Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 14, 2016

Maerten de Vos - The temple taxOver at the Libertarian Christian Institute, Jamin Hübner engages my reflection on taxation and Sam Gregg’s book, For God and Profit, with his sed contra: “But what if the ‘taxation is theft’ creed is consistent with both Christian and libertarian ideas, and that all things considered, taxation really is theft? And what if we’re simply misreading or misappropriating the New Testament? This wouldn’t be a comfortable or popular conclusion to draw, but it might be the case nevertheless.”

Hübner accuses me of prooftexting because I take as point of departure for my short reflection (not really an argument, I would say) Paul’s instruction in Romans 13:7, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes.” I don’t properly connect my treatment to Jesus, says Hübner, who is “Paul’s primary source.”

Now if all that was said about paying taxes was that short verse in Romans from Paul, then perhaps Hübner may have a point. And I agree that a full argument and exploration of taxation in Scripture would take into account a good deal more, not only of Scripture but of Christian reception of Scripture. Hübner wants us to account for Jesus in our theology of taxation. I’m fine with that. But I think we would probably need to explore the full scriptural witness, too.

Next, Hübner points out that my prooftexting hermeneutic could likewise be applied to legitimate slavery. If he can find a scriptural text where Paul instructs someone to buy slaves, then I suppose I would have to grant him that point, too. The moral status and treatment of taxation and slavery in the Bible are not exactly equivalent, however. Even if “no NT writer condemned [slavery] outright,” neither did anyone of them instruct Christians positively on this matter, e.g. to acquire slaves. But not only are taxes not condemned outright, there are numerous indications, including Romans 13:7, where paying them is positively mandated.

But perhaps all that is just outdated, contextual instruction relevant for the first century but not now. Hübner promises to examine that in a future installment, and in the meantime you should check out his first part. Whether or not I am prooftexting, I think we can agree that our hermeneutical approaches are quite different.

I wonder whether the taxation issue really is just a symptom, however, as the quote from Rothbard at the end of Hübner’s post might indicate. Isn’t the problem for Hübner really the existence of “violence-based governing authorities,” of which taxation is just one manifestation?

“There are many things government can’t do—many good purposes it must renounce,” said Lord Acton. “It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”

Unfortunately for us, too few of our fellow Americans would agree with Lord Acton on that point. Many people think the government can feed, enrich, and teach us—and even convert us to the “right” (i.e., politically correct) way of thinking.

The good news is that a slight majority of our neighbors (54 percent) still say that government is attempting to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. But according to a new Gallup survey, 41 percent say government should do more to solve the country’s problems. As Gallup notes, the divide breaks down along political party lines:

These broad general population trends mask the fact that Republicans and Democrats have widely divergent views on the issue, consistent with each party’s philosophy on the role of government. Republicans overwhelmingly favor the “doing too much” option, and Democrats are almost as likely to favor “should do more.”

Currently, 82 percent of Republicans say government is trying to do too much, while only 24 percent of Democrats say the same. Gallup also notes that  women, minorities, and young adults are more likely to be Democrats and are least likely to say the government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.

In this video, Dennis Prager explains why it matters whether government does too much or too little.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 10, 2016

taxesLast week, before the most recent news about Donald Trump and the current US presidential campaign burst onto the scene, Think Christian ran a short reflection of mine on the question of taxation. As I argue, “There is no duty to pay anything other than what we owe in taxes. But whatever we do owe we must pay in good conscience and out of a spirit of justice.”

If you spend any time on the internet reading about political liberty, you are likely to come across the formula, “Taxation is theft.” The picture the Apostle Paul paints is rather different. The point of departure for my thoughts on taxation is his instruction: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes.”

So the moral status of taxation as such doesn’t seem to be problematic. But as I note in the piece, the question of implementation is different and much more complex. Just because taxation isn’t in itself theft, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t forms or levels of taxation that cannot devolve to that level.

Leo XIII, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, considers appropriate taxation. He warns of the necessity “that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation.” He continues,

The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair. (47)

As with so many questions of political economy, the issue turns on the question, “Who decides?” What Paul and Leo make clear, however, is that there is a divine standard of justice to which those who require and those who pay taxes must both adhere.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 3, 2016

This ad perhaps captures Deirdre McCloskey’s observation that “love runs consumption” better than anything I have yet seen.

Coca Cola – What Goes Around comes Around from THE APA on Vimeo.

And embedded in Jack White’s song are some rich theological insights. For more on the backstory for the song and the ad, check out this piece at the Consequence of Sound.

Appletons' Wesley John.jpg

By Jacques Reich (undoubtedly based on a work by another artist) – Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900, v. 5, p. 438, Public Domain,

“You are the spring that puts all the rest in motion; they would not stir a step without you.”

John Wesley (1703–1791) was talking about the slave trade and was impugning the buyers and owners of slaves as equally culpable as those who captured and sold them, those who “would not stir a step” without buyers for their wares.

But his observation applies to all transactions in a market economy, whether morally permissible or impermissible. The customer is king, whether he is buying illegal drugs or organic, cage-free eggs.

Recognizing the primacy of the buyer in the market economy is a key step in making appropriate moral judgments as well as formulating sound public policy.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

pollution“There are no solutions,” says economist Thomas Sowell. “There are only trade-offs.”

Sowell’s claim is especially true when it comes to the issue of pollution. We have no solution that will allow us to eliminate all pollution, so we are forced to make trade-offs, such as exchanging a certain level of pollution for economic growth.

What would happen, though, if we allowed our political presuppositions to determine which side of the tradeoff we must always choose? That’s the question at the heart of a recent debate about whether libertarians are too anti-pollution.

It all started when New York Times columnist and liberal economist Paul Krugman criticized the Libertarian Party platform’s position on environmental policy:

It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts. Is a giant corporation poisoning the air you breathe or the water you drink? Just sue: “Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.” Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers — what could go wrong?

Economist Tyler Cowen, though, says Krugman’s claim is the “opposite of the correct criticism.”

Given the overpopulation of American jails and prisons, it would stand to reason that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump be pressed to explain how they would dismantle the unfortunate relationship between low-performing schools and the criminal justice system. Last February, The American Bar Association (ABA) released a report in the school-to-prison pipeline. According to the ABA, the pipeline is a metaphor for how the issues in our education system facilitates students leaving school and becoming involved in the criminal justice system. The process is a cycle of compounding issues ranging from low engagement, lack of relationships (including family breakdown), harsh discipline, and various problem with authorities in law enforcement and juvenile justice being involved in school discipline. For the ABA report, researchers conducted eight town hall meetings across the country to try and understand how the issue affected local communities by gathering testimony and exploring how bias plays a role in the system.

According to the report, minority populations are especially affected by the pipeline–a fact known across the academic world. Recent data from reports like this one show the magnitude of the problem, one that the ABA report says is “unacceptably large and out of proportion to the population of our young people.” The problem manifests itself during pre-k through high school years, from the juvenile justice system to adult prisons, and both for students of color and those with disabilities. For example, students of color, regardless of gender, were found to be disproportionately punished by harsher and more frequent methods, failed to graduate as often, had lower education retention and learning, and were more often referred to authorities for arrest. (more…)