The Moral Case Against Taxation

A lot of people have a strong opinion about taxation. "It's too high!". "Tax the rich more!". "Stop tax cheats!". "Avoid, don't evade!" - and so on.

Typically, most people treat it as an economic issue - a matter of raising money to pay for government services. This approach leads to incessant arguments about the nature of government expenditure and efficiency etc. - as if one were talking about a business venture and revenues. But taxation is nothing like business revenue. Government is not a business. Taxation is not payment made for services rendered - by voluntary agreement. It is a forced extraction of money from your pocket - in return for being treated like a chattel slave!

Taxation is not about government services - it is about income redistribution and "vote buying". Besides, I cannot think of one government service worth paying for - which could not be better provided by the private sector.

Publicly, if you believe opinion polls, people support taxation, and often agree to increases in it - if they think they can get a slice of the redistribution pie as a result. Privately, of course, people act as normal humans, and try to avoid it whenever they can.

Most offshore-related information sources promote products and strategies for minimising tax - legally. This can involve something as simple as having an offshore company and bank account - or as complicated as a complete offshore and asset protection strategy, costing many thousands of dollars. The official mantra is "tax avoidance GOOD - tax evasion BAD".

The difference between tax avoidance and evasion is a subtle one, based on whether it can be done so legally or not. If it's legal (under current, but ever-changing law), then it's avoidance. If it's illegal (not allowed under current law), then it's evasion. Take your pick!

Unfortunately this distinction is mostly semantic. It's like recommending pot smoking in Amsterdam (where it is legal), and warning against it in New York (where it is not). And as anyone who has given the issue of drugs any serious thought at all, it's really a matter of morality - not legality. For never forget, just because something is "legal" doesn't make it moral. And conversely, just because something is "illegal" doesn't make it immoral.

The irrefutable case against taxation is a moral one. And if we lived in a moral society - taxation itself would be illegal.

Why? Because taxation is theft pure and simple.

If you don't believe me, then consider this: let's say you're one of the poorer members of society. And as you look around you, you realise you don't have a nice home, new car, or annual overseas holidays. Others do, but not you. Given this fact, would you consider it moral to therefore spend your evenings breaking into the homes of the rich - in order to get a little of the good life for yourself?

If you're criminally minded, your answer will be that you don't care - you just want the money. But if you are like most people, you'll realise you simply cannot steal off others in order to better your own life.

Now, does it become moral if a third party (the government) takes the money off the rich and gives it to you? Of course not!

Taxation is income redistribution. Income redistribution is theft. End of story.

And don't believe the waffle about who will build the roads, or police the streets. This is just window dressing for what government is really about - and extremely poor window dressing at that.

Whether the issue is health care, law and order, or national defence - the government is in the business of income transfers - against the will of those involved.

But there is a much more serious moral case against taxation - the way it forces you to be complicit with the "system".

When you pay tax, you are supporting a government - its policy and agenda. When you pay tax, you are in fact endorsing what the government does - "in your name". And this is of particular interest in times of great moral disagreement - like the current war in Iraq, or the war on drugs, or the treatment of refugees - or pick your favourite hot issue.

Ask yourself this: would you have considered it moral or immoral to have invested in major companies which were profiting from Hitler's war effort in World War II? Would you have considered it moral or immoral to have sent funds in support of Stalin's Soviet Union? Or to bring it more up to date, would you be happy to give a monthly donation to the "Bin Laden fund for global change"?

Now, you may want to nitpick with me and suggest that the above examples involve voluntary payments or support - whereas taxation involves involuntary payment or support. But I beg to differ.

Taxation involves conning people into thinking they have no choice in the matter - that it is an enforced obligation. But does this fact absolve you from moral responsibility? And is it really a fact that you have no choice?

Let me ask you again: If you were a German in World War II, and you were violently opposed to the way Jews were being treated, would you be happy that your money was building concentration camps? Would you be prepared to shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, it's compulsory, what can one person do? It's got nothing to do with me!". It's a bit like a soldier, after being caught raping, pillaging and murdering - saying, "but I was just following orders!".

Let's roll forward. It's more than likely, if you are reading this, that YOUR government is involved in the war in Iraq. A pre- emptive war against a people who posed no threat to anyone. Now, if you support this war, then you probably don't mind your tax money going to fund it. But what if you are morally opposed to the war? How can you live with the fact that your money is funding something you are adamantly and morally opposed to?

How would you feel, if you knew your money had paid the salaries of the soldiers who committed abuses at Abu Ghraib jail? Or of the pilots bombing innocent civilians?

This brings up an even bigger moral question. Does any state have the right to tax its citizens in order to fund activities that a good proportion of its people are morally opposed to? And more importantly, does a state have the right to force any single individual to fund that which he or she is morally opposed to?

I'm not trying to take moral "sides" here, or say what you should or should not believe - only that you have a right to your beliefs, and a right not to have to support those who would tread on them. So let's look at another example:

If you are a fundamentalist Christian, would you be happy paying tax to a government that was offering free abortions on demand? Would you feel comfortable knowing your money was paying for something you personally believed to be immoral?

You can see the moral minefield we have here. And my essential point is NOT to try to distinguish between good and evil, but rather, to point out that no individual should be forced to financially support something he finds morally reprehensible.

What is the solution? Well, I can't see any government making a decision to voluntarily give up taxation. So, it requires individual action on the part of the tax payers themselves. It requires civil disobedience. It requires getting a backbone and learning to say "no!".

Forget about voting for change. It will never happen. No, the only way to get out of this moral quagmire is by you making your own decision and acting accordingly.

This issue is very much like being a "conscientious objector" - a person who refuses to fight in a war. Such people are treated with contempt usually, but to me they are moral heroes - because they refuse to be compromised, and act in accordance with their own conscience.

If you were allowed to apply for conscientious tax objector status - where you could file a case against paying tax, because doing so violated your own conscience - then that would be fine and dandy, and solve the problem. Unfortunately, this is a utopian idea and I cannot see any government wearing it!

That brings us back to individual action. And I should say straight up, that no person should act in a way that threatens their own life. No one is obliged to put themselves on the altar of self-sacrifice. Standing in front of government bulldozers or tanks is not recommended.

However, there are many smart alternatives to such a moral dilemma. There are ways you can "opt out", disengage, remove your sanction. And it behoves all people of goodwill, who value individual freedom, to seriously seek out such strategies. For, in the end, the state is merely the "Emperor with no clothes". It exists purely because sufficient people believe it should exist. And it only continues to exist because we all act like sheep - cheering from the sidelines - "what beautiful clothes!"

It's time to take off the rose-coloured glasses, and see taxation for what it really is - the modus operandi of totalitarian oppression.

Yours in freedom

David MacGregor