That’s not your money

It’s often a conservative rallying cry to say “I want my money back!” or something along those lines when talking about taxes. They believe that what the government takes throughout the year and especially April 15 belongs to them at all times, not merely while it sits in their pockets.

This is a false belief.

What the government takes in taxes belongs to the government, bar any bookkeeping errors. To claim otherwise is tantamount to claiming that the government has stolen money. I’m sure there are plenty of ignorant people out there willing to say as much, but I think that vast majority of citizens are intelligent enough to recognize that Uncle Sam isn’t robbing them, even if they do disagree with certain tax and spending policies.

The truth is, the moment money leaves a person’s bank account to head off to government coffers is the moment that money ceases to belong to that person. It is at the point that it belongs to the government. Fortunately, the government is of, by, for, along, about, concerning, since and perhaps a few other prepositions related to the people. That means that even though the money no longer belongs to any particular individual, it does belong to all citizens. What we collectively decide to do with it – which may include giving it to individual people – is up to us and those we elect to represent us. It isn’t up to John Smith or Suzie Q how the government allocates his or her specific portion of taxes – it’s up to all of us because it belongs to all of us.

So the fact is, the government can’t give you your money back. Once it taxes you, all it can do is give you some of the money that belongs to all of us (which may, as it so happens, match what you put into the system). That’s why we don’t jail politicians and IRS agents every time a new tax policy is put in place. Uncle Sam is not stealing from you.

5 Responses

  1. If you’re correct and the government can’t give you YOUR money back does this also mean that a thief cannot give you your money back if he robs it from you?

    You have made some pretty bold claims about when money ceases to be one’s own. But, you have failed to offer any argument for why it ceases to be their money at that moment. It seems that you are appealing to some principle that sounds like “if it is not in your possession then it is not yours”. Am I correct? If so, this seems to suggest that thieves that have taken money from you do not have an obligation to return it since the money is now theirs? Sounds crazy to me.

    Suppose those thieves gave lots of the money they stole from you to other people and kept some for themselves, would that be ok? I’m not a radical anarchist that does not believe in taxes, I think they are needed and appropriate. However, I don’t think your claims hold much weight as they have been presented here.

    One last thought; you say that the money belongs to all of us. If it does then it still belongs to me, the guy who had the money taken in the first place… I guess I’m a bit confused as to what exactly your criticism is saying. Hopefully, you could point me in the right direction. This is likely more my fault than your own.


  2. I should have been more clear. The difference between a thief and the government is that taxation is not theft. The reasons is that, whether we like it or not, so long as we aren’t enslaved, the agreement to pay taxes (i.e., living here) is a voluntary act (even if it is impractical to leave). When Bill robs Joe, Joe hasn’t agreed to any part of that. But when Joe pays taxes, he has agree to it by virtue of living here instead of, say, Canada or Finland or some remote island.

    To your last thought, I say the money belongs to all of us as specifically opposed to belonging to any one of us. So let’s say you pay $5,000 in taxes. That $5,000 then belongs to the government and, by extension, all Americans. However, it can’t be said to belong specifically to you because you don’t have a claim on what happens to the particular portion of money you paid. On the flip side, you do have a claim on what happens to the particular money in your wallet.

  3. Mr. Hawkins, the government sets the rules. Of course it’s not theft. The government has decreed as such. Whether it is just to take X amount of money from person Y is another matter.

    That is, whether it it legally your money is not in question – the question is whether it is justly your money.

  4. I don’t mean this as a question of legality. Whatever a dictator chooses to do seems to always conveniently be legal. Rather, I mean this as an issue of ethics.

    Unless we’re unwilling citizens, prevented from leaving the country (sans criminal convictions and the like), then we have volunteered ourselves to pay taxes.

  5. It seems to me that taxes are based on a social contract that, while it can be frustrating and corrupt, goes back thousands of years. It’s not too different in some respects from the market contract. I want something at Target; I give my money to Target; it’s now Target’s money. I want passable roads, schools, and law and order; I pay my taxes; that money is the government’s, to be used hopefully for the purposes intended.


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