The bishops and tax policy: Missing not just the big picture but God’s picture?

The bishops and tax policy: Missing not just the big picture but God’s picture?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus | Nov 10, 2017

Tax reform has been a big issue in the United States for the past few decades, and the particulars of the current administration’s tax package are currently being hotly debated across the land. Adding to the debate on October 25th, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, chair of the US bishops’ domestic policy committee, outlined the moral priorities for tax law in a letter to Congress.

The enumerated moral priorities are these:

  1. Caring for the poor
  2. Strengthening families
  3. Maintaining progressive tax rates
  4. Providing adequate revenue for the common good
  5. Avoiding cuts in poverty programs
  6. Offering incentives for charitable giving

What strikes me most about this list of priorities is how little inspiration it draws from “outside the box”. Certainly, these are all moral objectives for tax policy, and I have no great quarrel with the order in which they are presented, But one could easily look at these priorities and say: “OK, so Bishop Dewane likes the US tax code just the way it is.” On the one hand, the priorities are so broad as to give almost no practical guidance at all. On the other, they fail to address more significant issues relating to taxation and government in the United States, issues which ensure that huge amounts of tax revenue, regardless of the general purposes, will be very badly used.

I am not one of those who wants to jump on each individual exemption or credit as if that is the key to moral tax law. Many pro-family people (may God bless them all) are already upset about the possible elimination of a tax credit for those who adopt a child. But bogging down on such miniscule points simply highlights the meta-problems of tax law in the United States, such as the fact that its incredible complexity stems in large part from satisfying a variety of particular interests.

Adoption is good, but it is also rare, extraordinarily expensive, and mostly affects children living outside the United States. Tax breaks are rarely going to determine the outcome. But if tax policy can help one particular class of persons to do something good, why not any number of others? To what extent is this the purpose of tax law?

Outside the Box

To play Devil’s advocate on the broad points, I will simply ask a series of questions designed to highlight just how enclosed within “the box” (or standard cultural way of viewing things) our bishops so typically tend to be. Taking each point in turn:

1. Caring for the poor: Does government’s “caring for the poor” help the poor grow toward greater self-reliance, especially within their families and communities, or does it create and sustain a dependent class? Does government provision for the poor in general advance or retard the willingness of communities at all levels to take care of their own in more effective and more personal ways? How does omnipresent government affect the general perception of the need for a citizenry that worships God and organizes itself into churches to do God’s will?

2. Strengthening families: How does government today define the family, and what does it mean for government to “strengthen” the family? Does it make sense to encourage this so broadly in today’s secular culture? Will the purpose of strengthening the family through tax policy be invariably undercut by other laws which destroy the proper understanding of the family, consistently and even convulsively weakening the social order?

3. Maintaining progressive tax rates: Are the rewards of progressive tax rates worth the costs? How much time, energy, and money do those at most socio-economic levels put into minimizing their tax level? To what degree does a rising tide of wealthy entrepreneurs lift all boats? More broadly, are complex tax laws worth the cost of a specialized class of professionals to deal with them, not to mention the cost of a huge number of required government employees?

4. Providing adequate revenue for the common good: By “common good”, of course, is meant “government programs and services”. To what degree do government programs and services, especially at the Federal level, actually enhance the common good in ways commensurate with their costs (or in comparison with the ways in which the same programs diminish the common good)? How many vital, successful and irreplaceable services can be enumerated beyond necessary basics such as law enforcement, national defense, and disaster relief? Does our government (or the American voters as a group) even know what the common good is?

5. Avoiding cuts in poverty programs: Given retirement programs, medical programs, and poverty programs, what large areas of the Federal budget would our bishops actually believe to be open to substantive cuts? What about our constant—and extraordinarily destructive—mortgaging of the future through excessive Federal spending? But enough: This heading is mostly a repeat: See item 1.

6. Offering incentives for charitable giving: As President of Trinity Communications, I have a vested interest in this one. On the other hand, would this be necessary if government got out of the business of reconstructing society, reduced its costs, and deregulated a great many things so that we might more easily and effectively work together to spiritually and materially help our neighbors?

Conclusion

Finally, does excessive reliance on government actually undermine the common good? Is there something fundamentally wrong with a social order in which one in every six persons is a government employee? What about the sheer economic weight of that figure?

Mirus’ First Political Law: The cost for government to do anything is always at least four times the cost of accomplishing the same thing in other ways. Reasons? (1) Government lacks incentives to be efficient; (2) Taxes pay for the salaries of government employees, who by their nature do not typically contribute to the development of greater prosperity; (3) The revenue-collection mechanisms are extraordinarily expensive, and also paid for by taxes; (4) Outcomes of government programs are seldom determined by their success or failure; (5) Waste and fraud are always rampant in government programs and services; (6) Add your own additional reasons here.

What is being debated in Congress is the “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code”. I have tried to raise just a few of the many questions that suggest this “fixing” may well be impossible without breaking the box in which our tax code so snugly fits. These question also suggests that, when it comes to society and culture, the American bishops have a long way to go before they can see how things might look outside the American cultural box—I mean how things might look to God.

Bishop Dewane’s priorities are not unreasonable. But they may well be irrelevant, if we really do need to look outward, and especially upward, in order to effect positive change.

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3 comments on “The bishops and tax policy: Missing not just the big picture but God’s picture?

  1. Objectively, all State goals and policies need to be directed towards the establishment and perpetuation of a Catholic State. Obviously, we allow nonCatholics and modernists to vote, speak, assemble, publish, be elected, and to lobby for government policies, one can never achieve anything close to a society or a tax law that is directed with the most perfect of ideals.
    I, for one, think that tax laws should be directed to encouraging all peoples in the US and abroad to worship the One True God in His One True Church and in Acknowledgement of, and Deference to, the Church’s orthodox Teachings.
    Should we give tax breaks to any “Faith-Based” Communites or PseudoMarriages (any marriage done in a Civil Wedding without any God, or any false marriage done in a Protestant, Jewish, pagan, or Muslim)? Should we give legitimacy to heretical or pagan marriages or community groups? Should taxes be spent on funding illegitimate shack-up relationships? Should taxes be spent on financing unrepentant single motherhood by choice? Is poverty caused by “mistakes” in judgement something all society needs to pay for even without contrition on the part of the sexual offenders, ? (OF COURSE FRANCIS WOULD SAY YES; he and his cronies believe in Mercy without contrition and strong resolved purpose of amendment- while our societies started to embrace it long before Francis & his gang of 9 were applying it in matters if theology.)
    We have so many problems with our tax laws. But it will remain way too imperfect if society recognizes all faiths and moral diversites. And the prelates in power should study and fight for a Catholic state and laws before making their judgements on others.

  2. … would [tax incentives for charitable giving] be necessary if government got out of the business of reconstructing society, reduced its costs, and deregulated a great many things so that we might more easily and effectively work together to spiritually and materially help our neighbors?

    One “attaboy” for Jeff. The rest of what he wrote, however, misses the point. Where to begin? How about
    “3. Maintaining progressive tax rates”
    In what sense could this be called a “moral priority?” There are two camps: Obama-socialist, and common sense. Remember “pay your fair share,” “sometimes you have enough money,” and “you didn’t build that?” I strongly suspect our leftist bishops have the same Obama view. On the other hand, is it sensible to penalize hard-working folks who increase their productivity? The progressive rate does just that, i.e., it means that working harder pays less on the dollar. Is that really the message you want to send?

    The overriding problem with the whole budget / tax operation is the morality of the welfare state. I gave Jeff one “attaboy” for noticing one symptom: discouragement of charitable giving. This occurs for two reasons: 1) folks have less to give because of confiscatory taxes, and 2) gov’t superseding, supplanting true charitable enterprises. (Who invented hospitals, orphanages?) The bigger problem is the ruination of the human soul. That’s where we are today, there and beyond with the disgusting entitlement system that enslaves millions.

    The destructive effect of the welfare state is exactly what Pope Leo XIII (and others) decried in his condemnation of socialism, communism and nihilism. Since President Lyndon Baines “I’ll have them ni**ers voting Democratic for two hundred years” Johnson gave us the “Great Society,” the US has flushed nearly five trillion dollars, $5,000,000,000,000, down the toilet, and what do we have to show for it? Have the recipients become productive, grateful members of society? Or did Original Sin kick in and cause even worse problems?

    Maybe one can make a case that the government could provide for disabled people, construction and upkeep of facilities, etc. But the current operation of stealing money from working folks and giving it to able-bodied layabouts is beyond the pale. It’s a special blindness among liberals and bishops that prevents them from seeing how elimination of the welfare state would immediately cut the federal budget in half, return hard-earned money to its proper owners, and cause a surplus of work output that would produce a surplus to be shared with the poor. The only problem is that it would be uncontrolled, i.e., nobody gets to skim, nobody gets to bribe with the skimmed money, and the industry of virtue signaling to pad favored coffers would evaporate.

  3. Rant 2.
    All this tax talk displaces the economic realities that need to be discussed, but will not until they render us very poor. In a word, debt. The US gov’t debt, according to some, is around $20 trillion dollars, $20,000,000,000,000. The unfunded-underfunded liabilities for gov’t employee pensions, medicare, medicaid, social security, and more is unknown, possibly upwards of $100 trillion if you look out 50 years or more.

    As Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” A similar statement could be made regarding the debt. It is so large now that no one can comprehend it, nor can anyone imagine how we get rid of it. Consequently, it is become a mere statistic, but a tragedy only to politicians running for office and internet cranks like myself.

    The last twenty years of the criminal enterprise that creates and imposes debt has outstripped all of previous history in its enormity and audaciousness. The “money changers” who felt the ire of Our Lord 2000 years ago could have never imagined what their successors would accomplish. The criminals are mainly the US gov’t and the banking and lending monopolies they have created, namely Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and last but not least, the Federal Reserve. The latter is the wellspring of lies that creates fake money with the stroke of a pen, doling it out to purchase gov’t bonds, private assets from the financialistas, and to “banks” as cash for lending.

    Their game can be likened to “musical chairs,” i.e., as long as the music (cash) flows, the dance continues. In 2008, however, the music stopped for awhile when enough people realized that secondary mortgage-market assets were worthless (defaulted home loans). Then came one of the most magic moment ever witnessed in our history: the president of our Constitutional Republic decreed that Congress conjure up $800 billion dollars to relieve the woes of – who, homeowners? – of financialistas! Some of us are still combing the Constitution to find the authorization for Bush’s grand larceny. Since then, we have been running on printed (fake) money from the Fed to sustain and accelerate the largest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich financialistas and their politicians, known today as the “deep state.”

    That this ongoing crime escapes the moralizing of our bishops and pope is not surprising. Their concern for the poor, for gov’t programs, is laughable. To support more gov’t handouts means, 1) printing fake money, and 2) charging the value of the money to working stiffs. And the beauty of no. 2 is, the value transfer happens WITHOUT ACTUAL TAXATION, WITHOUT A BILL OF CONFISCATION. It happens via devaluation. This is the big tax. This is the truly regressive tax because it devalues cash assets, exactly those assets that are the mainstay of working people. Rich people, on the other hand, use investments to avoid the devaluation and actually profit from it.

    Again, this escapes the moralizing of the pope and bishops. It is an enormous crime, the biggest Ponzi scheme ever devised, and it is “balanced on the backs of the poor,” to borrow a worn phrase liberals love to employ. The bishops, who get their bread buttered at the Federal trough, e.g., “Catholic” Relief Services, and on and on, once had the moral authority to hold politicians responsible, but sold it out. They sold out to Planned Parenthood and to the welfare state, and have been reduced to shills for the pols who want to continue the graft and corruption ad infinitum.

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