Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taxes

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 -- Week of Proper 15, Year One
Samuel Johnson, Timothy Cutler, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler, Priests, 1772, 1765, 1790

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 980)
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning)      128, 129, 130 (evening)
2 Samuel 18:19-33
Acts 23:23-35
Mark 12:13-27

"Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"


I have a confession to make.  I like taxes.  (As I type this, I note a slight rush -- a slightly quickened heartbeat; a rise in blood pressure.  I wonder...  Who reads these things?  Is is dangerous thing to say "I like taxes"?  Liking taxes not as bad as being a Communist sympathizer in the 1950's is it?  Is there a black-list for people who like taxes?)

For years my wife and I have been in a pretty high tax bracket.  We both work.  We have good jobs.  Our children are grown and no longer deductible.  Paying high taxes has seemed like a privilege -- a mark of financial success.

I like so much of what we do with our taxes.  Our taxes unerwrite and improve our corporate life.  Basic infrastructure.  Education.  Help to the vulnerable.  I want us to have resources to solve problems that can only be solved at a corporate level.  Solutions I can't contribute to any other way.

Oh, I don't always agree with the way my taxes are spent.  I thought invading Iraq as a response to a terrorist act by a clandestine group of Saudi dissidents was the stupidest thing imaginable.  Didn't want to spend a dime to do that.  But it's part of being part of the whole.  My dollars contributed to the death of more than 100,000 civilians in that country -- collateral damage they are called.  My tax dollars financed that bad decision.  I don't like that.  But I like being in the whole system.

I like having water I can drink from the tap without any qualms.  (When I'm traveling in places where you can't do that, it's so hard to remember to rinse my toothpaste with bottled water.)  I like food that is inspected and safe to eat.  Roads and sewers.  Air traffic controllers.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I get a kick out of the things that government does so much better than the private sector.  Like health insurance.  Medicaid and Medicare as so much more efficient than for-profit health insurance. 

Philosophically, I agree with the notion that "to those to whom much is given, much is expected."  (John F. Kennedy and Luke 12:48)  I like a progressive tax policy that requires those of us who are most able to bear a proportionately greater tax obligation to do so.

I also believe we have a responsibility to our neighbors.  I like what the Epistle of James says:  "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"  Taxes underwrite our corporate responsibility to care for the needy. 

Someone argued with me that the Bible tells the church to take care of the poor, voluntarily through the church's charity.  It's the church's job, not the government's, they told me.  I once compared the value of a single major welfare program (Food Stamps) to the entire income of the Christian church in the U. S.  They were comparable numbers.  If the church gave every penny it receives to the poor, it might cover Food Stamps.  (Then I wouldn't have a salary, and might need Food Stamps.)  The point:  Only taxes are a great enough resource to address some problems that are bigger than charity.

I'm no economist, but it seems to me that Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman is right.  We should be investing to put unemployed people back to work to stimulate our current economy.  Rebuild our infrastructure and build the job base.  We need more resources to invest in the things that make for a healthier country.  I want to see some tax increases.  (The heart rate perked up again.)

Taxes are at historic lows.  We've spent nearly 40 years tilting the tax code to benefit the wealthy.  Why does our tax code favor income from wealth (capital gains) over earned income?  Financial speculators threw our economy into the tank.  Speculative trading accounts for up to 70% of the trades in some financial markets.  How about a modest tax on every transaction?  Exempt small investors.  Might dampen speculation and raise our common revenues.

People like me can contribute more in hard times like this.  I've got a lot more than I need to live on.  And it seems silly that I'm in the same tax bracket as a billionaire.

Okay, that's enough of a tax rant to tick off nearly everyone.  But I can tell you my answer to the question, "Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor or not?"  In our system, it is the government that is charged by the Constitution to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."  That is a worthy cause.  But we haven't been paying the bill for that work for quite a long time.  It's time we acted like responsible adults and raised taxes to do the work we are charged to do.  Those of us who are most able to pay for that good work should do so.  Happily.

Lowell

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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
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Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

11 Comments:

At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Joan M. Atwood said...

Hallelujah! I agree totally with your thoughts on paying taxes to the emporer and think you should send it to all members of Congress, regardless of party.

I met you only once, about six or seven years ago when Phil Koonce was attending his last service at your church. He was leaving to come to Maine with me. I was so impressed with your sermon that I have been reading your blog ever since and benefitting from it.

I was once a Licensed Local Pastor in the United Methodist Church, but have evolved into an atheist who still believes in the message of Jesus - thank you for reminding us so often of what that message really is.

Joan Atwood, Bath, ME

 
At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You believe in the message that a Holy God sent his only Son to die for you? That is NOT what an atheist believes dear woman.

 
At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Jane said...

All you say makes good sense to me. Disseminate this blog more widely. I would be interested in seeing responses from the "no taxes" people.

 
At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jane, I doubt there are many "no taxes" people. There are certainly many many "less taxes" people of which I number myself.

Why less taxes? To use the simple and educational words of Barack Obama, "waste, fraud and abuse".

 
At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I like having water I can drink from the tap without any qualms. (When I'm traveling in places where you can't do that, it's so hard to remember to rinse my toothpaste with bottled water.) I like food that is inspected and safe to eat." Except that isn't true. The government pumps chlorine into your water and leaves it there, Arkansas will soon be adding the poison fluorine to the water. The government allowed Tyson to sell turkey it KNEW has salmonella. Our drugged society is dumping tons of prescriptions in the sewer. I don't know Lowell, i think you need to rethink your stance on this. Taxes are needed, but what is the limit?

 
At 9:51 PM, Anonymous janet said...

I guess you have at least six reading, if you can count the anonymous writer thrice.

And to follow the scenario a bit further, you would not get SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional assistance) even if you lost your job. You have to have less than $2000 in any type of resource (one car, one house allowed per family), and you can't just give your resources away to qualify. So, you'd need to be closer to starving before that may kick in, and then it is just meant to supplement, not provide your food. Still it helps many that desperately need it, and that seems right.

I like the Swedish distribution of wealth - progressive taxes - and all pay quite a bit as I understand it - all have a share in the wealth and thus more of a stake in their community - the rich hold a higher percentage of the wealth - but the poor aren't kept completely out of the distribution. It is so much closer to a more equal distribution of wealth. All have healthcare, mothers and children are taken care of for the first few years, education is offered if you so desire. It seems to mirror more closely what my faith tells me, and what my heart tells me is good, true, right. Always the idealist! Anon, what say thee?

 
At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your faith tells you to force your ideology on everyone? You faith tells you to let your government do what you should?

"and all pay quite a bit as I understand it" 50% of Americans pay NO federal income taxes, how balanced is that? Debbie wasserman-schults won't answer that question, i wonder if you have the guts to?

 
At 6:55 AM, Blogger David said...

Thanks Lowell!!!

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for all of the comments and commentary. For an understanding about the 50% don't pay taxes comment, here's an analysis of that from the Washington Post.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/why-do-half-of-all-americans-pay-no-federal-income-taxes/2011/07/11/gIQA8olBuI_blog.html

Short version -- the tax system is structured so that subsistence levels of income are exempted, and with Earned Income Credit some very low income workers receive some stimulus.

The biggest factor is the number of elderly in the tax system. The elderly get an extra standard deduction as well as an exemption for some Social Security benefits. The second biggest factor is exemptions for households with children.

Right now personal federal income taxes are at their lowest level in 80 years -- lower than the Reagan days.

Lowell

P.S. Here's an article from the Evangelical publication Sojourners:
http://wealthforcommongood.org/tag/chuck-collins/

 
At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right now Fed income is at its lowest. GOOD, and double GOOD. Because right now, responsible spending in Washington is at its LOWEST.

 
At 7:09 AM, Anonymous janet said...

I like the wealth for common good website. I still remember a comment from an interfaith gathering I attended several years ago. A Muslim from the audience stood up to speak. The discussion was on the rights of the poor - do they have any rights? He was speaking to this. He stated that in his understanding of his faith, part of the dollar in his pocket belonged to the poor. He had a monetary obligation to the poor based on his deep faith. He wasn't trying to force his faith on anyone. That comment has stayed with me, because it reminds me of what Jesus teaches - of my understanding of what Jesus teaches.

Peace,
Janet

 

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