THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Taxing Problem, IV: Widows and Orphans

We seem to have upset some people with the tax reforms proposed under Capital Homesteading, specifically the generous exemption from taxation of an amount sufficient to meet common domestic needs adequately. According to a recent critic, "My concern is that if by law some citizens are excluded from paying any tax at all, what direct interest do they have in a prudent use of the taxes collected? None." Thus (in the opinion of the critic) everyone — regardless of his or her ability to pay! — must pay something in taxes.

Our critic justified this position by citing a private interpretation of the Bible: "If I am looking back correctly, there were two taxes imposed in ancient Israel, a head or temple tax (the same for rich and poor alike) and the ten percent tax now called a tithe, which, while collected by the Levitical priests was nevertheless used to run the governmental operations of Israel road building, defense, helping the poor, etc., that is until the people demanded a King who would become rapacious in his taxing appetite."

Our critic proposed a tax system that, at first glance, appears to be more straightforward than the Capital Homesteading reforms: "I was thinking of two federal taxes, one a national sales tax to be used just to pay off the national debt, and the other a flat income tax with few or no exemptions or deductions but NO tax on interest income from savings or income from retirement investments, whether private (since it was already taxed) or a Social Security check."

To begin, even to address the critic's comments, we have to set aside the fact that you can't prove anything from the Bible that you don't already believe. It is a book written by believers for believers. Something is in the Bible because the people who put it together believed it to be true; it is not true because it is in the Bible. Thus, the only thing you can prove by the fact that something is in the Bible is the fact that something is in the Bible.

For example, the story that Abraham was apparently commanded to sacrifice his son does not prove that God commands us to sacrifice our children to Him. The story could be relating an instance where Abraham thought he was carrying out what seemed to be God's command (private interpretation again), but was stopped at the last minute by direct divine intervention from doing something stupid. We don't even know as a provable fact that the story is not allegorical — there are no "witnesses" or evidence other than the story itself. We need competent teaching authority and common sense, not an interested motive, to understand the story.

With that in mind, let's first take a look at the head or temple tax. This was a silver half-shekel (about two day's wages) per adult Jewish male per year, with (somewhat ironically) the shekel of the Phoenician city state of Tyre bearing the image of a pagan god named as the "official" temple coin accepted in payment. Thus, contrary to our critic's assertion, the temple tax was not the same for rich and poor alike. Women and girls did not pay it at all, while only males over the age of thirteen paid, being considered adults.

Further, if we read the Bible closely, we realize that the temple "tax" was actually a voluntary contribution. If you wanted to be considered an adult Jewish male, you paid the "tax," otherwise, not. An exemption for those who simply did not have the money or who did not want to be considered "official" Jews is implied in a passage in the Gospel of Matthew — and Matthew, as a tax collector, knew the system. In Matthew 17:24-27, someone asks Peter if Jesus pays the temple "tax."

The question would not make sense if the temple "tribute" (as it has it in the King James Version) did not have a voluntary aspect, that is, if it was a true tax in the modern meaning of the term. With respect to only being levied on those able to pay, it is important to note that neither Peter nor Jesus paid the tax until after the question was asked — they didn't have the money.

In response to the question, Jesus instructs Peter to go fishing, and says that in the mouth of the fish Peter catches he will find a coin sufficient to pay for both. The clear implication, of course, is that to avoid scandal ("Lest we should offend them" — KJV) Peter and Jesus pay, even though (as we necessarily infer from the very fact of the question) they are not obligated to do so based on their inability to pay, and (for Jesus) the added reason that, as the Son of God, He is not liable in any event for paying taxes to Himself.

As for the tithe — the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger were objects of special concern to the God of the Jews. In Exodus 22:21-24, we find the clear statement, "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry, and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."

The tithe for the support of the poor, the widow, and the orphan was levied every third year of a five-year cycle, not annually (Deuteronomy 26:12-14). Otherwise, the tithe was to be used to purchase goods for human consumption in the Temple and for personal use at religious festivals (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Forcing the poor, the widow, and the orphan to pay a tax when they cannot reasonably be expected to pay would, by most people, be considered "afflicting" them in a very important "wise." Taxing them incurs the "hot wrath" of God, and death by the sword, with your own wife and children put into the position of being oppressed by others as you yourself have oppressed the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is clearly prepared to take strong action against such injustice, for "He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment" (Deuteronomy 10:18).

If the tithe was supposed to be imposed on everyone, regardless of ability to pay, then the Israelites — and their God — were hypocrites. This is because the tithe was, in part, intended to provide for the support of the poor, the widow and the orphan (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Taxing the poor, the widow and the orphan for the support of the poor, the widow and the orphan would thus be a case of robbing Peter to pay Peter, that is, taking money from someone in order to give it back!

Further, if we take the "benefit principle" as our sole rule of taxation (as our critic evidently did) distorting it all out of proportion to common sense, even political expedience, we have to ignore the fact that the God of the Jews specifically commanded that widows and orphans were to be included in the benefits of being members of the community, even though they obviously did not pay the tithe. By the explicit command of God Himself they were not to be excluded from the festivities celebrating the Feasts of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14), but were to be considered full members of the community, not second-class citizens.

Thus, if we look at the Law of Moses closely, we see exemptions for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. It is, and always was unjust to take from people what they need to meet their material needs adequately, forcing them to rely on private charity or a return from the State of what is properly theirs, coercing them into a condition of dependency.

As Pius XI explained in Quadragesimo Anno, § 49, quoting Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, "it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes." How much more unjust could it be, then, not only to "exhaust private wealth" of those who have it so they have nothing left on which to live, but to tax away what people don't even have in the first place!

Tomorrow we will conclude our response to our critic and address the rest of the concerns raised.