see some objections to this reasoning.

1. My job is more important / necessary / valuable than most of what the government spends taxes on, therefore it is justified, or at least not nearly as bad as other uses of taxes.

2. My job would exist in some form in a free society, therefore I’m not deforming the economy as much as other uses of taxes.

3. Someone else would do this job anyway, if I don’t.  It’s better if I take it, because then I can do it in a better way, more consistent with liberty, than some random person.  I might even be able to change the system from the inside.

4. Every job in some way relies on taxes, due to the nature of free trade in the economy.  A plumber may have customers who work for contractors that get government funding.  So, the plumber makes some of his money indirectly from taxes.  This means there is no ethical work.

5. It is too difficult to figure out how much economic benefit one derives from the government, considering income, occupational licensing, regulations in general, legal monopolies, indirect wage distortions from government spending, and other phenomena.  We just have to muddle through as best we can.

6. There are many other compromises we make in order to live in a society dominated by government.  This is no different.

7. It’s not ideal, but I have to feed my family, and since I can’t change the system all by myself, I have no choice but to make a living from taxes.

8. Taking money from the government is a positive good, because it is stealing from a thief, preventing him from profiting from the crime.

Difficulty of measurement is not an excuse

While these are all logically coherent objections, they still don’t answer the nagging fact that I am indeed taking stolen taxpayer money, with full knowledge and consent.

Just because it is hard to figure out how much money someone makes from the government doesn’t make it ethical.  It just means we have to figure out easier and better methods for calculating it.  To begin, we can at the very least agree that working directly for the government is unethical because your entire livelihood depends on stolen money.  We can then develop further metrics to get a more detailed picture of the ethics of one’s earnings.

Net tax payer or receiver?

Because money is fungible and circuitous, and because we make all kinds of small compromises to live in this society, as a standard, I propose asking whether one is a net tax taker or tax payer.  In this way, we know that the plumber, unless he works directly for the government or a government contractor, is an ethical worker since government steals from him more than he steals back.

The good thing about such a standard is that it resolves the complexity and taint objections.  Just sum up your activities and see what the bottom line is, as in a business.

The ends do not justify the means

To all arguments that the ends justify the means, or that we can’t afford to be ethical, or that it’s just not important, just imagine that I am a petty thief.  No amount of rationalization can do away with the reality of my crimes.  But, it is difficult to face this truth if I financially benefit from the crime.  That yields a very practical reason for this ethics: Making one’s living from taxpayer money makes it difficult to oppose government as such.

I look forward to developing this idea more and getting feedback on the challenges and additional objections I may not have addressed.