Jim Wallis: “The Moral Default” and my thoughts.

*Before you start reading, this was at first a response to a comment on a link that I posted on my Facebook from the Sojourners website.  Brevity has never been a strong suit of mine, and I figured that the person that initially responded to the link I posted, did not want a ~1,000 word response.

I enjoy debate, even though it gets me in trouble sometimes (ok, a lot of the time :-D).  There is a prevailing thought amongst my friends that are more to the right of the political spectrum that taxation, in essence, equates to theft.  I concede the point that there this feeling that misspent tax dollars is upsetting and conjures up the feeling of being robbed, I do not concede the premise that all taxes equate to theft.  I think we can all agree that paying taxes ranks in the same stratosphere as a root canal.  However, I tend to side with Oliver Wendall Holmes who said “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

I am willing to concede the point that there is waste, fraud and abuse in the major entitlement programs (medicare, medicaid, social security), but what drives me absolutely crazy go nuts insane is that there is no mention of waste, fraud, and abuse in other areas of the federal government.  Before I get to far ahead of myself, I do want to say this, because this point cannot be understated.  Our servicemen and servicewoman are incredible people and deserve nothing less than our full gratitude, devotion and protection.  My intention in the following points is not to diminish their sacrifice or devotion to this country.  They deserve every benefit that they have coming to them, and more.  That being said, there are ways to look at even the pentagon and defense budget on where we can take critical looks to identify redundancy and inefficiency.  How many EXTRA engines does F-22 need?  How big of a boondoggle was the V-22 Osprey (just to name a few)?  I personally think that it is a poor argument to say that if someone were to question military expenditure, that they are somehow un-American or don’t love this country, and as someone who takes that mindset, I find it offensive.

I think the balance that Wallis, and people who tend to side with him are looking for is taking a look at the tax code that lets Warren Buffet pay less of an effective tax rate than his secretary because all of his income is considered “capital gains,” or the tax code that  promotes corporate welfare, and lets companies such as GE, Bank of America, Exxon, Valero, Goldman Sachs, Chevron, Citigroup, and ConocoPhillips (just to name a few), not only pay no federal taxes, but most got tax breaks and refunds.  If it were truly a capitalist system, wouldn’t the most profitable industry that the world has ever known (oil companies) be able to continue to survive and thrive without the American people both subsidizing the industry AND paying $3.50 at the pump?  Furthermore, a lot of these companies that I mentioned that paid no taxes, actually shed jobs in the past year, while seeing profits rise and cash reserves soar.  In fact, there was a recent story that Apple is more liquid than the US federal government, which is an indictment on the federal government and further evidence that businesses are sitting on a stash of cash.

I have a couple of honest questions for those who subscribe to supply side economics (also known as Reaganomics, or Trickle Down economics).  If Supply side economics works, then why did we come from a surplus in 2000 to growing deficits starting in 2002?  Furthermore, if supply side economics truly does work, then why not just reduce the tax rate to 1%?  If it were aboslutely true, then the influx of revenue to the treasury should cover the extra spending, and therefore would at worst lessen the effects of budget deficits.  One last question for those who are ultra-libertarian.  Under such a system, what prevents us from simply turning to feudalism?  Furthermore, what makes you think that you will be the one on top?  I am not trying to be provocative, I really am asking.

I have no problem looking at entitlement programs, and will be the first to admit that the math does not look good for these programs.  Yes, there is waste, fraud, and abuse.  Yes, Social Security’s actuary tables are working against them and there needs to be reform.  The system (medicare and social security) was never designed to support people for 30 years after retirement (and that is something that my friends to the left of the political spectrum needs to let out of their teeth).  Given these conditions, I would contend that the church needs to step their game up and become a more active player in social issues such as caring for the widowed and poor through local organization instead of political action.  But if we are to call ourselves a Christian nation, shouldn’t we work towards fortifying and improving social programs that promote productivity and pulling people out of poverty rather than gutting them in favor for tax breaks that favor a small percentage of the population?  Especially when there is both a clear need and a clear void of leadership on this issue?  If budgets are indeed moral documents (which I believe, Jim Wallis believes, and Paul Ryan believes), what does it say about our budget process when the least of us among us see their help cut, but in favor of a budget system that has produced a concentration of wealth that is top heavy to the tune of 34% of all privately held wealth is in the hands of the top 1%.  (For those curious, this is a very close to the same metrics before the Great Depression).

So, as a laborer in Christ and someone who is concerned about Kingdom work, what does this mean for us a followers of Christ?  It means that we need to be prepared to look out for each other more than we have in the past 50 years or so.  We need to get back to a place where the church was the place where the poor could be taken care of, where the church was the community’s clinic, the community’s refuge, the community’s hope.  I don’t know what that looks like to be honest with you.  A dear friend of mine were talking back in the days when everyone was losing their minds during the health care reform debate.  He said he had a conversation with the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Director in Oklahoma, who said that if the church was the communities clinic, then this legislation would have been moot.

I am just a blogger, hopefully soon to be author, social commentator, and professional boat rocker.  If the past several years have taught us anything that we won’t find our savior on Capital Hill.  We need earnest prayer for our community and country that is done in the secret place individually, and with humility corporately and not on the 50 yard line.  But those are just my thoughts.

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About larsenphillip

I'm an imperfect disciple of Jesus Christ. I am learning that my walk with Jesus gets deeper when I drop the presumptions that I have and simply follow him. I get frustrated when people put God in a box, and presume to know how He will reach individuals, work in peoples lives, and advance His kingdom. If Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis were to call me and ask me to work for them for free...I probably would. I think one day I'll write a book, and I am a nut for STL Cardinal baseball.
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One Response to Jim Wallis: “The Moral Default” and my thoughts.

  1. Richard Edwards - World's Strongest Man says:

    Phil,

    I like your questions. I wish I had “the” answer to the discussion of taxes and the role of government. I do have some thoughts that we must consider as a nation.

    No nation is likely ever to be of one faith or even absence of any faith. Therefore reliance on religious institutions for societal support systems is likely to be unrealistic. Having said that, all religions should work to improve the societies they are located in. I would be offended by a Christian that denigrated the prayers of adherents to Islam for rain. It is my faith that requires respect towards all people (1 Thessalonians 5:15 & 1 Peter 2:12).

    To proceed forward on the governmental fund raising, we should separate cities, states, and federal projects. We tally up the needs of each entity, and then design a taxing structure that will pay for their needs.

    Taxes need to be collected from all. Currently, Republican candidates win votes by claiming only the wealthy pay income taxes (true statement, but horribly misleading). What they omit is the fact the poor a huge percent in Social Security taxes, that high income folks escape. Democratic candidates win votes by claiming the wealthy pay a lower percentage of their income on non-discretionary expenses (true statement, but equally misleading). What they omit is higher income people will always have more discretionary expenditures. Just because you are rich does not mean you can eat twice as many hamburgers.

    As long as tax policy is driven by jealousy and envy, we are not going to solve the problem. For that I am profoundly sad. I think, we need to seriously consider how to collect taxes as fairly and equitably as possible. I do think we should reward (tax less) some activity over others. This won’t be easy because some people are not satisfied unless they get some advantage over their neighbor. I do support higher taxes on sin (alcohol and tobacco) than say groceries. I also support lower taxes on long-term investment, such as a capital gains tax on investment that declines over the length of the investment. I would like to see some form of equitable taxing on people that recognizes that some of us just want to be workers, and others want to start businesses. I think the small business lobby has unfairly painted small business as heavily taxed. I have heard some small business owners talk of how they reduced their profit almost out of existence, thus their effective tax rate was way below that of the minimum wage employees in their business. I wish I had the answer to that.

    Maybe the answer is to gradually move to a consumption based tax of a several rates depending on the price of the items. Ultimately, if we as a nation want the social support similar to Europe, we are going to have to recognize the tax rate will be higher. We cannot just change one from the other because the impact on communities will be significant.

    Sadly, I think the politicians of both parties like it this way. I also think maintaining this is going to lead to the decline of the United States. (I hate being depressing!)

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