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Balancing various ideals when it comes to Christianity and economics

Posted by Chance on July 6, 2008

At times, it seems like liberalism coincides more closely with Christianity than say, conservatism, because of caring for the least of these, feeding the poor and hungry, don’t judge, etc… For a while, I myself was veering towards this idea, especially in my college years. However, when I saw how this ideal manifested itself in liberal politics, I got turned off of this. Basically, the idea that you wanted to help the poor automatically meant higher taxes and more government. If you even dared think that the top tax rate should be cut from 38% to 35%, then obviously you hated the poor. That, and my firm pro-life stance. I just couldn’t buy a philosophy that was all about helping the “least of these”, except when it came to abortion. It would be nice to adopt a philosophy that at least butted heads with the world’s values every once in a while. If I was to become a liberal, it would be more of the Catholic type, yes, big government, but they would support the Catholic doctrine even when it clashed with the world’s values.

The major obstacle for me embracing liberalism, Christian or any other, is that of the 10th commandment. “17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”” Now, when I talk to liberals, they say that they do not envy, they do not want to be rich, etc… and I believe them. But, the income redistribution system as a whole is envy, even if not everyone who supports the system is, in fact, coveting their neighbors stuff. The whole idea of progressivism/socialism is taking from the rich to give to the poor. Politicians appeal to the notion of class warfare, where he or she promises to tax the rich more and give more stuff to the poor. Folks, I cannot think of a more obvious instance of something that contradicts the 10th commandment.

So what does this mean? Have no welfare? Have no taxes? I realize the need for these programs. And I had the longest time trying to separate a system that has basic welfare vs. the system that we have now. I believe the the key to having an envy free society is a flat tax, a low income tax for everyone. By having a flax tax, there is no class warfare. There is no people voting to tax another group at no cost to themselves. By having a flat tax, we can still have democracy, where we choose how much to give, but we are all in it together. No more voting to raise our neighbors taxes and not our own.

I’m sure this idea sounds abhorrent to many, especially to those whose ideal government is much bigger than mine. But government spending needs some kind of check, and currently there is not much. There is no limit to how much government can spend when the majority choose what to do with the pockets of the minority.

So, when looking at Christianity and how it applies to economics and politics, I try to look at the entire Bible. Jesus advocated caring for the poor, but he never brought government into it (apparently Jesus’ silence only counts when it comes to abortion and (supposedly) homosexuality). Paul discussed methods to take care of the poor, and he told churches to focus on those who truly needed it. The 10th commandment said don’t try to take your neighbors’ stuff. Even with the Mosaic law and Israel, that society looked very little like what is advocated now among the Christian Left, with tax rates much lower than what we have today, among other things that I’d like to get into later. In other words, I don’t see a strong correlation between liberalism and what is taught in the Bible.

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11 Responses to “Balancing various ideals when it comes to Christianity and economics”

  1. 4simpsons said

    Terrific post, Chance – very insightful.

    You are so right in addressing the coveting issue. I think liberal Christians assume that it is OK to covet the wealth of others provided that you want to give it to someone else, but that is not what the Bible teaches.

    “apparently Jesus’ silence only counts when it comes to abortion and (supposedly) homosexuality”

    Great line – I’m going to “borrow” that and paraphrase it on my latest post.

  2. Randy said

    Good post.

    Regarding the coveting, what about liberals who are rich? They aren’t coveting as the “tax the rich” idea would increase their own taxes.

    Regarding the flat tax. My biggest fear is that we’ll never get there. I knew a CPA who said everytime congress simplified taxes, he made more money. It’s not that we CAN’T get there, just that congress would screw it up. I wish there was a way to force them to keep their hands out of it.

  3. Chance said

    “Regarding the coveting, what about liberals who are rich? They aren’t coveting as the “tax the rich” idea would increase their own taxes.”

    I would tend to agree with you, I would think me voting to increase a tax would not count as envy as long as I am included. And like I said, not ever person on the economic left is an envious person, they are just voting for a system that encourages envy. I suppose if people could only vote to raise taxes of their own economic bracket, that wouldn’t be envy, but that might encourage greed as the majority of the rich would vote for no taxes, as they have little to gain from government programs.

    As far as “simplifying”, that sounds about right. I think that along with a flat tax, deductions should be ended, or at least something very basic, like not taxing charity. Congress says they want a simple tax code, but then they pass various deductions for social engineering or other purposes. If I knew that I was taxed x % of my income no matter what, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether my office counts as a home office, what water heater I bought, etc… Ending deductions doesn’t sound incredibly popular, but I would support them if it was accompanied by lower taxes for everyone.

  4. Dan Trabue said

    Interesting post, good and thoughtful.

    I might want to comment more later, but for now, let me at least say something about this:

    But, the income redistribution system as a whole is envy, even if not everyone who supports the system is, in fact, coveting their neighbors stuff. The whole idea of progressivism/socialism is taking from the rich to give to the poor.

    Setting aside the worth of such an approach for a minute, I’d like to deal with the common charge that “liberals” are covetous because they are for a progressive tax rate (ie, those who have more, pay more).

    Could it be that “liberals” are not at all covetous but rather:

    1. Logical, in that it makes logical sense that those who are making more have benefited more from the system and ought to pay more to continue to support that system for their own sake, as well as for the commonwealth…

    2. Logical, in that those who have more are better able to pay more – it just makes sense to me that, if I were on an island of ten people and we were pooling resources for the common good and I had much more than nine of the people, that I would give a larger percentage of what I have – I could more easily afford to share…

    3. Pragmatic, in that some folk simply don’t think that anyone needs to have billions of dollars, that it is detrimental to that person and to the society as a whole to have obscenely large concentrations of wealth in a few hands…

    For starters. Aren’t these reasons much more likely explanation of why some folk favor taxing the wealthier at higher rates?

    I simply have never met anyone who favors a progressive tax because they are envious of the rich. Never.

    Now, of course, that is only anecdotal, but my testimony is at least one bit of evidence to consider. I can tell you factually that I am not at all envious of the rich. If anything, I feel a bit of sorrow for them.

    Again, a very thoughtful commentary and I’m going to give it some more consideration…

  5. Dan Trabue said

    but that might encourage greed as the majority of the rich would vote for no taxes, as they have little to gain from government programs.

    I’m just not sure that I’m buying into this line of reasoning at all, though, Chance.

    Nothing to gain? How about:

    An educated workforce?
    Lower crime rates?
    Roads and infrastructure?
    Fewer homeless on the street?
    Domestic policing?
    Protection from invasion?
    Cleaner waterways?
    Cleaner air?

    My contention would be far from the “They have nothing to gain,” point of view to, “They are the ones who have gained the most from our way of life.”

  6. Dan Trabue said

    And that’s not even counting the corporate welfare that enriches the already wealthy!

  7. Chance said

    “Could it be that “liberals” are not at all covetous but rather:”

    Hi Dan, I tried to get this across in my post, but I don’t think many liberals are envious… let me say it this way, you probably think capitalism/free market system encourages greed, right? Now, I support a free market/capitalist system, but you probably don’t think I’m greedy, correct? I don’t think you, or Michael, or many of the people I’ve talked to are envious people, but I believe it is a system that encourages envy.

    Which is worse, envy or greed? Both are bad, but I have reasons for supporting the free market system.

    I do agree, that even to me, having the rich pay a higher % sounds more logical. But, I don’t like a system where one group chooses to tax the other more. Or, at the very least, we need checks and balances, and I don’t see it with progressive taxation. I think if more money came from our own pocket, we would be more critical as a whole of how our money is being spent, other than choose to tax somebody else more.

    “I’m just not sure that I’m buying into this line of reasoning at all, though, Chance.”

    Well, according to the riches point of view, they may have little to gain, not all though. I still think many of the rich would be happy to get away with paying .1% of their taxes if they could.

    “And that’s not even counting the corporate welfare that enriches the already wealthy!”

    Ugh. Sports stadiums are a shining example of this. Even if we didn’t have a flat tax, I think it would be better to have a smaller tax rate without deductions for every group, instead of special tax breaks for oil companies, etc…

    But the main point I want to get across is that I don’t think you are envious, I think you have logical reasons, like the 3 you mentioned, for supporting a progressive tax. And maybe we could still have it but engineer it to avoid the issues I have with it.

  8. Dan Trabue said

    I understood that you were differentiating the System from the Individuals, when talking about envy. I’m just not sure that there’s any evidence of much envy that is encouraged through the system.

    Thanks for the clarification, though.

    How about this – you say:

    Politicians appeal to the notion of class warfare, where he or she promises to tax the rich more and give more stuff to the poor. Folks, I cannot think of a more obvious instance of something that contradicts the 10th commandment.

    And there certainly may be an element of class warfare (just as there’s an element of class warfare in the “conservative” who constantly is bashing welfare queens and bums) in how politicians make their case to tax the wealthy.

    But it is not the only reasoning in how it is presented, nor the most important, it seems to me. When a politician “promises to tax the rich more,” you see it as a promise to “give more stuff to the poor.” I see it as an effort to equitably pay for the commonwealth and nothing more.

    We all enjoy roads, police protection, education, clean air and water, etc and we all benefit when gov’t helps provide these things. Some things can, no doubt, be better delivered outside of gov’t by private enterprise, but not all things.

    Health, environmental, education, infrastructure, policing, all of these things and more have an element where it is more efficient to work commonly through gov’t in some form – or at least the argument can be made.

    The point is, there’s not an element of class warfare or envy in that bigger, main argument of having gov’t playing a role in our lives, but rather just a function of what works and what doesn’t work.

    Now, I think if we could get past the class warfare, envy and greed arguments and work on questions of “What works and what doesn’t,” we might make more progress.

    That is, if liberals didn’t kneejerk oppose something just because private enterprise or NGOs are involved (not that all liberals do, but some do sometimes) and if conservatives didn’t kneejerk oppose something simply because gov’t is involved (again, not that this is all conservatives), but rather if we looked at the evidence – DOES this gov’t program save taxpayer dollars and provide a service at the same time? And is it a service that is not being provided by the Market or by NGOs but is needed? CAN this service be offered more effectively (again, saving taxpayer dollars) by private enterprise?

    These are the questions we ought to be asking, it seems to me, rather than engaging in name-calling (PIG! COMMIE!) and more base, class-warfare sorts of approaches.

  9. Josh said

    Stoppin’ in to say hi. I know it’s been a while. Take care!

  10. Chance said

    Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. It may be the weekend or Monday before I get back to you because of various things going on.

  11. Chance said

    Just a few thoughts, I probably won’t be able to address every single one of your objections, but I’ll try to hit the main points.

    “Logical, in that it makes logical sense that those who are making more have benefited more from the system… “

    I think I would disagree. People are rich for various reasons. Some are lucky, some come from rich families, but others happen to be brilliant, athletic, come up with good ideas that make money, etc… I don’t attribute the separation of the rich from poor simply because of “the system.” Sure, schools are important, but in every single school, successful and non-successful alike come about.

    “Logical, in that those who have more are better able to pay more – it just makes sense to me that, if I were on an island of ten people and we were pooling resources for the common good and I had much more than nine of the people, that I would give a larger percentage of what I have – I could more easily afford to share…”

    This is your best argument and the best one in general.

    “Pragmatic, in that some folk simply don’t think that anyone needs to have billions of dollars, that it is detrimental to that person and to the society as a whole to have obscenely large concentrations of wealth in a few hands…”

    Is it really your business how much somebody else has? This is the point I am trying to get at. Again, not saying you or anyone in particular is covetous, but in my view, the spirit of the 10th commandment is not worrying about what other people have. .

    That, and wealth is not a zero-sum game. In other words, by some people having more, that doesn’t mean others necessarily have less. In fact, people who have made billions have made others rich along the way. I’m not saying greed is good or that selfishness drives the world; I want to stay away from that philosophy, but I think many on the liberal side simply think about wealth in the wrong way. Is the world a worse place because of the guys who started Google? Is the world a worse place because of Bill Gates?

    “I’m just not sure that there’s any evidence of much envy that is encouraged through the system.”

    I understand you are not the official spokesman of the Democratic party, you look at things in terms of services and such, and I don’t think you have used terms such as “redistribution of income” and “spreading the wealth”, but many others have. Maybe these terms are reserved for those on the Far Left, who knows. Now, those particular progressives and socialists may not “envy”, because many of them are probably productive citizens, but for those who stand to benefit from “redistribution of income” do.

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