Taxation, Charity, and Robbery

Taxation, Charity, and Robbery July 27, 2012

I’ve heard the argument made that the government taxing the wealthy and redistributing that wealth to those less fortunate than them is not taxation, but robbery.

I wonder how many of those who say such things are Christians or Jews , and would also think Deuteronomy 26:12 was robbery. Israelites had to set aside 10% of not only their wealth but their crops and everything they produced. Most years the tithe of 10% was given to the Levites, who were religious functionaries. But every third year this tithe was to be given not only to religious functionaries but also the poor and destitute. This was not a request or a suggestion, but a national law.

It is ironic that those Americans who are most likely to insist that the Bible is the basis of American laws, and that the Ten Commandments should be displayed publicly, treat most of the laws in the Bible as though they were given as suggestions which an individual could take or leave as they saw fit. On the one hand, they are adamant that specifically religious laws be displayed (and paid lip service to publicly) even though this violates the spirit of the establishment clause in the first amendment. On the other hand, when those who share the Bible’s concern for social justice want to see laws enacted which are not based on or limited to a particular religious view, but which nonetheless are consonant with Biblical principles, they are up in arms. I find this extremely confusing.

I am even more puzzled by the rhetoric of taxation as robbery, used to object to programs to help address issues of poverty and equal access to health care and other necessities in the U. S. population, when I consider that the United States gives billions in economic as well as military aid to other countries every year. Why is taxation to give to others in far away lands OK, but not to help people closer to home?

And if paying to help others when you do not really want that to be done is robbery, then surely pacifists and many others can object that they are taxed to pay for wars and military expenditures that they don’t want. If one were to follow this logic, all taxation would be robbery, since there is bound to be someone somewhere who objects to each and every thing done with that money.

We need to have rational discussions about what justice means, and what our nation should be doing in order to accomplish it to the extent possible. I think important conversations need to take place about how to address issues of poverty effectively, because simply throwing money in the general direction of the poor – whether done individually or through a national system – is not a long-term solution.

But I find it disturbing and ironic to hear people make the claim that being taxed is a form of robbery, if that money will be used to help others. You are already taxed to help others. If you object, then by all means stop paying your taxes, because it is already happening. But know that you will be violating not only American law but also Biblical teaching. The irony is that those who make these objections claim to be eager to respect both, and yet their actions suggest otherwise.


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  • Frank

    Oh please! As if giving money to our inept government is the best way to serve the poor.

    • Oh please! As if the Bible lets you off the hook from paying taxes if the government is inept.

      Oh please! As if it isn’t the fault of the populace if a democratic government is inept.

      Oh please! As if exclamations and one-liners are a satisfactory response to a blog post! 🙂

      • frank

        Huh? More senselessness?

        Who said we should not pay taxes?
        Who said it is not the electorates fault for electing idiots?

        Exactly my point to why we should not be anxious to give more of our money to the government to waste.

        I’ll put my one line up to your many any day.

        • sam

          My vote goes to frank

          You have one vote every four years for one of two candidates and a few other times here and there are you deluded into thinking you actually have real influence?

          • sam

            Or into thinking that government really helps the poor? If they do why are so many still poor?

          • sam

            The fact that the bible doesn’t let you off the hook doesn’t mean taxes aren’t robbery, especially if those dollars are used for inept bureaucracy and don’t benefit the poor

  • Straw Man

    Tithing is commanded by God. It’s a valid question whether the fact that God demands a tithe to support His priests, should be interpreted as authorization for someone else to demand another tithe of you for whatever good or bad purposes he might wish it for. The argument that this is OK is equivalent to the “divine right of kings,” or today “the divine right of a majority of voters” or “the divine right of duly-elected ‘representatives’.”

    The Bible certainly doesn’t teach the divine right of kings, although it portrays lots of kings living by their own laws, and ruling with impunity from God’s laws. It doesn’t explicitly condemn this either, but silence is not proof: hardly anything reported in the book of Judges is condemned, but almost everything there is worthy of condemnation. If silence is approval, then God approves some amazingly awful things.

    What we have is rulers decreeing that you will give them whatever it is they ask, upon pain of imprisonment or other penalties. It’s reasonable to ask precisely how this differs from a random man in a hood demanding whatever he asks, on pain of confinement or some other penalty? The old argument for this was the divine right of kings, as I said: when the king demands it, it’s really God demanding it, so there you go. The new argument is more subtle, but also flawed–namely, that we all have agreed to a “social contract,” by being born, which obligates us to obey the rulers whether we like it or not. The flaw in this argument is that a contract of the form, “By exiting this womb, you agree to the following terms…” is what’s called a “contract of adhesion,” a sort of natal shrink-wrap license, and the law takes a very dim view of this (while yes, allowing it in certain cases). It is not a “contract” in any meaningful sense, because you did not enter into it voluntarily. Instead you discover afterward that you “agreed” to the contract by not staying in the womb, and are now stuck with it–and if you don’t like it, you can always go live in Antarctica (the only place on earth not governed by some similar contract of adhesion).

    The argument can be made that on this basis, taxation is another name for theft. And just as you say, that would include ALL taxation. I’m absolutely outraged that I helped fund the slaughter of innocent foreigners abroad for the past ten years; I’ve been forced, upon pain of imprisonment, to “donate” funds to support mass murder. I’m not “outraged” that I’ve also been forced to support this or that welfare program, however I do believe that this “charity” I’ve “donated” to is one which gives only pennies on the dollar to the poor (spending much larger amounts on mass murder, for example), and that what it does spend on the poor it does horribly inefficiently and corruptly, and that I would much rather devote my resources to real charities that really benefit the poor. This is not an option, however, since I am instead forced to “donate” what would be an excellent year’s wages anywhere in the developing world, to fund mass murder, corruption and waste.

    (I anticipate the knee-jerk response that without taxation, civilization itself would fall apart, and that’s a completely separate discussion. I’d point out, though, since you’re a science fiction fan, that Vaal does not actually put the fruit on the trees, or cause the rain to fall. It is certainly worthy of discussion whether there’s a way for society to function that doesn’t involve as a side-effect the slaughter of millions.)

    • Excellent Star Trek reference! I don’t think that the divine right of kings is really relevant, since in a democracy, the people themselves should be involved in government and in voting for representatives who will tax them fairly and use those taxes wisely. Taxation in a democracy should be precisely about having our collective monies used to accomplish those things that must be done in that way or can be done more effectively as a collective, organized unit than individually.

      Presumably if less of it were spent funding international “mass murder, corruption, and waste” then we could do more that is positive without increasing taxes, and everyone should be happy? 🙂

      • Straw Man

        The question remains: why is the will of the majority binding on the minority? What justifies this assumption?

        Indeed nobody truly believes it. If a white majority votes to enslave blacks, or a gentile majority votes to exterminate Jews, you wouldn’t blog that the blacks and Jews should submit because, “Hey! We voted, fair and square.” So even you believe that the will of the majority is only sometimes binding.

        What you probably haven’t done is try to figure out when it’s truly binding, and why. You don’t consider the implications of majority-sanctioned slavery, but instead dismiss the whole question by saying, “Straw man! THAT would never happen.” If I point out that Jim Crow laws were passed democratically, or that Hitler was given his power democratically, i’d expect you to dismiss it on special pleading that those were Southern rednecks and Nazi b*stards.

        But the cognitive dissonance is telling you something. You only believe in majority rule under certain very fragile assumptions. Which as long as they go unexamined, stand in the way of a coherent discussion.

        • Well, as long as we agree as a nation on founding principles of equality, liberty, and justice, then we can find a justification in preventing (or seeking to prevent) a minority who are wealthy from using that wealth to the detriment of the majority, whether by hoarding it, or by failing to pay fair wages while paying themselves extravagant ones, or by using their money to see their will done in the political arena against the will of the majority. If our comittment to justice and liberty goes, then the entire system can be jettisoned, but its precedent in enabling us to eventually undo slavery – despite the lack of consensus – is encouraging.

          It is neither an airtight case nor an absolute or infallible one. But I am not sure that I see a better alternative. If you do, please tell me what it is! 🙂

        • Dave Burke

          Straw Man,

          The question remains: why is the will of the majority binding on the minority?

          Because that is the most equitable and democratic solution. It ensures that everyone has a voice, and that the final decision is one which benefits the largest possible number of people.

          Notice that under this system the rights of the minority are still protected (to safeguard the minority against abuse or exploitation by the majority) and exemptions are made to accommodate their preferences where these differ from those of the majority.

          The alternative to this arrangement is a fascist dictatorship under which the minority forcibly imposes its will upon the majority. Is that what you’d prefer?

          Bear in mind that Christians *are* the majority in the USA, so I can’t see why you’re complaining about this in the first place.

          What justifies this assumption?

          It’s not an assumption.

  • Tolkein

    If taxation was limited to tithing, then I doubt the most rabid right-winger would object. But it’s not.

  • I paid income tax and other taxes all my working life. There were times when I would have dearly liked to opt out of paying. Given the choice, I probably would have opted out.

    Now that I am retired, the state returns some of that money as a pension, and (much more important) as free medical care. I know that my doctor can prescribe whatever treatment he thinks is appropriate, without having to worry that I will be bankrupted by the expense. It amazes me that many US citizens apparently cannot say the same. In that respect (though not in some others) I feel that the UK is a civilized country and the US is not.

  • Jim Harrison

    Attacks on democracy by right wingers would be more convincing if the only minority rights such people are interested in defending weren’t always the rights of the same minority, i.e. rich white people. When it’s a question of crushing other minorities—gays, blacks, atheists, political radicals, Muslims, immigrants, etc.–the self same bunch turns populist and trots out the old moral majority banner.

  • Michael Wilson

    Milton Friedman thought it was good for goverments to have programs for the releif of poverty for basicly the same reason we think its ok to have city sanitation departments, poverty is a civic blight that degrades the value of the common enviroment. On the the other hand if Christians think it is proper to use Ceaser’s goons to enforce Jesus’ injunction that people should give away all we have to the poor, I think we have misunderstood the point of Jesus’ teachings. Our tax system would fail if the IRS turned the other cheek. I think though that if we treat the rich like societies piggy bank, we are stealing and ultimately, as with all theft, the thief is stealing from his own potential prosperity.

  • It is important to care for the poor for many reasons:

    (A) It builds a generous kind spirit in the giver and the culture

    (B) It makes society safe

    (B) It is kind

    Meanwhile, wasting money on foreign aid, military and more is destructive.

    Yet, several Important points to acknowledge:

    (1) encouraging people to give to the poor vs forcing them to pay to the poor are completely different methods

    (2) Money taken obstensibly for the poor largely feeds pork, beaurocracies, skimmers, and scammers.

    (3) Force paying for social good weakens philanthropism and destroys volunteerism — it atrophies the human spirit.

    (4) Money given to the poor easily creates a welfare class — a culture of dependence or abuse.

    James, it seems you acknowledge that “just throwing money in the general direction of the poor is not a long-term-solution. But you don’t come right out and admit 1-4 above. Instead you attack a slogan: “Taxation is Robbery” without acknowledging that packed in the slogan is 1-4 above. Part of a fruitful dialogue is not attacking slogans but clearly labeling the issues and making pragmatic suggestions in light of each side’s best concerns.

    Likewise, ideally this is how we should also challenge each others’ religious beliefs.

  • Virgil

    So you are saying that because something is “law” or because it’s written on a piece of paper and validated by a group of people, it is no longer theft, but somehow becomes morally justified? Interesting. And you are calling for a rational discussion?

    Let’s define words because you are throwing them around without any regard to their meaning.

    Theft: A criminal act in which property belonging to another is taken without that person’s consent.

    Tax: A compulsory financial contribution imposed by a government to raise revenue, levied on the income or property of persons or organizations, on the production costs or sales prices of goods and services, etc
    Could you please explain the difference? I am not interested in a lengthy explanation as to what you will use tax money for. A thief could also steal to provide to his poor family…I am not interested in your justification, Biblical or otherwise. I am interested in you explaining the two definitions above and what exactly is the difference between the two?

  • I live in a democratic context and so cannot really relate to the experience of theft some seem to be describing. My taxes pay for roads, schools, military protection, social security pension, and a variety of things that are directly relevant to me as a citizen. That it also supports the infrastructure that provides these services, and sometimes does so ineffectively or less than optimally, is something that I should work together with others to rectify but does not seem to me to be a reason to eliminate the system.

    Can you imagine if I lived in a society where I only paid for roads that I personally expect to drive on? Then one day I need to go somewhere I don’t usually, and find myself on a dirt track.

    There are plenty of people who are wealthy enough that they surely do not need social security when they retire. But we do not let them opt out of it. The logic is that one does not always know whether one will be wealthy or poor when one reaches retirement age, as well as the conviction that ensuring the welfare of all is something that all should contribute to.

    I am disturbed that so many people in my country seem not to want to pay taxes if they themselves are not presently poor, destitute, mentally ill, or physically ill, in a manner that might make universal health care or other provisions of this sort relevant to them. Tomorrow things might be different. But even if they are not, why are there not more people saying “I will pay more, if it means that every citizen of my society is elevated out of squalor”?

    I absolutely understand the concern about welfare-dependence. I have seen something of it in the UK firsthand. But that country has not become one in which the majority sit at home and do nothing. Most people do not want to live on a bare minimum welfare income. And there are other models we could explore, such as that of basic income. But either way, I am not unaware of the problem. I just find the risk of some being destitute more horrifying than the risk of some being lazy, although I am convinced that with creative thinking we might be able to find a way of maximizing the protection against the one while also minimizing the occurrences of the other.

    I am convinced that there are some things that are best dealt with as a society. I do not think that one’s survival in case of loss of job or illness should depend on whether one is well integrated into a local religious or humanist community and how generous its members are. I am not suggesting that all issues are necessarily best dealt with in this centralized manner, but some certainly seem to be.

    In case anyone hasn’t gathered, this comment is in response to @SabioLantz and @Virgil ! 🙂

    • Gary

      A little off the subject, but per the comment “in a manner that might make universal health care or other provisions of this sort relevant to them”, I wonder what the Republicans will think, as in trash, of the Olympic opening ceremonies last night. The British celebrated their universal health care system. Isn’t this the same system the Republicans constantly mention in the same sentence with the U.S. Affordable Health Care Act (better know from Republicans as Obama Care)? They usually trash the British, and all of Europe, when they say Obama is leading us down the road to that terrible European socialism. I don’t mind going down that road. I wish Romney had scored a few more points in England, by mentioning England’s evil, socialistic, health care system, as well as their ill-preparations for the Olympics. He would have been rode out of town on a rail. Or maybe rode out of town on his wife’s horse (which he isn’t going to watch anyway). I wonder what Romney will say when he gets to Israel? I can’t wait.

    • @ James,

      When you use dramatic langauge like “does not seem to me to be a reason to eliminate the system.” it makes me wonder who you are talking to. Sure, there may be anarchists out there, but I don’t think that is who is arguing with you in this thread.

      Dependence in the UK?? I see it here in the USA daily — both in hundreds of my patients and in my family.

      My point is that if the concerns I mentioned about were intelligently addressed, far better welfare systems could be set up.

      Another thing I’d like addressed: About 1/2 the populace pays no income tax, I don’t think those people should be able to cast fiscal votes. My kids aren’t allowed to tell us how to spend family money. The ability to vote money away from an unwilling paper is a negative trait of “democracy” — it is mob rule.

      I am all for setting up welfare but intelligent welfare. As long as we use slogans on both sides and exaggerate both sides and prove lack on interest in the other objection, there will be little progress. I think the reason folks do this is because they think in terms of parties or feel there only impact is in voting for a president. They don’t understand the power of congress.

      • Sabio, I certainly would love to see not just changes to make a more intellligent welfare system, but at least discussion of alternative models that might be better and fairer still. Are you familiar with the “Basic Income” model? It seems like it would be hard to implement, but it has the advantage of eliminating one of the major problems with most welfare systems, namely the disincentive to start working unless the pay meets a certain threshhold.

  • Dave Burke

    — Matthew 22:17-22
    Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
    But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Hypocrites! Why are you testing me?
    Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius.
    Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?”
    They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
    Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away.

    It’s not rocket science.

  • Chase Miller

    You have no concept of what a covenant is apparently. Beit dins and sharia courts occur in western countries not because the state views separate governance as acceptable, but because these things address private violations of religious covenants. You have no justification for the coercion of the modern state or any coercion at all, and besides that, the justification you do give for taxation is an argument against the current state, not for it.