Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Should Christians Think About Taxes?: Part 2 - "Thou Shalt Not Steal"

In my first post on the subject of Christians and taxes, I argued that the "render unto Caesar" and "pay your taxes" passages in the New Testament does not make taxes themselves moral. In this post, I will argue that taxes are a form of theft, and that they violate the Ten Commandments, especially the command to not steal and the command to have no other gods before God.

"Thou Shalt Not Steal" - Exodus 20:15

The Ten Commandments i the great moral bedrock of moral and ethical law by which Jews and Christians abide by. They have endured in the hearts and souls of many throughout all of history, and they have enriched the hearts of all who abide by them (and they receive their fullest recognition in Christ Jesus).

However, even so, there is one passage that most people don't seem to grasp as fully as I believe they should and that is the sixth commandment. "You shall not steal." (Exodus 20:15).

Most people recognize that this commandment is a condemnation of theft, and many also believe that it protects the sanctity of private property rights, as the majority of property titles are obtained and earned justly (through "homesteading" and/or through voluntary exchange). However, when one condemns taxation as a violation of this commandment, most Christians will recoil and argue that since taxes are commanded in the Scripture elsewhere, then taxes cannot be theft.

However, such a dismissal not only misunderstands the nature of taxes but also the nature of theft and how it doesn't suddenly become something else when it is made legal or labeled by another name.

First, let us look at what taxes are. Essentially, they are the forcible taking of earnings and fruits of one's labor by the State for the use of the State. They are done without the consent of the taxed person, and often the person who refuses to pay taxes is sent a paper, and if he resists further, he is dragged to court (or immediately jailed, depending on the society one lives in) and if he resists even more, he will probably be killed in the process. These are not mere dues that one pays for living in society; they are forcible takings of one's goods and services for the benefit of the State.

Murray Rothbard says of the state and taxes in For A New Liberty:
At first, of course, it is startling for someone to consider taxation as robbery, and therefore government as a band of robbers. But anyone who persists in thinking of taxation as in some sense a "voluntary" payment can see what happens if he chooses not to pay. The great economist Joseph Schumpeter, himself by no means a libertarian, wrote that "the state has been living on a revenue which was being produced in the private sphere for private purposes and had to be deflected from these purposes by political force. The theory which construes taxes on the analogy of club dues or of the purchase of the services of, say, a doctor only proves how far removed this part of the social sciences is from scientific habits of mind."4 The eminent Viennese "legal positivist" Hans Kelsen establish a political theory and justification of the State, on a strictly "scientific" and value-free basis. What happened is that early in the book, he came to the crucial sticking-point, the pons asinorum of political philosophy: What distinguishes the edicts of the State from the commands of a bandit gang? Kelsen's answer was simply to say that the decrees of the State are "valid," and to proceed happily from there, without bothering to define or explain this concept of "validity." Indeed, it would be a useful exercise for nonlibertarians to ponder this question: How can you define taxation in a way which makes it different from robbery?
And the very existence of the State creates two classes, the taxpayers and the tax consumers. The late philosopher John C. Calhoun said in his Disquisition on Government:
The necessary result, then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is to divide the community into two great classes: one consisting of those who, in reality, pay the taxes and, of course, bear exclusively the burden of supporting the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers. 
But the effect of this is to place them in antagonistic relations in reference to the fiscal action of the government — and the entire course of policy therewith connected. For the greater the taxes and disbursements, the greater the gain of the one and the loss of the other, and vice versa . . . . The effect, then, of every increase is to enrich and strengthen the one, and impoverish and weaken the other.
Another reason that makes taxation a worse form of theft is that it is legitimized by its defenders as being a necessity for society, without which none of us can survive and without which we would all become selfish pricks without concern for morality or justice. However, this is definitely not the case at all, and I believe the tax defenders are misunderstood. Fees may be asked of by private (non-state) communities in the anarcho-capitalist society, but even then they won't be forced on the non-consenting parties, like taxation is. Just because one doesn't actively kill a tax collector to prevent being taxed doesn't mean that consensual transferring of wealth has occurred. Theft is theft.

"Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me" - Exodus 20:3

Another important consideration when dealing with taxes is the issue of who is God. Often taxes are collected by the State in an attempt to make itself godlike and powerful. Many times, as others noted elsewhere, the State charges even more than God Himself commanded His people to pay (State tax rates are often higher than the 10% tithe God commands His people to pay).

C. Jay Engel, a Reformed Baptist anarcho-capitalist, says of this:

Beyond the realm of goods and services, the State has stolen the messianic mindset.  For in its massive taxation of the people, what has the State really claimed, but that it is the ultimate owner of whatever revenue the individual makes for himself?  This soon becomes a knowledge issue.  By its decrees and by its own calculation, the State assumes the ability to determine exactly how much money an individual “needs” and how much is good for him.  And when by licensing and certifying business to provide services for each other, the State has set up itself as Society’s sovereign institution, making it plain that, by only the grace of itself can the economy operate.
This is indeed true. By taxing the people, the State asserts that it has the right to take part of the capital of its own subjects/people. It asserts that its own well-being is more valuable to the people than if the people merely kept their earnings and capital and allocated them elsewhere in more productive suits. It takes resources and money that would arguably be allocated more justly in the private sector and wastes it in the public sector, often on things that have no worth and meaning. With the exception of inflation and money-creation that occurs in the fractional-reserve/central-bank system that now exists in America, taxation is one of the most powerful and deadly uses of state power. As the famous statement opines: "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Indeed. Without taxation, not only would the State be unable to do major damage, but the very structure of the State would disappear, as it should (in my view, but more on that later).

And how does this all relate to idolatry? In many ways it does. While taxation is indeed forced upon the people, oftentimes some people see their taxes as offerings to the state. Why is the State's taxation idolatrous? Because it takes money that rightly belongs to God and to man (to man because man often earns his wealth justly) and expropriates it for itself. It assumes that since it is the chief unifying force of society without which society would collapse, it assumes the right to forcibly take money from its citizens and use it for its own purposes (and also other services that are done in the name of the people, when in fact, those services can be provided better in the free market by individuals).

The Fundamental Question: What Right Has The State To Tax Us?

It all comes down to this: what right has the State to tax us? Some may say that Romans 13 approves the State as an institution and thus taxes are a legitimate and godly thing, provided they are not excessive. However, I would argue that Romans 13's ideas don't endorse the exploitative institution known as the State and that the command to pay taxes was not a legitimizing of the tax system but rather a command of Christians to pay in order to avoid persecution (as at the time the corrupt Roman bureaucracy would severely persecute tax resistors).

Another factor to consider is how the State originates itself. I argue that it is rooted in exploitation and aggressive force; it is not voluntary governance that everyone agrees to, but rather it is an institution that lives off of force and taxes. This is what is called the Rothbardian theory, the anarcho-capitalist theory, or the conquest theory of the state. C. Jay Engel says:
The origination of the State is in conquest.  Whereas many Statists will attempt to show that the State is a grassroots or “bottom-up” phenomenon (an interesting claim, as those who today write the political narrative generally despise “bottom-up” approaches), the so-called “Austro-libertarian” theory is that the State forces itself onto the people it claims to “represent.”  There is interests of wealth, money, and economics on one hand, and also a general disposition to be in charge and to rule over others.  The State, therefore, is alien to the people, its victims.
What should the Christian think of this though? Is the conquest theory really incompatible with the Bible? Or is there something more? Engel says:
They believe that the origination of the State is to be found in God’s ordination.  God ordains the existence of the State.  Therefore, it is a reality because He seeks to accomplish some aim by means of this State.   Try to stay with me here.  Many Christians will then say: “Therefore, the State is good.”  But that is absurd.  Doesn’t God ordain evil?  Why would we ever take the position of: “God ordained the existence of Satan, therefore Satan’s existence is good”?  That is not a Biblical logic.  More importantly, consider Acts 2:23: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The gravity of understanding that the death of Jesus Christ was planned, ordained, from eternity past should be emphasized.  Is not the murder of the God-man Christ Jesus the most horrific crime in all of history?  Is there any better way of demonstrating the depravity of mankind?  And yet, it was ordained by God Himself.  Yes, God ordains evil.  God ordains all things.  So the assumption that the State is good because it was ordained by God is a poor assumption if that is the only reason given. 
(This is, of course, setting aside the discussion of the goodness of some agency, perhaps on the free market, which plays the role of “punisher,” or “government.”  And I assume that by now the reader is familiar with the distinction that I find useful of separating the State as a monopoly institution and the government as a role in civil society.  One can be provided on the free market and the other requires the initiation of force.  Whether or not the State should be accepted as a civil good is a different conversation, but I do want to point out the coercive nature that is core to its character.)
It is clearer now that the conquest theory of the State—that the State lives off of conquest and is born in such—is not exactly contrary to the view that God "ordains" the State, since God can "ordain" bad things and He can permit them to happen. And often, history testifies to the fact that States are formed in conquest and aggression, ranging from the conquests against other nations that occur against other nations or even the (gasp) somewhat secretive nature in which our constitutional system was formed. And not even "democracy" can legitimize the State, for as the late Albert J. Nock noted in The American Mercury:

...the idea that the procedure of the "democratic" State is any less criminal than that of the State under any other fancy name, is rubbish. The country is now being surfeited with journalistic garbage about our great sister democracy, England, its fine democratic government, its vast beneficent gift for ruling subject peoples, and so on; but does anyone ever look up the criminal record of the British State? The bombardment of Copenhagen; the Boer War; the Sepoy Rebellion; the starvation of Germans by the post-Armistice blockade; the massacre of natives in India, Afghanistan, Jamaica; the employment of Hessians to kill off American colonists. What is the difference, moral or actual, between Kitchener's democratic concentration camps and the totalitarian concentration camps maintained by Herr Hitler? The totalitarian general Badoglio is a pretty hard-boiled brother, if you like, but how about the democratic general O'Dwyer and Governor Eyre? Any of the three stands up pretty well beside our own democratic virtuoso, Hell Roaring Jake Smith, in his treatment of the Filipinos; and you can't say fairer than that.
The conclusion that I take here is that not only are taxes a form of stealing and that they are somewhat of an idolatrous thing, but they have no legitimacy, not even when it is democratic or plastered with Christian symbols. Even while taxes should be paid by the Christian, that does not mean that taxes are pre se legitimate. One can fully support Christians paying their taxes while at the same time supporting any call for the abolition or (at the very least) reduction of any taxes, and one can even support the abolition of taxes and the state itself with a clear conscience.