Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Progressive Income Tax

American religious historian Diana Butler Bass on A Christian Argument for Progressive TaxationI agree so much that I’ll simply let Dr. Bass speak for me.

Tea Parties on tax day to the contrary (attendance was poor at most and the largest responsible estimate I’ve seen nationwide was 300,000 people–hardly a mass insurgence), recent polling shows that for the first time in decades, the majority of Americans either think their taxes are “about right” or “too low.”  And when you ask specific policy questions like, “Would you be willing to pay more in taxes for universal single payer healthcare?” the majority answer “yes.” 

But, in the face of anti-tax propaganda non-stop since 1980, it has been far too long since churches have made the kinds of arguments Dr. Butler Bass does in her brief article.  We should make  these kinds of arguments from the pulpit more often.

April 20, 2009 - Posted by | economic justice, taxes, U.S. politics

22 Comments

  1. Michael when do progressive taxes become oppressive taxes ? That is the question. I am not again taxation if it is fair and equitable, but who determines what is fair and equitable ? A government fuctionary ?

    Comment by Paul | April 20, 2009

  2. Oppressive taxes would be those which significantly slow the economy or take so much from individual families that thely make it difficult for them to live. We are nowhere near oppressive taxation. Even AFTER the new tax rates go into effect next January, the top tax rate will only be 39% and lower rates will be cut.

    Again, and I’ve said this several times now, the Eisenhower years had our greatest prosperity–the broadest middle class–and the top tax bracket was 90%. Even in the Carter years, it was 65%. The huge tax giveaways of the Reagan-Bush years (and then the Bush II years) led to huge budget deficits (weakening the economy structurally) and huge income disparity–the poor got poorer and the rich got richer and the Middle class shrank.

    AFTER we get the recession over, we are going to have to raise taxes–probably on everyone making 75K or more. But we should raise them most on the top 5%. Further, currently we tax dividend income at lower rates than payroll income–leading to CEOs paying lower tax rates than their secretaries.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 20, 2009

  3. […] Re­ad th­e­ o­­riginal h­e­re­: Pro­gressiv­e Inco­m­e T­a­x « Lev­ellers […]

    Pingback by Progressive Income Tax « Levellers « Taxes Income | April 20, 2009

  4. I’m all for taxes as long as they are voluntary–like a “tithe” The minute the state has to resort to force, violence and coercion to threaten a non-payer with such harm–then taxes become evil and oppressive. this is the ONLY consistent position for a pacifist who believes such violence is against the teachings of Jesus.

    Keep peace and voluntary taxation a chance!

    Comment by Jack | April 20, 2009

  5. I don’t believe the state ever resorts to violence when it comes to paying taxes. You can pay what you owe (roads, police forces, etc aren’t free) or you can go to jail. OR, because we are a free nation, you can always opt to leave and go to a country that does not have mandatory taxes.

    Good luck with that.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 20, 2009

  6. 1. Getting thrown in jail is a form of violence.
    2. Try resisting their attempt to put you in jail and see how violent they get.–they will kill you.

    I am quite aware that I can “love it or leave it” What I don’t understand is how someone committed to nonviolence can also support a state using violence against someone who doesn’t want to pay taxes. Why not just make it a tithe. If you want to put money in the plate, fine. If you don’t want to put money in the plate–that’s fine too.

    What is the difference between a tax and a tithe? The will do violence to you if you don’t pay your tax. Not so with a “tithe” So, tell me a again why those committed to “nonviolence” carve out an exception when it comes to those who refuse to pay their taxes?

    But then, maybe the analogy between a “tithe” and a “tax” is just plain stupid, Dan. What do you think?

    Comment by Jack | April 20, 2009

  7. We have to have some taxation to help the government apparatus function.

    Comment by Paul | April 20, 2009

  8. Jack, your position is absurd. The “taxation is theft” and therefore “taxation is violence” rightwing meme is absurd. In Scripture, Christians are specifically told to pay taxes.

    The voluntary nature of tithes (voluntary in the sense of no compulsion, but God doesn’t consider them voluntary) is different than state taxation. But NO analogy is perfect. An analogy is not an IDENTITY.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 20, 2009

  9. Michael–I don’t think Jack’s position is as absurd as you say. The simple fact is that the state collection of taxes involves at least an implicit threat of violence against those who dissent from paying their taxes. That implicit threat becomes real and explicit once the tax evader is caught. That is the relevant difference between a “tax” (if you don’t pay we will hurt you in some way) and a “tithe” (which is voluntary). if something is “voluntary” you don’t have to threaten a “non-volunteer” with harm (violence).

    I understand why someone who is not committed to “nonviolence” would have no problem with the state using violence against those who refuse to pay their taxes. What I think Jack and I don’t understand is how someone committed to an ethic on nonviolence can support using violence against people who refuse to pay their taxes. The seems to be a rather obvious contradiction that you haven’t explained away.
    In fact, you might say that it is YOUR position that is absurd. But maybe not… I anxiously await your explanation.

    Comment by Donald | April 21, 2009

  10. Some types of pacifists are anarchists and argue that coercion of all kinds is immoral. Therefore, govt. itself is immoral–and Christians cannot participate.

    I have never been that kind of pacifist. I see taxation as part of the social contract. I don’t see its collection as violent, although it is coercive. (If I tackle a blind person to prevent them from running into traffic, I commit a forceful act of coercion, but not an act of violence.) I work for prison reform, but I do not object to prisons per se.

    Tithes are not necessarily voluntary, either. In some church groups, at least prior to the modern era, failure to tithe would lead to visits from church elders and much social pressure. The ultimate sanction could be to excommunicate the non-tither.

    I co-wrote an article with Glen Stassen called “Defining Violence and Nonviolence.” It has been reprinted several places, including as the opening chapter of J. Denny Weaver’s Teaching Peace. I will try in a future series (boy are they backing up!) to reproduce the main argumments on this blog.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 21, 2009

  11. “I don’t see its collection as violent, although it is coercive.”

    Here’s a simple question: Is throwing someone in prison for not paying taxes a “violent” act or is it not.

    Here’s another: If the state tries to arrest somebody who refuses to pay taxes and the villian resists with violence, is the state justified in using violence to (1) force him into prison or (2) if necessary, kill him.

    What do you say, Michael?

    Comment by Donald | April 21, 2009

  12. Oh, tithes are indeed “voluntary” in the relevant sense. The tithes you pay to YOUR church and the ones I pay to MY church carry no legal sanction with threat of punishment. So, the most important difference between the two holds.

    Comment by Donald | April 21, 2009

  13. Donald, this was a simple link to someone else’s article with a brief comment. I have written further about taxation elsewhere and further about violence and nonviolence.

    I refuse to review everything on every post. That’s WHY I make indexes of series.

    I may need to write more about these topics, but it won’t be now because I have too much to do.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 21, 2009

  14. Michael–I wasn’t asking you for a dissertation on different forms of pacifism or for a long discourse on anything. I was just looking for a simple answer to two simple questions. So let us try once again:

    (1) Is throwing someone in prison for not paying taxes a “violent” act or is it not.

    (2) If the state tries to arrest somebody who refuses to pay taxes and the villian resists with violence, is the state justified in using violence to (1) force him into prison or (2) if necessary, kill him.

    Comment by Donald | April 21, 2009

  15. You are absolutely correct Michael as to what scripture says about taxes!

    Comment by Paul | April 21, 2009

  16. Donald,
    No, throwing someone into jail for refusing to pay taxes is not violent (unless police brutality is involved) but is coercive.

    Your follow-up requires a long discussion of policing and pacifism. I always argue for less-than-lethal means of policing. I never think killing is justified by anyone for any reason. The question of HOW to police without lethal means is too far off topic.

    The topic of this post, remember, was that Christians should support and pay progressive taxes.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 21, 2009

  17. “Your follow-up requires a long discussion of policing and pacifism.”

    No it doesn’t. In fact, you just answered the question. If someone does not want to pay taxes and is willing to use violence to resist whoever the government sends to collect the taxes (e.g., police) it is your stated opinion that it is better for the police to suffer death than to inflict it. The tax collector should never resort to lethal violence (although you seem to think that less than lethal violence is OK–What would Jesus do. He wouldn’t use lethal violence but he would throw your sorry ass in jail.–how does that fit with “turn the other cheek?”)

    Since for you, it is always more evil to kill someone than anything else (you are indeed an honest pacifist) you cannot urge the government to respond with proportional and discriminant lethal force. So, those who are willing to use lethal force to resist the tax collector will always win out.

    Bottom line–only tax collectors willing to use lethal force against tax resisters will ever collect any taxes.

    I know what the topic is–its just that there should be an addendum. Christians should support progressive taxes only if they are willing to kill tax resistors.

    We could probably discuss how pacifists freeload off of those who ARE willing to use lethal force, but that would be too off topic.

    Comment by Donald | April 23, 2009

  18. Nice find.

    Comment by nemski | April 24, 2009

  19. My objection is that we’re creating a majority of voters who PAY NO INCOME TAX.

    Shoot, a good percentage of Obama Cabinet nominees hadn’t paid taxes.

    How’s that progressive?

    Comment by Chuck | April 29, 2009

  20. That’s simply not true, Chuck. The rich cheat on their income tax more than working class people and cost us $100 billion per year they hide in offshore accounts that the rest of us pay for. And while some of Obama’s cabinet picks had underpaid back taxes and had to pay up, this was only a major factor with Tim Geithner.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 29, 2009

  21. “recent polling shows that for the first time in decades, the majority of Americans either think their taxes are “about right” or “too low.””

    Just to be honest, this is sort of a non-sequitur, because it is based on a majority opinion when in 2009 in the United States of America the majority of Americans are not paying any (Federal) income taxes or a very low effective rate. Therefore they would be correct. This poll is sort of dishonest in its formulation.

    This poll or the opinion of its sponsor doesn’t deal with the real question of progessivity of income taxes in the context of Arthur Laffer’s (Stanford) work on Marginal Tax rates. I have heard many on the left chuckle at this seminal work, but I have never hear any of the sufficentially challenge it in emperical terms……… Just thought I’d add my perspective here……….steve

    Comment by Next Stop Lauderdale | June 17, 2009

  22. Mike, I’d have to disagree with you here. I don’t necessarily dispute that rich may cheat more than working class, they pay the majority of the taxes and are exposed to that opportunity more, nor that some hide funds offshore, etc, etc…. But your comment about Geithner being the ONLY major factor of Obama picks cheating on taxes (….and indeed in Geithner’s case it was definitely evasion) is off the mark considerably.

    In Daschle’s case that matter of the limo is not even the most “significant” of tax issues in my mind. The fact that he received a $1 million salary from the limo sponsor in the first year of his limo and “failed” to include $83,000 of that money on his tax return entirely in 2005 (by mistake….) and deducted something like $10,000 in “charitable deductions” for non exempt entities (My guess is that they were political donations, but we can’t know because the discrepancies were discovered by Obama’s people in the vetting of Daschle and not a governmental body.)

    Comment by Next Stop Lauderdale | June 17, 2009


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