Monday, November 14, 2011

Feeding the beast

Reppert’s trying to make a case for Obama’s reelection.

Do you think the problem of debt could be made better by asking the wealthiest 1% to pay more in taxes?

No I don’t.

i) For one thing, while we have a few billionaires and multibillionaires in the US, we have no trillionaires or multitrillionaires. Yet the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare alone run into trillions upon trillions of debt.

ii) For another thing, as long as gov’t can open a new vein of “revenue,” it has no incentive to worry about the national debt.

Jesus taught that the rich have a responsibility to help the poor, and sometimes he suggests that they are going to hell for failing to do so.

i) First of all, this isn’t a case of the rich giving to the poor, but the rich giving to the gov’t. Notice Reppert’s bait-n-switch.

Gov’t takes from the rich and gives to voting blocks, or pet projects (e.g. “green” technology).

ii) Do social programs actually help the poor?

iii) Reppert is alluding to Mt 25, which he misinterprets.

Shouldn't the teachings of Jesus be reflected in the tax code?

One source of poverty in the Roman Empire was oppressive taxation:

(92) Moreover let the governors of cities cease to oppress them with continual and excessive taxes and tributes, filling their own stores with money, and in preserving as a treasure the illiberal vices which defile their whole lives; (93) for they do, on purpose, select as collectors of their revenues the most pitiless of men, persons full of all kinds of inhumanity, giving them abundant opportunity for the exercise of their covetousness; and they, in addition to their own innate severity of temper, receiving free license from the commands of their masters, and having determined to do everything so as to please them, practice all the harshest measures which they can imagine, having no notion of gentleness or humanity, not even in their dreams; (94) therefore they throw everything into disorder and confusion, levying their exactions, not only on the possessions of the citizens, but also on their persons, with insults and violence, and the invention of new and unprecedented torture.

(159) Not long ago a certain man who had been appointed a collector of taxes in our country, when some of those who appeared to owe such tribute fled out of poverty, from a fear of intolerable punishment if they remained without paying, carried off their wives, and their children, and their parents, and their whole families by force, beating and insulting them, and heaping every kind of contumely and ill treatment upon them, to make them either give information as to where the fugitives had concealed themselves, or pay the money instead of them, though they could not do either the one thing or the other; in the first place, because they did not know where they were, and secondly, because they were in still greater poverty than the men who had fled. (160) But this tax-collector did not let them go till he had tortured their bodies with racks and wheels, so as to kill them with newly invented kinds of death, fastening a basket full of sand to their necks with cords, and suspending it there as a very heavy weight, and then placing them in the open air in the middle of the market place, that some of them, being tortured and being overwhelmed by all these afflictions at once, the wind, and the sun, and the mockery of the passers by, and the shame, and the heavy burden attached to them, might faint miserably; and that the rest, being spectators, might be grieved and take warning by their punishment, (161) some of whom, having a more acute sense of such miseries in their minds than that which they could receive though their eyes, since they sympathized with these unfortunates as if they were themselves suffering in the persons of others, put an end to their own lives by swords, or poison, or halters, thinking it a great piece of good luck for persons, liable to such misery, to be able to meet with death without torture. (162) But those who did not make haste to kill themselves, but who were seized before they could do so, were led away in a row, as in the case of actions for inheritance, according to their nearness of kindred, the nearest relations first, then those next to them in succession, in the second or third place, till they came to the last; and then, when there were no relations left, the cruelty proceeded on to the friends and neighbors of the fugitives; and sometimes it was extended even into the cities and villages, which soon became desolate, being emptied of all their inhabitants, who all quitted their homes, and dispersed to places where they hoped that they might escape detection. (163) But perhaps it is not wonderful if men, barbarians by nature, utterly ignorant of all gentleness, and under the command of despotic authority, which compelled them to give an account of the yearly revenue, should, in order to enforce the payment of the taxes, extend their severities, not merely to properties but also to the persons, and even to the lives, of those from whom they thought they could exact a vicarious payment.

It’s therefore ironic that Reppert is citing poverty in the 1C as a pretext to raise taxes when, in fact, slashing taxes in the 1C would have contributed to general prosperity. Emperors couldn’t squander all that tax revenue on fancy building projects or military conquest.

Who Would Jesus Tax?

One problem I have with that hypothetical is the way this counterfactual Jesus invariably mirrors the political views of Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, Victor Reppert et al. What a coincidence!

You can't, as a Christian, say that the wealthy are wealthy because they deserve to be…

Why not? If they earn it, don’t they deserve it?

...or that a system that helps the rich get rich and allows the poor to get poorer is acceptable.

So we shouldn’t allow the poor to get poorer? Suppose a man is poor because he’s a compulsive gambler. Should we not allow him to gamble? It’s his money. Shouldn't the gov't assign a team of minders to follow him around? 

But it does seem that if you accept the laissez-faire argument, you can't turn around and back out of use the government to help your favorite industry. You can't oppose welfare and the support corporate welfare.

Of course, that’s equivocal. That’s not a gov’t giveaway. It’s merely “helping” industry by not impeding industry. By letting businessmen keep more of what they make. By not suffocating business through excessive regulation. For instance:

IF the government is going to help someone, it has to be the people on the bottom.

This assumes we help people at the bottom by raising taxes. That begs the question.

What I especially dislike is the kind of cafeteria conservativism that appeals to conservative principle so long as they serve the purposes of the big businesses that fund Republican campaigns. But that is what usually happens when you elect conservative candidates.

What I especially dislike is the kind of cafeteria liberalism that appeals to liberal principle so long as they serve the purposes of the trial lawyers and labor unions that fund Democrat campaigns. But that is what usually happens when you elect liberal candidates.

At present, businesses have no incentive to create jobs in America. In fact the tax code actually supports outsourcing.

Which is why we should have a business-friendly tax code.

When I was growing up, and Barry Goldwater was my senator, I learned that one thing conservatives were concerned about was budget deficits.

Well, that isn’t the only thing conservatives should be concerned about. There’s more than one thing that should concern conservatives. For that matter, Goldwater was quite the hawk.

They have returned to the charge in response to Obama's budget deficits. However, this is an article written in Business Week in 2004 chronicling the disappearance of deficit hawks from the Republican Party in the Bush years.

It’s easy to Google conservative attacks on Bush’s budget. But it’s not as if Al Gore offered a more fiscally responsible alternative. Remember his acceptance speech? It was a stocking stuffer of gov’t goodies:

On the highest levels people don't earn money from work, they earn money from investments. Unearned income is taxed at 15%, which is a lower rate than what it taxed for the money you work for. Why is this?
Why should I get taxed less for gambling? If I win money in Vegas, I still have to pay taxes.

i) To begin with, investment income is already double taxed. It’s your taxable income that purchases stocks, bonds, real estate, &c. Then you’re taxed on what you make. (Not to mention paying sales tax and property taxes on real estate.)

ii) And, of course, investment is risky. You may make a killing or lose your shirt. 

iii) At the risk of stating the obvious, the more you tax investment income, the less incentive there is to invest in the first place. Why can’t a philosophy prof. figure that out? 


  1. Reppert’s trying to make a case for Obama’s reelection.

    He doesn't even know who the other candidates are going to be.

    Why's he trying to promote Obama when he doesn't even know who else is running?

    Reppert appears to be a political liberal whose politically liberal leanings influences and informs his theology.

  2. Steve, this is an excellent Economics primer.

  3. "First of all, this isn’t a case of the rich giving to the poor, but the rich giving to the gov’t."

    Right on. It can be argued that excessive taxation denies the rich some measure of fulfilling any obligation to help the poor.

    By the way, the command to do something for the poor was given to one man in order to call out the trust he had in his wealth over that of trust in God. There was no general command given. In fact, where the Bible talks about the signs of Jesus' ministry the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor...

    ...are given all the money they need.

    No. The poor are preached the good news. Mat 11:5.

    The method of caring for the poor in the old testament was to make the corners of your field available to the poor so they could come and harvest what they needed to survive.

    The early church had a ministry to care for widows. Paul said that they should turn away young widows and that they should get remarried. 1 Tim 5. There's a sense in which the poor should be ministered to, but that all who are able should work. I've seen poor people in third world countries scavenge in dumps or pick wild fruits to resell on the streets for money.

    So it is that Reppert misjudges the Bible's teaching on ministering to the poor. We should minister to the poor. We should teach them the good news so that they are satisfied with what God has provided, leave enough abundance so that the poorest can come and get.

    Incidentally, there are some well-known stores that will let people in need walk out with what they need without paying. It's not advertized so it's not exploited by dishonest people. If you are honest and in need, you can get what you need in this country without the government's help. Just ask.

  4. Just a factual point: I am not attempting to argue directly for Obama's re-election, since I don't know who will be running. However, you probably would not like any candidate for whom I would vote instead of Obama. Huntsman might be a better President than Obama, for example. I don't know. But the word RINO comes to mind here.