In this article I will not be attempting to offer a full definition of theft. Rather, I will assume a background of libertarian property rights and will examine just one disputed aspect of the definition of theft. This aspect is raised by YouTube user Orygyn in his YouTube video Taxation Is Not Theft embedded below:
Note that my view is that taxation is theft.
Allow me to begin by explaining what I believe that Orygyn’s argument is by considering two scenarios:
Scenario A: I could go up to you and say, “give me your money or else I will use violence against you to try to seize your money.”
Regardless of whether you submitted to my threat and handed over your money, or whether you attempted to resist and failed, I think we would all agree that this would constitute theft.
If you managed to fend me off, we might call it attempted theft, but this is irrelevant to the discussion of the definition of theft. Therefore, assume for the sake of this article that the aggressor (me in this scenario) is always successful at seizing peoples’ money (or other property) whenever (s)he attempts to seize the money with physical force.
Scenario B: You want to buy a product from Bob. I tell Bob that if he does not give a certain percentage of the money he receives from you when you buy his product (a sales tax) to me, then I will use violence against him to seize the money from him.
In this scenario, you are not the victim of an act of theft as Orygyn rightly points out in his video (from 2:20 to 2:40). You are not the victim because nobody is threatening you with force. I am threatening Bob with force, however, and so he is a candidate theft victim.
Suppose Bob does end up selling the product to you for some money. Regardless of whether Bob submits to my threat of violence and hands over the money to me or whether he attempts to resist me and fails, I would say that this scenario would constitute theft. It would be theft for the same reason that Scenario A is theft.
Suppose Bob chooses not to sell you the product, however. If he chose not to sell the product then I would not take any money from him. Would he be the victim of an act of theft then? No, I do not believe he would. Instead he would be the victim of a bully threatening to steal from him if he acted in a specific way. But, as I would not have any of his money in the end, this situation clearly would not be theft. (Note, however, that because Bob has the freedom to sell his property to you my threat of force against him would still be immoral even though it is not “theft.”)
But, suppose that Bob does choose to sell the product to you, even though he knows that I threatened to take a certain percentage of the money he made from you if he sold it. Would it be theft then? As I said above, I would consider it theft, yes. But, Orygyn, apparently would not. “It’s not stealing if you agree to it,” says Orygyn in his video (3:28) referring to the fact that Bob (well not “Bob” in the video) choose to sell the product to you despite being able to choose not to sell it to you.
I think the presence of this choice in the matter is irrelevant as I will explain shortly with some examples. Before doing that, though, let me make sure that this picture of the difference between Scenario A and scenarios like Scenario B is completely clear to all of us.