More on taxation and personal charity

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.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/sep/08/charitable-giving-country

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:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2005/11/generosity_inde.html

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.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

87 thoughts on “More on taxation and personal charity

  1. “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.”

    I served a mission in Germany about ten years ago, and the limited poverty I saw there is nothing compared to what I see in the large mid-western city I live in now. Yes, there are certainly people who are poorer than others in Germany. But in my current city, I meet with ward members who’s grandchildren were recently murdered. A friend’s brother got shot in the head about a month ago. People want to move out of these incredibly unsafe neighborhoods but cannot afford to do so. Some make too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford insurance with their pre-existing conditions. The public schools in the city are deplorable, and everyone who can afford to sends their kids to private schools or moves out to the suburbs where the better public schools are. I saw nothing even approaching this level of poverty in Germany, even though we often worked with the poorest-of-the-poor (including immigrants).

    I agree that all of us (including Europeans) should willingly contribute more to alleviate poverty and make the world a better place. As John F. stated in the previous thread, Europeans have decided that they want to alleviate poverty in their respective countries through the assistance of the government. The vast majority don’t view the higher taxes as a burden, as many Americans do. The taxes are something they chose. To them, it’s something to be proud of. They’ve basically eliminated poverty in their corner of the world. That’s an accomplishment to be admired.

  2. Which programs would you eliminate, Geoff? Social security? Medicare? Medicaid? (Those are the three biggest expenditures, I believe). Public education (which is clearly income transfer, albeit in kind)? Grants or loans for education? Housing subsidies? Subsidies for single parents to pay for child care? Roads (i.e., should “free”ways become toll roads)? Air traffic control? What about tax deductions for health insurance? Or mortgage interest? Or charitable contributions? Should income tax be eliminated entirely? (You may have addressed all these issues before, and apologize if I am repeating questions you have answered (possibly many times) before.)

  3. DavidH,
    The more I learn about the Federal Income Tax, the more I think that the vast majority of tax deductions benefit the wealthy the most (including tax deductions for health insurance, mortgage interest, charitable contributions of long-term capital gain, etc.) For example, if you have a part-time job and pay for your own health insurance, good luck getting a tax break on that (it’s only deductible after the first 7.5 or 10% of your AGI); if your employer pays for your health insurance, it’s entirely tax deductible. If you have a 500k house and a 600k vacation home, all of the interest on the mortgage is tax-deductible (wow). If you own stock that was worth 5k when you bought it and it’s now worth 500k, you can donate it and get a 500k deduction and not pay any taxes on the value increase on the stock. Tax deductions are a huge benefit to the rich–but not much of one to the poor.

    The tax code needs an overhaul. See Warren Buffett’s take on how it benefits the rich:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/27/AR2007062700097.html?hpid=sec-politics

  4. DavidH,

    Here is what I wrote on the issue in the last thread:

    “I would argue that the first step is to take a completely different look at the difference between peoples’ needs and wants. Government currently is involved in all kinds of things that are not needs but wants.

    http://www.millennialstar.org/helping-the-poor-with-housing/

    As I argue above, our housing crisis was caused at least in part by the false claim that everybody in the United States needs a house. Well, as you see above with two real-life cases, the people who stayed in an apartment were much better off than the people who bought a house. Personally, I wish I had rented a house 10 years ago rather than buying. I would have saved myself tens of thousands of dollars.

    So, my first point would be: we need to take another look at what govt gets involved in, and when we do we see that govt gets involved in all kinds of “charities” that are unnecessary.

    I would start from the premise that government should take care of public goods, meaning things that no private enterprise would ever do. This means protecting the country through the military, the police, fire and the courts. We both agree that government should definitely do those things, and that taxes should be raised to take care of them.

    Then we should start looking at needs vs. wants. Should the government provide public education to everybody? I say we should take another look at that, but let’s concede that point for the sake of argument and say yes. So government should provide public education.

    Should government provide health care to everybody? Well, if you look at the federal budget, we are finding that this is simply not sustainable. If you look at projections out 10, 15, 30 years, health care will take up our entire federal budget in a short amount of time. We simply have no choice: we need to take another look at this issue and concede that government cannot provide free health care to everybody — it can’t even provide it to the elderly and the very poor, which is what we are doing now. My argument would be to solve this issue by giving each person a grant and/or tax credit to buy health insurance for catastophic care. These policies would include large deductibles. This would mean large out-of-pocket expenses. This is where charities step in. Let’s say you get in a car accident. You have a $4000 deductible. But everything over $4000 is covered by the insurance. Well, the charity steps in to help you pay the deductible if you are poor.

    Should government get involved in housing? If you talk to anybody in the know on this subject, HUD is a complete mess. But charities could step in to house the homeless, just as they do today. If taxes were lower, a lot more people would contribute to these charities.

    I believe the government should provide food stamps because feeding the poor is a necessity (remember, needs vs. wants). If you want that to include school lunches for the poor, that’s fine.

    I think you get my point. We have no choice but to decrease what we expect from government. The money is simply not there to do otherwise, even if we take my suggestion and cut the defense budget in half.

    Charity per capita has actually decreased over the last 50 years. People have taken the attitude that they “gave at the office” and therefore do not need to be personally charitable. If we were to bring government outlays in line with tax receipts, many government programs would be cut. Some of the slack would be taken up by new charity, but other programs would simply not be available, and people would learn to adapt one way or another. People would move in with family members and spend less money on things they don’t need. Life would be different — I don’t think it would necessarily be worse in the long run.”

  5. Tim, regarding your #3, you are exactly right. That is why “taxing the rich” is a fool’s errand. The truly rich will always find some way of getting Congress to pass deductions. If not, the rich will move their money around from country to country so that it will not be taxed.

    The real solution is to increase the tax base through flat taxes without deductions. There are a dozen different proposals out there, including one that Dem. Jerry Brown ran on in the 1990s, but I would favor the Forbes flat tax, which is basically a 17 percent tax on all income with no deductions. I have seen one where people under $60k in income get taxed at 10 percent and people over that get taxed at 18 percent. I am OK with that proposal as well. The bottom line is this: I am against corporate welfare, and I am against the truly rich manipulating the tax code and avoiding paying taxes. The best way to solve those problems is to radically simplify the tax code.

  6. I would love to see a much further list of areas where the government should or should not play a role:

    “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.”

    What about public schools? What about health care? And if the government should not be in the business of providing public schooling who should? I don’t believe there are good market solutions to ensuring every child gets some level of education. Are we ok with leaving certain of our population without access to schooling? Or should the church’s and charity provide these things? What about health care? Are we Ok denying access to health care because they might lack funding?

    Whenever I read posts like these I’m not sure if these issues have been thoroughly vetted by the author.

    The lion share of our federal government expenditures are military, social security, medicare and medicaid. A big share of our state government spending is on education.

    So, its really much more about education and health care more than it is about some nebulous “welfare state” for the poor.

  7. Actually, Geoff, I think that you should compare the plight of the poor in the West where they have robust tax enforcement to the plight of the poor in the third world where they do not have robust tax enforcement.

  8. Sorry, I didn’t read the comments very well before leaving mine. The housing crisis was not caused (or very peripherally) caused by some government program to get everyone into houses. It was caused almost entirely by greed. Bankers on wall street made bank on inventing complex “financial products”.

    If our current recession was just about housing, it would have been a much smaller recession. But the banking sector by one economist estimates turned what should have been roughly a $500 billion loss in houses that should not have been built into a $20 trillion decline in global financial asset values. This was in a real sense, an unregulated banking sector gone wild.

    I’m not sure giving a 65 (and up) year old a voucher will do much to make them any more insurable. When you’re approaching end of life, catastrophic care becomes almost a certainty.

  9. Scott, I address the housing situation pretty thoroughly in the attached link on “housing the poor.” Govt made the situation considerably worse.

    Regarding Medicare, I would suggest reading Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, which you can google.

    John C, having lived in Nicaragua, Argentina and Brazil and traveled to, and done business in, Latin America since 1986, I can speak with some knowledge about the issue of tax enforcement. Did you know that if you paid all official taxes in Brazil, you would owe 120 percent of your profits in taxes? Yes, you read that correctly, 120 percent. The problems with Latin American poverty are much too complex to go into here, but are much more than just lack of tax enforcement. There are property right issues, corruption issues and lack of the rule of law issues, among many other problems.

    One of the most fascinating things to me about Latin America is that official policy is in fact statist and socialistic in most countries, but the policies are not enforcable, so the black market (pure free-market capitalism) fills in the gaps. Latin America is a supply-sider’s dream, which Chile, as one of the few countries with real growth, shows quite effectively.

  10. There is a fine line between government taxation and virtuous giving of ones time, talents and money in the name of basic “charity”. What the government needs to do is to promote healthier lifestyles for Americans, promote a more active role of employee committment in the workplace (work hard) and also promote the public on attaining higher education and a better work ethic. These principles lead one naturally into self reliance. That said, I believe it is the communities job (taxes- yes here) to create the system of public education and also to help out in healthcare and helping the poor. As a general rule, public education and the quality of healthcare in a society is a reflection of the wealth or lack thereof in a community/society. A group of lazy Americans in society will always reflect a degraded healthcare and public education also present in their midst. How hard we work, how industrious we are always reflects in our surroundings. A government that is bankrupt, or even a school system in the same waters is a direct reflection for poverty in society. Poverty in society is not a reflection of overtaxation but in fact the opposite- a society that isn’t meeting the very demands to justify it’s existance. This is a direct result (usually, not counting on catastrophes, etc) of generations of lazy people- people who have not learned proper hard work ethics- people who do not want a better life for not only themselves but for their entire community.

    The governement is not really to blame with creating the welfare state. It only serves to protect those who for one reason or another have fallen off the wagon. In many ways the cause of this welfare state is the degradation of proper work ethics in society as a direct result of coveting. Capitalism, and the greed of such promotes this lifestyle of “get now and pay later” which in turn redefines into- “get credit, live beyond your means and perhaps tomorrow, something good will come along to save your finacial burdens you yourself created”. now of course this doesn’t effect the poverty stricken does it? Actually, because of the new ways that banks and loan sharks have sought to give and extend credit, it is effecting everyone to be brought down in this financial burden of “debt”. With that debt comes the loss of jobs, the loss of paying taxes and thus eventually- the degradation of public support in society. The government trying to counter this problem seek to either cut taxes or raise them but they are just chasing the tail of the dragon here and nothing they will do will offer any long term support for this welfare stae problem.

    If they truly want to help, they should promote those few principles I spoke of. Also, they could work harder to educate the public on the proper way to spend their finances and warn them of the problems that debt creates for an entire society- Debt is a reflection of a highly covetous and lazy society! Teach people to work harder, have a healthier lifestyle, and gain a better education and then there is no debates on taxation or charity. A truly rich and equal society will reflect a higher charity and tax donation because it isn’t going to pay the sharks for the self inflicted debt.

    I believe this is what the Church has actively been trying to get through to us for the past decade- get out of debt, live within our means, be industrious (work hard), and thus be self reliant. Never have they said to stop paying taxes or not to support the government in their decisions on how to spend those tax dollars.

  11. “I would love to see a much further list of areas where the government should or should not play a role”

    We already have that. It’s called the Constitution.

  12. 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.

    That all depends on whether they view taxes as tithing deductible or not. :)

    Seriously, if I paid 95% of my income in taxes I would pay 0.5% of my “income” as tithing, or 10% of what I brought home. Clearly I couldn’t pay 10% of it if tithing wasn’t tax deductible.

  13. There are many reasons why the welfare state doesn’t work very well, completely aside from the liberty and coercion issues. I think the biggest one is that it corrupts the body politic in terms of make sure they get their “fair share” of the fruit of the labor of others, instead of working to better themselves, their families and communities.

    In other words the welfare state is tailor made to promote selfishness and self-dealing rather than charity and sacrifice.

    It also promotes a culture of entitlement and dependency that is pretty much the exact opposite of the way welfare programs are administered in the Church. That doesn’t mean government welfare is entirely counterproductive, it is just arguably far more pernicious and far less well administered than the resources of private charitable organizations.

    One of the reasons for that is that if people see that their voluntary contributions are being squandered or are being used to promote a culture of dependency, they cease or cut back on contributions to that organization. Where with the government, they have no choice. Individuals are better at making sure their contributions are used for activities that actually uplift people than government bureaucrats are. People just aren’t nearly as careful when spending other people’s money, especially other people’s money that they have an endless supply of, and more especially other people’s money that isn’t even “theirs”, but rather some sort of appropriation from the sky like the wind and the rain.

  14. arJ, I think you make a decent point. I am assuming that most people pay based on gross, but some people choose to pay on net after taxes, and that is between them and the Lord.

  15. I found myself nodding my head many times while reading this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Geoff.

  16. Geoff, under the Gift Aid scheme if you pay your tithing through the Gift Aid system, you can make your tithing work more tax efficiently. It is a similar concept to having your tithing tax deductible in the US.

    Your post revolves around the following question:

    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?

    In framing the question this way, you proceed from a premise that is incorrect. It has not been argued, at least by me, that Europeans are “creating societies where all share goods in common”, and this is in fact not the case in any Western European social market economy of which I am aware. In each of these countries, there is a robust understanding and defense of the concept of private property. In Germany, for instance, the social market economy has been carefully constructed so that it functions on the same concepts of private property and free market economics as the United States. Supply and demand determine prices and the guarantee of private property provides the basis for the smooth functioning of the invisible hand.

    As for paying tithing and fast offerings in European countries, this expectation is the same for members in such countries for the same reason that all of the rules of the handbook of instructions and the principles of the gospel apply to everyone in the Church. Our Church is nothing if not uniform in its approach. For example, in the UK, young men are still expected to go on missions at 19, even though this is an age that has been determined by and fits well with the lifecycle of suburban American teenagers, given the way high school transitions into university education in the United States. With a completely different education system in the UK, going on a mission at 19 has a lot of consequences not faced by youngsters desiring to serve in from the US. This requirement in the UK often means that a youth will not be able to attend the right universities to get the right jobs to make them into the suburban kings that American youth can (and are indeed encouraged by every aspect of our Church culture) to become. Instead, the mission puts them in a position where vocational training after the mission is the only option. Some of these with natural business acumen and entrepreneurial personalities will still make it and own McMansions in the British countryside, despite not having a professional career based on studying at the best universities. There are enough of these to keep a pool of potential stake presidents available. But otherwise, this cultural mismatch (expecting young men to leave on their mission at 19 in a country where this does not fit well with the education system and the expectations that exist for serious students who want to attend the best universities in preparations for a successful career in the professions (law, medicine, accounting, etc.). So for them it is either business entrepreneurship or the vocations, and very little in between. (Women have a better chance at succeeding in teh professions in the UK because they can go on their missions at 21 and so some of them are able to matriculate into the best universities first and then structure their mission as the “gap year” (slightly extended) that other students also take. So that is an example that shows that it doesn’t matter what kind of differences exist in other countries — the programs and policies of the Church are uniform everywhere, regardless of uneven consequences.

    This applies to your example of tithing and fast offerings. In the case of tithing, this is not just about a policy crafted to work in a suburban US setting being applied to the entire church (such as the 19 year old mission rule or many other such points to be found in the Handbook of Instruction), but rather 10% tithing is scriptural and so applicable to all disciples of Jesus Christ. Fast offerings proceeds from a similar basis — the injunction to give them is rooted in scripture and not just the administrative policies of the Church meant to providee a stable bureacracy.

    In any event, assuming for the sake of argument that tithing and fast offerings were a changeable characteristic of our lives in the Church (like the 19 year old missionary rule), current practice on so many other administrative points shows that the Church would still expect uniformity on these even where European countries have structured society so that no one needs to be homeless.

    I will let you know, however, that we are instructed to have members seek all available government assistance first before they are given fast offering funds. In practice, this often happens simultaneously, i.e. in a meeting where a member seeking assistance is advised to seek and obtain all available government assistance, they are also given immediate assistance from fast offering funds to get essential foodstuffs or perhaps desperately needed help with transportation etc.

    None of these arguments work very well, Geoff. Underlying all of this is the idea that such systems are a product of empty virtue. But the fact is that for the electorate who has chosen to put such a system in place, the virtue is not empty but real. The empty virtue lies with the fraction of the society that does not agree with these benefits and only pays the taxes required to fund such a system in order to avoid going to jail.

    We need to work on getting that fraction of society who are unwilling to contribute to see that they are also beneficiaries of the totality of the system that emerges therefrom. The society overall has a better infrastructre, better education, better opportunities for all participants, less suffering for all, and, perhaps more importantly, the rich who are currently paying relatively more into the system than the poor who are currently taking more benefits from the system are not a set class. Because these economies are all still based solidly on the indiscriminate free market, any one of the haves can have a category crisis and find him or herself in the group that for a time needs to take out benefits from the system.

  17. Some strange incomplete sentences in my previous comment but as I’ve noted many times before, I have to write half of every comment blind because this comment box does not wrap but rather just goes off the right endge of the screen, at which point I am typing blind.

  18. John F., I wonder why we think young men have to leave on missions at nineteen. They are eligible to begin that service anywhere from age nineteen to twenty-five. I spent some time once searching conference talks for counsel that young men leave at nineteen, and I couldn’t find anything asking them to leave as young as possible. Nevertheless, the expectation is there among us.

  19. John F, regarding your #18, this is exactly my point. People in Western European socialist democracies do NOT hold all goods in common, and there is still poor among them. They have not created Zion or anything close to it.

    But yet American liberal Mormons, including some on this very thread, continue to hold up Western Europe as the model. If it is the model, why is is still so far from the model, and why must tithing and fast offerings still be paid? You answer is uniformity. I also mentioned the fact that more wealthy countries sometimes subsidize the less wealthy.

    But I believe we both know that Western Europe is not Zion. You cannot force virtue through taxation. Your claim that people need to just swallow hard and accept all the wonderful benefits they are getting from the welfare state sounds to me like what Satan argued in the council in heaven — he will force us to be good.

    The reality is that people naturally rebel against being told what to do. This is a result of free agency and was in fact one of the primary motivations for people coming to the Americas from Europe in the first place. There is still a good bit of that independent spirit in the Americas, but unfortunately less and less of it every year.

    There is something else that bears mentioning: the European welfare state in its current model is unsustainable from an economic standpoint. In the short term, economists I trust are saying there is a 50-50 chance Ireland will have to end up defaulting despite the EU attempt to save them. Such a default would likely spread to Portugal, Spain and Italy. We have never seen a situation where such large economies default on their debt. Europe may be heading for an economic catastophe in the next year.

    But even if that does not happen, simple demographics indicate that the welfare state cannot be maintained. There are too few workers paying to benefits that are too high. A decade from now, the system will look very different from what it looks like today. It is inevitable.

  20. Geoff, thanks for writing this. This was exactly the point I was trying to make on the other thread. I don’t feel charitable when someone is forcing me. I also served my mission in Europe, Bulgaria to be exact, just as it was comming out of communisim. If you look at that system, which was set up to provide everything for every one, it failed miserably. People didn’t understand the concept of volunterrism, giving or service because under their communist masters they were forced to all of those things. And having been to a few gypsy ghettos I can say that crushing poverty still existed, even in a system that was supposed to eliminate all poverty thru social programs, govt largess etc. In the end big governments and their respective programs create two classes, the elite who write the laws to benift or exepmt themselves and the rest of us, who get taxed and burdened with all of their “good” ideas.

  21. Maybe Western Europe is not the model for Zion but an objective argument can be made that life is much better in these Western European democracies given the social net that exists. Standards of living are an important thing to consider when considering the overall success of a particular system.

    Uniformity is not the reason we all pay tithing and fast offerings. Those are scriptural commands, not characteristics of the administrative structure of the Church. But given the uniformity the Church employs in all such non-scriptural administrative characteristics and policies of the Church, it stands to reason that if tithing and fast offerings were lowered on the scale from scriptural mandate to administrative policy, the Church would still enforce it uniformly, regardless of culture, political system or any other characteristic of the nation/country at issue.

    Jon’s argument is the only one that is talking about “forcing virtue through taxation” and he is making the same argument that you are making that it cannot be done. That is a strawman as to my knowledge I have not said it is possible or desirable to force virtue through taxation. The people who are forced to pay their taxes (rather than viewing their taxes as an agreed-upon payment in return for the provision of an optimal safety net (whatever that may be in the judgment of the particular electorate that is crafting the legislation)) are not giving of their substance for virtuous reasons.

    There is a difference between saying that a group is expressing virtue by setting up such a system and saying that they are forcing virtue through such a system.

    The issue of force, however, weighs against your arguments for a different reason. Tithing is in a sense forced by the Church. No one goes to jail for not paying tithing but if you don’t pay it you cannot attend the temple. For those of us who are faithful Mormons, this is a dire consequence indeed, believing as we do that the temple ordinances are required for ultimate exaltation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. So it is no light consequence that faces members who are considering their freedom in respect of paying tithing. Where does the “you cannot force virtue” argument go with respect to tithing?

    One further note on that point, this applies to almost all commandments and things that we do as Latter-day Saints. Many Mormons, you will unfortunately discover, as with many other religious people, are doing things based on a principle that is a derivative of the force principle. Whether they are complying with the commandments out of fear of divine punishment (more directly in line with the force principle) or out of a hope of a future reward, either way they are doing what they do out of self-interest. So they are not on a morally higher plane than taxpayers in Western European countries who willingly pay their taxes because they know they are ultimately the end beneficiaries of the system they’ve put in place.

    How many of us actually do the things enjoined by the Gospel simply because they are the right things to do in and of themselves and not because we are working on a cause-effect relationship, trying to force a mechanical reaction to emerge from our relationship with God: we did x, y, and z so now God has to pony up.

  22. John F, you have exactly reached the heart of the matter, the issue of free will vs. force in Church commandments such as tithing. You make the following argument: “Tithing is in a sense forced by the Church. No one goes to jail for not paying tithing but if you don’t pay it you cannot attend the temple.”

    I do not doubt that some people see it this way, and this is how I saw tithing before I joined the Church (in my mid-30s) and for perhaps the first year after I joined. I had an epiphany of sorts pretty soon thereafter. It became clear to me that the Church did not need my money — the Church would continue to grow with or without me. I needed to pay tithing or myself. Since that time I have happily paid tithing not to keep my temple recommend because I have been completely converted to this reality.

    What has happened is exactly what JMax described: I was changed, not through force but instead through the objective reality that paying tithing made me happier and made me fell like a better person and, as an added bonus, made other people happier, helped build temples and chapels, etc. Zion is about the voluntary creation of more Christ-like people as they realize that following the commandments brings freedom, not enslavement. Satan’s trick is to tell you that following the commandments is restricting your choices — once you realize that it is actually bringing you a whole new world of choices, you are on your way to really appreciating the unlimited potential of the Gospel.

    John F, it sounds to me like you have been converted to the Gospel of big government. That is fine. If you think in the welfare state “life is better,” I am glad you have chosen to go live in the UK.

    But your philosophy is to *force* me through higher taxation to accept your Gospel. It is all well and good for you to say that you would personally like to pay higher taxes because you believe in the power of government, but it is completely a different thing to say that I should to pay more to support your philosophy. Let me make this perfectly clear: I completely reject your philosophy. As I have argued endlessly here, I believe at my very core that big government makes people less happy and is not efficient. I believe it makes people less giving, less charitable, less likely to do the things that we are called upon to do as members of the kingdom of God. You disagree. That’s fine. But you cannot *force* me through higher taxes and more government to accept your philosophy. I grant you the freedom to pursue your philosophy however and wherever you want — why won’t you grant me that same freedom?

    The contrast could not be more clear: through voluntary giving we become better people and more free. Through forced giving we become more enslaved, and we adopt philosophies that cause us to go around trying to enslave others. Anybody can decide at any moment to stop paying tithing. You cannot decide at any moment to stop paying taxation or you will be fined or go to jail.

    (John F, I don’t mean this as a personal dig at you — I don’t think you are trying to enslave anyone and I have tremendous respect for you — but I do think your philosophy does cause enslavement, and I oppose it with all my being).

  23. Of course, you can’t point to just one thing when it comes to poverty anywhere, but I appreciate your agreeing with me that tax code enforcement is a sign that things are getting better for poor people. ;)

  24. I grant you the freedom to pursue your philosophy however and wherever you want — why won’t you grant me that same freedom?

    I don’t understand this comment. Does arguing about this with you somehow affect your freedom?

    Also, you haven’t adequately addressed the query about force. Is not exclusion from exaltation due to a denial of temple ordinances (to someone otherwise entirely living as a disciple of Jesus Christ and having been baptized) a much more onerous penalty than imprisonment for tax evasion? The imprisonment is more immediate because it occurs right away and in the here and now. But for those of us who believe that the Gospel is true and therefore the next life is a real thing to be considered, exclusion from exaltation should be seen as a real, and not a theoretical consequence.

    I am glad that you pay your tithing out of pure motives. Do other Mormons? How do your arguments surrounding learning to pay your tithing for the right reasons apply to voluntarily paying your taxes for the right reasons?

    You have said here and elsewhere that you do not oppose taxes for certain things and Jon has said the same. It seems to me that this is a required concession on your part otherwise you are seen as opponents of representative democracy and proponents of anarchy. This is because in essence every action of a representative government can be seen as taxation. (Note that especially with regard to the common law, it can function and be substantively binding and controlling completely independent of any statutory legislation enacted by any government, so this assertion about all action of a representative government essentially equating to taxation is not to say that law would not govern, but it would be universal principles of law deduced by common law judges as applied to particular cases and then employed as binding precedent under the principle of stare decisis for future cases.) As has been noted, some minority will always be in opposition to any particular action taken by a representative government and so their compliance with any such legislation is always by force. It is unclear why this would be excusable in relation to the fire department but not other social goods that a legislature chooses to provide for and that you are saying reprsent forced virtue.

  25. Just want to make a point about Paul Ryan’s idea to turn medicare into a voucher program. Can someone tell me how it could possibly work?

    Those approaching near end of life are virtually uninsurable. Giving them a voucher (that doesn’t increase with increased inflation) does nothing to change that. Am I missing something about Ryan’s plan?

    Unless we truly want to live in a society where access to basic health care is purely dependent on ability to pay (which we really do not right now), you need to have some governmental involvement in health care.

  26. John F and Scott, you have both raised good questions that deserve answers. I am going to have to ask your indulgence for a few hours and perhaps a few days (business travel is coming) while I attend to other areas of my life. I will answer you when I can. Thanks for addressing these issues with good will and a desire for open dialogue.

  27. Well, the state of religion in Germany is not very good so you certainly a real world example of a successful (short term) quasi-social/corporatist state which does a good job of enabling people to eat drink and be merry and forget about serious responsibilities (such as God and their personal duty to neighbor).

    If Germany and the countries that follow them have their way, before long the only things you’ll need to spend your money on will be alcohol, prostitutes (legal), and video games and the like. Food is subsidized with someone else’s money, health care is, child care is, schooling is, transportation is, some even want vacations to be.

    So they have created a society where the only incentive is to work is literally to get sex drugs and rock and roll.

    Now, fortunately, there is a LOT more going on in Germany than government incentives. The spirit of the Lord enlightens all men who enter the world and it enlightens all men through our experiences in the world (D&C 84:46) So I would be mistaken to portray the Germans wholly as immoral in their personal lives. The Lord touches their hearts just like every where in the world and prompts them to be charitable and to do the right thing.

    But the government doesn’t seem to put much trust in that. One of the ironies, to me, of socialist-style programs/supporters, is that they profess a desire to help their neighbor, but it always seems to come with the strings attached to control their neighbor. There is no program, cash, benefit, etc. that does not come with many strings attached that restrict your liberty.

    Some do not mind this. I and others do. So we’re constantly fighting this ideological war of words, while gradually being given our medicine bit by bit by our representatives in the government.

    I would always prefer a society where neighbors were exhorted to help neighbors directly and they learned to care for each other and the children were taught the same. I understand the appeal of the European approach though.

    One thing I’d ask you. Have you ever helped someone in poverty directly? I found a kid once begging for money. I walked by him and realized I needed to turn back and do something. We didn’t share a common language, but could share a few words. I told him I’d buy him lunch. We walked to McDonalds. He pretended to limp the whole way there, his head down, shoulders slumped, face turned away from me. We sat down, ate and conversed as best as we were able to with broken words and a pen/paper for a solid 30 minutes. He pulled out his cell phone and called his friend to tell him what was happening. It was all Romanian, but I heard the words, “No Bullsh&t!”. Apparently this had never happened before (I might add it was in Germany, land of the social safety net where everyone cares about their neighbors according to some)

    I pulled out this silly pass along card with a picture of Jesus. I had no illusions he’d join the church. But I told him what I expected. By now, I was thinking he could understand more English than he let on at first. I said that we are all brothers and sisters on this earth. All sons and daughters of God and that Jesus commanded us to serve and help one another. Not to sit on the dirt getting a hand out. I told him that he was strong, he had a duty to find work, so he in turn could help others. Tears were forming in his eyes. He said would hope to move back to his home country and work for his life there.

    We walked out of that restaurant together. He no longer limped. His name is Darius, he is 19 years old and I think about him often. His held was held up high and smiling. I’ve never seen him begging again. So that is what true charity and brother love does. It humbles the rich (I’m not “rich”, but have more than him), by enabling them to act as Christ would act. And charity if effectively administered, and indeed if it is to be called charity-the pure love of Christ- at all, it must exalt the poor. And it was done for the cost of 6 bucks and some time and some heartfelt words and listening.

    You tell me if you have that feeling and that effect on an individual when you open up your pay check and see $100 (let alone $6) deducted from your income.

  28. Chris, you seem to have very little sense for what Germany is all about, which is doubly unfortunately as from your comment it appears that you served a mission there. I worry that perhaps you were one of those missionaries who despite being called to serve the people of that great and exemplary country walked around despising the country and the ways of its people the whole time, instead of learning to love them and they way they do things.

    For one thing, if you somehow missed the deep faith and inherent Christianity of Germany as a country, then you were indeed typical of far too many young American missionaries who equate Wasatch front lifestyles with “being religious” (i.e. if someone drinks coffee and smokes, they cannot possibly be “religious”). Nothing was more frustrating for me as a missionary in Germany than observing the arrogant disdain that many a suburban American kid had for their field of labor, not understanding anything about German culture or Germany on the most basic level (because of a willed blindness toward that).

  29. So they have created a society where the only incentive is to work is literally to get sex drugs and rock and roll.

    I’m going to have to assume that by “literally” you mean “figuratively” since I otherwise don’t recognize the country you claim to describe.

    I found a kid once begging for money….I told him I’d buy him lunch….Apparently this had never happened before

    While you are probably generally correct that Romanian beggars are not invited to lunch all that often, this probably has more to do with the professional nature of their enterprise. Many (most?) of the beggars are literally (and by this I mean “literally”) bussed in from the East to make money appealing to the generosity of their relatively more prosperous neighbors. So cheap burgers are nice, but not at all what they came for.

    In my own experience, “Sachspenden” are turned down most of the time while I’ve yet to offer a “Geldspende” that wasn’t taken immediately. If I were to extrapolate as in your example, I would have to conclude that beggars must be pretty well off if they can afford to be choosers.

  30. Geoff,

    On the previous thread you closed the comments with the following shot across the bow of the “liberals”:

    Well, it appears everybody has had a chance to vent and, in the case of a few people, prove their liberal bona fides . . . I am left with the impression that I have really hit on something important here because it stirred up so much ire from the liberals in the Bloggernacle.

    I must say that this comment made me utter an argghh so loud that I am sure you must have heard me even across the Atlantic and beyond. My complaint with your post was not due to my liberalism, nor I suspect, was John Fowles’s. I am probably more socially liberal than you are but I can assure you that I am a conservative through and through. I completely support David Cameron’s small government drive in the UK. I probably stated that fact three or four times so you would know that my disagreement was not politically motivated. And yet you still see this as the BCC “liberals” ganging up on you. (Funny to hear John F called a liberal.)

    No, this is because I found your appeal to King Noah to be deeply unsatisfactory for reasons Brad ably detailed. Alas, you’ve done it again with your tithing example. John has demonstrated why this is a poor example, so I won’t retread the issue. I would just add that fast offerings are pretty low in the UK because there is a sense that these funds are generally not urgently needed, at least by citizens with access to state support.

    As for taxation being coercive and thus lacking in virtue, again, I think John has a stronger argument here. Let me give you an example: the Conservative Party’s base is largely derived from a middle class for whom private health insurance is generally available. And yet the Conservatives do not advocate shrinking funding for the National Health Service, even in the midst of all the other cuts currently being made. There is a national sense that the NHS is virtuous because it affords all citizens access to health care, including the least among us. We don’t pay our taxes to pay for the NHS solely because the Inland Revenue makes us, but because we want to and consequently vote for parties that will support the NHS. And by “we” I mean those of us who can afford to go private. That, Geoff, is national virtue and I think it speaks well of the British people.

    Re: Ireland. Their’s is a banking crisis brought about by the default on ridiculously inflated home loans largely taken out by the middle classes. It has nothing to do with their social welfare bill. This is not about Ireland being too generous to the poor.

    But Geoff, don’t get me wrong, let’s shrink government and reduce taxes! I think a better argument is not to go on about the enforced virtue of the wealthy (and make erroneous appeals to King Noah and tithing), but talk instead about the enforced dependency of the poor. In Britain, you can lose money for going to work. Thankfully, Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms are tackling this: always make work pay by reducing taxation *on the poor*.

    Did I mention that I AM A CONSERVATIVE…?!

  31. Ronan, I love you man! That comment was not aimed at you. Message received, you are a Conservative. :)

    No time to make longer comments, must earn money. I hope you understand.

  32. John, I paid some compliments to German society if you missed it in your zeal to defend a nice land and great people with some poor policies. Never served a mission.

  33. “So they have created a society where the only incentive is to work is literally to get sex drugs and rock and roll.”
    I think we can back away from the clear faux-pas of the use of the word literally. But clearly you understood the meaning and just want to have a smile PeterLLC? Here you go
    :)
    ;)
    That’s two for you.

    As far as the example, if you think cheap burgers are what exalted the poor you’ve missed the mark. His head wasn’t held up high in expectation of strolling into McDonalds, but it was after he left and the burger is not what made the difference. And neither would the 5-6 euros in his pocket (I’ve given 10x as much to strangers, with no words spoke, and gotten a kiss on the hand and saw them sitting on the same corner 2 days later). It was the example of a caring stranger that took the time to talk to him and discussed a few principles that he can make his life better with. In some small way I helped give him what he needed by giving him a bit of what he thought he needed (or wanted).

    Is this always possible? Of course not. Many turn the meal down as you stated. But the point is, are you creating a virtuous society with payroll deductions or VATs? Nope.

  34. BTW John F – I’m not sure why you suggest suffering could not be alleviated through teaching correct principles and encouraging society to look after their neighbor as well as strangers who might be in need.

    The dichotomy between social-benefit state and strangers and seniors starving to death with no one suggesting we help them is a false one. No one is arguing for the later.

  35. John f – if you willfully cover your eyes and insist there is no negative effect of the welfare state and it leads to as-utopian-as-we-can-get-if-only-we-can-follow-the-Germans it’s pretty clear we can determine you’re not doing me the service of considering my statements as I have yours. I’m fine with that as I was aware before starting that you did not really understand or want to understand my point.

    I understand your desire for society and I embrace the important principles you espouse in my personal life. But I would require them of no other man or woman. On the other hand you demonstrated you don’t acknowledge there’s any truth on the other side of the equation. You were quick to offer me advice on the false assumption that I was a jaded missionary who was apparently bitter about something in the German culture. I won’t do you the indignity of reading your e-palms. I think it’s always preferring to seek for understanding first before misjudging. I’ll learn from your mistake and attempt to apply it in my own life as I’m sure I often do the same.

  36. ps – Peter, make sure to jump in on my misstatements will ya :)
    I always prefer to misjudge first and ask for understanding later and the like! :)

  37. Chris, it’s like Jesus said,

    Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
    Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
    Verily, I say unto you, if your son ask bread, teach him to fish
    If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

  38. As I noted on the other thread, Zion is not just a society in which something called “virtue” is cultivated in an individual level. It’s not just about being of one heart, about attitudes and beliefs and whathaveyou. It also involves bringing about certain objective conditions (i.e. no rich and poor). Trying to bring about the necessary objective conditions in a way that also cultivates charity in the hearts of the participants is necessary to build Zion. Jmax’s argument that social welfare programs—programs which can and often do objectively reduce poverty rates and wealth disparity—falsify or even destroy personal and collective virtue and charity seem to presume the involvement of a government that is both authoritarian and also totally unreflective of the will of those it governs. It’s a theoretical argument not grounded in reality. John F and Ronan have both presented compelling arguments that in stable, modern, democratic societies the existence of such programs very often is, in fact, a reflection of a virtuous commitment on the part of the electorate (or at least majorities thereof). Of course, we know none of the details about how Enoch’s city or the people of 4th Nephi actually brought about the objective conditions of their societies, but there is no historical evidence of a modern society successfully reducing poverty levels or creating less economically stratified conditions through laissez-faire policies.

    The accomplishments of the US military or of fire departments are no more or less virtuous than they would be were they the results of exclusively private efforts. All the historical data suggest that for large scale, modern, industrialized, democratic societies—even very virtuous ones—government based social safety nets and modest programs of redistribution capacitated by moderately progressive regimes of taxation are the only really effective ways of reducing poverty, regardless of what conservatives wish to claim about the corrupted virtue of those who support, or are supported by, such programs.

  39. John F.,

    Did you teach at the MTC in 1999? If so, I remember meeting you there. If you’re who I think you are, I was also friends with your younger brother in high school.

  40. Peter, make sure to jump in on my misstatements will ya

    Didn’t I say that I assumed you meant something other than what you wrote? How much more flexible can one be regarding authorial intention?

    if you think cheap burgers are what exalted the poor you’ve missed the mark.

    Of course I don’t. What I objected to is your characterization of Germany as a land populated by people who can’t be bothered to help someone in poverty directly.

    I merely pointed out that one reason you don’t see more German-Romanian lunch appointments along the Ku’damm is the fact that the begging you see on the streets is more often than not an organized racket. While any given individual might prefer a warm lunch to a day begging on the street, the people who placed them there (parents, etc.) aren’t interested in non-fungible full tummies, or words of encouragement for that matter–it’s a business.

    The locals are more or less aware of what’s going on and some may be resigned about the prospects of effecting change individually. But even local priesthood leaders advise over the pulpit to donate in more productive ways, so it’s not just godless heathen thing. :)

    Still, it is nice to see at least one of these guys respond positively to the good news.

  41. As a missionary in Germany, I’d always respond to begging by offering to buy them something from a nearby bakery. I got taken up on my offer exactly once. Every other time they refused free quality food.

  42. Are those who would resist contributing to public funds for the purpose of providing a baseline social net coveting their own money?

  43. John F.,

    I don’t have much the time to continue to debate, let alone read all of the comments. (Duties call)

    You said: “Are those who would resist contributing to public funds for the purpose of providing a baseline social net coveting their own money?”

    Yes. They are coveting their own money, just as the Doctrine and Covenants says.

    In this thread, like the last you have extolled the the ends. You said “an objective argument can be made that life is much better in these Western European democracies given the social net that exists. Standards of living are an important thing to consider when considering the overall success of a particular system.”

    There are two problems with this assertion.

    1. Just like adjusting the hot water in the shower, sometimes the consequences of a certain system cannot be truly measured based on the short term results. The water may feel perfect, or the standard of living may appear great, right now. But we wont know for sure until enough time has passed for the water to get all the way through the pipes as it were. Once the economic contagions of (P)ortugal, (I)reland, (G)reece, and (S)Pain (not to mention California) have had their full effect, will the standards of living achieved through the Socialism of the Western European democracies really be “objectively” better?

    2. Even if the standard of living is “objectively” better, you’re still avoiding answering the question of whether these objectively good ends are being achieved through moral means. To reiterate the challenge I offered in the previous thread:

    Nobody is saying that we shouldn’t make communal efforts to alleviate suffering. Some of us, however, are saying that, contrary to your assertion here, there are ways in which communities act to alleviate suffering that are not only more or less effective, but are actually immoral even when effective. The end alone does not justify the means. The means are not irrelevant to God if they trample on justice and legitimate God-given rights.

    For instance, we could alleviate suffering by putting those who suffer out of their misery in the most humane way possible. We could achieve a society with no poor among us by literally eliminating the poor. I know that you do not believe that such means are irrelevant to God. They are abhorrent and immoral. So clearly you do not believe you own statement about the irrelevance of the means.

    Several arguments have been made that question the morality of the means you support. Over and over you keep extolling the ends but you continually avoid actually defending the justice of the means you advocate.

    Since you have conceded that forced charity is neither virtuous for the forced or the forcer, and we have established that employing the law in this instance can only be motivated by the desire to force the unwilling, how do you justify the force as a moral means to achieve the ends?

  44. Jonathan,
    Your argument about moral and immoral means actually presumes, rather than demonstrates, the immorality of taxation for social welfare. It’s hardly surprising that your conclusion aligns with premises which the argument treats as axiomatic. As somebody who has both supported (in the form of the taxes I have paid as well as by opting to elect officials advocate such policies) and been supported by social welfare programs which derive their revenue base from taxation, I take personal umbrage at your assertion that my participation in such enterprises is either forced charity or otherwise non-virtuous.

  45. “…you continually avoid actually defending the justice of the means you advocate.”

    That couldn’t be further from the truth. John and others, on this and the King-Noah-was-a-Democrat threat, argued with exceptional clarity that taxation in a modern, democratic republic is neither inherently unjust nor an unjust means for bringing about righteous ends (the alleviation of poverty).

  46. Yes. They are coveting their own money, just as the Doctrine and Covenants says.

    Would you elaborate on this? It sounds like you are saying that coveting one’s own wealth is a good thing.

    In terms of your challenge, I don’t think that it has been sufficiently established that when representative democracies enact social welfare legislation that is to be funded by tax revenue this automatically constiutes forced charity. I have been trying to argue that the electorate has chosen representatives whom they (usually) knew would do this and so they have voluntarily intended to set up this kind of framework. If a minority among the electorate disagrees with the particular program at issue it is true that they will be paying the taxes associated with it grudgingly and thereby not incurring the blessings that they might otherwise receive if they gave the gift willingly. But how is this not a reflection on them and their posture toward giving rather than an indictment of the constituency’s choice in how to structure society? For them the giving is not virtuous but they and not the government are responsible for their own attitudes and opinions about that particular giving.

    How does the segment of people who do not want to give their proportional share (and also stand to receive the benefits thereof) rob the whole endeavor of virtue by their malcontent? When was it ever the case that an individual’s own posture toward giving or anything else was not their own responsibility but rather to be blamed on some outside entity such as a government?

  47. Geoff B said: “But your philosophy is to *force* me through higher taxation to accept your Gospel. It is all well and good for you to say that you would personally like to pay higher taxes because you believe in the power of government, but it is completely a different thing to say that I should to pay more to support your philosophy.”

    Couldn’t the same be said about any taxation system? Doesn’t taxation to support road construction *force* me to accept the “gospel” of car-based transportation? Doesn’t taxation to support military *force* me to accept a philosophy of violent defense? Doesn’t taxation for the fat cow years *force* me to accept a system of saving for lean cow years? It is all well and good for you to say that you would personally like to pay higher taxes because you believe in saving for lean years, but it is a completely different thing to say that I should pay more to support your philosophy (hypothetically, I support personal responsibility for each person to save their own store for the lean years, or maybe I am old and expect to die before the lean years and don’t want to cut back my ration now, etc).

    This thread of argument may sound rhetorically powerful as it is being spun, but it is ultimately meaningless because it devolves into governmental nihilism. Of course taxes force some people to accept things they don’t particularly support. Ultimately, (democratic/republic) government is always about people compromising to form a collectively agreed upon set of principles to be enacted, with that inevitable percentage of folks who don’t like the result having to just deal and/or try to recruit more people to their side next time.

    “Once the economic contagions of (P)ortugal, (I)reland, (G)reece, and (S)Pain (not to mention California) have had their full effect, will the standards of living achieved through the Socialism of the Western European democracies really be “objectively” better?”

    Real classy, JMax. Real classy.

  48. Go easy on JMax, Cynthia. You might be giving him too much credit for that bit of veiled ethnocentrism. It’s possible, after all, that he cribbed it from the writings of Mark Williams.

  49. John F.,

    I am merely acknowledging that they do indeed covet their own money and that the Doctrine and Covenants condemns it as wickedness.

    Brad & John F.

    I understand very well that you have argued that in a democracy the majority can select representatives who will set up a re-distributive framework as a way to express their own righteous desire to alleviate suffering and promote the general welfare.

    Brad said of my argument: “Your argument about moral and immoral means actually presumes, rather than demonstrates, the immorality of taxation for social welfare. It’s hardly surprising that your conclusion aligns with premises which the argument treats as axiomatic.”

    Can’t you see that your argument from democracy presumes, rather than demonstrates the morality of taxation for social welfare? It simply assumes that anything that is done through proper democratic means is just, or at least that anything done through democratic means in order to achieve easily recognizable good ends is just.

    But we know that such an assumption is not true (thus my examples of killing the suffering or poor by majority rule in order to alleviate suffering and achieve a society without poor).

    If you start from the premise that rights are created by and granted by government (or majority rule), then your argument from democracy seems to be self-evident.

    If you start from the premise that justice and rights are independent of and pre-exist government, as I do, then it is not enough to repeatedly argue that it is democratic. Might does not make right (whether it is the might of a king or the might of a majority).

    Instead of the kind of redistribution you advocate, the majority could set up a program that encourages citizens to voluntarily fast once a month and give the money not spent on food to a fund that the government would administer and use to give to the poor. Such a system would express the virtue of the majority without unjustly forcing the minority to give.

    The minority is guilty of coveting their own wealth in both cases. But one system negates the charitable desires of the minority by stealing the property of others to accomplish its charitable ends.

    So my challenge is about defending the justice of democratically robbing those who covet their own property against their will.

    Even as venerable conservative as Justice Scalia makes this mistake with regard to democracy, rights, and justice– so you are in good company. Here is an excellent explanation from Professor Harry Jaffa:

    The False Prophets of American Conservatism
    http://www.claremont.org/publications/pubid.670/pub_detail.asp

    Here is a teaser from the article:

    We are obliged to recognize that the greatest obstacles to the moral renewal called for by the Pope may be found in the elites—conservative no less than liberal—who dominate our public life. Consider the resemblance to the “popular sovereignty” of Stephen A. Douglas in these remarks (2) of Mr. Justice Scalia.

    Go read it.

    Cynthia L.,

    I’m sorry I don’t meet your standards of multicultural sensitivity. The term PIGS as an acronym is in regular use on many economic blogs and discussions about the problems in these countries and their possible consequences. I referred to it only so those who are familiar with the acronym would know what I was referencing. I apologize if it was taken as a racial put down, because I did not intend it that way.

  50. FWIW, I didn’t perceive any racial content. It just seemed like a rather gratuitous slap. I am not familiar with its use on economics blogs, so that’s perhaps why it struck me as so flagrant. (Though I struggle to understand why economics blogs would be using it either…)

  51. “If you start from the premise that rights are created by and granted by government (or majority rule), then your argument from democracy seems to be self-evident.

    If you start from the premise that justice and rights are independent of and pre-exist government, as I do, then it is not enough to repeatedly argue that it is democratic. Might does not make right (whether it is the might of a king or the might of a majority).”

    JMax, I don’t think Fowles et al. are arguing from the premise that whatever democracy does is just. The opposite of “you can’t call something unjust/evil/etc simply because government does it” isn’t “if government does it then it is just/good/etc.” This seems to be the logical fallacy you are making above.

    Fowles, as far as I can see (I can’t speak for him, and in any case he’s a better thinker and writer than I am), is making a two-step argument. (1) Refuting your argument by saying, “you can’t [call something unjust/evil/etc simply because government does it].” (where the part in [] brackets is roughly what your argument was) (2) Then going on to argue separately for the righteous qualities in systems with a strong social safety net. In fact, I don’t even see strong arguments from Fowles et al. that not choosing a strong social safety net is an evil societal choice. Mostly what I see is just saying that choosing a strong social safety net is a righteous and good choice (which of course doesn’t necessarily imply that doing otherwise is wrong–there can be multiple right ways of running a country).

    Anyway, this comment isn’t designed to address the merits of either side of the argument, but is just trying to pick apart the structure of what is happening, and demonstrate that I think your claim that I quoted above is not true (i.e., nobody on the pro-socialist democracy side is relying on a presupposition that “if democratic government does it, then it is good.”).

    (I hope this all makes sense, though I am starting to doubt that it does…time for a break from the computer.)

  52. Correction to my #62: It should have read “The minority is guilty of coveting their own wealth in both cases. But one system negates the charitable desires of the majority by stealing the property of others to accomplish its charitable ends.

    Cynthia L.,

    Thanks for your analysis of the discussion.

    1. I certainly have never argued that something is “unjust/evil/etc simply because government does it” and I don’t think anyone else has made that argument either. I am not a Libertarian. If John F. is arguing against this view, then he is arguing against something I have never said.

    2. Yes, John has repeatedly “argued separately for the righteous qualities in systems with a strong social safety net.” Again, I have never argued that the objective was not righteous when evaluated in isolation. However, any end must consider also the context and the means by which it is achieved. I have argued that the means by which we attempt to achieve those ends must also be righteous and that the wealth redistribution achieved through taxation is not righteous because it’s method is to forcibly confiscate wealth from the unwilling (rob them). As far as I can tell, the only response he offers is to reiterate all the righteous things achieved through these unjust means and that they are democratic.

    John F. said: “I don’t think that it has been sufficiently established that when representative democracies enact social welfare legislation that is to be funded by tax revenue this automatically constitutes forced charity.”

    This is really the entirety of his argument– and it isn’t really an argument, it is just contradiction.

    It cannot be argued as a form of charity, because we have already established that forced charity has no virtue. It has to be made in terms of justice.

    I think an argument can be made that it is just for a representative democracy to tax the people to use taxes to fund services like police and fire protection, libraries and parks, though I still think that a separate argument has to be made for why the government should supply these things itself and not just fund them. That the government should fund public education, for instance, does not necessarily imply that the government should also be the provider of the education. And even if it should be the supplier, there is yet another separate argument about the proper scope (local, state, national) and subsidiarity. For instance, I may support public parks, but they shouldn’t be taxed and funded at the national level.

    I also think a similar case can be made for at least a minimal safety net for the poor (as does Geoff B., as he has repeatedly clarified).

    But those who advocate large scale wealth redistribution and social justice have to actually make the case that it is just, not just say that it is, and so far I haven’t seen anyone do it very well.

    Even if they can make the case that it is just, they have to make the case that it should be supplied, and not just funded, by the government through taxes, and even if they make the case that it should, they have to make the case according to subsidiarity that it should be done at the national level and not at the local. I would probably support using local city taxes to fund a city homeless shelter or other safety-net service (especially if it wasn’t being actually run by the government itself), but not a national tax intended to redistribute wealth on a large scale.

    See, I’m not as extreme as you think ;)

  53. I have a few minutes for some brief comments. Cynthia L, always nice to see you comment. I hope you drop by more often.

    Ronan, I want to address your comments on this and the prior thread regarding what conservatives who want to shrink government should do. On the other thread, you called the basic libertarian/tea party position “crazy talk.” I would agree with you that such notions — a radical downsizing of government — are rare in Europe. But I would draw your attention to another political period in history, the early and mid-70s, in U.S. and UK politics. At that time the idea that truly radical conservatives in the mold of Reagan and Thatcher would be elected in our respective countries was indeed “crazy talk.” In the 1976 election, Reagan came very close to ousting Gerald Ford as the Republican nominee. It was the old guard Nixon/Ford/Rockefeller wing of Republicanism vs. the young turk Goldwater/Reagan wing. Reagan was regularly described as the crazy outsider who would cause the Republicans to lose just as they had with Goldwater in 1964. In the 1980 campaign, the first Bush, representing the old guard wing, ran against Reagan calling his economic policies “voodoo economics.” Without doing an extensive internet search, my impression is that Thatcher was a similar outsider. Her views were considered similarly out of the mainstream in the mid 1970s.

    My argument is that we are seeing a similar process take place today. The Ford/Bush wing is represented by the old guard Republicans who want to compromise and accept continued growth of govt only more slowly. The young turks are people like myself who want a radical *decrease* in the size of government. My prediction is that in 2012 or 2016 we will get somebody more in line with the young turks than the old guard. The standard line from the old guard will be: “crazy talk.”

    My answer to this charge is: we have no choice but to radically downsize government, or at least downsize our expectations of what government should do for us. The demographics in Europe are going to force change, as are the unfunded liabilities of our entitlements in the U.S. (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid).

    My aim with these any many other posts on the subject is to discuss the intellectual basis for downsizing government for Mormons and others who may wander across these posts. I am aware that for many Bloggernacle Mormons these arguments are not convincing. I am under no illusion that these views are popular in certain quarters. I nevertheless predict that as the years go by things will change and certain assumptions we have about what government should do will change. In 2008, the liberal ascendency was a given. That has changed. In 2009, the assumption that Obamacare would never face a serious challenge in the courts was widespread among most mainstream legal scholars. A federal judge just decided today that the individual mandate in Obamacare is unconsitutional.

    This is a long-term project. I feel that over time people will come to accept a smaller, more frugal government as the only sustainable long-term option. As Mormons, we need to consider the morality of this issue, and I am trying, in my own limited way, to have some discussions around this issue.

  54. John F, let me respond to the following:

    “As has been noted, some minority will always be in opposition to any particular action taken by a representative government and so their compliance with any such legislation is always by force. It is unclear why this would be excusable in relation to the fire department but not other social goods that a legislature chooses to provide for and that you are saying reprsent forced virtue.”

    John F, you are creating a straw man argument. Virtually nobody in society is opposed to paying for things that are public goods, such as a military that protects the nation from foreign enemies, a court system, police and fire protection. Almost nobody (except the most extreme nihilists) oppose paying minimal taxes to pay for these services.

    Opposition comes as the purview of govt expands and inevitably begins interfering with areas of your life that you consider sacred and private. I really believe that people with your apparent philosophy completely misunderstood (and continue to misunderstand) the opposition to Obamacare, for example. When Obamacare passed, I had a deep, emotional reaction as if part of my being had been taken away from me. I don’t know how to describe it, and of course many reading here will mock such an emotional response (btw, if you do on this blog, your comments will be deleted, so don’t go down that road). Obamacare included a provisioning *forcing me* to buy a product or face a fine. This was seriously offensive to me and millions of other Americans. Since when can the government tell you that you must buy something? Where is that in the Consitution?

    A similar reaction took place after the Kelo decision, which legalized governments taking property so they could hand it to developers and get more tax revenue. Again, such decisions touch emotional areas of our sense of personal freedom — if the government can take away our property and give it to the highest bidder, how else can they limit our personal freedom?

    I give these examples because I think we as a society are accepting government actions that would never have been even considered 100 years ago when there was a much greater respect for personal property. Over time, we have accepted a larger and larger government thinking it will protect us, and as it has gotten bigger it has begun to entrap us instead. I believe literally tens of millions of Americans are waking up to this reality.

  55. I have argued that the means by which we attempt to achieve those ends must also be righteous and that the wealth redistribution achieved through taxation is not righteous because it’s method is to forcibly confiscate wealth from the unwilling (rob them). As far as I can tell, the only response he offers is to reiterate all the righteous things achieved through these unjust means and that they are democratic.

    This is what I mean by axiomatic. Taxation is neither the functional nor moral equivalent of robbery. Your description of it in such loaded terms only demonstrates that the inherent injustice of taxation as a means of bringing about a righteous end is a premise, rather than demonstrated conclusion of your argument. John and I have not argued affirmatively that the will of a democratic majority means that a policy or program is inherently just; we have only argued against its being inherently unjust—that the mechanism of taxation does not make it inherently wrong (like, e.g., “robbery”).

    Here it is again:

    John F. said: “I don’t think that it has been sufficiently established that when representative democracies enact social welfare legislation that is to be funded by tax revenue this automatically constitutes forced charity.”

    This is really the entirety of his argument– and it isn’t really an argument, it is just contradiction.

    It cannot be argued as a form of charity, because we have already established that forced charity has no virtue. It has to be made in terms of justice.

    Can’t you see that your conclusion requires the presumption that taxation is a form of across-the-board forced charity? John’s argument is that it isn’t. He’s arguing that the inherently uncharitable, theft-like, fundamentally immoral nature of taxation in a representative democracy needs to be actually demonstrated in argument. The only reason it seems like a contradiction to you is that you are presuming as self-evidently true something (taxation as theft/forced charity) which John is not treating as axiomatic in his argument.

    Why is theft a legitimate means for bring about some desirable ends (fire protection, libraries, air traffic regulation, parks), but not for bringing about even more desirable ends (the reduction of poverty)? If the citizenry believes that, in a fashion similar to national defense, air traffic control, an interstate highway system, etc., a government managed program supported by taxation is the most effective way to deal with, say, the epidemic of old-age poverty by enacting Social Security, why is that an inherently unjust form of forced charity and/or robbery (whereas national defense or fire protection is not)? Even the untaxed benefit from national defense, and there was once a time when it was far from accepted wisdom that government was the best purveyor of fire protection or a police force.

    It’s one thing to disagree that government is the most effective way of dealing with the problem of poverty, but it’s quite another to suggest that government efforts to do so are inherently a form of robbery and fundamentally unjust. It’s a cheap, intellectually lazy way of sidestepping the argument about how to most effectively mobilize our collective resources to deal with such problems. “It doesn’t matter if your way works to bring about righteous ends, because the means are ROBBERY!!!”

  56. Brad,

    I need to say again that I have never made the argument that all tax is theft, as you say I have. That is a common view of some libertarians, but I do not subscribe to that view.

    In my previous comment I specifically said that I believe that the just case can be made for tax funded services. But you apparently didn’t read that part.

    You say that John has argued that “the inherently uncharitable, theft-like, fundamentally immoral nature of taxation in a representative democracy needs to be actually demonstrated in argument.”

    Our disagreement then may come down to our fundamental assumptions about government.

    It hinges on my question in the previous discussion about where government derives it’s just powers. I assume that all government power is unjust until an argument is made for where the power comes from and why it is just. As I said, if a majority of people cannot gang up to forcibly take their wealthy neighbor’s money and distribute it amongst themselves, then the goverent cannot justly do so as their proxy. I call this theft because that’s what it would be called if it were done outside of government. I know that John Fowles is sympathetic with this argument when it comes to the TSA and sexual assault.

    So I assume government powers are unjust until proven otherwise. You seem to think government powers are justified until proven otherwise. And we sit here waiting for the other to make the argument.

    Does that make sense?

    I still feel that until an argument is proffered for whence the government power you favor is derived, it is reasonable to consider it a possible usurpation.

    And again even if you can make the case, you still have to address the issues of funding vs supplying and also scope and subsidiarity.

  57. Ronan, one last thought on creating a smaller, more frugal government: there is no serious proposal being considered in the United States today that would actually decrease the size of the federal government. Even the deficit commission report would slow the growth of government but would not decrease its size. Perhaps this will help you understand why many of us feel some radical changes are necessary. At least you Britons are actually talking about significant cuts in government — such discussions are still not on the table in the U.S. (although there is a small chance we will get something in 2011, but I have my doubts that the overall size of govt will decrease).

  58. “So I assume government powers are unjust until proven otherwise.”

    JMax, the “proven otherwise” has been done when it was pointed out that social welfare programs are reasonable, rational ways of reaching charitable ends. You seem to disagree that they are reasonable and rational ways of reaching an end, to wit:

    “As I said, if a majority of people cannot gang up to forcibly take their wealthy neighbor’s money and distribute it amongst themselves, then the government cannot justly do so as their proxy.”

    I don’t think this is what social welfare programs do any more than fire departments. You could characterize a government-supported fire department as “people who are careless and accident prone ganging up to forcibly take their wealthy neighbor’s money and distribute it amongst themselves.” I think most people do not characterize fire departments this way. Why? Because although in reality fire departments serve very few (I’ve never personally required the services of our city’s fire department), we *feel* like they serve all of us because we *could* use them if we hypothetically need to some day, and we like that fact. Also, even if I REALLY think I am not accident prone (kind of a silly assumption for anyone to critically rely on), if my neighbor is, I don’t want to suffer the externalities of her house burning down (i.e. catching mine on fire). Why don’t you feel the same way about social welfare programs?

    Instead of framing it as “people ganging up to forcibly take their wealthy neighbor’s money and distribute it amongst themselves,” why not see it as the wealthy neighbor–call him Fred–(and anyone else who can afford it) contributing to a safety net system for everyone. In reality that system will serve very few (Fred has never personally required the services of the safety net), but Fred *feels* like it serves him because he *could* use it if he hypothetically needs to some day. Also, even if Fred REALLY thinks he isn’t prone to poverty (kind of a silly assumption for anyone to critically rely on), if his neighbor is, he doesn’t want to suffer the externalities of her poverty (her being a bag lady on the sidewalk in front of his house would be a bummer for his property value).

    There is your argument. Now you can no longer say that nobody has given one…

  59. Thank you Cynthia L. . That is very helpful. You ask “Why don’t you feel the same way about social welfare programs?”

    I think the comparison to a fire department is an excellent one. And as I mentioned above I am not opposed to some kind of tax-supported safety-net.

    The fire department is acceptable because

    1. It protects against something quite infrequent and usually accidental.

    2. It protects the property of the rest of the community against the a very real danger of not putting out the fire.

    3. It is generally funded and administered at a local level (or at least it should be).

    As I have already said, I am not opposed to similar safety-net type services. For instance, a homeless shelter provided to people who temporarily find themselves without a place to live, funded at the local city level, would be very similar to a fire department and I would probably support it. Even more permanent help to those few who are too mentally ill to provide for themselves would be acceptable.

    But the programs being promoted by liberals, and defended by John Fowles and others, are not these kinds of local fire-department style safety-nets. Instead, they are top-down, national schemes designed not to provide temporary relief for relatively infrequent, dire, unintended situations, but to actually bring about a permanent, on-going equality of wealth through forcible, large-scale redistribution to vast numbers of people.

    Call it a “safety-net public service” if it helps ease your conscience, but when the majority of people on an ever widening scale find themselves in on-going need of this “safety-net,” and fund it with other people’s money, that’s theft by government proxy, whether you call it that or not.

  60. I’m not sure they any programs in question are really designed to bring about equality of wealth, merely to prevent debilitating poverty. I’ve been in pensioners homes in England, and they’re nothing like some of the other homes I visited in England.

    But if you think that there are just a handful of cases (you list only “too mentally ill”) that require more than temporary assistance, I think you lack imagination and real-world exposure.

  61. “I’m not sure they any programs in question are really designed…” Oops, that ended up a bit garbled. Should be something like, “I’m not sure any of the programs in question [meaning, say, programs implemented someplace like the UK] are really designed…”

  62. As I said, if a majority of people cannot gang up to forcibly take their wealthy neighbor’s money and distribute it amongst themselves, then the goverent cannot justly do so as their proxy.

    I think Cynthia ably responded to this. Her comment showing how the fire department can be compared to certain steps that can be taken to reduce or prevent poverty was quite good. You agreed with it in part by noting you might support a homeless shelter if it were run locally and only aimed at providing limited assistance. I find it curious that you are drawing on the principle of subsidiarity which is the European Union’s answer to Federalism.

    Brad and Cynthia are both correct in pointing out a major discrepency in the approach you are taking. They have noted that arguing [1] that the sovereign will of the people expressed in certain representative democracies of Western Europe to provide a well-funded social safety net to prevent poverty and the negative externalities it has on society as a whole (and the framework set up in most of these countries addresses the issue in a holistic manner and not just treating the symptoms, i.e. part and parcel with providing the equivalent of food stamps to those facing immediate need is a full system of education for the youth and in the universities, re-education/training for the unemployed, and a lot of other programs aimed at “teaching them to fish” instead of giving them a fish) is an expression of such a people’s virtuous aims and should be seen as an initiative in addressing pressing needs is not equivalent to arguing [2] that taking a different approach, i.e. reducing or eliminating government programs as Geoff B. and you are suggesting, is morally suspect or immoral.

    Your argument seems to be equating these two; that is, you seem to be projecting the latter onto the former. But the focus here has been to help you see the virtue in your fellow human beings who are doing what they can, through legitimate processes of representative democracy (and not through totalitarian means), to address these problems. As Cynthia says, there are many ways to run a country, and the people in such country will usually know best how to structure their society according to their own understanding and national temperments. As long as baseline, natural law principles are respected, i.e. the principle of representative democracy and no taxation without representation (the two of these go together because where taxation is by representation, the minority opposed to the taxes can muster their own support and oust the representatives who have enacted the legislation that is to be funded by the taxation), then we can let peoples enjoy their sovereignty and respect principles of self-determination.

    But the programs being promoted by liberals, and defended by John Fowles and others, are not these kinds of local fire-department style safety-nets. Instead, they are top-down, national schemes designed not to provide temporary relief for relatively infrequent, dire, unintended situations, but to actually bring about a permanent, on-going equality of wealth through forcible, large-scale redistribution to vast numbers of people.

    This is not a fair characterization of any of the arguments that have actually been made, either on this thread or the other thread. For one thing, I am hoping you can explain how a broader safety net is not directly analogous to the fire department. Why would it be okay for a legislature or city council to fund a fire department through taxation but not health care? You continue to repeat that taxation for the latter would be confiscation/theft but that it is not so with regard to the former. It is either theft in both cases or in neither, is it not? And since we are talking about taxes implemented in representative democracies rather than totalitarian dictatorships (or Iron-Age tribal kingships, as in the King Noah example), the answer is that it is theft in neither instance. Whether it is sound policy is a different question, and one that I think you and Geoff can very ably make, with or without copious references to the sources you are reading, without resorting to this frankly bootstrapped argument from scriptures that don’t really apply and aren’t a necessary part of arguments about the rationality of legislative health care proposals or proposals about other programs relating to the social safety net in the United States in 2010.

    Jon, I really like your comment 62. I still take issue with a few things and also would like to point out the importance of something you highlighted.

    Can’t you see that your argument from democracy presumes, rather than demonstrates the morality of taxation for social welfare? It simply assumes that anything that is done through proper democratic means is just, or at least that anything done through democratic means in order to achieve easily recognizable good ends is just.

    But we know that such an assumption is not true (thus my examples of killing the suffering or poor by majority rule in order to alleviate suffering and achieve a society without poor).

    One difficulty that exists in this conversation is this repeated assertion you are making that I or anyone else has argued that anything that is done through proper democracy is just simply because it has been enacted by a majority or bicameral majority. Obviously, I agree with your example that it would be unjust for a majority in a representative democracy to create legislation requiring poor people to be killed as a solution to poverty. In principle, I believe that a majority in a representative democracy should not be able to trample the rights of a particular group in the society (though in terms of the poor, legislation affecting them is not necessarily legislation relating to a minority as being poor is not an intrinsic characteristic of a person’s nature and, also, the poor are not necessarily less in number than the rich; to the contrary, I think that there are probably more poor than rich in any given society). I am a firm supporter of the countermajoritarian nature of our courts as provided in the Constitution, imbuing them with the inherent power to strike down legislation enacted by the majority in our representative democracy where it infringes on the rights of the minority, as derived from principles of natural law (as the rights in our Bill of Rights are).

    If you start from the premise that rights are created by and granted by government (or majority rule), then your argument from democracy seems to be self-evident.

    If you start from the premise that justice and rights are independent of and pre-exist government, as I do, then it is not enough to repeatedly argue that it is democratic. Might does not make right (whether it is the might of a king or the might of a majority).

    Don’t be so confident that your conversation partners here are not proceeding from a foundation in natural rights as well. Where does this assumption come from on your part?

    Trying not to sound too mystical about these things, I too believe that our inalienable rights exist independent of whether a particular government of whatever nature decides to grant them through a legal code, that these rights adhere in our very personhood as human beings and that they should be jealously protected through countermajoritarian means (which are the only means by which they can in practice be protected against the intentions of majorities) in any representative government that is established. The Founders understood the need for and importance of a robust, independent and countermajoritarian judiciary as the institution in which such rights would find sanctuary against the will of majorities. The courts have performed this role admirably with the exception of long periods of enabling or complacence relating to the violation of people’s rights based on their skin color by the majority in our country.

    Instead of the kind of redistribution you advocate, the majority could set up a program that encourages citizens to voluntarily fast once a month and give the money not spent on food to a fund that the government would administer and use to give to the poor. Such a system would express the virtue of the majority without unjustly forcing the minority to give.

    The minority is guilty of coveting their own wealth in both cases. But one system negates the charitable desires of the minority by stealing the property of others to accomplish its charitable ends.

    I thought this was an interesting suggestion about the fast. As to the point about coveting, you seem to agree that those who would resist paying taxes and thereby contributing to the public funds for the purpose of funding the legislation that has been implemented by the representatives of the people are in essence coveting their own wealth.

    On the one hand I think it is noble of you to stand up for those who are coveting their own wealth and advocating on their behalf against their being required not to covet their own wealth against their will by being required to pay taxes to pay their proportional share for the public goods that have been set up by the legislature (and from which they directly benefit from as well, as Cynthia has noted in one of her comments with the fire department comparison). But on the other hand, it seems an awkward stance to be taking, especially when you and Geoff B. appear to be in the group of people who are resisting contributing to such public funds. Wouldn’t it be a cleaner approach to argue as Geoff has begun to do that the taxes that currently exist aren’t effective, are wasteful, aren’t sustainable, could be economically ruinous, etc. and not all this business about forced charity and empty virtue and immorality?

    Cynthia, take it from someone working in circles where discussion of the situation in the PIGS countries is a daily occurrence at work, PIGS is indeed a common acronym but I can also confirm that it is used derisively (and hence why the acronym is used).

    Geoff, I had a similar visceral reaction to Kelo. Why would I have had such a reaction to health care legislation, however, as it is standard in all developed countries except the United States? That doesn’t mean that the United States has to have it and if the Tea Party gains ascendancy and has its way, which is its right to do in a representative democracy, then we will indeed not have health care in the United States. So a car accident or a burst appendix or cancer will continue to cause bankruptcy and even homelessness.

  63. Geoff,

    Nowhere have I called the project to shrink government or lower taxes “crazy talk” or I would be calling myself crazy. You ought to stop projecting your dislike of liberals onto the arguments we are making.

    The UK is not just talking about making radical cuts, we actually are. The Comprehensive Spending Review — undertaken only a few months after the election — has reduced government spending by just under 20%. That’s radical action.

    But here’s the key (again): the Conservatives could never undertake such an action if they shoehorned scripture into their policies, talked about taxation being theft, invoking good and evil, social welfare being social equalisation, etc. That’s the crazy, Geoff, and it won’t win you elections.

    J-Max,

    I detect in you the glee I often detect in American right-wingers who observe economic stress in Europe (cf. PIGS). Sadly, real people’s lives are being blighted in places like Ireland right now. But don’t blame taxation or social welfare: Ireland has experienced a banking collapse caused by the housing bubble. It’s upper middle-class McMansions that are being defaulted on. Are you going to blame this on wicked socialism?

  64. Thanks for your excellent response John F.

    You say “I find it curious that you are drawing on the principle of subsidiarity which is the European Union’s answer to Federalism.”

    Subsidiarity does not originate from the EU but is originally from Catholic theology based upon doctrines of the autonomy and dignity of the human individual. So it is tied to the same concepts of Natural Law and Individual Rights that inform the Declaration of Independence. While I am suspicious of the kind of 3rd Way Socialism with which it is often associated, the articulation of Subsidiarity in Quadragesimo Anno by Pope Pius XI 1931 is generally correct, in my view:

    “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.”

    And I am especially sympathetic to the Subsidiarity of the Distributism of G. K. Chesterton.

    And as you can see, violation of this principle of Subsidiarity is not just considered less effective, but called “an injustice” and “a grave evil.”

    You describe a “a well-funded social safety net to prevent poverty and the negative externalities it has on society as a whole.”

    Think about the term “safety-net.” In a circus act, a safety net does not prevent the tightrope walker from falling, it only prevents the most dire consequences (death) of those that do fall. A safety net that actually prevents anyone from falling is not a safety-net. It is a crutch that actually negates the essence of the act of walking a tightrope.

    So when you advocate a safety net to “prevent poverty” you are not describing a safety net, because you are talking about preventing people from falling, not simply catching those that fall.

    That is why your kind of “broader safety net” is not directly analogous to the fire department. To be analogous we would have to imagine a fire department that sets out on a nation wide program not just to put out fires when they occur, but to produce a society in which it was impossible for a fire ever occur in the first place.

    Just as I do not believe it is possible to create a national fire department that will work to remake society in a way that fires will never happen without violating principles of natural law, I do not believe that it is possible to create a national anti-poverty program without violating natural law principles.

    Bankruptcy law is already an expression of the Judeo-Christian mercy that informs our western political systems. It is based on concepts of Jubilee. Bankruptcy is the safety net. A project that seeks to prevent people from going bankrupt is not a safety net, it attempts make it impossible for people to fall.

    Sorry I don’t have more time to address the rest of your comment, but work duty calls!

  65. Oh, this is really late, but, Geoff, I meant to thank you for kindly welcoming my comments. I was quite sure I had overstayed my welcome in your life with my incessant yapping on your FB wall! Seriously, feel free to tell me to buzz off at any time.

  66. “But your philosophy is to *force* me through higher taxation to accept your Gospel. It is all well and good for you to say that you would personally like to pay higher taxes because you believe in the power of government, but it is completely a different thing to say that I should to pay more to support your philosophy. Let me make this perfectly clear: I completely reject your philosophy.”

    The consequence is, literally, anarchy. You seem to be arguing that no person should ever be forced to pay taxes, because it is a restriction on her liberty and because it is evil to force charity. Therefore we must always cater to the least common denominator, which is the person who wants to pay no taxes at all.

    I know you have said that you support taxation for things like education, police, and parks, but what about the person that does not support that government intrusion? What if they argued that it is removing their God-given liberty to pay those taxes against their will for the benefit of other people, and will not be forced into charity?

  67. That’s a very good explanation for why you draw the line between legitimate government taxation and theft where you do, but what about the person that sees a more restrictive role for government than you do? What about the person that reads the Constitution and sees no mention of education, fire departments, infrastructure, and the like, and anyway sees them as a redistribution of wealth and immoral?

    The point is that any government expenditure will be offensive to some and legitimate to others, and that is the nature of democracy (or democratic republicanism), the discussion about those having already been sussed out above.

  68. Jacob S, I’m not sure what you want me to say. My view is that it is only a very, very small fringe that has any problem with paying for public goods, meaning goods that govt must do because they benefit everybody and private enterprise would not. If your point is that the only ideologically pure positions are either A)no govt, no taxes or B)modern welfare state, I would say to you that actually B) is not the other extreme. The other extreme would be a functioning communism where absolutely nobody owns anything privately and all is held “in common.” And the truth is that everybody reading this thread knows that will not work in our lifetimes.

    Let’s say 1 is a completely anarchical situation with no govt whatsoever and 10 is the hypothetical extreme communism where everything really is held in common. I would say that Western Europe is at 6 on this continuum and the U.S. is at five. I am saying we should move back to four as soon as possible and perhaps consider after that moving to three. I am uncomfortable with a political system where people blithely talk about confiscating other peoples’ property and forcing people to buy products, and so I’m putting together arguments to convince others that we should make some changes in how we approach politics and the economy.

  69. Geoff, I saw an item today at Marginal Revolution that you may find very interesting:

    Australia is one of the most economically free countries in the world, and has for some time been among the smallest governments in the developed world, with low levels of tax and spending. Last year, according to the OECD’s Economic Outlook, Australia was the Thatcherite’s number one performer, with not only the lowest level of government spending of all developed countries but also the lowest level of taxes of all developed countries equal with South Korea).

    One key to this is that Australia is the means-testing capital of the world, with the lowest proportion of transfers to high earners of any country; The second key is the very low taxes on low earners; This highly progressive tax and transfer system produces small and dynamic government – I call it egalitoryan – but it turns Hayek and Buchanan upside down.

  70. John M, I was unsuccessful at reading more into on this subject via the provided links (darned Blackberry!). I will try from my laptop at a later date. However, I would point out that the US had greater equality overall when the overall tax burden (not rates, total tax burden) was lower. Higher tax burdens do not bring greater equality, not least of which because the rich have a greater incentive to move and hide their money.

  71. Geoff, means testing seems to be the issue. If redistributive programs only redistributed to, say, the poorest 10%, then those programs, and government spending overall, would be much smaller than it is. Maybe they’d still be wrong for all the reasons you say, but they wouldn’t matter so much. To broaden the support for such things, though, they are expanded to benefit as many people as we can get away with. Focusing on benefits to the poor almost amounts to scapegoating; the redistributions flow to middle class and rich people too. In February 2009, I bought a house, and because I had been renting since 2004 because I thought housing was in a bubble, I qualified for a $8,000 gift that Congress and the President thought a few weeks later I ought to have to top off the fortunate condition of being able to buy a house. Even without that, I still would have received over $1,000 in tax credits above the federal income tax I paid for 2009, and will again for 2010, and my income is somewhere around the 80th percentile.

  72. John M, excellent point. But you can only achieve those kinds of changes if you change expectations, and you can only change expectations if you change what people think is right at wrong regarding govt. Middle class people expect the govt to bail them out if they are going through rough times, and even the wealthy have expectations from govt. The ridiculous tax deal that Republicans and Dems are debating right now is a great example of that — what first started as a tax rate discussion has turned into a subsidy fest. Disgusting.

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