Violent Charity and the Trouble With Minimum Tips

“People who can’t imagine order without imposition always end up favoring power over liberty.” – Jeffrey Tucker

I had a conversation with a friend not too long ago about the nature of violence in taxation, and how that violence stood in contrast to any charitable end one might hope to achieve through the state.

“Who said anything about violence?” she responded.

Yet if a man stops paying taxes he finds that he is summonsed by the courts and ordered to pay. If he again refuses he finds that armed men eventually come to his house and take everything he has under threat of violence.

Taxation by the state – the appropriation of one man’s life and production for the purposes of “the whole” – is fundamentally a violent act.

Note that I do not mean to imply here that violence is always evil, or always uncalled for. Did not Jesus drive the money changers from the temple with violence? Do we not believe that a man can take up arms in defense of his neighbors – indeed he should do so to protect the innocent?

But when it comes to charity, to helping those in need, there would seem to be an inherent incompatibility with violence. The idea that we could commit violence against one, who has done no wrong by simply rising in the morning and working hard all day, and somehow justify it by accomplishing a benevolent act towards another is, well, perverse.

I say this to point back to my longstanding position – social benevolence programs run by the state (i.e., via taxation) are immoral. The benevolence may itself be a good thing, but the violence committed to accomplish it through the state undoes any good that was hoped for. (There may be pragmatic reasons for those programs, but the justification must then be pragmatic in nature, not moral.)

As I laid this position out to a different friend some time ago, she responded with an interesting order of events. “I agree with you, and as soon as the church is answering the call on all of these various needs then we should end the government programs.”

The statement honestly took me by surprise. It was an acceptance (by someone who I would consider liberal on a political scale) that the state’s benevolence failed to be charitable. However, the order of outcomes seems to be only a half-step to acceptance, and fails on two fronts.

First, it suggests that failing to meet the human needs of some is a greater sin than the violence we commit in taxation. I reject this idea.

I will not tread down the road of “no big or small sins” – when we are talking about sins committed against one another there are bigger and smaller sins. The Golden Rule alone tells us that we can weigh the severity of outcomes by putting ourselves in the position of the other. I’d rather you steal my wallet than kill me. Both are sins, but one is worse in the eyes of the victim, and so one is a greater sin.

In our situation, I hold that the violence of taxation is the greater sin. The sin of violent commission, of seizing a man’s life for the benefit of another man’s life is greater (in my mind) than the sin of failing to willingly meet the needs of others.

The second issue is systemic in nature. It is the problem of the minimum tip. Have you ever been to a restaurant with a large party and found that the server included a minimum 15% gratuity? I understand why they do this – large parties have a way of seeing the absolute dollar amount of a percentage-wise small tip and saying “that’s big enough”. Servers have been burned by this so they started a minimum percentage for large parties.

Every time there is a minimum gratuity there is also a line for “extra gratuity” – you can always pay more than 15%, just not less. I always, always, always refuse to pay extra, even if the service was great.

At its root it’s a feedback problem. Bad service does not get punished in the face of the minimum, so the tip has lost its function.

The allegory is not perfect, mind you, but the idea is still there. Christians across this country will look at their annual tax bill – money they are told they must pay or go to jail, and much of it devoted to “benevolent” programs – and rightly ask “why do I need to do more?”

We were not given the opportunity to do less if doing less was warranted (sometimes needs should go unmet in order to induce a change in behavior). We were not given the opportunity to direct our monies toward the most effective means of helping (some legislator or bureaucrat who has no idea of the situation on the ground made those decisions). We were handcuffed from the start – you took a sizable portion of our available resources.

The idea that, inside this system, there is any way that the free will benevolence of the church (which always has conditions of grace – but not cheap grace) will rise above the no-strings-attached giveaways of the state and eliminate the “need” for those programs is a bit silly.

So how do we get there? Well, I would love to think we could simply make the argument to a country that claims to be 70%-80% Christian and let the democratic process work it out. Alas, we saw how well that worked at eliminating slavery (when the percentages were much higher).

I think the answer, if there is one, lies in decentralization. In response to the recent “Calexit” post, a friend noted that California pays far more into the Federal coffers than it gets out, and that this is unfair. I agree – but no centralized system of generalized tax code intake and entitlement outflow will result in the states getting out exactly what they put in (in aggregate). The only way to do that would be to let all programs be administered at the state level by state taxation and entitlement processes.

This solution has another benefit – it allows ideas to compete with one another and free men to choose what works best for them (and even vote with their feet if they don’t like the local situation). I suspect that localities that eliminate the most superfluous giveaways – the free money for nothing handouts – will find that the best and brightest and most productive want to live and work there. The rest will take care of itself, and the church will have its opportunity to answer the call.

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