Taxation Is Theft: A Constructive Explanation

By Spencer and Emalie MacCallum


How do we best explain the voluntaryist position and bring people to understand that taxation is theft? The philosopher Spencer Heath once remarked, when this question arose, that people cannot recognize atrocity until they can entertain in their minds an alternative. He gave the example of slavery in the ancient world. Virtually no writers of antiquity, although they may have urged that people treat their slaves and other livestock kindly, ever proposed the abolition of slavery. Slavery was accepted as the basic economy upon which society was established; it was not something that it made any sense to question. It was not until technology had developed to the point that people could entertain in their minds alternatives to slavery, that they could recognize slavery as atrocity.

The same now applies to taxation. Only when people can entertain in their minds alternatives to taxation will they be able to recognize it as theft. Hence it behooves us, rather than bashing taxation to no avail, to study and promulgate the alternative, free-market ways of financing public services — to show the alternatives that are now emerging. This will be a constructive approach, which all people can appreciate and, moreover, will be unlikely to antagonize folks in places of power.

[This article was prepared for the essay contest “How Do You Explain To People that Taxation is Theft?“. Spencer MacCallum is an American anthropologist, business consultant, and author.]