Friday, October 28, 2011

“Taxing the Rich and Other Forms of the Robin Hood Delusion”

Taxing the Rich
According to the prevailing leftist worldview, in order to cure the nation’s debilitating debt disease, and in order to aid the nation’s poor, we ought to raise taxes on the rich so that they begin to pay their “fair share.”
It’s a futile remedy.
If you took every penny from every person in America who made a million dollars or more last year, you could run the government for only a few weeks.  Taxing millionaires, even at 100%, won’t fix the problem.  Our problem is that we spend many hundreds of billions of dollars each year that we simply do not have.
But when conservatives try to keep an out-of-control government from driving the entire nation over a cliff into the gaping maw of economic destruction, liberals claim conservatives lack compassion.  They do not.  They are trying to avoid scuttling the ship of state.  Avoiding a shipwreck is not lack of compassion because, when the ship sinks, all who are aboard -- the poor and the wealthy alike -- are set adrift in the open sea, a result that benefits no one except the Marxist sharks patrolling the waters of international dissolution.
The problem in America is not that taxes for some folks are too low, but that spending by government is suicidally high. That’s why, if you want to tax the rich at a higher rate in order to cure American ills, you are looking in the wrong direction.  The solution cannot possibly be found in higher taxes, no matter how high you make them, and no matter what percentage you think is "fair."
Think about it:  Even if you tax the wealthy at 100%, not only you will not have enough money to do what liberals want to do via government, but you will have succeeded only in creating many more poor -- those who once were rich but who now have nothing.  And once you have taken all their money, and run the government for only a few weeks with it, from whom will you get money to run the government when that handful of weeks has passed?  You can’t get it from the poor because they don’t have it.  The only option left is the middle class, who then will be destroyed in short order.  Taxing the rich even at 100% will not work.  And if you do not tax the rich at 100%, you will have even less money to do what you think ought to be done via government, and that money will run out even quicker.  Once the money of the rich is gone, and you still wish to do what leftists want government to do, you must take the money of the middle class.  At that point, everyone is poor.   In short, you cannot fix what’s wrong by means of tax increases.  It’s simply impossible. 

Fair Share
A moment ago, I mentioned the liberal meme of making the wealthy pay their “fair share.”   You hear it often.  But if you listen carefully, you’ll notice that while liberals are big on making the wealthy pay their “fair share,” they are not big on telling you by what mysterious calculus they determine exactly what percentage of taxation is “fair,” or even how, in this context, the word “fair” is being defined.  I, for one, would like to know:  Precisely what does the word “fair” mean; what percentage of government confiscation is “fair;” and how do liberals know it?  When it comes to the government targeting a specific group of individuals, I am utterly unwilling to leave it all to unarticulated leftist intuition.  I want numbers, meanings, and facts.

Robin Hood
Another way that liberals talk about making the wealthy among us pay their “fair share” is to talk about “economic inequality” and “social justice,” by which terms they mean government-sponsored redistribution of wealth, a scheme whereby government plays the role of Robin Hood:  It takes from the rich and it gives to the poor.
But, of course, Robin Hood was a thief, even if he meant his thievery to serve a good end.  Good intentions don’t mend the matter at all.   Stealing is wrong even if you do it for what you consider a good reason.  Ends do not justify means.
Here’s the rule: “Thou shalt not steal.”  Stealing is taking someone else’s personal property.  Thieves have no right to seize other folks’ property, even if they want to do allegedly good things with it.  That’s why we ought to fight against the over-weaning evils of confiscatory tax policy which, under threat of government force, takes from those whose possessions the government covets, and gives to others whom the government favors.  This is one of the most blatant and egregious forms of discrimination I have yet seen, and it is advocated without embarrassment -- as if the equal protection clause of the Constitution did not apply to the successful.  This discriminatory policy targets some citizens for extra burden and other citizens for extra benefit.  It is wrong to discriminate via government, even if you think your chosen victims can sustain the attack.  Their ability to be targeted and to survive is no justification for targeting.   This economic targeting is but one dimension, or application, of a widespread discrimination against the wealthy, who are presumed to be evil and oppressive money grubbers intent upon sheering the sheep in the marketplace, rather than being virtuous, hard working persons who made their money by providing, at great risk to themselves and their families, the goods and services that their neighbors needed or wanted at prices those neighbors could afford.

Economic Inequality
Sensible persons don’t really think that our tax dollars have actually reduced the differences in income in America.  That’s not what happens.  Tax dollars go to raise the level of the bureaucrats, the lobbyists, and the politicians, and to create an enormous increase in the financial gap between the rich and the poor in places like Washington, DC.
Although leftists complain about income inequality and insist upon a government-enforced redistribution of wealth, they ignore the staggering inequality of income they have produced in Washington, the very place from where they expect the remedy for economic inequality to come, a place where the richest and poorest rub shoulders every day, an inequality the left has created but neither notices nor decries.
It is no accident that the two richest counties in America happen to be the counties in Maryland and Virginia that border Washington, DC.  Average annual income for Federal employees there is more than $126,000.  By comparison, almost 11 percent of the city’s population qualifies not only as poor, but as “very poor,” meaning they earn at less than half the official poverty rate, or about $11,025 a year for a family of four.  Tax money goes to Washington, but that doesn’t mean it decreases the level of economic disparity. 
It reminds me of the comment made by my old friend Stan Evans, a former Indianapolis newspaper editor who went to Washington to begin The National Journalism Center: “Why did you go to Washington?” he was asked. “I wanted to be near my money.”
Yes, that’s exactly where so much of it ends up, and not in the pockets of the poor.  And if Washington, DC doesn’t convince you that leftist schemes of government-sponsored redistribution of wealth cannot work and have not worked, then take a look at Detroit, which has had an unbroken string of Democratic mayors for more than 50 years, and was chosen to be a “Model City” for government renewal projects, in addition to which it had in its own backyard perhaps the most remarkable industrial powerhouse in history in the “Big Three” Detroit automakers.  Yet, with all that, Detroit now looks like nothing so much as World War II Dresden, block upon block of (literally) burned out houses.

Social Justice (vs. Jesus and the Parable of the Talents)
To many contemporary leftists, the battle cry is “Social Justice!” by which they mean leveling the economic playing field so that the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” is greatly shrunk.  To level that field, they say, means we must take from those who have more and give it to those who have less, as if “equality” and “justice” were synonymous.
Jesus seems not to agree.  You might recall his parable of the talents in Matt. 25: 14-30.  (To avoid confusion, a talent is not, as it is in modern English usage, an ability or skill, but a unit of money worth about 3 or 4 weeks wages.)  In that parable, Jesus mentions three workers, or stewards, to whom their master gave five, two, and one talent respectively.  The first two, those with five and two talents, invested the money he gave them so wisely and well that they each produced a 100% profit.  The third, however, was afraid that he might lose the money in a faulty investment, so he simply buried it in order to keep it safe.  He produced no profit at all.
When the master asked for an accounting, the third steward simply gave him back all he had -- one talent.  Deeply displeased with this worker’s production, the master decided to  “take from him who has one and give it to him who has ten" (v. 28).
Although modern leftists might think Jesus’ procedure unjust, perhaps even completely backward and evil, because it takes from those with little and gives to those with much, Jesus does not.  That procedure is Jesus' way of saying that what goes by the name of "social justice" is not actually justice at all, social or otherwise.  While justice is getting whatever you deserve, “social justice" is getting the same as everybody else, whether you earned it or not, and whether you deserve it or not.  If justice is getting what you deserve, then, except in circumstances where two or all persons deserve exactly the same, justice is not getting the same as everyone else.  That's not justice, that's equality.   Justice and equality are very different concepts -- concepts the left, with its confused and conflated political and economic notions, frequently gets wrong.
If “justice” and “equality” really were the same thing, then by saying what He said in Matt 25, Jesus was unjust.  He didn't take from the one with ten and give to the one with less, as the "social justice" crowd would demand.  He took from the unfaithful steward with the least and gave it to the wise steward with the most.  It was Jesus’ way of teaching the importance of faithful and productive service, which he rewarded (vv. 21, 23).  Egalitarians, those who advocate redistribution under the false name of "social justice," don't understand that equalizing outcomes is often the very embodiment of injustice itself.  Because it is, we must not to do what the advocates of so-called “social justice” demand because we oppose injustice, even when some call it by its opposite name.  We must not perpetrate injustice; we must give to others what they deserve, which is neither oppression nor lack of mercy.  Here’s Paul’s way of saying it:  “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).
Nobody, especially Jesus, is talking here about kissing up to the rich.  Nobody is saying that this parable justifies rich people (or poor) when they do evil.  Nobody is defending predatory practices.  We are saying that justice is not the same as government-coerced redistribution of wealth by means of the tax code irrespective of one’s deserving or one’s contribution.  This parable is not about loving money.  The man with little was unfaithful and full of fear, and because he was unfaithful and full of fear, what little he had was given to the man who did the best and had the most.  This parable is about deserving and undeserving workers, which is a point lost on the so-called "social justice" crowd.


Anonymous said...

You know, the bible also rails against usury. Just sayin'.

Maybe it actually MATTERS how the rich got rich.

Maybe it's not stealing to ask that they pay for their privileges. Maybe it's simply a means of demanding just compensation for the labor a group of people (citizens) invest in their society in order to create an environment where the rich can prosper.

Or maybe the poor should just eat cake and the rich should move to Somalia, where there's no government to take their money, or to protect them from other people who will, with guns.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

As I recall, the Bible doesn't "rail against usury." It says that the Israelites can't charge it against other poor Israelites. As to what interest rates do or do not constitute usury in other cases, and how they are to be implemented in societies that are not ancient semi-nomadic or agrarian societies, we are not told. But, if I have forgotten something, I am happy for you to point it out to me. No problem. How usury applies to, say, the owners of New Balance shoes, or of Pizza Hut, or a thousand other businesses, I do not see. Some folks make their money charging interest, most do not.

No one defends stealing. Thieves must be punished, whether they are rich or poor. If someone has not gotten things in a legal manner, then that should be put right.

You talk about "just compensation," but you don't talk about how that level of just compensation is actually determined. What's your calculus?

They do pay for their privileges, and for those of others as well.

pegkerr said...

Wow, Michael. I remember when you were our youth pastor and you led us through the exercise of having a dinner where a third of the people had no food. And you led us to divide up and share our food with those who had nothing. There was no lecture delivered about 'deserving and undeserving.'

Honestly, what happened to you? You are absolutely NOT the leader I remembered.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

Nothing I said here is in opposition to that in the least. We have moral obligations to the poor, but they won't be properly discharged by means of a government intrusion that perpetuates dependency generation after generation. We must do better than that.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Bauman,

I completely agree with you. Taxation is theft, and the Bible is clear: theft is wrong. As you say well, "Stealing is wrong even if you do it for what you consider a good reason. Ends do not justify means."

In view of this, how can any taxation be justified? Even if the intentions are good (infrastructure, national defense, postal services, etc...) the means is common theft, and therefore immoral.

-Paul Smith