[The following excerpt is from my book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.”]
“An income tax is the most degrading and totalitarian of all possible taxes. Its implementation wrongly suggests that the government owns the lives and labor of the citizens it is supposed to represent. Tellingly, ‘a heavy progressive or graduated income tax’ is Plank #2 of the Communist Manifesto which was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and first published in 1848.”
So said the website (in 2012) of Ron Paul, a former Libertarian, Republican, Tea Party congressman and presidential candidate. To him, income taxes are evil. To scare you into joining his campaign to abolish them, he links them to Karl Marx, the founder of communism. Marx’s dream of a communal existence in which all people share all they produce with society is effectively 100% taxation. To Marx, communal ownership of property was righteousness and personal property was evil. Since God’s system for ancient Israel assigned property ownership to individuals, not to the community, we may conclude that Marx’s system is evil. Therefore, Ron Paul and many other Tea Party libertarians insist that, to be righteous, we must despise communism and cling to its ideological opposite – the idea that income tax is evil.
Likewise, former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has championed the abolition of the income tax in favor of a hefty national sales tax deceptively called the “Fair Tax.” This consumption tax would charge everyone a percentage of every good or service they buy (real estate would not be taxed, since it is not produced). Low income earners, who spend almost all of their income on necessities and basic enjoyment, would spend the highest percentage of their income on the tax. So if the tax were 40%, low income earners would pay almost 40% of their income to taxes, since they spend nearly all of their money on goods and services. Meanwhile, if a person earning a billion dollars spends only 1% of his income (which is 10 million dollars) and invests the rest (this includes real estate), he pays only 0.40% of his income to taxes. This, of course, is what’s known as a regressive tax, because the poor pay a higher percentage of their income than the rich do. To Fair Tax proponents, however, the regressive and oppressive nature of this tax is of little concern, because income tax is morally wrong in their eyes. In fact, they’ll go as far as to call it “stealing,” and label redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots as “sin.”
From Poor to Rich
Of course, Christian Republicans and Libertarians cite biblical support for their anti-tax rhetoric. One of their favorites is this quote from 1 Samuel 8:10-18, which says, “So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots…He will take one tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers…He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day [NRSV].”
The context here is that God had appointed judges to rule over the Israelites once they settled the promised land around 1400 B.C. Around the year 1000 B.C., the Israelites had begged God to let a king rule over them, so they could be like the neighboring nations. This passage was God’s warning that they wouldn’t like having a king rule over them, because he would enslave them, force them to fight his wars, and oppress them by taking what they produced to enrich himself and his friends.
Tea Party libertarians claim that our taxes enrich our rulers and their friends, just like the taxes of ancient kings did. They make it sound as though the politicians have the IRS place the tax revenues directly into their bank accounts. They’ve yet to produce any evidence of this. But that doesn’t mean they’re entirely wrong. Corruption and scandals do occur. Local and state governments have been particularly susceptible to corruption, since local and state government is often small, weak, and easily intimidated and influenced by the money and power of the wealthy. Plus, the local media is also small, weak, and easily intimidated. But on a national level, with massive media machines dedicating teams of people to exposing political corruption, it’s unlikely such scandals are the norm, especially at the federal level, where all eyes are watching.
This is not to say there hasn’t been a sneakier way of redirecting tax money into the accounts of politicians. For example, the Norfolk Daily News reported on October 23, 2011 that Nebraska Tea Party Senator Deb Fischer (R) benefited from federal farm subsidies: “As a rancher, Fischer has benefited from a federal program that environmentalists and others describe as an expensive subsidy that needs to be trimmed or eliminated.” This is why we should be careful when voting for politicians from the business world. They sometimes manipulate the government to direct tax money to their businesses. Nonetheless, when looking at the nation’s total budget, it’s difficult to make an item by item case demonstrating that any significant percentage of our tax money enriches politicians.
A strong case can be made, on the other hand, that politicians direct tax money to businesses whose owners fund their campaigns. Examples include oil companies who receive subsidies and banks who receive bailouts. But worst of all are the defense contractors who get rich every time a Republican gets elected president. For you to see what I mean, here’s a breakdown by fiscal year of total defense spending by president:
Defense Spending by Year (in Billions) [Source: Data360.com]
1981 Carter $196.23
1982 Reagan – Rep. $225.88
1983 Reagan $250.60
1984 Reagan $281.55
1985 Reagan $311.18
1986 Reagan $330.80
1987 Reagan $349.98
1988 Reagan $354.73
1989 Reagan $362.10
1990 Bush 41 – Rep. $373.85
1991 Bush 41 $383.10
1992 Bush 41 $376.80
1993 Bush 41 $363.00
1994 Clinton – Dem. $353.80
1995 Clinton $348.80
1996 Clinton $354.83
1997 Clinton $349.85
1998 Clinton $346.08
1999 Clinton $361.13
2000 Clinton $371.05
2001 Clinton $392.95
2002 Bush 43 – Rep. $437.70
2003 Bush 43 $497.95
2004 Bush 43 $550.78
2005 Bush 43 $589.05
2006 Bush 43 $624.88
2007 Bush 43 $662.30
2008 Bush 43 $737.80
2009 Bush 43 $776.00
2010 Obama – Dem. $817.73
2011 Obama $820.80
2012 Obama $816.23
To be fair, Bush 41 didn’t increase defense spending by much, even though he had the Gulf War to win. But Reagan’s last defense budget was 85% higher than Carter’s last one, despite there being no wars on his watch, and Bush 43’s last defense budget was 97% more than Clinton’s last one. Meanwhile, under Bill Clinton, annual defense spending only increased by 8% over his 8 budget years – a rate lower than that of inflation. Today, the U.S.A. spends 5-6 times more on defense than any other nation and has 11 aircraft carrier fleets when no other country has more than one. Unsatisfied with such largesse, Republican Mitt Romney supported the spending of an additional $200 billion dollars per year on defense when he ran for president in 2012 (according to his exchange with President Obama during their third 2012 debate), despite no new wars or increases in threats. Apparently, the Republicans have some close friends among the defense contractors. They are guilty of behaving like the kings of the Old Testament, taxing the workers to benefit the rich and powerful. As a result, they’ve let the military industrial complex gorge itself on American tax dollars. They’ve ignored the warnings of former WWII Supreme Allied Commander and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who, upon leaving office in 1961, warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
From Rich to Poor
Contrary to Tea Party claims, much of our tax money goes not into the pockets of politicians, but to the benefit of the needy and society at large. These expenditures include Medicare, Social Security, welfare, unemployment compensation, infrastructure, and agencies like OSHA, the EPA, and the FDA that monitor and restrict business practices to protect us from the harmful effects of greed. Since the people who have most of the nation’s money, the wealthy, pay most of the taxes, we can say that our system redistributes wealth from those who have it to those who don’t. This is the opposite of what God warned against in 1 Samuel 8. He warned against taxing society to enrich the wealthy, not taxing the wealthy to help the needy.
In fact, God mandated redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots in ancient Israel. The Bible does not call this redistribution a tax; it calls it a tithe. The word tithe means 10%. As I stated in the last chapter, 12 of the 13 tribes of Israel had land on which to grow food and support their needs. The other tribe, the Levites, had little land. So God required that the haves support the have-nots in Numbers 18:24, “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore, I have said concerning them, ‘they shall have no inheritance [of land] among the sons of Israel.’”
The Levites were not the only have-nots in ancient Israel. Widows unable to remarry, orphans, and resident immigrants also had no land on which they could provide for their needs. So God required the landowners to provide for them, too, as we see in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, which says, “Every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the word of God may bless you in all the work that you undertake [NRSV].”
This was not God’s only tax on the landowners for the sake of the poor. He also required that landowners share a significant percentage of their crops with the needy by leaving them behind at harvest. Here are a couple passages saying so:
Leviticus 19:9, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God [NRSV].”
Deuteronomy 24:19-21, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow [NRSV].”
Some may cry that such an entitlement system is unfair, because the farmers did all of that work, and then the poor, who did no work, get to share in the harvest. This is true. It is unfair. God cares about the well-being of His children more than He cares about fairness. God knew that those who lacked land had little opportunity to provide for themselves, so He sought their well-being ahead of all else.
On the other hand, God’s system may not have been so unfair after all. The men of the twelve tribes received land by inheritance. They did not have to work to obtain it. They had an advantage over the poor from the very start. Such an advantage is also unfair. So we can conclude that God’s mandatory redistribution of wealth merely provided balance to a system that would have been unfair to the unprivileged had no redistribution of wealth been required.
Likewise, America’s taxation system provides a similar balance. It’s a bit more complex, because our society is more complex than that of ancient Israel. We can no longer base the system on land ownership, because we are no longer an agrarian society. The line between the haves and have-nots is not so clearly-defined for us. Today, the haves may benefit from Ivy League educations, paid for by their wealthy parents, through which they access connections to powerful people in the corporate world. As they go through college and into the world, their parents cover their costs of living until they land a great job. Therefore, they need not work so many hours to support themselves that they lack free time to learn, dream up ideas, and make connections. Meanwhile, the have-nots may go out into the world with little or nothing and have to work two jobs just to get by. They lack the time, money and connections that fuel business success. Those who inherit connections and money (if your parents paid for your college education, you inherited your wealth) are similar to the landowners in ancient Israel, while those who lack money and connections are similar to the Levites, widows, orphans, and aliens.
Why did God command wealth redistribution from the prosperous to the poor?
Apparently, His intent was to eliminate poverty. In Deuteronomy 15:4 He says, “However, there shall be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God…” How could the nation’s prosperity reach the poor and eliminate poverty unless there was a system in place to ensure such an outcome? God created an entitlement system that distributed the nation’s prosperity to everyone in the nation. Not all would prosper the same, but none would have need when the nation did well. Today, the United States of America is the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. If we aspire to run our nation as God would, we must maintain a system that eliminates poverty by sharing the nation’s wealth with all of its inhabitants.
Today, Tea Party politicians and pundits teach that mandatory income redistribution from the wealthy to those who lack wealth is stealing and therefore sin. Meanwhile, they believe it’s righteous to steal from society to enrich the wealthy through corporate liability protection (which enables corporate owners –also known as shareholders – to force their debts on society through bankruptcy when they go out of business, all while they get to keep the gains they have been paid out during the company’s better years). It seems to me that if Satan were to design his own system, this would be it, because it’s the polar opposite of God’s system. God offered no liability protection for the wealthy, but imposed a mandatory, national system of wealth redistribution from the prosperous to the poor. To say wealth redistribution is evil is to say that God is evil, because God created wealth redistribution. And how can we not support such a system when it provides a balance to the liability protection advantage the wealthy enjoy in modern America?
Boortz, Neil; Linder, John; Woodall, Rob; FairTax – The Truth; Answering the Critics (New York,, Harper Collins, 2008)
NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Zondervan 1985, 2002) Old Testament Chronology Chart.
Johnson, Simon; Kwak, James; White House Burning, (New York, Random House, 2012), p.200
Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960, p. 1035- 1040