Posts Tagged taxation

You Didn’t Build That: The Logical Ends of Collectivist Idolatry

In a recent campaign speech, President Obama doubled down on what has become a streak of denigrating business and pooh-poohing individual initiative.

The quote in question:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back…If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen…The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Although the President’s “you didn’t build that” line is the center of attention, such a response is only logical for those who believe, more fundamentally, that enduring excessive tax hikes is an ideal way to “give something back.” When from the government all blessings flow, then to the government all things must go.

On a more practical level, the notion of “giving back” through increased taxes assumes that any funds we have “given” to the government are somehow being over utilized—that we are getting too big of a bang for our buck, particularly if we go do something leechy like start a business. For Obama, it seems as though rich people and business owners in particular are getting above and beyond what they have contributed to our bloated federal bureaucracy, so how dare they push back when asked to “give back”? By this logic, our federal deficit is really a deficit of “giving back.” The federal government has not overpromised and under-delivered; we citizens have overly devoured and under-“given.”

Talking this way quickly becomes problematic, particularly because the word “give” is being used to describe something that “giving” is not (thus my excessive use of quotation marks thus far—my apologies). President Obama is not talking about business owners “giving something back” through charity, community service, social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, or, God forbid, value creation. He is talking about business owners submitting to his coercive political agenda, a primary plank of which happens to be making rich people pay for things they don’t want to pay for by getting non-rich majorities to throw stones at them.

Sounds like a good model for “giving something back.”

Yet I’m not one to say that we can’t give something back through government, or even that we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for the successes of government—for the positive achievements it has made toward maintaining social order and creating conditions for human flourishing. Plenty of people gave something to make these achievements possible, material or not. Indeed, as an example of purely material “giving,” Warren Buffett and Rep. Scott Rigell have participated in just that, donating freely and willingly to the IRS. If this is what Obama is advocating—voluntary contributions to the federal deficit—it would be far less problematic, though perhaps still inadvisable (show me the cuts).

So yes, we can and should give back to our communities and institutions, including government, and we should recognize that others have contributed to our successes through their own generosity and commitment (a point aptly made by Jordan Ballor).

But Obama is saying something quite different, for when this notion of “giving something back” is wielded as Obama wields it—toward his own narrow, explicitly coercive purposes—we should recognize that Read the rest of this entry »

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For Unto Whom Much Is Given, Less Shall Be Required

President Obama recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, during which he furthered his usual conflation of Christian charity with progressive policies.

From the speech:

[W]hen I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

Such “shared responsibility” can, of course, make economic sense—e.g., if rich folks aren’t already paying their “fair share,” if we actually can increase government revenues by further squeezing the rich, if government revenues are actually being used in ways that help poor/middle-class families, etc.

But particularly after a State of the Union address in which the President promised to ramp up spending across the board, it is ever more difficult to swallow the notion that spelunking the pockets of the rich will somehow alleviate the plight of “ordinary Americans.” Let us remember: This is a President whose solution for economic collapse is to inflate skill-heavy industries such as energy and high-tech manufacturing (the uneducated poor are likely unenthusiastic). This is a President whose solution for inflated tuition costs is doubling the number of minimum-wage work study jobs. You can tax the rich all you want, but until you cut your blind addiction to counterproductive spending, such an approach will make little “economic sense.”

But it gets worse. Obama then moves to argue that forced economic redistribution also makes spiritual sense:

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’… To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” … Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.

Setting aside the President’s peculiar tendency to use “I am my brother’s keeper” as an imperative for Christian service (“I really do know what happened to Abel!”), he is falling prey the most typical of progressive tendencies: (1) confusing Jesus’ call of radical obedience to God with a call of radical obedience to the State, and (2) debasing Jesus’ parables to be wholly materialistic in their scope.

God requires plenty from us, but he wants us to obey him, not the arbitrary dictates of political rulers. Just as he gives us much more than stuff, he also expects us to do much more than give our stuff away (or have it seized away). I have commented on these errors time and time again.

The irony is that the society in which an equality of outcomes is an overarching policy aim is the society in which the people “to whom much is given” start dropping like flies. When the moralistic bureaucrats on top of the hill try to determine how much has been given to whom and how much is too much, God is quickly reduced from being our ultimate source and guide to a mere excuse for government meddling. When leaders like Obama pretend that Jesus was/is encouraging us to blindly submit our resources to a massive inefficient bureaucracy, being a bond slave of Christ becomes no different than being a robot for Read the rest of this entry »

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What Would Jesus Take: The Fundamental Confusion of the Christian Left

With embarrassing clarity, Lawrence O’Donnell recently illuminated the fundamental confusion among many left-leaning Christians: the belief that God is a God of coercion.

Watch this:

The attack is centered around a rant by Rush Limbaugh, who recently accused the Left of using Jesus as a prop for defending specific progressive policies and pet projects. Jim Wallis has demonstrated such a tendency with his legalistic “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign, but for Rush, it all comes down to a different question: “What Would Jesus Take?”

O’Donnell’s answer is as clear as can be: “Everything. Not 35%. Not 39.6%. 100%.” Jesus did not come to make a way. He came to make you pay up.

Although Rush lacks plenty of tact in his delivery (surprise, surprise), his conclusion is spot on: Jesus did not come to force us into submission — not with an elbow, a fist, or a bolt of lightening. His love is 100% coercion-free.

To prove it isn’t, O’Donnell trots out the Read the rest of this entry »

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What Would Jesus Cut: Jim Wallis and the Line-Item Gospel

Today at Values & Capitalism, I join a chorus of voices that have been responding to Jim Wallis’ recent “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign, in which he lays out Jesus’ preferred policy preferences in a cute little bulleted list (read more of his thoughts here).

In my critique, I focus on Wallis’ failure (or refusal) to address the actual economic arguments of the conservative evangelicals he disparages. In addition, I take a look at the narrow-minded view of the Gospel that results from such an approach.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rather than even consider whether conservative evangelicals might disagree with him on the actual success of such programs, Wallis skips past all of that, quickly stamping the “Love of God” label on his select list of Jesus-approved policies.

Wallis does not explain how bed nets will actually help the poor (as opposed to being sold on the black market, most likely for extra liquor). He does not explain how various social programs will actually alleviate poverty (as opposed to disintegrating family and creating slaves of the State). He does not explain why he thinks tax cuts for the rich will hurt the downtrodden (as opposed to helping them).

This unwillingness to even pay attention to the arguments of the opposing side is something I have come to see as common among progressive Christians. For many, if a policy is labeled as “pro-poor” it should simply be assumed to be effective. Any questioning of such policies is condemned as cumbersome at best and anti-Jesus at worst:

Rather than focus on the root economic disagreements and engage in deeper discussion, there is a tendency toward hasty advocacy of “action” on behalf of the poor, regardless of the real-world implications or results. Rather than talk about the earthly-realm implications of a higher-realm mission, or the actual Read the rest of this entry »

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Tithes Untapped: The Potential Economic Power of the Church

I recently read Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, and I plan on posting a full review in the very near future.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight a small piece from the final chapter on “avenues for reform.” Among other things, Ballor discusses the ecumenical movement’s tendency to lean on government action rather than church solutions, questioning whether this an acceptable (i.e. Christian) approach to serving the needy.

First, it is important to get a sense of what motives should driving our giving. As Ballor notes (and as I have discussed previously), the apostle Paul provides great assistance in directing such motives:

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

As for the topic at hand, “under compulsion” is probably the most valuable piece when it comes to identifying whether government programs can serve as Biblical generosity. Has paying your taxes ever made you feel “cheerful”?

But what if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)?

To give us a sense of what this would look like, Ballor pulls some figures from theologian Ron Sider, who is quoted as follows (from this book):

[I]f American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and Read the rest of this entry »

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Legislating Morality: We Can’t Help It!

Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Lincoln-Douglas Debate (1858)

Whether morality can or should be legislated has been a common topic of this blog, and Micah Watson has some insightful thoughts on the matter over at The Witherspoon Institute.

Here is the opener:

“You can’t legislate morality” has become a common turn of phrase. The truth, however, is that every law and regulation that is proposed, passed, and enforced has inherent in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve. Indeed, no governing authority can in any way be understood to be morally neutral. Those who think such a chimerical understanding is possible could hardly be more wrong. For, in fact, the opposite is true: You cannot not legislate morality.

When speaking of these matters, I think a certain distinction needs to be made. Many would read Watson’s words and take away an argument about the inevitability of moral entrance in the realm of political decision making. But while such inevitability is indeed a reality, Watson is pointing to something beyond mere inevitability.

What is often missed is that morality is inherent in all legislative decisions. It is not a matter of this or that, but of this and this (and so on). Morality is not confined to matters of gay marriage and torture, but is equally involved in those of taxation and sanitation.

Thus, the distinctions we pursue are not to be found in the moral inherence within particular decisions but in the moral consequences thereof.

As Watson continues:

Not every decision has profound moral consequences. But even drawing the line between morally innocent choices and morally culpable choices demonstrates our Read the rest of this entry »

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Environmental Entrepreneurship: Plastic Bags in Nairobi

When the environment gets neglected, we hear that government needs to take action. When the economy goes down the tubes, we are told that bureaucrats must come to our rescue.

But for Evans Githinji, a 32-year-old entrepreneur in Kenya, achieving prosperity and exhibiting proper stewardship is simply a matter of imagination and initiative. Kenya’s economy is far from thriving, yet Githinji has found a way to both curb environmental harm and bring value to his economy despite his disadvantages.

Hear his story here:

As the video tells us, Githinji’s efforts have led to the opening of 23 collection yards, each of which employs 100 youths in collecting plastic bags.

“I feel great,” says Githinji. “And I feel I’m doing something good for this nation.”

But would it have been better if the Kenyan government had stepped in long ago? Would it have been more efficient if taxpayer money had been poured into dumptrucks and garbage collectors? Would the government have a better grasp on wage rates than Githinji does? Would it be better for Kenyans if the government banned Read the rest of this entry »

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Government Is Only a Tool: Milton Friedman on Responsibility to the Poor

Mark J. Perry recently posted a classic video of Milton Friedman on our responsibility to the poor. The video somewhat ties into yesterday’s discussion on using forced taxation and wealth redistribution as a means to accomplish widespread “charity” and “economic justice.”




The student in the video begins by asking this question: If we are a government of the people and by the people, why shouldn’t we, as a people, take action through government to help those in need?

Friedman’s answer is spot on:

The government doesn’t have any responsibility. People have responsibility. This building doesn’t have responsibility. You and I have responsibility. People have responsibility.

Friedman’s argument is simply that government is a tool of the people. Although people may choose to use that tool as a means to eradicate poverty, it is we as individuals who are actually responsible, and pretending that the government Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s Tax Day: How Charitable Do You Feel?

It’s tax day, and although you probably filed long in advance, I suggest we all take a moment of silence to close our eyes and imagine the millions of faces that are smiling thanks to the IRS forcing us to pay up.

Wait, what was that? You mean you tried to get money back this year? You mean you filed for tax credits and wrote off parts of your business so you could decrease the amount “given” to your neighbors? You mean you don’t want to pay more to Uncle Sam than you already have?

Behold, such malicious capitalistic greed! Such widespread neglect of our most important moral obligations! Such a perverse and corrupt society!

With all this talk about our obligation to cleverly shift the game pieces on behalf of those without the dice, we should be jumping for joy at the opportunity to celebrate our beloved Day of Taxation.

But we don’t, particularly because we understand that (1) this requires little genuine sacrifice, outside, perhaps, of subverting some subtle anarchistic impulse (you know who you are), and (2) we all, for th most part, believe that we know how to distribute our wealth more effectively than the federal government.

On tax day, even those who pretend that wealth redistribution is some high form of “charity” still try to Read the rest of this entry »

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