The Measures We Use and the Call for Higher Taxes

“Judge not, that you be not judged.For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” – Matt 7:1-2

A theme we see repeated various places in the Old Testament (and New) is the notion of proportional responsibility. That is, my responsibility to participate in some function is often defined by my ability to participate. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” – Mark 12:48b

Consider, for example, the practice of tithing. Abraham gave Melchizidek one tenth “of everything” – which is generally understood to mean a tenth of the spoils of war (Gen 14). Later, in Gen 28, Jacob promised to give God a tenth of everything that God gave him. Ten percent of “all your increase” – a 10% flat tax, if you will. (The flat tax is also found in Joseph’s dealings with the Egyptians during the famine – that was 20% though.)

Then there is the offering for the birth of a child. Leviticus 12 lays out that an offering of a lamb, unless the parents cannot afford a lamb, in which case the offering is turtledoves or pigeons. (See also Luke 2:24 – where Mary and Joseph, who were poor, offered a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.) The sacrifice offered to the Lord was dependent on what you could afford. (Note here that poverty didn’t eliminate the requirement to offer sacrifice, it just made the sacrifice less expensive – in accordance with what was affordable.)

Higher Taxes …

In times of budgetary stress, like the kind faced by the US government and most states and municipalities today, there is a need to tighten budget deficits. For the US government this isn’t that much of a concern – they have a printing press and can “borrow” money from the Federal Reserve at will. But for states and municipalities that actually have to borrow based on a promise to repay, it means either reduced spending or higher revenues (taxes).

A few days ago I caught and article discussing the growing call for higher taxes on the rich. This is to be expected. Budgets are tight and we’d all love to see a solution that doesn’t involve pain for us – so we push the tax requirements further up the income distribution. Of course nobody calls for a flat tax and an increase for all (well, I would).

As a side point I’d like to again note here that we do no institute higher taxes on the “rich” but on the “high wage earners” – it’s still an income tax, after all. The wealthy have plenty of ways to avoid these taxes; it’s the people who produce a lot and get paid a lot that bear the burden. (A group, in case you are wondering, that doesn’t seem to include me. Yes, I draw a nice salary – but I also have four kids in a single-income family, own a house, and support various charitable causes … my effective tax rate is rather low.)

The Measure You Use …

The call for higher taxes often comes with an appeal to morality and compassion. “We need to raise taxes [on the rich] to help out those in need.” It is the appeal to morality that takes us to task though.

Remember that in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government is the people. Whatever the government requires of its citizens is what we require of the citizens (under threat of force, in most cases). Our direct involvement, and our appeal to morality, puts us squarely on the hook at judgment.

Let me offer an example. Consider the case of the extremely high salaried single person pulling down $500,000 in adjusted gross income. The income tax on this is $151,761 (using 2012 rates). On top of that he has paid FICA (both halves, the whole “employer contribution” is a smoke screen) coming to $13,243 for Social Security, and $14,500 for Medicare (there’s no cutoff for that one) – bringing the total tax bill to $179,504, or 35.9%.

That’s a nice chunk of change, but now let’s consider what that tax bill is used for. In 2012 we spent $817.5 billion on Social Security, out of $3.59 trillion spent – meaning 22.7% of the budget was spent on monetary outlays to the elderly (yes, I know the payments are supposedly out of some “trust fund” … but that’s also a smoke screen). The percentage for medical expenses for the poor and elderly (Medicare and Medicaid) was 24.3%. If we leave off for a moment the indirect tax of Fed printing, that means that our wealthy friend spent 8.1% of his income on monetary outlays for the elderly and 8.7% on medical care for elderly and poor (actually, that last one includes all of “Health and Human Services”).

Here’s my point: our high-wage-earning friend (and I mean really high) just paid 16.8% of his income toward these apparently benevolent causes. So I ask, dear voter, if you support these high taxes and high outlays, did you pay 16.8% of your income toward helping the elderly and needy? (Yes, you can count a full 47% of your total federal tax bill in the amount – for this example.) Do the math in the back of your head … I’ll wait.

Got the number? Did you make the 16.8% with 47% of your tax bill plus extra charitable giving? We have a word for folks who demand a higher percent of charitable support from others than they require from themselves: hypocrite.

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Matt 7:2

Of course the measure here doesn’t apply to everybody. Some of us don’t support progressive tax rates (much less benevolent outlays – based purely on the Golden Rule). But there are plenty of Christians who join in the call for higher taxes to help the needy. So be it, but check the plumb line you’re holding up to your fellow man. Do you measure up? If not, perhaps you should reassess your policy initiatives (or your giving – either one is fine).

The examples of this go on and on – where voters demand something of their neighbors that they themselves will not do. (Consider for instance the oncoming demands that doctors accept all patients regardless of willingness to pay. Tell me, friend, do you work for free every time someone asks? If not, then consider the plumb line you hold up to your neighbor – you will be measured against it some day.) But there’s hardly time to get into all of it right now. I have to get to work.

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