Libertarians love to make the flat statement “taxation is theft”. If you spend any amount of time among them you recognize it for the propaganda and attempt at brainwashing that it is. Of course they don’t see it that way. Taxation is certainly a strong issue with me as well and I certainly find common ground with Libertarians on the current state of US taxation…it’s bad…very very bad. But my disagreement on their popular phrase, one that someone they admire certainly once said and they all repeat ad nauseum, centers around the use of the word “is”. Mind you, it’s more than just a semantic argument, it’s a logical one. “Is” is the third person singular present of “be”. To be is a very powerful word in any language. It defines the state of a thing, it’s very existence. I’ve spent time in several professional fields and fields of academic study where the meaning of words like IS, SHALL, WILL, and MAY actually mean something important. When I see such words they jump out at me.
Take the difference between these two statements as examples:
- White people are racists
- White people can be racists
When phrased this way most people are clearly able to pick up on the flaw and quickly determine, “No, not all white people are racists.” How many white people does it take not being racists to invalidate the absolutism of the clause? Just one.
And that’s the issue with the statement, “Taxation IS theft”, it uses absolute thinking. Professional Counselor Ugo Uche wrote in Psychology Today, “The problem with absolute thinking is that it causes pain and suffering in the life of the person who adheres to an all-or-nothing attitude in any facet of his thought process. This is because the person is routinely exposed to contradictions to his beliefs, which creates a sense of threat to his world view.” (2011) Certainly I’ve seen how countering this world view brings out the angst in libertarians each time I point out the logical fallacy. They can’t seem to wrap their heads around the simple flaw in logic. Hilariously often causing them to double down with even more absolutist thinking. Take this reply I received on Facebook when I brought this up.
While taxation CAN be theft it does not HAVE to be. The logic is simple: if one person wants to pay then the absolute fades away. I wish libertarians would stop parroting this phrase and take a moment to address the logic. Taxation is not theft. Taxation CAN be theft but that’s not the same as it actually BEING theft. It’s not an absolute. All we have to do is find one example of one person willingly paying their taxes and the absolute falls apart. Examples of this abound. Many municipalities vote on tax increases for schools, public safety, or special city projects. If such a measure passes by 55% to 45% then perhaps the 45% are justified in saying “this tax is theft” but the 55% chose it and for them most certainly that tax is not theft.
I feel government has a limited purpose and that purpose needs to be paid for. I willingly pay my taxes and enjoy what I get out of that and I think most libertarians do as well even though they won’t admit it to themselves, or certainly not to others. Does this mean that I willingly pay ALL my taxes? No, it doesn’t. Some taxes are theft, some are not. And most tax rates are way too high. I support very low taxes and massive tax reform but I’m fine with taxes as the monetary tool used to accomplish shared tasks that have a mutual benefit to the whole.
A city using tax dollars to pay for snow plows is a good example. It benefits the entire city and the businesses within that city and fosters protection of citizens by allowing first responders access they simply must have to serve the citizens. While some may argue that each citizen can pay for their own snow plowing it doesn’t take long to see how this would create a bit of a mess. The most elegant solution to being snowed in is to pay a tax to cover the cost of that service for everyone.
Why is this important to me? Because I feel that most people see the logical fallacy in “Taxation is Theft” as quickly as they see it in “White people are racists” and that simply serves to shut them down to the very real issue of unjust taxation in America and the urgent need for tax reform. I do not think any group (even one I agree with on most subjects) serve themselves well through propaganda or weak arguments that are easily broken by their opponents. Bill Clinton put it famously when he said, “it depends on what the meaning of is, is.” If libertarians are trying, as he was, to twist the meaning of the word to suite their needs they will face the same scrutiny and mockery he did for that famous obfuscation.