This article is from the Libertarian FAQ, by Joe Dehn firstname.lastname@example.org, Robert Bickford rab.AT.daft.com, Mike Huben email@example.com and Advocates for Self-Government http://www.self-gov.org/ with numerous contributions by others.
5. Taxation is theft.
Two simple rebuttals to this take widely different approaches.
The first is that property is theft. The notion behind property is that
A declares something to be property, and threatens anybody who still
wants to use it. Where does A get the right to forcibly stop others
from using it? Arguments about "mixing of labor" with the resource as a
basis for ownership boil down to "first-come-first-served". This
criticism is even accepted by some libertarians, and is favorably
viewed by David Friedman. This justifies property taxes or extraction
taxes on land or extractable resources if you presume that the
government is a holder in trust for natural resources. (However, most
people who question the creation of property would agree that after the
creation of property, a person is entitled to his earnings. Thus the
The second is that taxation is part of a social contract. Essentially,
tax is payment in exchange for services from government. This kind of
argument is suitable for defending almost any tax as part of a
contract. Many libertarians accept social contract (for example,
essentially all minarchists must to insist on a monopoly of
government.) Of course they differ as to what should be IN the
6. If you don't pay your taxes, men with guns will show up at your house,
initiate force and put you in jail.
This is not initiation of force. It is enforcement of contract, in this
case an explicit social contract. Many libertarians make a big deal of
"men with guns" enforcing laws, yet try to overlook the fact that "men
with guns" are the basis of enforcement of any complete social system.
Even if libertarians reduced all law to "don't commit fraud or initiate
force", they would still enforce with guns.
7. Social Contract? I never signed no steenking social contract.
That argument and some of the following libertarian arguments are
commonly quoted from Lysander Spooner.
The constitution and the laws are our written contracts with the
There are several explicit means by which people make the social
contract with government. The commonest is when your parents choose
your residency and/or citizenship after your birth. In that case, your
parents or guardians are contracting for you, exercising their power of
custody. No further explicit action is required on your part to
continue the agreement, and you may end it at any time by departing and
renouncing your citizenship.
Immigrants, residents, and visitors contract through the oath of
citizenship (swearing to uphold the laws and constitution), residency
permits, and visas. Citizens reaffirm it in whole or part when they
take political office, join the armed forces, etc. This contract has a
fairly common form: once entered into, it is implicitly continued until
explicitly revoked. Many other contracts have this form: some leases,
most utility services (such as phone and electricity), etc.
Some libertarians make a big deal about needing to actually sign a
contract. Take them to a restaurant and see if they think it ethical to
walk out without paying because they didn't sign anything. Even if it
is a restaurant with a minimum charge and they haven't ordered
anything. The restaurant gets to set the price and the method of
contract so that even your presence creates a debt. What is a
libertarian going to do about that? Create a regulation?
8. The social contract is like no other because it can be "unilaterally"
Not true. Consider the purchase of a condominium. You have a contract
with the condominium association, agreeing to pay the fees they levy
for the services they provide and obey the rules that they create. You
have an equal vote with the other residents on the budget and the
rules. If you don't like the budget or rules that are enacted, you can
vote with your feet or persuade everyone to change them.
There are numerous other common sorts of contracts that allow changes
by one or both sides without negotiation. Gas, electric, oil, water,
phone, and other utility services normally have contracts where at most
they need to notify you in advance when they change their rates.
Insurance companies raise their rates, and your only input is either
pay the new rates or "vote with your feet". (The exception is when
rates are supervised by government regulatory agencies.)
9. Other misc. claims denying the social contract.
One commonly cited Spooner argument is that the social contract is like
no other, and thus not a contract. That's a nonsequitur. A unique
feature or combination of features doesn't disqualify something from
being a contract.
Some complain that the social contract is fundamentally unjust because
it doesn't treat people equally, that people are taxed unequally or
receive services unequally. So? Like insurance, rates can vary from
individual to individual, and services received may be more or less
than premiums paid.
Some complain "Any contract where the enforcing agency is one of the
contractors is hardly fair." But the U.S. Constitution is a contract
between SEVERAL parties: the three branches of the government, the
states, and citizens. It's a multilateral contract where every party is
subject to enforcement by one or more of the other parties, and every
party is involved in enforcement for at least one other. This pattern
of checks and balances was specifically designed to deal with precisely
this fairness issue.
10. Why should I be coerced to leave if I don't like the social contract?
Why leave an apartment if you change your mind about the lease? You do
not own the apartment, just as you do not own the nation. At most, you
may own some property within the apartment, just as you may own some
property within the nation.
11. Do Cubans under Castro agree to their social contract?
If you define contracts as voluntary, then you probably wouldn't say
the Cuban government operates by social contract, since most people who
wanted to emmigrate have not been permitted to.
Most libertarians have a peculiar definition of voluntary: contractual
agreement makes all requirements of the contract "voluntary", no matter
how unexpected they are, no matter how long the contract lasts for, no
matter if the contractee changes his mind. However, they're seldom
willing to view our social contract in that manner.
Our social contract in the USA is one of the nice, voluntary contracts
that libertarians should like. Even better, because you can terminate
it by leaving at any time. There is no US government obstacle to
emmigration from the US.