April 15: "Tax Day"

Why "Taxation" is the Moral Equivalent of Theft

What is "Theft?"

The Eighth Commandment is "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15)

It is crystal clear that "taxation" is "theft." The "prima facie" case is inescapable. The logic is air-tight. But there are all kinds of rebuttals and evasions. 

At the end of the day, "But I want my free stuff" is the real argument against the conclusion that "taxation" is the moral equivalent of theft.

Here are some articles in favor of the claim that when thieves calling themselves "the government" take money against the will (without the consent) of the rightful owner, it is not "theft."

Not a single one of these arguments would hold up in the case of an individual ("Smith") taking money from another individual ("Jones"). Example: Smith says "I'm using the money I extorted from Jones for a project I deem valuable to all of society, not just for myself personally (although I take my cut of the money for my salary)." 

If taxation is theft, then "anarcho-capitalism" (or "anarcho-something-ism") is the only moral position. No taxation, no "State." This is a tough pill to swallow, but it is necessary medicine.

Arguments against the claim that when "the government" takes money against the will (without the consent) of the rightful owner, it is not "theft."

Taxing authorities take their cut from tax revenue to pay their own salaries.

Comparing salaries of public-sector employees with similar private-sector employees.

Joseph in Egypt

From time to time, I hear churchmen claim that taxation is moral based on what Joseph did in Egypt. By being faithful to God and willing to serve the Egyptians, Joseph rose in Pharaoh's favor to the #2 position in the Empire. God gave Pharaoh a dream and the interpretation to Joseph. The dream involved a massive famine that would have killed millions of people in Egypt, but God gave Joseph the wisdom to plan ahead and avoid mass death. Does this divine revelation to Joseph and the centralized planning and collectivization of Egypt by Joseph under Pharaoh give God's moral approval for George Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump to confiscate wealth from those who created it?

Taxation and Planning

It is important to remember that no politician in history has ever taxed "his" people in order to hoard the money in his basement and never spend it.


Sure, they always take their cut and live in luxury, but socialist planners are always saviors at heart. They have monuments to build. They have enemies to murder. All this takes money. Your money.

Taxes are what tyrants need to execute their plans. Taxation always means central planning. To say that tyrants have God's moral approval for stealing is also to say that they have God's moral approval for their plans for the loot. Gary North comments:

It might be argued that Joseph's experience in Egypt serves as a biblical justification of central planning by the civil government. Such an argument, while no doubt tempting, overlooks the key fact in this incident: Pharaoh had been given a direct revelation by God, and Joseph came to him as God's prophet with the ability to interpret Pharaoh's dream perfectly. Only on this assumption, namely, that we can expect truly prophetic omniscience from salaried or elected officials of the central government, can a biblical case be made for universal central economic planning. If this assumption is rejected, then central economic planning initially has no greater claim to biblical sanction than private economic forecasting does.

Is the assumption correct? Is there some feature about becoming a State official which in some way endows a person with a prophetic mantle? What biblical evidence do we have for such an assumption? Is any foreign prisoner who has served two years of an indeterminate jail sentence a predictably effective interpreter of visions given to nationalleaders? Would anyone wish to build a theory of political economy on such a premise? Could we create a governmental planning structure in terms of such an operating presupposition about the nature of civil government?

The consequence of Egyptian economic planning by Joseph must also be borne in mind. The entire nation, excepting only the priests, went into bondage to the Egyptian State (Gen. 47:13-22). All land, except that owned by the priests, became the possession of the Pharaoh. The people survived the famine, which they might not have been able to do had it not been for Joseph's entrepreneurship, but they and their heirs became servants of the Pharaoh and his heirs.

It was basic to the religions of antiquity that the State was in some fundamental way divine, or linked to the divine through the ruler. Egypt's theology was especially notable for its adherence to the theology of a divine ruler. The Pharaoh was supposedly the descendent of the sun god. Only the Hebrews, with their doctrine of the Creator-creature distinction, avoided the lure of a theology of immanent divinity. The outcome of such a theology, when coupled with a mechanism of State economic planning, was enslavement. This was the curse of what Wittfogel has called oriental despotism.8
8. Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1957).

The Hebrews, in stark contrast, were told to worship God, and only God, as divine. The State, clearly, is not divine, and any attempt to make it divine - the sole representative of God on earth was understood to be demonic. Officials were constantly told to remain honest stewards of the great King. The office of prophet was decentralized, and prophets continually challenged kings, princes, priests, and average Hebrew citizens when they turned away from God and His law. God sent a shepherd like Amos to speak to the people; they were expected to' heed this shepherd's word, not the king and his court priests. The civil government is no more trustworthy than any other human institution. All institutions are to be under the jurisdiction of God. There is no monopoly of sovereignty on earth, except God's written word, the Bible.

By decentralizing the office of prophet, God insured that His people would not be compelled to listen exclusively to false prophets catering to the civil government rather than serving God. When the people were stiff-necked, refusing to heed His word, He punished them by allowing them to believe the false reports provided by the court's false prophets (Ezek. 14:1-5). The curse on their ethical rebellion was quite specific: the imposition of centralized decision-making by corrupt kings and their officially sanctioned prophets.

We never face a choice of "planning" vs. "no planning." The only question is: "Whose plan?" When economic planning is decentralized, and decisions are made by owners of private property, society is shielded from the risks of massive, centralized error. An erroneous decision made by a particular privately owned firm may cost its shareholders dearly, and consumers who would have purchased the goods that would have been made, had the firm not embarked on its error-filled course, no doubt are harmed. There has been waste. Nevertheless, the majority of consumers are protected because competing firms and suppliers can step in and satisfy consumer demand. The rival suppliers help to smooth out the disruptions caused either by the unforeseen external circumstances or the operations of the misallocating firm.

When a monopolistic central planning agency makes an error in forecasting the economic future, large segments of the population suffer. ...  By monopolizing the entrepreneurial function, the State creates a planning structure that is far too rigid, far less sensitive to shifts in consumer demand and resource supplies, than the decentralized planning of profit-seeking entrepreneurs. This inflexibility in the face of ceaseless change drastically increases the risk of devastating, centralized, universal failure. And even when the State's bureaucrats turn out to be successful forecasters, as Joseph was in Egypt, the citizens who benefit from this accurate forecasting run the risk of becoming increasingly dependent on the State. As those in Egypt learned during the reign of the Pharaoh of Moses' day, successful State planning in one period in no way guarantees the continued success of central planners in subsequent periods. But successful State planning does increase the share of capital assets controlled by the State and its bureaucratic functionaries, thereby insulating them in subsequent decisions from private competition in the total decision-making process. The Egyptians learned this lesson the hard way.

It must be recognized that Joseph was in Egypt. No system of centralized economic planning was created at Mt. Sinai. God did not tell His people to imitate the experience of Egypt. He told them to avoid all contact with the "leaven" of Egyptian culture. Joseph brought the theological slaves of Egypt under bondage to their false god, the Pharaoh. God does not want His people to turn to the legacy of Egypt's bureaucratic tyranny as a model for a godly social order.

This exegesis of Joseph in Egypt outrages your typical State-promoting evangelical, especially college professors. They have tied their classroom lecture notes to the State-worshipping worldview of the tax-supported, humanist-accredited universities that awarded them their Ph.D.'s. They are the Pharaoh-worshippers of this era. Had they been in Egypt in Moses' day, they would have been the Hebrew foremen working under the authority of Pharaoh's Egyptian taskmasters. They are the people who would have come to Moses and Aaron and told them to go away, because they were making Pharaoh angry (Ex. 5:20-21). Their high position in the slave system was dependent on the continuing bondage of their people. So it is with humanism's chaplains in the Christian college classroom and the pulpit today. Freedom would require them to revise their notes and begin to promote economic freedom in the name of Christ rather than bondage to the would-be savior State.

Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, 227-229.

To say that Joseph's example in Egypt makes taxation by modern Secular Humanist socialists and fascists moral in God's sight is a breathtaking example of statist idolatry and ignorance, which all too frequently characterize today's Christians.

What About "The Head Tax?"

Some will say that Exodus 30:11-16 justifies imposition of taxes, through perhaps a very limited tax. Is this true?

No. Here are some resources to answer that question:

Taxation is the Moral Equivalent of Theft -- KEVIN CRAIG - "Liberty Under God" Beginning in Missouri's 7th Congressional District