Tom Woods did a recent show on an article arguing that Taxation was not Theft (link: I thought it was a rather good episode, however I think Tom misses a point that I would like to add.

First let’s discuss the argument. I would attribute the argument to the original author, however I’ve seen it made by several socialist thinkers and so I don’t know who made it originally. It has come into vogue on the left as a counter talking point to the “Taxation is Theft” mantra. Here is what they say: Taxation isn’t theft because theft implies taking something from someone who has a moral right to something. They then claim that the poor have a stronger moral right to a wealthy person’s property than the wealthy because we have to weigh in a person’s right to eat, have shelter over a person’s right to their property.

Tom does a fantastic job on arguing why such thinking is not only morally bankrupt, but also just unworkable. I’ll leave that for him to discuss in his episode. However, what I am going to say is that even on their own terms, that argument does not justify our tax regime.

First of all this argument would only justify taxing the “rich.” However, our current tax system taxes the poor and wealthy alike. Whether that be gas taxes, sales taxes or FICA taxes, everyone is forced to pay into the system. Now, one could argue that the poorest get more out in direct welfare benefits than they put in, but that is really only true for the poorest group of people. There are plenty of people who would be considered poor that pay into the system rather than get out. Under the argument supplied taxation would not be justified.

A possible second argument is that everyone but the super wealthy in the country receives more than they put in because of all the services that are granted, things like roads, defense, and grants for studies about global warming’s disproportionate effects on women. To some this may seem plausible. But it is entirely beside the point. The argument to justify taxation as not theft only justifies taxation in the pursuit of redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. If taxation isn’t theft because the rich don’t have a moral right to their food in the face of the plight of the poor, it is theft because the government takes the money that should (according to this argument) go to the poor and instead spends it on something else.

Now I can understand why this argument isn’t the first one given by Tom (and other libertarians I’ve heard counter it). But I think it is a particularly strong one because it doesn’t let progressives talk out of both sides of their mouth. On one hand they justify taxation by saying the poor have a moral right to the property, but on the other hand they advocate all sorts of spending and taxation schemes that are still not justified by their logic.

Anyway feel free to tell me I’m wrong.