Saturday, April 25, 2015

Taxation: Theft, or Support of the Public Welfare?


It has been ten days now since Tax Day 2015, but I am still thinking about taxation because of what I saw/heard in the media in the days following April 15.
While driving around town on the 17th, I listened to some of the Chris Plante Show. Since February, that program has been broadcast from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on one of the two Kansas City talk radio stations.
Plante’s home base is WMAL in Washington, D.C., and his programs are available on their website. WMAL touts their station as the place “where Washington comes to talk.”
I had heard bits and pieces of Plante’s program before, but I didn’t really catch his name until last week. And I was very negatively impressed with what I heard.
One repeated emphasis of Plante that day was on taxation being “theft.” That’s nothing new for talk radio, it seems, for I remember first hearing that opinion expressed by Mike Huckabee a couple of years ago.
Plante likened taxation to the way the Nazis stole the wealth of Austrians in the new movie “Woman in Gold.” And he decried the way the Democrats want to “steal” wealth of people when they die rather than allowing their descendants to inherit it.
The government is there “to steal everything,” Plante warned.
Just the day before, the U.S. House voted to repeal the estate tax. That has long been the goal of Republican legislators—in spite of the fact that currently the first $5,430,000 of any estate is exempt from taxes.
The anti-estate tax rhetoric speaks about descendants having to sell their inherited farms in order to pay the taxes. But in 2013 only 0.6% (1 out of every 167) of the estates of farmers owed any estate tax at all.
And overall, only 1 in every 553 inheritances owed any estate tax. It is true that the President wants to lower the estate tax exemption to a mere (!) $3,500,000 and to increase the taxation rate from 40% to 45%. But, still, that is a far cry from trying “to steal everything.”
On that same program, Plante also criticized the President for not doing enough to fight Islamic terrorists. But months ago it was estimated that the U.S. bombing strikes against ISIS had exceeded $1,000,000,000 and is currently costing at least $10,000,000 a day.
Where is that money coming from, if not from taxes? How can a reasonable person possibly vilify taxation as theft and then criticize the administration for insufficient military activity?
In great contrast, during the week of April 15, Sister Simone Campbell, the “nun on the bus” (about whom I wrote here), was promoting a Facebook/Twitter movement dubbed #TaxPayerPride.
 
According to a HuffPost article, her desire is to remind people of the good work their tax money can accomplish.

Sister Simone says too many politicians focus on cutting taxes "at the expense of the good of our nation." Instead, she wants to celebrate how taxes make America a "stronger, more humane country"by helping to support health care, education, food and transportation.

As you might guess, I am in considerable agreement with Sister Simone and in complete disagreement with Chris Plante.
On April 13, June and I paid far more in federal and state income tax than our entire yearly income was back when we were first married. And though I don’t like my taxes being used for warfare  and support the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act, I am happy to pay taxes for support of the public welfare.
What about you?

22 comments:

  1. Excellent blog, Leroy. It exposes ignorance. You and I have a friend who occasionally says, "The American people are stupid!" Sometimes I wonder...

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    1. Anton, thanks for once again being the first to respond to my new blog article.

      What can we do to combat the ignorance and/or stupidity of so many people? One would think our colleges ought to help, but some of the most ignorant things we hear are from people who have college degrees--and even law degrees.

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  2. Leroy, regarding the estate tax, I'm reminded of lines from a poem: "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay." (From "The Deserted Village," by Oliver Goldsmith. There's an excellent book by Tony Judt, entitled "Ill Fares the Land." I'm reminded also of lines from the book of the prophet Isaiah: "Woe to those who join house to house and field to field . . ." Isaiah 5:8ff. I'm also reminded of the provisions of cancellation of debt and freedom of slaves after 7 years, and of the Jubilee year. I'm aware that there is a pretty general consensus among OT scholars that the Jubilee year was never widely practiced. But I think the principal behind that provision provides some support for some kind of estate tax and other policies for redistribution of wealth. Current national policies provide for redistribution of wealth. Unfortunately it's redistribution toward the wealthiest. Brownbackian economics in Kansas are a dreadful example. Not enough revenue to provide basic government services, so let's increase the sales tax, a regressive tax if ever there was one.

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    1. Charles, thanks for packing a lot in just a few sentences. I appreciate your helpful contribution to this topic.

      I don't remember hearing about Judt before: thank you for introducing him to me. His book seems to be one that is well worth reading.

      I keep hearing conservatives talking about increasing the sales tax, sometimes called a consumption tax in order to reduce income taxes. But as you point out, that is redistributing wealth in the wrong direction.

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  3. Thinking Friend Ed Chasteen sent this brief, but pertinent, comment:

    "I think of taxes as the price of not being alone."

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  4. David Nelson, who is also a local Thinking Friend, shares these comments:

    "Thanks for your intelligent words about taxes. I share your passion for The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund and want to hear more about it.

    "I enjoy living with the assurance that my food is safe, buildings are inspected, laws are enforced, teachers are paid (I wish more), health care is available to all, and security is protected.

    "We also paid more April 15th than we made in 1971. I celebrate Tax Day and am glad to live in this nation. I will be proud when diplomacy is increased and our foreign policy reflects the true values we hold."

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    1. The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund (H.R.2483) was introduced to the House by Rep. John Lewis on June 25, 2013. Its purpose: "To affirm the religious freedom of taxpayers who are conscientiously opposed to participation in war" and "to provide that the income, estate, or gift tax payments of such taxpayers be used for nonmilitary purposes."

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  5. JESUS said to, "give unto Caesar what is Caesar`s and unto God what is GOD`s".

    I too like paying taxes because it helps support the poor, needy and orphans. This is called for us All to do and we should do it honestly

    The alternative to Not paying taxes would be disaster.

    Just my thoughts.

    Blessings,
    John(Tim) Carr.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, John Tim. -- I hope many of your Christian friends in California (and elsewhere) agree with you.

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  6. Local Thinking Friend Debra Sapp-Yarwood sent the following comments for posting here:

    "Maybe it's my age, but it seems to me that a dramatic change happened, the demonization of taxes was taken to a new level from which it has never returned, when Ronald Reagan declared that government isn't the solution, it's the problem. What a catchy thing to say! But untrue, of course.

    "Somehow supporting the idea of government by the people for the people became unpatriotic and anti-business. People voting for fair taxes that oblige the wealthy to pay their fair share for the benefits of living in this country were called thieves or communists.

    "Highways and bridges don't get built and potholes filled by Road Fairies who work for magic sparkles. Police officers, fire fighters, teachers all deserve fair, professional wages.

    "Without a government by the people for the people, voting to tax all the people fairly, all we have is a chaotic society that is easily manipulated, by way of the market, by big-business elites to benefit themselves.

    "The estate tax, moreover, does not tax the dead, as the anti-tax, pro-leisure-class would have us believe. It taxes people who do not have to work for their money. I've heard it suggested we should call the estate tax what it is, the Paris Hilton Obscene Windfall Prevention tax. When you ask anti-estate tax people to name a farmer who has had to sell his or her farm to pay the estate tax, they simply change the subject. It's a rare animal, and most people cannot name one."

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    1. Debra, I think you are right in suggesting that significant changes occurred with the election of President Reagan. A lot of the polarity we see in the country now, such as on the matter of taxation, goes back to that time.

      Of course, a big part of the problem is deciding what "fair taxes" are and what it means "to tax all the people fairly." It was not Chris Plante, but someone on talk radio the other day was advocating a flat 10% tax for everyone. "If 10% is good enough for God, it ought to be good enough for the government," he said.

      What chaos there would be if such a tax were actually implemented!

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  7. I am sure that we each have our pets and pet peeves among the taxes. But you are right. In the scheme of creation, there is a place for goverance. A real concern is national spending beyond its means. Right now our interest rates are being held low by monetary policy and our payments on the accrued debt are only about 7% of the budget if I remember correctly (the vast majority of the budget is on two social net programs - Social Security and Medicare. National Defense account for about 17%, and about 11% for everything else - even so, massive borrowing is still required to sustain the expenditures (feel free to correct any of the numbers - I did not verify them). With a dramatic rise in inflation, and the cost of servicing the debt, there would not be much left for "discretionary" programs. Not a pretty picture for the future. Huge jumps in taxation would probably cause a rebellion.

    That is the sad side of things. As the government becomes unable to support its programs, it will probably fall to the Church and other religious institutions to once again become the backbone of social service.

    One particular tax increase which I do favor, is some type of fuel tax (state) to support our roads and bridges. Missouri's taxes are currently among the lowest in this area, so it would not really be regressive. So many bridges are at end-of-life, both in the metro and rural areas, that closures will effect both schools and commerce - not to mention general transportation. But the Missouri Senate seems to be the cork preventing this necessary tax increase. (Like the Democrats of DC, the Republicans of the Missouri Senate do not respond to their constituents - each follows the "Rule of Elitism".)

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    1. Not quite sure what is intended by your reference to Social Security. But I would point out that Social Security does not and has never added one cent to the deficit. If Social Security were abolished tomorrow, all SS taxes and all SS payments, the deficit would be increased, not decreased. Just sayin'.

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  8. Here is an April 26 op-ed piece in the Washington Post about repealing the estate-tax:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republicans-estate-tax-folly/2015/04/26/9ef6ebca-eaba-11e4-9767-6276fc9b0ada_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

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  9. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard shares these comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments. I am with you and Sister Simone on this issue (and many others). Taxation is theft to the extent that there is corruption in government and the biggest benefactors of corruption are usually the wealthy and the corporations.

    "Instead of equating taxation with theft, it would be much better to insist on honest, transparent, and efficient government so that taxes are used wisely.

    "Perhaps Mr. Plante needs to be reminded of Proudhon's remark, "La propriete c'est le vol" ("property is theft"). Is it possible that the biggest thieves are actually the corporations and the billionaires?"

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    1. Thanks for your thought-provoking comments Eric.

      While there may be considerable reason to agree with Proudhon, and I have not read him at all, I am hesitant to affirm a man who was the first to declare himself an anarchist and who is even considered by many to be the "father of anarchism."

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  10. One thing that was drilled into me in philosophy class is that you cannot get from "is" to "ought." If you are too much of a materialist, this can lead to outright nihilism, or in milder cases, post-modernism. Our values and principles come from somewhere else. A chemist can put any chemicals she wants into a test tube, but never will an "ought" come out!

    When a "sovereign citizen" declares that taxation is theft he is doing the moral equivalent of dividing by zero. If you declare yourself your own sovereign, you can say any gobbledegook you want. That does not make it true for anyone else. What it does do is call us all up short, trying to remember the foundations of our shared values and principles.

    A frequent place to look for this foundation is in what is often called "the social contract." For some, this is a mythological event sometime in the past that binds us all. For others it is a living covenant that has to be constantly renegotiated to remain in effect. Sovereign citizens remind us that not everyone wants to stay in the social contract.

    I believe it is helpful to take a look at the openings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration begins, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which connected them with another, . . ." and later explains "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, . . ." The only "sovereign citizen" mentioned in the whole document is one "present King of Great Britain," who is hardly an argument in favor of the sovereign citizen movement. What individuals have is not sovereignty, but rights, as in "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    The Preamble to the Constitution states, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure the domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." A very telling echo of the preamble comes in Article I, Section 8, which begins "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Impost and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; . . . " It may not be in the Second Amendment, but it is right there in Article I, complete with a capital T! Taxes! Sovereign citizens, by refusing to pay taxes and in other ways to follow the law of the land have effectively repudiated both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

    Citizens have rights, not sovereignty. Rights are no small matter, as "Black Lives Matter" has been showing from Ferguson, Missouri to Baltimore Maryland. Yet, even there, when peaceful protest degenerates into chaos, it is an open invitation for the government to forcefully remind all concerned of who exercises sovereignty. So-called sovereign citizens claim their intentions are peaceful, but their intentional defiance of the fundamental sovereignty of the government of the United States has resulted in a number of acts of domestic terrorism in recent years, most notably the Oklahoma Federal Office Building bombing of twenty years ago. The threat continues, and grows, as shown in the decision of the Kansas City Star to print a major series of articles on domestic terrorism this month.

    See Part 2.

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    1. Craig, thanks for, as usual, posting very meaty comments, including a review of pertinent parts of the Constitution--which the conservatives say they want to uphold.

      Your first paragraph reminded me of a book recommended by an atheist acquaintance: Sam Harris's "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values" (2010). Since I agree that we can't get from "is" to "ought" by science, I am very skeptical about the validity of his argument--but I haven't read any of it yet.

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    2. I have not read Harris's book either, but I did a quick check in Wikipedia, and found he was actually saying something rather commonplace in political thought. Once you have ascertained certain fundamental values, whether life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or Harris's "well-being of conscious creatures," then science is indeed a powerful tool for determining the best policies to implement the basic values.

      Much of the explosive political uproar in America is a fight between those who take this scientific Enlightenment approach to public policy versus those who despise science, and twist and turn trying to find a way around it. Examples are found throughout the Republican platform, and sometimes in Democratic issues, too. Think of global warming, school sex education, vaccines, and economic policy. We fight battles of science versus ideology all the time. Sometimes the struggle is humorous, such as to whether Pluto should be a planet. Sometimes it is only obscurely seen, as in the analysis of the recent inner city riots. Frequently, the questions becomes tied up in wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion.

      Anyone who has felt a little squeamish about GMO foods knows the tension we often feel between common sense and scientific findings. Common sense may work for common problems, but science frequently tells us that common sense is simply wrong on complex problems. Anecdotal evidence fuels common sense, but science feeds on data and experiments. This was quite evident in the debate over vaccines and autism. The anecdotes told us some young children developed autism shortly after getting vaccines. Science tells us that autism usually manifests about the same age children get vaccines, and that there is no causal relationship. Vaccinated children were no more likely to get autism than unvaccinated children. What they were likely to do, was to be much less likely to die from horrible but preventable diseases like whooping cough, measles, and polio. Science also tells us that it is almost impossible to argue a vaccine denier out of their denial. About the best that can be done is to use strategic nudges, which scientists are investigating even as we contemplate this.

      See link to article on Harris's book here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moral_Landscape

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  11. Part 2.

    The people who defy the sovereignty of the government have many names. Some include "thief," "sociopath," and "traitor." This should not be confused with the people who resist the misuse of that sovereignty as whistleblowers, peaceful demonstrators, and even participants in civil disobedience. The Declaration of Independence shows how far that protest can go, even as it also shows the high threshold demanded of those who claim the right of rebellion.

    If sovereign citizens want to see what it really means to drive down a government road without a license, they should look to the women of Saudi Arabia, who have protested the draconian prohibition against women driving at all. Yet, none of these brave women has pulled a gun on a policeman lawfully stopping her car. She has taken her case to the court of world opinion, not to the barrel of a gun.

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  12. Here is my two sense when it comes to best advice I ever got from a layer. Once you have your lawyer, there is absolutely no good reason that you need to be speaking to the other party. Never fall for their ploys to talk on the phone or meet with you, tell them all correspondence is directed to the lawyer and that is it.

    Wanda Hanson @ Tax Tiger

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