The state is a criminal organization

published Dec 19, 2011, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Murray Rothbard's most fundamental observation about government.


The government is not a voluntary entity.  It is not a group of people who participate in the peaceful market.  This is not an opinion, but a conclusion based on observable fact:

The robber obtains his income by presenting the victim with a choice: your money or your life (or, at least, your health) – and the victim then yields his assets. Or, to be more precise, the robber presents the victim with a choice between paying immediately or waiting until the robber injures him. In this situation both parties do not benefit; instead, the robber benefits precisely at the expense of the victim. Instead of the consumer’s paying, guiding, and being benefited by the producer’s activity, the robber is benefiting from the victim’s payment. The robber benefits to the extent that the victim pays and loses. Instead of helping expand the amount and degree of production in society, the robber is parasitically draining off that production. Whereas an expanded market encourages increases in production and supply, theft discourages production and contracts the market.

We are now in a position to analyze government and its relationship to the market. Economists have generally depicted the government as a voluntary social institution providing important services to the public. The modern “public choice” theorists have perhaps gone furthest with this approach. Government is considered akin to a business firm, supplying its services to the consumer-voters, while the voters in turn pay voluntarily for these services. All in all, government is treated by conventional economists as a part of the market, and therefore, as in the case of a business firm or a membership organization, either totally or in part neutral to the market.

It is true that if taxation were voluntary and the government akin to a business firm, the government would be neutral to the market. We contend here, however, that the model of government is akin, not to the business firm, but to the criminal organization, and indeed that the State is the organization of robbery systematized and writ large. The State is the only legal institution in society that acquires its revenue by the use of coercion, by using enough violence and threat of violence on its victims to ensure their paying the desired tribute. The State benefits itself at the expense of its robbed victims. The State is, therefore, a centralized, regularized organization of theft. Its payments extracted by coercion are called “taxation” instead of tribute, but their nature is the same.

Murray Rothbard.