Taxation and Highway RobberyHome
If you've sometimes thought the government engages in highway robbery, here's where you can learn what the difference is, or if there is one. This is an excerpt from Taxation and Government, an article by John Fiske in "Self Culture for Young People," copyright 1906.
I say, then, the most essential feature of a government -- or at any rate the feature with which it is most important for us to become familiar at the start -- is its power of taxation. The government is that which taxes. If individuals take away some of your property for purposes of their own, it is robbery; you lose your money and get nothing in return. But if the government takes away some of your property in the shape of taxes, it is supposed to render you an equivalent in the shape of good government, something without which our lives and property would not be safe. Herein seems to lie the difference between taxation and robbery. When the highwayman points his pistol at me and I hand him my purse and watch, I am robbed. But when I pay the tax-collector, who can seize my watch or sell my house over my head if I refuse, I am simply paying what is fairly due from me toward supporting the government.
In what we have been saying it has thus far assumed that the government is in the hands of upright and competent men and is properly administered. It is now time to observe that robbery may be committed by governments as well as by individuals. If the business of governing is placed in the hands of men who have an imperfect sense of their duty toward the public, if such men raise money by taxation and then spend it on their own pleasures, or to increase their political influence, or for other illegitimate purposes, it is really robbery, just as much as if these men were to stand with pistols by the roadside and empty the wallets of the people passing by. They make a dishonest use of their high position as members of government, and extort money for which they make no return in the shape of services to the public.