Commentary

Divine Tax Intervention?

By Stephen Moore
This article was published in the Washington Times, Aug. 23, 2003.

You may be following the political hullabaloo in Alabama where the Republican governor wants to pass the biggest tax increase in the state’ s history and says he has a highly influential advocate supporting him: God.

Gov. Robert Riley says that it is his “Christian duty” to raise taxes (by 22 percent) in order to fund vital government services to help the poor.

“Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us,” says Mr. Riley. “We’ve got to take care of the poor.”

Fine, but that begs the question of whether raising taxes is a Christian response to tough times. The Bible seems to be ambiguous on this point. Supporters of the governor’s tax increase note that Jesus did preach: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.”

It’s also true that Jesus was anything but a fan of tax collectors.

The Bible does indeed call for us all to act charitably and aid the poor — this is the essence of living a Christian life. But an act of charity is by definition an action that is voluntary. Taxes aren’t voluntary. (Try not paying them, and see what happens.)

Moreover, liberal big government do-gooders are in many ways the ultimate hypocrites: to advance social justice they demand sacrifices of others that they will not take voluntarily themselves. For example, Warren Buffett recently and sanctimoniously wrote that he opposes the Bush tax cut and that rich people like him don’t need a tax cut. But when he was asked whether he would turn over the millions of dollars that will be returned to him from the Bush tax cut, he was deafeningly quiet.

One wonders whether Jesus would believe that there is a limit as to how much taxes someone should have to pay. The biblical tithing rate is 10 percent. Shouldn’t what is enough for God be enough for Uncle Sam and local governments? Today, the average household pays roughly 38 cents of every dollar earned in taxes at all levels of government. That is, we are already paying almost 4 times what the Bible declares is necessary to be charitable individuals.

Donald Hughes, of Jesus.Journal.com raises one last beguiling ethical question: “Who says that a tax hike is going to help the poor anyway?”

That’s the question that no liberal dares to answer. To the left, it is an article of faith that big government helps people. But if that were the case the most Christian and the richest country in the 20th century would have been either Mao’s China or the former Soviet Union. After all, those communistic regimes loved the poor so much that they virtually imposed a 100 percent tax on workers. What they produced was not aid to the poor, but a lot of poor people.

Studies show that the nations with the most liberty and the lowest taxes have the least amount of poverty. Free enterprise is a Christian economic system because it does a better job than any other system ever devised to feed and clothe and house the poor. If you don’t believe that, go to some of the countries that do not practice free enterprise and compare the living standards of their poor with ours.

One of the lessons of history is to beware politicians who claim that God is their co-pilot. Some of the most dastardly political leaders — Hitler and Osama bin Laden jump immediately to mind — have invoked the name of God in building support for their acts of violence and affronts against freedom, including religious freedom.

So, no there is no moral case for paying higher taxes. In fact, if Mr. Riley really wants to do his Christian duty and help the poor, he should try cutting taxes, not raising them. I can’t vouch that he would have the Bible on his side, but he would have sound economic theory solidly behind him.

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.