"The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!" ~ Ludwig von Mises
May A Libertarian Take Money From The Government? A Modification To Block's Argument
Column by new Root Striker David Rogers.
Exclusive to STR
Back in August 2015, Walter Block and Bob Murphy debated on the Tom Woods Show whether a libertarian could rightly take government money. Bob Murphy's argument was simple and effective: the government stole the money from taxpayers, and that libertarians who take money from the government knowingly receive stolen wealth.
Walter Block presented a number of practical arguments for taking government money and observed that it was impossible to avoid government subsidies. But he didn't really address Murphy's core argument.
Both men assumed that taxation is always theft. This position is hardly controversial in the libertarian community. But is it true?
For a moment, step back from the debate and turn your eye to the beleaguered taxpayer. If he is a libertarian anarchist, then it's easy for him to claim robbery. But if that person believes that the state rightfully takes wealth, and that people owe some or all of of their wealth to government, can he cry foul over taxes?
Does it even matter? Who cares what the owner thinks or feels about his property?
The owner cares, that's who. Under libertarian property theory, the rightful owner of that property is the one who decides how it is valued and under what conditions it is justly transferred. So if the owner of wealth believes that government is owed his property, and the government is of the same mind, then in what sense is this taxation theft?
A libertarian might object that the property is transferred under duress. But since libertarianism permits force to correct theft or discharge debts, force alone can hardly be a point of contention. And since both the state and this owner both agree the property in question is owed, can its compulsory transfer be regarded as a crime?
So, the way I regard my wealth determines whether it's a crime to take it? How can such a subjective standard be applied? At what point does it become a crime?
At the point where the owner rightfully regards his property as being his alone and owed to no other. Libertarian theory shows what property is, how things come to be property, how it can be acquired and what ownership entails. So it's possible for a man to determine if he rightfully owns something, and what that ownership really means. Once a man knows what's his, he's at liberty to assert his rights as he sees fit. Can the same be said of a statist?
No. Only an anarchist can assert that the taxing of his property is an act of robbery. After all, the point where he sees his taxation as intrinsically criminal is exactly the point he becomes an anarchist.
Thus the state only steals from libertarian anarchists. From all others, it merely collects debts. To assert otherwise is to impose your ideas and will on the property of others.
Returning to the person receiving government money, it can be objected that the state collects taxes from statists and anarchists alike. But the ratio of libertarian anarchists to everyone else is vanishingly small, as is the ratio of money taken from them. So the portion of any money received from the state belonging to fellow ancaps is a rounding error. Is this pittance worth the moral agony people put themselves through over their receipt of government money? Are there any other ancaps who begrudge them that microscopic portion?
Applying this to the Block/Murphy debate gives us a direct response to Murphy's central argument. Add Block's other arguments, and you will find a powerful case that not only is it morally permissible to take government money, but that libertarians ought to take money from the state.