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Written by Christophe Cieters.

The State is “nothing but men acting in concert”. The grounds for justification of State action can only be “the same principles which differentiate the proper from the improper actions of the individual. […] Despite the lofty pretensions of most governments, the fact remains that they, like any other group of men, are nothing more than a collection of individuals. The ‘rights of a government’, like the rights of any other association of men, can be morally no different than the rights of the men who comprise it. All that which is immoral for men acting individually is equally immoral for men acting in association. There is nothing a government can morally do, which individuals by themselves cannot morally do. The group is ethically no different from the individual. It is irrelevant whether a man steals by his own authority or with the sanction of a million others, whether he takes money for himself or for ‘the poor’ or for any other group which did not earn it. Theft consists of taking a man’s property against his will, regardless of the beneficiary. If the individual has an inalienable right to his own life, liberty, and property, then morally his life and property are his own to do with as he pleases. It is just as immoral for a government to attempt to tax A’s earnings, regulate his business, or draft his sons [to go to war] as it would be for some isolated individual acting on his own authority to do so. The association of men into a group called ‘government’ does not free them from morality or sanction actions otherwise immoral,” and neither does the size of such a group or its support (Wollenstein, 1969).

Clearly, democracy brings no avail: the fact that a majority agrees with a State’s actions changes nothing at all for the minority which does not. Democracy supposes that a majority vote transforms the State into “we, the people”. But if “we” are the State, “then anything which a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical, but also ‘voluntary’ on the part of the individuals concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that ‘we owe it to ourselves’. If the government conscripts a man, or throws him into jail because of a dissident opinion, then he is ‘doing it to himself’ and, therefore, nothing untoward has occurred. Under this reasoning, any Jews murdered by the Nazi government were not murdered; instead, they must have ‘committed suicide’, since they were the government (which was democratically chosen), ergo anything the government did to them was voluntary on their part” (Rothbard, 1974). One would not think it necessary to point out the utter insanity of this type of reasoning, and yet most people do not question this fallacy as they see no crimes being committed through taxation and other infringements on self-ownership, property and liberty by the State on a daily basis. Even if the State did truthfully represent the majority – “even if seventy percent of the people decided to murder the remaining thirty percent – this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority. No organicist metaphor, no irrelevant bromide that ‘we are all part of one another’ can be permitted to obscure this basic fact” (Rothbard, 1974, emphasis added). “We” are not the State; the State is not “us”.

Now, it is important to note that whatever the State spends, “it must first take, wherefore somebody has less to spend in proportion as the government has more. Furthermore, government debt can represent only postponed taxation because the borrowing must sometime be repaid, and it can be repaid only out of revenues from taxation” (Garrett, 2010, emphasis added).[1] All State expenditures necessarily “come out of the private sector. [Even] if we assume all government expenditure to be honest and virtuous in nature,[2] it still remains true that in order to make this expenditure, the State must infringe on private property rights by taxation in order to pay for the spending. We can thus establish that, at its best, government spending is analogous to taking money from one pocket and putting it in the other [with State officials taking their cut for doing so]. But taxation also discourages entrepreneurship and investment. In economic terms, it necessarily decreases the foreseen marginal utility of any individual action. So, in reality, State expenditure leads to a net loss in wealth in the private sector. Private companies judge the viability of an investment through profit and loss. Profits signal that a company is doing well on the market, while losses suggest that the company’s products are not desired”. But the State due to its coercive nature “does not respond to profit and loss. A government can always increase revenue by raising taxes, and so it feels no need to remain profitable” (Catalan, 2010, emphasis added). On the free market, a company cannot get people to pay more for a product than they value it. “If the asking price is too high, they simply say ‘no’. But there is no similar limitation on the government, which pays for things by levying taxes. And taxes are coercive – one cannot refuse to pay taxes just because the government is paying more for something than you value them” (Lott, 2007, emphasis added). However, by contrast, one is not forced to buy and pay for a McDonald’s hamburger when one does not want one, wants to buy one at Burger King instead or is perhaps even a vegan who is opposed to the slaughtering of animals. But one is forced to pay for the State’s “social security”[3], even when one does not want it, wants to buy it from a different supplier or perhaps even opposes it.

But the State is an organization in society “which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area. […] While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet” (Schumpeter, 1942, emphasis added). The fact that it is claimed – and to various extents no doubt true – that the State uses the resources which it confiscated through taxes to give back certain governmental services, does nothing to change the fact that the very moment taxation has to be paid involuntary – i.e. under threat of further confiscation of property and the use of force – only one conclusion is possible: taxation is theft.

There is no ambiguity about this matter: “in trade, exchange is conducted by the mutual consent of the individuals who wish to participate in it, according to their own terms. In taxation, services may be rendered according to the government’s [unilateral] decrees, while the individual’s property in this case is taken with or without his consent” (Wollenstein, 1969, emphasis added). Whether this robbery is backed by a majority or not changes nothing about the position of the circumstantial minority who is in disagreement and does not voluntarily wish to pay for services they do not want, oppose or would rather get somewhere else.

Higher absolute numbers or a higher total biomass does not constitute a legitimate hold on morality or a determining factor of good and evil in any possible way whatsoever, no matter what proponents of democracy claim and no matter how convinced they are of it.[4] If it were so, it would be up to the ants to decide what is permissible and what is not.[5] It is obvious but apparently all too often forgotten that “the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities” (Rand, 1967). If a person is not morally allowed to murder an innocent other; then neither is the State. If a person is not allowed to rob from another, then neither is the State. Giving a different name to the same action (war and taxation as opposed to murder and theft) changes nothing.

When scrutinizing any form of State action, there can be no mistake about the fact that the State is a collection of men, not some supernatural deity that can turn a wrong into a right. The State’s purported authority to act “is in no way greater or different than the authority to act of individuals in isolation. […] Government has no magic powers or authority not possessed by private individuals. Let he who asserts that government may do that which the individual may not assume the onus of proof and demonstrate his contention” (Wollenstein, 2010).

But let us demonstrate the above through a more practical example. Suppose that you are standing next to your car and somebody who you have never seen before walks up to you. The man demands that you give him your car. You refuse, but then he threatens to use force and consequently takes your car from you at gunpoint. When asked whether the man was right or wrong in doing so, I hope it is not too bold to presume that most people would say that the man who does this is a thief who is violating both your property rights and your physical integrity by wrestling the keys away from you. “Okay, now let us suppose that it is not one man but a gang of five men who forcibly take your car from you. Still wrong? Still stealing? Yes. Now suppose that it is ten men that stop you at gunpoint, and before anything else they take a vote. You vote against them taking your car, but the ten of them vote in favour of taking it and you are outvoted, ten to one. They take the car. Still stealing? Let’s add specialization of labour. Suppose that it is now not one, five or ten but instead twenty men who show up, and one of them acts as a negotiator for the group, one oversees the vote, two hold the guns, one drives” and the others just stand by and are not directly involved in the proceedings but vote along with the others, making it twenty to one in favour of taking your car. Does that make it okay? Is it still stealing? What if some in the gang for whatever reason also voted against taking your car and the vote was not twenty to one but sixteen to five in favour of confiscating your car? Suppose it is a hundred men and that after voting and forcibly taking your car they give you back a bicycle. That is, they provide something in return. Is it still stealing? Suppose the gang is two hundred strong and they not only give you back a bicycle but they ‘redistribute’ what they took at gunpoint and buy several bicycles for some other people as well. Is it still wrong? What if the first thief did this on his own?[6] Is it still stealing? How about if the gang has a thousand people? Ten thousand? A million? How big does this gang have to be before it becomes morally right for them to vote to forcibly take your property away without your consent? When, exactly, does the immorality of theft become the alleged morality of taxation?”[7]

This quickly proves to be a question that is hard to answer for even the most adamant democrats. The reason for this is that there simply is no answer to it.

The immorality of an action does not change because of the number of people participating in it: murder remains murder, genocide remains genocide and robbery remains robbery. Voting on what to do with other people’s property against their wish is an action which is absurd to a degree equalled only by its utter irrelevance. A and B do not own C’s wallet; what they think should be done with it or its contents is completely irrelevant, no matter how much they vote on it. It is not their property and therefore they are not the ones who are to decide what happens to it. If A and B walk up to C and tell C that the three of them will take a vote on whether C has to give A and B his wallet, this is no less absurd or immoral than it is when the same thing happens on any other scale, under any other name or hidden behind any other sort of legal structure. It is a peculiar sight to see that “a robber who justified his theft by saying that he really helped his victims, by his spending giving a boost to retail trade, would find few converts; but when this theory is clothed in Keynesian[8] equations and impressive references to the ‘multiplier effect’, it supposedly carries more conviction. […] But the average man, whatever his errors otherwise, at least sees clearly that government is something lying outside him and outside the generality of his fellow men, that it is a separate, independent, and hostile power, only partly under his control, and capable of doing him great harm. Is it a fact of no significance that robbing the government is everywhere regarded as a crime of less magnitude than robbing an individual, or even a corporation? What lies behind all this […] is a deep sense of the fundamental antagonism between the State and the people it governs.[9] It is apprehended, not as a committee of citizens chosen to carry on the communal business of the whole population, but as a separate and autonomous corporation, mainly devoted to exploiting the population for the benefit of its own members” (Rothbard, 1974). When a private citizen is robbed, “a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed, the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before. The notion that they have earned that money is never entertained; to most sensible men it would seem ludicrous” (Mencken, 1949, emphasis added).

Yet, aside from the moral crime inherent to State coercion of innocent and unwilling individuals, there is a serious economic hiatus in the utilitarian justification of State aggression under the guise of taxes. Taxation means that the confiscated money[10] is withheld from being applied to private alternative uses in order to finance the supposedly desirable public goods: the individuals whose resources were confiscated by the State can no longer use them as they themselves would have liked to.

Consequently, “the only relevant and appropriate question is whether or not these alternative uses to which the money could be put (that is, the private goods which could have been acquired but now cannot be bought because the money is being spent on public goods instead) are more valuable – more urgent – than the public goods. And the answer to this question is perfectly clear. In terms of consumer evaluations, however high its absolute level might be, the value of the public goods is relatively lower than that of the competing private goods, because if one had left the choice to the consumers (and had not forced one alternative upon them), they evidently would have preferred spending their money differently (otherwise no force would have been necessary). This proves beyond any doubt that the resources used for the provision of public goods are partially or entirely wasted because they provide consumers with goods or services that at best are only of secondary importance. In short, even if one assumed that public goods can be distinguished clearly from private goods and such a dichotomy exists, and even if it were granted that a given public good might be useful, public goods would still compete with private goods. And there is only one method for finding out whether or not they are more urgently desired and to what extent, or mutatis mutandis, if, and to what extent, their production would take place at the expense of the nonproduction or reduced production of more urgently needed private goods: by having everything provided by freely competing private enterprises. Hence, contrary to the conclusion arrived at by the public goods theorists, logic forces one to accept the result that only a pure free market system can safeguard rationality. No less than a semantic revolution of truly Orwellian dimensions would be required to come up with a different result. Only if one were willing to interpret someone’s ‘no’ as really meaning ‘yes’, the ‘non-buying of something’ as meaning that it is really ‘preferred over that which the non-buying person does instead of non-buying’, of ‘force’ really meaning ‘freedom’, of ‘non-contracting’ really meaning ‘making a contract’ and so on, could the public goods theorists’ point” make any sense whatsoever (Hoppe, 1949b, emphasis added).[11]

What is more, the misguided notion that there is a so-called market failure whenever there subjectively appears to be a nonproduction or a quantitatively or qualitatively “deficient” production of public goods “completely misconceives the way in which economic science asserts that free market action is ever optimal. It is optimal, not from the standpoint of the [subjective] personal ethical views of an economist,” or any other observer, “but from the [objective] standpoint of free, voluntary actions of all participants and in satisfying the freely expressed needs of the consumers” within the factual bounds that natural and amoral scarcity draws. State interference, therefore, “will necessarily and always move away from such an optimum” (Rothbard, 1962). Indeed, the arguments supposedly proving the occurrence of market failures “are nothing short of patently absurd. Stripped of their disguise of technical jargon all they prove is this: a market is not perfect, as it is characterized by the nonaggression principle imposed on conditions marked by scarcity,” which by its very definition makes it impossible for each and every whim and desire to be satisfied, by which it follows that “certain goods or services that could only be produced and provided if aggression were allowed will not be produced. True enough. But no market theorist would ever deny this. Yet, this is decisive, this ‘imperfection’ of the market can be defended, morally as well as economically” due to scarcity simply meaning that reality has no capacity for Utopia,[12] “whereas the supposed ‘perfections’ of markets propagated by the public goods theorists cannot” be defended in any way whatsoever because of the involuntary coercion that only shallowly hides beneath the surface of their interventionist policies (Hoppe, 1949b).

When examining the validity of Statist and interventionist arguments, a lot of trouble could have been avoided if all the self-proclaimed policy makers who throughout modern history have based themselves on the gospel of Keynes[13] would have let this gem of economic reasoning on which his interventionism is based sink in: “the important thing for government is not to do things which individuals are doing already and to do them a little better or a little worse: but to do those things which are not done at all” (Keynes, 1926, emphasis added). The illogical absurdity of this kind of reasoning and the unfounded arrogance of feeling entitled to enforce such subjectivity on others cannot be overstated.

Footnotes

[1] Also note that, curiously, the brave defenders of equality rarely have a problem with progressive taxation which violates their supposed equality from the start while they aggressively oppose any talk of a flat tax which would at least be vaguely true to their egalitarian murmuring.

[2] Quite a leap of faith indeed.

[3] Orwellian Newspeak abound.

[4] See also the previous Chapter on democracy.

[5] “On average, ants monopolize 15-20% of the terrestrial animal biomass” (Schultz, 2000). Total number of ants is estimated at around 1016 to 1017 (Embery, 1983). For comparison, there are currently close to 7 x 109 humans alive (UNS, 2009). It is not a coincidence that the populations of collectivist societies are often compared to ants, but as G. Ramel eloquently put in his 2007 sonnet, men as intelligent beings are not destined to live the lives of ants: “Who can believe the ants, they work so hard, they build good homes, tend herds and fill their stores, they grow their gardens and they fight their wars; some labour long, some rule while some stand guard. They take no care for God, live as they must, and we are so like them I hear men say. They are poor men who live in such a way, taking no time to challenge what they trust. What then of hearts and minds, what then of brains? What then of beauty, art and searching thought? Is all that is not labour judged as nought? And what of love and all that love explains? An ant learns well but questions not one task, a man learns more the more he learns to ask”.

[6] Remember Robin Hood, a legendary thief from popular English folklore. He is famously known for “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor” (Chandler, 2006), a criminal and violent act of which the supposed heroism has throughout the centuries been instilled into the easily corrupted minds of millions of adults and children alike. The irony of it is however that in fact, he was stealing from State officials to give their ill-gotten spoils back to the people that they took them from. This of course makes for a less useful story for Statist propaganda.

[7] This is a formulation of the “how many men” argument as presented in (Raphael, 1998) which I thoroughly rephrased and restructured for continuity. In short: “a man’s natural rights are his own, against the whole world; and any infringement of them is equally a crime, whether committed by one man, or by millions; whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber, (or by any other name indicating his true character,) or by millions, calling themselves a government” (Spooner, 1867).

[8] John Maynard Keynes was a famous British economist who advocated interventionist economic policy (Keynes, 1936) and whose theories are still widely preached and used today in spite of their malicious consequences (the financial crises of the 2000’s being only a few of them). Also see (Raico, 2008).

[9] Also see (Freud, 1930).

[10] Taxes can take the form of any type of resources, be it money (as is most common today), grain, gold or something else.

[11] Some claim that the State is legitimized through the existence “of a ‘constitutional contract’ in which everyone ‘conceptually agrees’ to submit to the coercive powers of government with the understanding that everyone else is subject to it too (Buchanan et al., 1958). Hence government is [supposedly] only seemingly coercive but really voluntary. There are several evident objections to this curious argument. First, there is no empirical evidence whatsoever for the contention that any constitution has ever voluntarily been accepted by everyone concerned. Worse, the very idea of all people voluntarily coercing themselves is simply inconceivable, much the same way as it is inconceivable to deny the law of contradiction. For if the voluntarily accepted coercion is voluntary, then it would have to be possible to revoke one’s subjection the constitution, and the State would be no more than a voluntarily joined club. If, however, one does not have the ‘right to ignore the State’ – and that one does not have is right, is, of course, the characteristic mark of a State as compared to a club – then it would be logically admissible to claim that one one’s acceptance of State coercion is voluntary. Furthermore, even if all this were possible, the constitutional contract could still not claim to bind anyone except the original signers of the constitution”. (Hoppe, 1948b). See the concept of Newspeak as mentioned in earlier footnotes.

[12] Which all collectivistic ideologies promise in spite of scarcity anyway if one only signs over his or her soul to the great reformer and forces others to do the same. Let the parable of Goethe’s Faust (Goethe, 1832) be a warning to anybody on the verge of falling for it.

[13] I will come back to Keynes later.

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Christophe is a guns and gold loving anarchist from the geographical area known as Belgium. He spends his days slaying dragons and rescuing damsels in distress, invigorated by bathing in statist tears on a daily basis. He was put on this world to kick socialist ass and chew bubblegum – and he is all out of bubblegum.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider purchasing his book The Road to Anarchy and leave a review.

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