Like many who consider themselves libertarians, I have concluded that taxation, in any form for any purpose, is theft. I agree with the nineteenth-century economist Frederic Bastiat, who called it legal plunder. It ought to be abolished.
When I state my position on this matter to others not versed in libertarianism, they invariably jump to the conclusion that I am an anarchist who would do away with government and the rule of law. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not against government — I believe that government is essential to protect us from violent and antisocial people and to provide a means by which people can resolve their disputes. I am simply against forcing anyone to pay for these important functions.
Like many other important things in life that can only be obtained from other people, or in cooperation with others, government — that is, good government — can be “purchased.” It can readily be obtained without force, just as food, shelter, and clothing are procured without robbing our neighbors. Just because I do not rob others to get food does not mean that I am against eating.
If government was financed by voluntary subscription instead of taxation, people would have as much government as they were willing to pay for. Then — and only then — could it truly be said that people got the government they deserved.
Moreover, there is little doubt that most people would voluntarily pay to have government ensure a peaceful and safe society. Why? Because most people consider this important. People do not need to be coerced into supporting churches, because they consider religion important. There is every reason to believe that the same would be true with respect to government.
Would there be people who reaped the benefits of voluntary government but refused to pay their fair share? Yes — just as there are people who receive the benefits of churches without paying for them. If enough people consider government to be important, the money to support government will be there. We need not concern ourselves with those who will choose to put their money elsewhere.
There are many reasons to overcome our dependence on force to pay for government, not the least of which is economics. The enforcement cost of taxation negates any advantages of this method of funding. Although it is difficult to accurately determine how much it costs to collect tax revenues, some economists have said that thirty percent of tax revenues collected in the United States today is spent to collect the revenues!
Many people who favor constitutional limits on taxation fear that abolition of taxation would jeopardize national security. But just wars (i.e., defensive ones) can be successfully waged without resort to taxation. Our war of independence proved that, conclusively. That eight-year conflict was prosecuted without taxation or conscription by the Continental Congress. It ended when an army of determined revolutionaries, voluntarily funded, defeated the most powerful government on earth. And it should be noted that when the Revolution ended, England was spending ninety-three percent of her tax revenues to pay for prior wars and existing military forces.
There is a nexus between war and taxes. There is a nexus between escalating violence in our society and the violence of taxation to finance the escalating cost of government. The common thread is force. The epitome of illiberal hypocrisy is to denominate oneself a peacemaker without opposing taxation. It does not matter whether the taxes are to pay for guns or butter, taxes amount to the initiation of force in human affairs, which results in all sorts of violent reactions.
Taxation can be defended on neither moral nor pragmatic grounds. Constitutionally limited government, voluntarily funded, will ultimately result in the most moral, peaceful, and free society in history.