Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Morality of Taxes

Yesterday’s New York Times had a must-read article on the work of Susan Pace Hamill, a Biblical scholar and tax professor at the University of Alabama Law School. For those of us who have long been perplexed at the bizarre alliance between the Religious Right and the Grover Norquist anti-tax crowd, this article is vindication of sorts:
Professor Hamill asserted that 18 states seriously violate biblical principles in the way they tax and spend. She calls Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas “the sinful six” because they require the poor to pay a much larger share of their income than the rich while doing little to help the poor improve their lot.

The worst violator, in her view, is her own state of Alabama, which taxes its poor more than twice as heavily as its rich, while holding a tight rein on education spending.

The poorest fifth of Alabama families, with incomes under $13,000, pay state and local taxes that take almost 11 cents out of each dollar. The richest 1 percent, who make $229,000 or more, pay less than 4 cents out of each dollar they earn, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group whose numbers are generally considered trustworthy even by many of its opponents.

I have never understood how the righteous Christians of the GOP have been able to walk hand in hand with the Americans For Tax Reform crowd and not felt the tiniest tweak of conscience. It’s always struck me as terribly hypocritical to claim to be a Christian following the commands of Jesus Christ while completely ignoring what the Bible says about taking care of the poor. And yet, Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins have no problem making room in their Values Voters club for the rabidly anti-tax Club For Growth. It makes no sense.

The basic Christian ethic is this: help your neighbor. That’s it. We may disagree on how that ethic becomes public policy, but we should at least agree on that basic point.

This is where taxation comes in. For people of faith, a more equitable tax structure that asks the wealthy and corporations to contribute more fairly and create revenue for social programs is Biblical. Not this feel-good, conscience easing "tough love" taxation of the Reagan and Bush years. The poor should not pay 11 cents on every dollar while the rich pay just four cents. That is immoral and un-Christian.

Says Professor Hamill:

“The Bible commands that the law promote justice because human beings are not good enough to promote justice individually on their own,” she said. “To assume that voluntary charity will raise enough revenues to meet this standard is to deny the sin of greed.”

Ah yes, “human beings are not good enough” should be a concept familiar to most evangelicals. Perhaps you are more familiar with the concept phrased thusly: “we are all sinners.”

If you listen to the Righteous Righties and President Bush, we are supposedly a “Christian nation” founded on “Biblical principles.” If you believe that, then you need to kick Grover Norquist and Pat Toomey to the curb, repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, raise taxes on corporations and invest that revenue in social programs that benefit the poor. That is Christian public policy, not this phony IGMY (I Got Mine Y’all) policy we’ve seen in the Bush years.