In this thread we are presented two visions of taxation in the comments. One vision, which I share, is summed up brilliantly by J. Max Wilson. He says that government-forced taxation does not create a virtuous society:
The goal of the Gospel is not to simply create a society that has “all in common.” It is to create virtuous, Christlike men and women. While a superficial equality could be achieved through the force of man made governments, it would be an empty equality, without virtue. The people would still be covetous in their hearts, literally “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
A directly opposing view is put forward by John F. John argues that taxation is a representation of a democratic society trying to solve societal ills. He specifically extols one country, Germany, which he feels has approached his ideal, a social market economy:
I simply meant to refer to the type of system that is in place in, say, Germany. You have a robust notion of private property, all fundamental rights, especially the Lockean triumvirate of Life, Liberty and Property; the economy is fundamentally based on the free market, which determines prices and everything is controlled by supply and demand; but it is appropriately regulated to prevent negligence, fraud, etc. — of course those won’t be an issue in Zion. Then there is the “social” aspect meaning that a framework has been set up that provides security for all citizens. This security includes education, access to preventative and responsive health care, codetermination in the workforce and worker representation in management, pensions, etc.
I believe John F’s viewpoint is widespread. I have read a long list of articles and books by both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars pointing to European social democracy as our earthly model.
There is a huge logical fallacy in this argument, however: loyal Church members in these socialist democracies still pay tithing and fast offerings. In fact, in many European countries tithing is not tax deductible, so the truth is that loyal European Saints pay more as a percentage of their income to the Church than do Saints in the United States. If Europeans are truly creating societies where all share goods in common and where there are no poor, why are they required to pay so much money in tithing and fast offerings? Fast offerings go to directly to the bishops — shouldn’t such offerings be unnecessary in Europe?
There is a quick and relatively obviously answer to my questions above. Members pay tithing to support the worldwide Church, and tithing from the relatively prosperous West does a lot of help subsidize the less prosperous areas of the world. This is certainly true.
But I believe there is an even more important answer: true virtue, the creation of Christ-like men and women, can only take place through voluntary, personal giving. Forced giving through obligatory taxation — which is the model of the modern-day welfare state — does nothing to help the giver become more Christ-like. So, even in countries with larger welfare states than the United States, Church members are encouraged to give because voluntary giving blesses both the giver and the person who receives.
The other point is that even in socialist democracies with long lists of
welfare benefits, there are still poor everywhere. My wife served her mission in Germany and had horrific stories of the immigrant ghettoes in various cities. As the Savior Himself said: “Ye have the poor always with you” (Matthew 26:11). The truth is that even the most taxed societies will always have those who are poorer than others.
But there is an even more pernicious reality: socialist democracies cause people to give less to charity and to volunteer less than in the United States. The fact that the government is responsible for charity — rather than individuals — has created a widespread lack of desire to help others on a personal basis, which is the exact opposite of creating Christ-like, giving people.
The following survey shows that charitable giving and volunteering is higher in the United States than in nearly every European country, and countries like Sweden, Finland and France have alarmingly low levels of charity.
Interestingly, the same thing applies within the United States: people who live in states with higher taxes and more liberal populations in general give much less on a personal basis than people who live in states with lower taxes and more conservative populations. Here is one comparison that shows this:
In my ward, we have a German emigre who is a professor at a local college. He served as a bishop and in the stake presidency in Germany. He confirmed to me that temple worthy members must be full tithepayers. He also confirmed that the primary reason is that paying tithing serves the important purpose of having members voluntarily give to others to create more Christ-like people. He has often expressed alarm to me that volunteerism and personal charity are so low in Europe compared to the United States.
As I expressed in my post on taxation and the scriptures, I do not think a society can function without some level of taxation. But our $14 trillion debt and our continuing budgetary imbalances show that we expect government to resolve too many of our problems. We need to radically redefine what we expect from government. Government should provide basic needs for the most poor, should protect us from foreign enemies and should provide public goods that the private sector could or would not provide, such as police, fire and the court system. Any welfare assistance should be temporary and limited. Our current welfare state is not sustainable and does not help create Christ-like people eager to assist others. It is time for a change.