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Hans Hermann Hoppe is a popular Economist from the Austrian School whose central ideas seem fundamentally right. However, I see him as having very poor argumentation skills and more than once I read passages from him that seem like pure sophistry.

Other arguments of his bother me a lot. Like the one above. He claims that for a business to be legal it has to be agreed upon by all parties involved and specifically by means of a contract. Since taxes aren't set by means of a contract and you don't really have to agree to pay taxes so that you really pay them, he says taxes are illegal, thus a crime, thus a theft. Hence, all taxation is a theft.

He also claims that governmental entities demand taxes by means of threat, so, if you don't pay them, you'll get sanctioned, further enhancing the idea of its being a crime. To me however, this seems more like his opinions rather than an "a priori truth", as he says.

I can follow his arguments but I can't digest the "All taxes are theft" argument as being an "a priori truth" as well. Because to me, the very definition of theft is a legal concept that varies from country to country, and what defines what's legal and what's not is the very own law of that country.

There are more instances of this, when he argues his opinions are a priori truths, but for now, I want to see the more knowledgeable's solutions to this.

  • Why do you think so ? Why do you think that it is true ? An a priori truth is a statement that is true and is a priori, where a priori means "knowable independently of experience". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 4 at 12:46
  • Taxes are part of the way a State works; the state is based on Social contract. Thus... – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 4 at 12:47
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I didn't say I think it, that's what the said author (Herman Hoppe) claims, and he says that of a lot of other thinks that I, personally, consider (as stated above) AN OPINION, whereas the author claims them to be a priori truths. – Ezequiel Barbosa Jan 4 at 12:58
  • He is simply using the words wrongly: "a priori truth" is not "to assert/believe something without proof". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 4 at 13:00
  • "whose central ideas seem fundamentally right" no, not at all; maybe you mean "seem fundamentally right to me". – Not_Here Jan 4 at 19:26
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The idea that taxes are theft is not an a priori truth. In general, Hoppe's method is to take an idea that sounds plausible and treat it as an assumption he can use without argument. For example, he may take an assumption like "humans act" and try to spin an entire theory out of it without ever addressing any substantive objections to his ideas on human action. He might reach some correct conclusions by doing this but his argument doesn't address common objections. For more explanation, see:

https://conjecturesandrefutations.com/2017/12/02/hoppe-on-epistemology/

https://conjecturesandrefutations.com/2018/09/12/hoppes-argumentation-ethics/

I can follow his arguments but I can't digest the "All taxes are theft" argument as being an "a priori truth" as well. Because to me, the very definition of theft is a legal concept that varies from country to country, and what defines what's legal and what's not is the very own law of that country.

There are more instances of this, when he argues his opinions are a priori truths, but for now, I want to see the more knowledgeable's solutions to this.

Now, you say that theft is defined differently from one country to another. I don't think this is a good objection because you can look at different legal regimes and critically discuss them. The Nazis took a lot of property from the countries they occupied. They might not have defined this taking as theft, but in reality the Nazis just took everything they wanted that wasn't nailed down. There were no rules governing what should be taken other than the fact that a Nazi wanted it. By any rational standard the Nazis were thieves.

What about taxation? If you don't pay your taxes to the current government then you will be prosecuted. If you resist that prosecution, then the police will use force against you. If a supermarket sent people to lock you up when you stopped shopping there, then you would recognise that as using force to deprive you of your property - theft with menaces. There is a grain of truth in the idea that taxation is theft. The government takes money from people by threats of force that are sometimes carried out.

There is a problem with the taxation is theft argument. The government provides services that include enforcing laws, including enforcing laws against theft. Now, if somebody steals from you and then sez "I don't really want to give your stuff back, so get lost", the government may prosecute the thief whether he likes it or not. There are some rules that should be enforced even on people who don't consent. If you don't consent to the means by which those laws are enforced, then the onus is on you to provide a workable alternative. For more explanation of this kind of argument see "Restoring the Lost Constitution" by Randy Barnett. At the moment those means involve taxation, so taxation for those purposes is serving a purpose for which the use of force is legitimate. The government pays for lots of other activities with taxation that includes some purposes for which the use of force is not legitimate, such as meetings about slippers:

https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/news/2014/10/free-slipper-swap-in-north-norfolk-will-help-prevent-falls

I think law enforcement of legitimate laws could be provided without taxation:

http://daviddfriedman.com/The_Machinery_of_Freedom_.pdf

but a lot of work remains to be done on the details of how this would work and how we could reform in that direction. "Taxation is theft" is a slogan highlighting a genuine unsolved problem but the problem is not solved and pretending that we know how to solve it or saying that being able to solve it doesn't matter is a bad idea.

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I don't quite see how one could have a priori knowledge of any truths about taxes. There is no consensual definition of a priori knowledge but suppose we try tthe following two approaches :

(SC) S's belief that p is justified a priori iff S's belief that p is justified by a nonexperiential process and that justification cannot be defeated by experience.

(WC) S's belief that p is justified a priori iff S's belief that p is justified by a nonexperiential process. (P. Kitcher cited in Albert Casullo, 'Analyzing a Priori Knowledge', Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 142, No. 1, The First Midwest Epistemology Workshop (Jan., 2009), pp. 77- 90: 80.)

How could one know non-experientially even that there are (such things as) taxes ?

Also the SC version is subject to the standard Quinean critique (in the second part of 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', 1951) of belief of which the justification cannot be defeated by experience.

A more plausible approach might be via the notion of analyticity. Analyse the concept of taxation, or define the term 'taxation', in such a way that theft is a part of its meaning. The existence of taxation is irrelevant to this. You would still have to negotiate Quine on analyticity but in Word and Object (1960) Quine did allow a coherent notion of analyticity which might serve your purposes. In any case, not all of us were convinced by Quine's onslaught on analyticity in the first part of 'Two Dogmas'.

And on a political note ...

What of an anarchist society which recognised the need for individual and group contributions to communal expenses and which voluntarily and contractually paid those contributions ? Such contributions would not cease to be taxes merely because they were voluntarily and contractually paid without coercion. Where would be the 'theft' in the governments requesting and receiving such contributions ?

Reference

Kitcher, P. (2000). A priori knowledge revisited. In P. Boghossian & C. Peacocke (Eds.), New essays on the a priori. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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I suppose it's convenient to be able to label things you want to be true but can't come up with good arguments for as "a priori truths", but you do have to get other people to agree with you. An a priori truth is one that's true regardless of experience, so clearly it has to be true in all possible situations.

Not all societies have had legal systems, so law can't be a priori. Nothing about crime and theft can be a priori. Not all societies have had ideas about property in the sense that we do, so beyond a basic "what you can carry on your person", statements about property can't be a priori truths.

Hoppe can argue morality, but that doesn't have the same rhetorical punch and appearance of objectivity. He's claiming that voluntary contractual transactions are moral, while other transactions aren't, as if there was a nice bright line between them. In reality, voluntary and involuntary shade into each other, with varying degrees of coercion. People can be driven into some pretty horrible agreements if their children are endangered, for example, or if their lives are at stake, and they have no other choice. "Do this or I let you or your child die" seems more coercive to me than "Do this or I throw you into prison". "Your money or your life" is a concept common to armed robbers and pharmaceutical companies.

And, of course, you don't have to pay taxes if you don't mind an extremely poor standard of living, and there are modern contracts that essentially saying "By continuing to use this service, you are agreeing to....", which is pretty much what the social contract is.

So, yes, he's throwing out opinions that he likes without supporting them and just calls them a priori without justification.

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If you want to question what is appropriate for countries to do, you still need some broader framework than the laws of the country. We could pass a law like the one in Logan's Run that requires people to submit to being killed by the government when they are ordered to die, an we would still need some basis from which we could argue this is wrong.

It is not safe to simply allow governments to do whatever they want. We started out that way, and quite often it did not go well. So the argument that whatever laws exist make whatever they command appropriate because it is legally mandated should not be taken as disproof of this concept.

The argument that 'taxation is theft' usually proceeds from the premise that force used by a vastly superior power against an individual is never warranted, and the observation that most of us pay our taxes out of fear of governmental force.

The first of these is probably what the author means to have as his 'a priori' truth. It is fairly easy to argue that most children respond positively to this idea at some age, and that we would consider those who never do to be psychopaths or to be ideologically brainwashed, and not to be representative of normal human standards. So you could argue that this is a basic notion of justice that we all would share naturally if we were not talked out of it. That is one often used, if not totally appropriate, meaning for 'a priori' when discussing ethical questions.

That obviously does not make the deduction such a truth, only the premise. To get the deduction you also need the 'observation'. And that is not obvious.

I don't feel that I pay my taxes out of fear. I appreciate being a part of my country and its economy. So this argument falls flat. The fact that some people want to cheat at a game and need to be punished does not make the rules of the game into a threat. Especially if there are ways in which one can avoid the issue. Most taxation codes, modern ones anyway, do not force people with very little money to pay taxes on necessary goods without offering them money that would more than offset the level of taxation. So there is a way to not play this game -- be poor.

If you have taken the right to amass property as another basic principle, those then conflict. But then it is the tension between these two, and not the nature of taxation, that is the problem. I am sure the author would consider this 'a priori' in the same way, and I don't. There have been levels of civilization where property was not protected or regarded, and one simply had what one could hold onto.

If property itself is a convention afforded by our social structure, and not an inherent right, then this characterization of taxes as a way to earn the right to belong to an economy, rather than as a threat against all in a region by a bullying overlord, is just as logical.

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    You don't have to "fear governmental force" you very much allowed to leave all first world countries if you do not agree with the laws. So that form of reasoning does not make much sense. Also its strange that so many people have a hatred for taxes but there are no major societies established with no taxes. – Cell Jan 4 at 15:58
  • @Cell In most of the, you could also keep your income low. Many Quaker objectors to the level of US military spending survive below the level of federal taxation. I have added that counterargument to the answer (though it is not properly an answer to any question above.) – user9166 Jan 4 at 16:01
  • @Cell -- We have evidence of cultures with no taxes, but they involved conscription. At a certain point in Greek history the logical equivalent of taxes were 'paid' by co-opting a couple years out of the lives of every 18-year-old male who passed various tests. Only if way too many of your boys did not pass muster did any money change hands, that money hired replacements, and that was evidently rare. Since one of the players here was Athens, working by participation rather than property exchange fit better with the system of direct democracy. – user9166 Jan 4 at 16:43
  • Ancient greece? If so, I should have been more clear I meant modern societies. – Cell Jan 4 at 17:53
  • @jobermark At which point we're discussing something akin to slavery, and that has its own issues. – David Thornley Jan 4 at 18:10

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