Saturday, October 18, 2008

To Help You Decide III

Taxes and Wealth
Many of my dear Christian conservative friends walk up to me and say, “Tony, I really like your guy for President. I really like him. It’s just this one thing…” It always baffles me when that one issue is that Barack Obama proposes “the redistribution of wealth.”

For some, this is an issue of fairness. For me, it is too. But we disagree on what is fair.

One version of the argument says that we should embrace a flat 15% tax policy. The rich already pay taxes at a higher rate. The flat rate sounds fair. I might agree, all things being equal. The problem is that all things are not equal. Wealth buys opportunity and that opportunity does not pass on equally to others (children, grandchildren).

One response from my friends is that the rich got rich by hard work. When I responded with a particular example of a struggling less-than-wealthy person, I was reminded that this poorer person got in the situation through his own bad life decisions.

So here’s my thinking:

Working hard is good.
Making moral decisions is good.
Making wise decisions is good.

But measuring a person’s work ethic, morality or wisdom by their bank account is unwise, illogical and un-Christian.

I do NOT agree that wealthy people are necessarily harder workers than middle class or poor people. I have had too much experience with hard-working poor people and lazy rich people to believe that. I have no need to believe that rich people are necessarily lazy (or immoral or stupid). I believe that hard work can lead to wealth. But I also believe hard workers and lazy people cut across income levels. And I believe we will find moral/godly people across all income levels. And I believe we can find wise/intelligent people in all income levels.

My Christian faith says that sin takes several forms and transcends many factors. Some of the forms: ignorance, immorality, and laziness. The factors transcended: income level, nationality, race, culture, language. If we are judging people according to the latter and attaching them to the former, we are not reflecting a biblical worldview. Bottom line is this: I believe it to be indeterminable whether a person’s wealth is attributable to hard work, morality or ingenuity, although all three are admirable and could be factors.

So in a Presidential election the question is: What role can government play in assuring that hard working, moral, disciplined and wise people can make the money they need to support their families and to move up in the world.

That opportunity for middle class or poor people will never approach the opportunity that the already wealthy already have, but government should operate to make more fair the playing field. This is not the same as socialism, Communism , "handouts," or taking from the hardworking rich to give to the lazy poor. It is simply an issue of justice.

A policy that protects the wealth of the wealthy, (regardless of how they amassed it) while making it increasingly difficult for those trying to make it, is simply unjust and unchristian.

So the question for a just society is still one of fairness. If I am right that moral, intelligent, hard-working people exist on levels of income, then justice demands that a fair government do whatever it can to assure (at least) that moral and hardworking people have the opportunity to amass wealth and provide for their families.

The policies Barack Obama advocates are nowhere near socialism. They do not level income or general wealth. They don’t even level the playing field, but they do make the playing field MORE fair. And they do so by asking those with power (wealth is power) to do their part to help others to gain some power to provide for their families and serve society better. Obama speaks of this as answering Cain’s question of God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Obama believes that God’s unrecorded answer is “Yes, you are!”

2 comments:

Ben Vos said...

Warren Buffett's CNBC interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu5B-2LoC4s - says his tax rate is lower than his receptionist's, because of the multiple tax loopholes, incentives, etc., built into the tax code.

Ben Vos said...

Not only is it untrue that Obama wants to "redistribute wealth," it is also not true that this idea is "socialism". Socialism implies government ownership of property. That's not what this is about. This is about tax policy - how we incentivize and punish through financial means to guide our economy and enhance freedom. Case in point: By giving small businesses a $3000 per job tax credit, you incentivize the creation of more jobs. This, in turn, will help to stimulate the economy by creating more competition and better jobs, which will raise up the middle class, which will increase overall wealth.