Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Justice and Taxes

A few weeks ago I was listening to an interview with E.J. Dionne about his new book "Souled Out". He made the comment that as Christians we should all favor "a more just tax system", by which I presume he means one which taxes those who have more at an even greater rate than they do now.

Christ gives us little to go on concerning how to structure a state, so in coming up with one the founders of this country applied logic in light of scripture (after all, "In the beginning was the logos (reason, often translated 'word')") to come up with foundational precepts of Christian government. If we follow the same process I submit that we will come to the same conclusion and that that conclusion, while precluding slavery (as the founders did not) will also preclude the redistribution of wealth (as the founders did). Locke stated that all men are entitled to the fruits of his labor. This is what Jefferson meant when he said "All men are created equal;" that no man is entitled by some divine ordination to the fruits of another man's labor. Given that nothing in Christianity or reason points to some men being innately entitled to the product of another's labor, I fail to see how we can escape the conclusion that the rights to labor, and thus the property resulting from it, either belong to he who creates it or do not exist at all.

I realize I'm dodging Rousseau's position, but a full exposition on that would take more room than I want to use in a blog post. To deal with that I'll merely point out that Rousseau's theory of property mainly dealt with the produce of the land and most of the produce of labor in our industrial society is not based on agriculture. It seems irrational when the overwhelming majority of income is derived from labor to assume that the product of that labor belongs to all of society.

In order to avoid the issue of capital I'm going to take up the cause of a hypothetical CEO making $10 million per year. That $10 million is issued to him for his work in running the company, not as a result of the increase on his stock, so even if we accept Marx over Smith (as I decidedly do not) it is the product of labor and not capital. If his talents, time and effort have lead him run a major company and his efforts have produced $10 million in value (often more), how is it just to take half of that from him and give it to others who did not thus labor?

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't have a safety net for those who deserve charity (though certainly I would prefer something like churches or civic organizations to the government), but this is by nature unjust. We might feel bad for the single mom of three kids who has honestly fallen down on her luck and is trying hard to get ahead, but the just response to that cannot involve the forcible taking of another man's property to rectify it.

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