Taxes and the examples of King Benjamin and the evil King Noah

In the latter days, we are spending a lot of time talking about taxes. One of the least discussed messages of the Scriptures is that taxes are seen as mostly negative. Taxes are almost always used by tyrants to build up themselves and large central governments that burden the people.

The best-known example is the Lord’s warning to the people regarding moving from a system of judges (small, local government) to a system of kings (large, central government). You can read about it 1 Samuel 8. Samuel gives a long speech warning the people that a king (ie, central government) will take away their crops, their herds and even their family members, who will be forced to join the king’s army. Samuel ends by saying: “and you shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”

The Book of Mormon has an equally stark comparison: good King Benjamin and evil King Noah.

King Benjamin comes first, and he comes at a particularly interesting time in the Book of Mormon. The hundreds of years from Nephi’s day (6th century BC) to Benjamin’s days (2nd century BC) are summarized in a few pages. Mormon chooses Benjamin’s words and deeds as especially inspiring and structures his record about focusing on them. Benjamin asks that all the people be gathered in one place because he has a significant message to deliver to them.

The first point, and I think this bears emphasis here, is that Benjamin is righteous because of his personal actions and his Christ-like love of the poor. Benjamin exhorts us all to give to the poor, and he reminds his people that he worked right along side them. The man was certainly not an idler, nor did he love money.

But he also points out that one of his greatest deeds was that he did not force people to pay taxes.

Mosiah 2:14: And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.

We often hold up Benjamin as an example of service — when you are in service of your fellow man, you are in service of your God — but we often forget that one of the greater signs of service is not taking property from people but instead allowing them to keep what they have earned with their own labor. We can encourage them to voluntarily give to others who are going through rough times, but we should not forcibly take from them.

Benjamin and his son Mosiah ushered in an era of righteous kings, who worked along the people and did their best to build up the kingdom of God.

But just a few chapters later, we see an example of a particularly odious king. I Mosiah chapter 11 we read: King Noah “did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord.”

How did Noah finance his evil deeds? “He laid a tax of one fifth of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and their silver.” (Mosiah 11:3) He used the money to pay for his wives and concubines.

Mosiah 11:6: Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.

The contrast could not be more clear. King Benjamin was good at least in part because he did not tax his people. King Noah was evil at least in part because he did. On the one hand, people labored to help others, to give voluntarily, to create a just kingdom. On the other, the people were forced to labor to “support iniquity.”

The scripture’s treatment of taxes may help guide us in our day.

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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.

162 thoughts on “Taxes and the examples of King Benjamin and the evil King Noah

  1. I wish only 1/5 of my money was taxed.

    We’re taxed twice over for making money, taxed if we spend money, taxed for owning property (which is theoretically unconstitutional), taxed for imaginary eventualities (SS tax). I’m even taxed for a company “benefit” I don’t really use!

    And then people talk about socialist governments and how glad they are that 60-80% of our money isn’t taken from us in taxes. Wake up, it is.

    Charming.

    But as long as we want the government to try to make no one suffer, no one have a bad day, rather than owning it in our own communities, as long as we allow politicians to accept anything of value from interested parties, there really isn’t much room to move.

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  3. One major problem with King Noah’s taxes is that they weren’t acquired for helping the poor or doing good; they were for him to get rich & build a bigger, nicer home, & to support his own unrighteous addictions & those who were in on that lifestyle. Also, a 1/5 tax is pretty extreme, especially if the kingdom was capable of functioning without taxes as Benjamin’s was. This begs the gray-area question: Are taxes bad, or are they good or bad based on what they are used for and what percentage of income those taxes take?

  4. Andrew, can you come up with one example in the scriptures where taxes are held up as a good thing on a long-term basis?

    I can come up with one example where they are held up as a good thing on a temporary basis: Joseph and the Pharoah temporarily took one-fifth to build up a reserve for the seven bad years from Joseph’s dream. There is no record that the taxes continued after that time…until…Moses is born, and taxes are once again a bad thing used by the Pharoah to oppress the Jews.

    So, if you want to make the argument that taxes are good for temporary emergencies caused by natural disasters, I might agree. The rest of the scriptures show that taxes are always used for evil purposes.

  5. Geoff B., what would you propose then?
    Eliminate Medicare for the poor? Medicaid for pregnant women and unborn children? A flat tax that taxes everyone equally, regardless of whether they’re making $15,000/year or $1,500,000/year?

    I agree that taxes should be relatively low, at least for the middle class and the poor. And there are certainly a variety of ways to cut costs. For example, we spend twice as much per capita as other countries on healthcare, without better results–and much of that is paid for through our taxes, and much of it is wasteful spending. My father worked as a civilian for the Air Force for a short while and saw immense amount of money being wasted. And yet many people won’t even discuss reducing the defense budget.

    I support the Deficit Commission’s proposals, as do many other young Americans who realize change needs to happen, and costs need to be cut. In addition, the people who benefit the most economically from the government and have greater ability to pay taxes should pay a greater percentage of taxes than those who are just barely getting by.

  6. There is also no scriptural account of an economy based on the Babylonian model, like modern Capitalism is, nor is there an example of one as large & extensive as we now have. You are comparing apples & oranges.
    In addition, the Savior paid HIS taxes without commenting negatively on the nature of those taxes (Matthew 22:15–22 & 17:24-27).

  7. By the way, although we’re discussing policy right now, and no one has mentioned avoiding taxes illegally, it should be noted that refusal to pay taxes will not only get you in trouble with the government, but it will also get you in trouble with church. Not that anyone here would refuse to pay taxes–but you never know. See Handbook of Instructions 2, 21.1.21.

    http://lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/selected-church-policies?lang=eng#21.1.21.

    Personally, I think if high taxes were a big issue from a religious standpoint, we’d hear more about it from the prophet. Instead, all we hear is “pay your taxes or be disciplined by the church.”

  8. Tim, what I would say is that we need to radically re-think how we approach the issue of taxes and the size of government.

    I have written a lot on this subject, and I agree with you on the deficit commission. It is a good short-term solution, but it mostly ignores the growth of govt-supported medical services like Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid.

    The reality is this: either we make cuts in the size of government now in a responsible, bi-partisan way, or we will be forced by the bond market to do so at some point, and it will be really, really ugly and will cause a lot of pain.

    There is so much to read on this issue that I don’t know where to start. I would read “Down-sizing Government” by the Cato Institute and I would read Paul Ryan’s roadmap plan. Reason magazine has a plan that would force cuts across the board every year between now and 2020 and bring a balanced budget by then.

    But beyond that, my point in this post is: well-meaning people like yourself often use the scriptures to discuss helping the poor. Does this mean A)voluntarily helping on an individual basis or does it mean B)the government taking money from some people and giving it to others. The evidence is that the scriptures support model A.

  9. One major problem with King Noah’s taxes is that they weren’t acquired for helping the poor or doing good; they were for him to get rich & build a bigger, nicer home

    How is that different from the activities of most public sector unions and other government grantees?

    Welfare for people who are actually poor and are doing the best they can is one thing. Welfare for corporations, the middle class, the litany of quasi-charitable organizations, and the excesses of public sector unions is different from what King Noah did only in degree, not in kind.

  10. Andrew, the example of the Savior and the coin is very instructive, but you have missed the point of the message. His point was that His kingdom is the kingdom of God, which has nothing to do with worldly kingdoms. That is what “render unto Caesar” is meant to mean.

    Let me ask you to ponder something else. You remember the rich person who comes to Jesus and Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect he must sell all he has and give it to the poor? Well, there were at least two governmental institutions at that time. There were the Romans and the Sanhedrin. Jesus could have said: “sell all you have and give it to the Romans or Sanhedrin so they can give it to the poor.” But he didn’t. Because we all know that when you give to the government, very little of it actually makes it to the poor. Jesus called for direct, one-on-one action giving voluntarily on an individual basis. This is the model. The model is not giving to some bureaucrat so he can give to the poor, which unfortunately is what we suffer under today.

    When most Latter-day Saints give fast offerings to the bishop, they have little doubt that the money will go directly to the poor. When they give tax money to the government, they have no doubt that very little of it will find its way to the poor. The difference could not be more clear.

  11. Geoff B.,
    Voluntarily helping on an individual basis doesn’t cut it. It would be nice if it did. I sit in ward council meetings where we discuss how to use limited fast offering funds to help members in our ward–and, because the funds are so limited, we discuss ways we can help these people get government help first, and then see what needs they then have. Poverty in the U.S. is very real, very huge, and, unfortunately, often invisible. Individual contributions would need to skyrocket to come anywhere near the level of government assistance, and I just don’t see those with extra income making that kind of sacrifice.

    I spoke with a man in Denmark who was proud of what he and his country had done in basically eliminating poverty in Denmark. The results–fewer prisons, less crime, etc.–are a huge blessing. The people of Denmark decided to act together to fix the problem. Those who don’t like the system are free to leave. To me, that sounds a lot like the early restored church–give up your excess, and if you insist on hoarding your wealth you’re free to leave. It’s much more merciful than the church under Peter (give up your excess or die).

    Remember, also, how things were after Christ came to the Americas. No rich and no poor. I’m not sure how this was done, but I would say that “wealth distribution” (slightly increasing taxes on the wealthy and decreasing them on the poor to increase the middle class) is more in line with the gospel than a government that embraces social darwinism, or a society where the middle class is shrinking.

  12. I should also mention, again, that a lot of our tax money (including on Medicare and Medicaid) is not used efficiently, and I believe we could reduce it and thus reduce taxes by reforming it.

  13. From my own personal experience, taxes levied to create large social programs with the intent of “helping the poor” in the long run do not help the poor or us. When we allow the government to take care of everyone we’re absolved of our responsibilites to go out and take care of those that need help and the poor are enslaved to programs that offer little incentive to get out of the cycle. Personally, I find that when I have my own money because of lower taxes I am happier and more inclined to give to those in need than when I’ve had less money because of higher taxes. Personally, I feel more like a subject of King Noah, rather than that of Benjamin these days.

  14. Andrew, one last point on your #5: it was not Jesus’ money. He was not paying his taxes. They brought him a penny, which was owned by somebody else.

  15. But he also points out that one of his greatest deeds was that he did not force people to pay taxes

    Where does this come from? Certainly not the verse you quote immediately afterwards.

  16. Tim, interesting thought experiment for you as you sit in ward council: how would this country be different if every family paid 10 percent of its increase in tithing? Would there be “no poor among us?” I think the answer is clearly yes.

    Look, we are talking about a lot of theoretical things here. I will pay taxes until the day I die, and so will you. Some of those taxes go to good things (the court system, police, fire, the military and, in my opinion, food stamps). Some of those taxes go to very bad things like invading Afghanistan and Iraq, farm subsidies and TARP bailouts, taking over GM, etc, etc.

    Too few people really think about the legal/moral/religious basis of paying taxes and simply accept the status quo. My goal is to shake people up so they think differently about it.

  17. “The poor are enslaved to programs that offer little incentive to get out of the cycle…” It’s fully possible to have the government take care of basic needs while still leaving an incentive for the poor to become independent. Our system, unfortunately, often doesn’t work that way. Working poor are worse off than non-working poor. Part of this is due to low minimum wages. Part of it is due to the fact that most working poor do not get health insurance (and therefore those who make 90% of the poverty level have an incentive to work less in order to get health insurance from the government). Part of this is due to the fact that food stamp programs are actually fairly generous (I was actually on a food stamp program for a short while and ate better than when I had a little more money and wasn’t on the program).

    Lots of room for reform, but leaving the poor to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps without making sure they have food, adequate medical care, and shelter isn’t the way to do it. I don’t want to belong to a country that leaves the poor to fend for themselves, regardless of whether that means the death of them. We’ve already seen that in the past, and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Let’s not go there again.

  18. “Some of those taxes go to good things (the court system, police, fire, the military and, in my opinion, food stamps). Some of those taxes go to very bad things like invading Afghanistan and Iraq, farm subsidies and TARP bailouts, taking over GM, etc, etc.”

    Looks like we’re pretty much in agreement on that point, although I really don’t know enough about economics to make a judgment call about the bailouts. A part of me really did want GM to fail, regardless of how it affected the economy.

  19. “How would this country be different if every family paid 10 percent of its increase in tithing?” I’m sure if we all paid 10% to get rid of poverty, we could make a huge impact. But we all know that’s not going to happen. People are too greedy. It’s human nature.

    I should also note that most of the 10% tithing we pay as members doesn’t go to assist the poor. That’s what our fast offerings are for. And, as generous as many members are, I can’t see most of them paying a 10% fast offering on top of the 10% tithing. A few would, but, again, I think our greed gets in the way here.

  20. There’s a whole lot of military spending in the Book of Mormon, and it had to come from somewhere. Also much conscripted labor. Probably though that doesn’t count because of Geoff’s “long term” qualifier. It certainly was recurring though. Consider Moroni’s letter to Pahoran complaining of lack of sustenance from the government.

  21. Geoff B., are you calling the Savior a thief? ;)

    I didn’t say my point was THE point of that scripture story, but my point is a side note that applies to this discussion.

    Also, I didn’t speak to how the government currently uses people’s taxes (I know it is certainly full of greediness & inefficiency), but to the thought of whether taxation is inherently evil, which is the premise of this blog post.

    When it comes to the living united order, examples from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon & the latter days point to a kind of system that was “voluntarily enforced”, meaning people chose to subscribe to a set of rules that would work to ensure equity for all, or suffer the consequences for breaking that temporal covenant. The reason these experiments failed was pride, greed & unrighteousness; it wasn’t because (dare I say?) socialistic government activities are bad.

  22. When people harp on the evil of regressive taxation, the half shekel poll tax collected for the service of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:11–16) often comes to my mind. I suppose it can also answer regarding the evil of taxation generally, regressive or not.

  23. “It wasn’t because (dare I say?) socialistic government activities are bad.”

    We have that statement to square with dozens of statements by Apostles that generally socialistic governments are undesirable, to put it very mildly. We further have Brigham Young, the one many would incorrectly thing of as being communistic (in a governmental sense) stating that he would not want government taxation to pay for schools, as the government would squander the money, but that individuals should pay for schools (and pay far more out of their pocket than they currently do/did in order to support the best teachers). We further have Joseph stating in HoC that he attended a meeting of socialists and said that he did not agree with it. It’s strange that after 40 years of anti-socialism being preached from the puplit, so much so that Pres. Benson asked Apostles and Area authorities all over the world to read the US Constitution and become familiar with the Lord’s method for established a free people and that the one decade it’s not being preached we suddenly start wondering if its a good thing.

    I’m not going to say it’s impossible for their to be a good instance of it, I doubt it, but you never know. I just think it’s peculiar that after all that has been said of it, we could still be wondering (as a people). We are a peculiar people indeed. And I guess it also explains why we keep getting the pornography talks!

  24. “the example of the Savior and the coin is very instructive, but you have missed the point of the message. His point was that His kingdom is the kingdom of God, which has nothing to do with worldly kingdoms. That is what “render unto Caesar” is meant to mean.”

    Setting aside issues of Biblical interpretation and the immense difficulty of stating outright what any given passage is “meant to mean,” if this paragraph is true then why on earth do we expect the scriptures to give detailed instruction on things like marginal tax rates?

  25. When the United Order fails, it’s from individuals not acting positively (ie. morally) collectively. When a free-enterprise system with basic rules setup for fair play fails, it’s from individuals not acting positively collectively. When a socialist system fails, it’s from the state abusing liberty and denying individuals the opportunity to exercise their agency.

    I recognize the flaws in each. I think the free enterprise system puts us closer to the one idea. The other seems to be a false pattern that perhaps attempts to draw near to the true principle.

    Now, if your goal has nothing to do with God and the individual’s approach toward Him, I suppose you could think socialism is an appropriate way for a society to enforce a distribution of wealth and enforce some kind of social safety net. But none of these things draw one nearer to God. (Neither does free enterprise in of itself, but it is one step closer)

    Put another way, if the state (or the people in the ideal sense) owns the means of production, what are you consecrating to the Lord?

  26. Elder Packer in the Ensign (bolding added by me):

    Because there were no public schools, the Church opened schools. Even in our own generation, schools have been established where there were none.

    [. . .]

    As public schools became available, most of the Church schools were closed.

    [. . .]

    Leaders and members plead for us to duplicate these schools elsewhere. But we cannot, neither should we, attempt to provide secular education for all members of the Church worldwide. Our youth have no choice but to attend other schools.

  27. Here’s a good one. Mosiah 21:17.

    “Now there was a greater number of women, more than there was a men; therefore king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger.”

    Limhi commanded it–not voluntary. Was this evil socialism?

  28. “Personally, I feel more like a subject of King Noah, rather than that of Benjamin these days.”

    I don’t know your local situation, but more than likely you’re paying less in Federal taxes now than you did three or four years ago. Is there any reason you’re feeling more like a subject of Noah now rather than in the past?

  29. It is often hard to distinguish political opinions from Church leaders versus Church doctrine. Some leaders have said outright ridiculous statements that have since been disproven; this is because they are imperfect people who, although sometimes mistaken, are worthy to speak for the Lord on spiritual matters of eternal consequence. Church leaders aren’t universal experts on every subject. Opinions change (just like Joseph Smith’s opinion on where events in the Book of Mormon may or may not have happened, or Bruce R. McConkie’s prediction in regards to extending temple blessings to all people).

    The Church, doctrinally, is politically neutral, & I don’t believe it is just for tax exemption purposes; it is because anything other than Christ’s kingdom (which is a theocracy, not a democracy) has failings & will fail (always has & always will) as a governing system (including democracy & capitalism in the US), & that people are capable of supporting either side of a political debate without injuring their worthiness of the Spirit. Statements made by people in the past are often taken out context to support questionable blanket statements (ie. Joseph could have gone to a meeting of communists as opposed to democratic socialists; we just don’t know, so we can’t use his comments to condemn any & all socialist endeavors). AND we can’t use the Book of Mormon, or even the Bible for that matter, as a textbook on which political philosophy is “true”, for that is not the intent for which the scriptures were written.

    It would seem that whether taxation is inherently evil or not is subjective & totally dependent on the circumstances & the righteousness of the people involved.

  30. Regarding taxes for redistribution,

    Over at the Catholic blog “First Things” there was a recent post related to this topic that made some good, interesting points.

    Charity by the Sword
    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/12/charity-by-the-sword

    I like this analogy to “conversion by the sword” quite a lot. It is a reductionist approach that reduces virtue to purely visible actions, as if the mere fact that a portion of your money is used to alleviate poverty is equal to real virtue and charity, just as conversion by the sword reduces faith to visible actions of baptism and church attendance.

    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.”

    The physical equality must flow from virtue freely chosen, because virtue cannot flow from physical equality enacted by force.

  31. When I hear people say that paying taxes helps to take care of the poor, I want to vomit. If, in the afterlife, there is a separate line for people who were kind to the poor, it will not include those who merely voted for government policies designed to help the poor. The biggest problem with taxes is that such a large portion of them goes to maintaining a minimum standard of living that has the effect of making it lucrative to live in squalor, which effectively destroys society.

    There’s a lady who lives across the street from me who pays her rent with section 8 vouchers. She gets every free service imaginable. She has 2 kids by 2 different men, her kids eat 2 meals per day free at school. They ride a bus to school free — our school is 1 block away, so it saves her the trouble of having to walk, while there are other families that live within 1/2 mile of the school and may have good reasons to put their kids on the bus, but they have to pay for it. She has the kids signed up for every after school activity imaginable on every day of the week, programs that other families pay $1,800 per month for ($900 per kid for 2 activities 5 days of the week), so that her kids get home at 5 PM. She hasn’t had a job as long as she’s lived there, so who knows what she spends her days doing (she does have cable TV, a computer, and broadband internet). My wife and I are friendly with her because we helped her move in to the place, and my wife talks to her now and again. Last year, we had her and her sons over for Christmas dinner. She’s always offering us stuff like DVD players, toaster ovens, clothing, and coats that she gets from shelters and places-for-the-poor. Plus (you guessed it) food — yes, food that she gets from the food pantry. She typically offers us a couple of turkeys this time of year because she ends up with several, and she has nothing better to do with them than to offer them to her neighbors.

    That said, the system we live in has made it lucrative for this woman to live in poverty. It makes it lucrative for too many people to live in poverty. So she and others stagnate, while others attain higher and higher levels of wealth, and uninformed idiots (or propagandists) go on and on about the wealth gap between the rich and the poor widening, and they pretend that it has all kinds of policy implications. (Did I mention that this lady votes Democrat? You can’t buy votes with whiskey at the polls, but you can give away free rent in exchange for votes.)

    It’s nutty. King Benjamin told us that we should not blame the poor for their plight. When I see how this woman lives, it is evident to me that we need to blame ourselves. A lot of people like her would do a lot better if they experienced a little bit more difficulty.

  32. DKL–I know several people living in poverty, in unsafe neighborhoods, who would love to have work but don’t, and who struggle to find enough money to just ride the bus to church each Sunday. Not surprisingly, they also vote Democrat.

    And obviously, that King Limhi was one evil man. I mean, come on–he commanded them to redistribute their wealth? Evil. :)

  33. Christopher, I am not getting your point in #18. Perhaps you can elaborate.

    Steve Fleming, that is a pretty good scripture, but unfortunately it still calls for direct one-on-one giving from one person to another. King Limhi does not ask that the money be given to him or his counselors so he can give it to the poor — he “commands” them (which I read as “exhorts” them) to give to the poor. Sounds like what stake presidents do all the time. I don’t see much difference between that and King Benjamin’s speech. On a further note, if you are truly interested in this subject, go to http://www.lds.org and do a scripture search on the word “tax.” You will not find a case when taxation is described in a positive light.

    Andrew, regarding your statement: “AND we can’t use the Book of Mormon, or even the Bible for that matter, as a textbook on which political philosophy is “true”, for that is not the intent for which the scriptures were written,” I both agree and disagree. Politics and religion are separate, but to claim that one’s religion has no bearing on one’s politics is to ignore reality. People on the left constantly state that they want a “just” or “fair” society. They see some people with millions while others starve as “unfair” and “unjust.” Well, how do you come to that conclusion? This is dependent on your personal morality, which is based, if you are a religious person, at least in part on your religion. If I had a dollar for every time I have read somebody write that the Book of Mormon means we shouldn’t have inequality or that the Savior wants govt to ensure there are fewer poor, believe me I would be a millionaire. It is of course a staple position on the left that justice and fairness mean you should try to bring equality of result. My contention has been and always will be that this is a complete misreading of the scriptures, except in the sense that the scriptures clearly state, in terms that are impossible to contradict, that we should give to the poor on a *personal basis.* My contention is that translating personal action into governmental action is simply taking the scriptures out of context. But I also agree with you that using the scriptures to decide how to run governments today is fraught with problems.

    DKL and Jon, thanks for very good comments. I have known women like the one you are describing, DKL, and Jon that is a great, great quotation, one that every Mormon should read.

  34. I agree with the spirit of this post. Our government should be servants to the people and where possible work alongside the to ensure they will not be a burden (our state legislatures actually make a pretty small salary actually and their salary increases have to be voted on by the people).

    I think a big distinction, though, is that we have a Democratically elected government and not a kingdom. One of the reasons King Noah got away with doing what he did was because the people had no way of stopping it except through violence.

    If Noah had to win an election every few years, I’m sure that would have curtailed some of his impulses or he would have never been in that position to begin with.

    I think there’s a limit to how much we can use these scriptural examples to guide us in modern day tax policy however. No one serious is advocating we should eliminate taxes. We need a government, a rule of law, and I would say some sort of safety net. Not to mention a school system available to everyone and not just those with means to pay for it. (And all kinds of other stuff we simply wouldn’t have if not for our government).

    I think you can learn general principles from the Scriptures, but be careful how literally you try to apply them toward today’s problems.

    That’s why we have modern prophets after all, and maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember hearing a modern prophet advocate against specifics in our current tax code.

  35. Geoff,

    Sorry, that wasn’t a quote (I accidentally added the quote tags). That was just my own words. I’ve edited the comment to remove the quote box.

  36. Geoff B.,

    May statement about the Book of Mormon not being “a textbook on which political philosophy is ‘true’” was not a statement on whether religion should impact how we vote or not; obviously religion affects the personal values of an individual, which impacts the policies & actions they support & the people or parties they vote for.

    Rather, it was a statement on how we can’t say that the governing system used among people in the Book of Mormon is the “truest” form of government or as the ultimate model of what government system is most endorsed by the Lord just because it’s in the Book of Mormon, even though we can learn from it & apply some of those principles to the time & places in which we live.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  37. Jon, then this is a quotation that should be read from the rooftops! I will repeat it:

    “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.”

    The physical equality must flow from virtue freely chosen, because virtue cannot flow from physical equality enacted by force.”

    Good stuff!

  38. Geoff,
    I’m going to come in on the side of the leftists, while still being against the leftists.
    It is certainly clear that gross financial equality is not the Lord’s way. However, what is equally clear is that the Lord’s way is for us to overcome that inequality through individual action and most importantly individual changes of heart. This should be clear to any Later-day saint, that the purpose of this life is not to end the world with an equal distribution of stuff.

    Early on in church history when the law of consecration was revealed, the Lord stated several times in variations revelations that the poor had been complaining to him. The Lord also pointed out in conjunction with this that he created the earth, all things are his. That the poor are his poor, and the rich he created. And he gives his commandments to consecrate our substance unto the poor specifically for our salvation.

    While it is crucial that we act to ease the temporal suffering of our brother and sisters the point is we have to decide to act individually. So one individual on the left who calls for these things may have his or her heart in the right place, but they are going about it in the wrong manner in my view. I do not think it is appropriate to require someone else to give their labor and substance without their consent. Certainly we do this at the margins with regard to defense. But we all benefit very directly from defense/roads. (and certainly we spend too much on both of those and get too little in return, but that’s another story)

    But it’s clear the Lord has commanded us to act. Read Alma 34 and see what Amulek says about those who do not give to the poor. The Lord commands us to do something about it. But he requires us to bring our will inline with his of our own free will and choice. And not to establish organizations and rules which force everyone else to come to our standard whether they want to or not.

  39. Guy, if we weren’t friends, I would think that is an extremely condescending comment.

    The truth is that your fellow liberals use the scriptures all the time to justify one moral position or the other. Haven’t you been following the Utah Compact discussion? You and I have had discussions about the death penalty and immigration and other policies on which we agree in which scriptural prescriptions are thrown around like fur in a cat fight.

    So, the reality is you find it amusing (apparently) when people use the scriptures in ways with which you disagree. You find it very useful and convenient when people use the scriptures in ways with which you agree.

  40. Geoff, I too think of us as friends. We’ve sparred back and forth online, have had the pleasure of our families meeting in person, and we still continue to spar online–and as you point out at times even agree. I didn’t consider your post condescending, only amusing. And, I did not mean my comment as you possibly construed it.

    You don’t think there’s a difference in using Scripture to be a guide in our lives on core doctrine such as helping the poor, do unto others, unto the least of these my brethren types of injunctions vs. the contortions in which you have to engage to extrapolate your tax ideas as somehow supported by the Book of Mormon? If we’re really going to use scripture for economic systems, let’s go back to that discussion you and I briefly had on Facebook:

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/acts/2/44#44

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/acts/4/32#32

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/3_ne/26/19#19

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/4_ne/1/3#3

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/moses/7/18#18

  41. Guy, much better comment. I guess my post wasn’t that amusing after all.

    Ok, let’s tackle this. The key phrase from your first four scriptures is that the righteous people had “all things in common.” The key phrase from the last is “no poor among them.”

    I think we can both agree that the evidence says that on a *personal* basis we should perform acts of service that help the poor and that at the very least we should pay our tithing and fast offerings and perform other acts of charity. In addition, we both agree that the temple ceremony asks us to consecrate our lives to the Church, meaning the kingdom of God. So in that sense consecration still exists.

    How does this all apply to 2010 and current economic policy? In your typical social democracy (the kind of society I think you favor), people don’t hold things in common. Let’s use your typical Scandinavian country as an example. Yes, people give more of their money to the government in terms of taxes, and yes there is more govt-run health care, but again they are not holding things in common. People still own their own homes or rent their own apartments, and most businesses are still privately run. People earn salaries, and, interestingly, give almost nothing to charities because they “gave at the office,” meaning they paid higher taxes and have already been charitable.

    In fact, I would argue that your average social democracy is the exact opposite of the Zion-like society we want to create because people engage in much less *personal* charity (which is the goal, remember) because they are forced through taxes to pay a higher percentage to “the poor” (very often relatively wealthy union members). As Jon says so eloquently above, “While a superficial equality could be achieved through the force of man made governments, it would be an empty equality, without virtue.”

    So, perhaps you really favor a communist system? Well, history has not been very kind to true communist systems, which are really nothing more than near-Satanic dictatorships (Cuba, North Korea, Communist China, the Soviet Union, Eastern bloc, etc). Yes, most people own things in common, but the small ruling class own almost everything and the things that most people own in common are worthless. So, I’d bet you don’t want a communist system either.

    Let’s be clear: what you want is the same thing I want. It is a communitarian system in which people voluntarily help out each other, a system where neighbors get along and out of the good of their hearts voluntarily agree to do good all of the time. It is system where there are no poor among us because people recognize the lack of those in need and voluntarily act to help them.

    History shows us that such systems exist in small communities for very short periods of time until the cares of the world destroy such systems. But note that there are several keys to achieving such a society: 1)it is community based (meaning local), 2)it is voluntary 3)it does not interfere with individual freedom.

    Sorry, Guy, there is no governmental system today that is anything like this.

    So, it seems to me we have two choices: 1)we can continue to refuse to accept reality and think that by voting for more govt we are really voting for the Zion-like ideal, when the more govt we get the farther we actually get from the Zion-like ideal. Or 2)we can, until the second coming, vote for the next best thing, which is to maximize human liberty, promote economic growth and freedom and try to move people to smaller government. I choose 2.

  42. Guy,

    The scriptures you cite identify the objective. But nowhere in the scriptures does it say that the vehicle by which the poor should be cared for and the people come to share all things in common is “government confiscation and redistribution.”

    Yet plenty of liberal Mormons cite the same scriptures you have to imply that those of us who think there are serious moral and practical problems with employing the government for mandatory redistribution toward that objective do so in contradiction to the scriptures.

    If I argue that the vehicle is not capable of getting us to the desired destination (as I did in my earlier comments) it is illogical to claim therefore that I oppose going to the destination. Yet this is often the way in which liberal Mormons employ these scriptures against conservatives.

    You need to defend the morality and suitability of the vehicle as a means to achieve the objective, not merely reiterate the objective as if that were the same thing.

  43. From my own personal experience, taxes levied to create large social programs with the intent of “helping the poor” in the long run do not help the poor or us.

    As someone whose stomach was kept filled by government funded reduced-price lunch (something that allowed me to focus on school rather than a rumbling belly) and whose parents went to school on government funded Pell-grants, I beg to differ.

    While the number of Americans in poverty’s been increasing lately, we’re still far below the numbers living in poverty before Johnson’s “Great Society.” According to this, the percentage of the population living in poverty has fallen from 22% to about 13% today.

    I realize statistics are far less compelling than anecdotes about lazy, good-for-nothing neighbors who we secretly despise (DLK and the Cadillac Turkey Momma) but the statistics say something your anecdotes ignore: millions of Americans live more prosperous, more comfortable lives because the government invested in them. And it is an investment, not truly welfare–most people who use welfare services for some length of time get off welfare within a few years and go on to be productive, tax-paying, contributing members of society. I’ve know quite a few success stories in my life. I’d hate for us to ignore those success stories simply because there are a few ‘bad apples’ out there.

  44. Kristine N, through one of those accidents in life, I grew up in an extremely poor community in rural California. My mother was a single parent. My best friend’s family lived off of various welfare programs. Other families refused to accept welfare for various reasons. I say this because I have seen all kinds of poor families, those who work hard and remain poor and never accept welfare out of pride, those who don’t work and have no problem with “living off the government” and those who accept help temporarily to get them through a difficult time. In all of this, the only general trend I can gather is that I would probably agree with you that we should give the poor food stamps and some basic level of subsistence, and that this should be provided by government. We should continually push people to become self-sufficient and force them into the work force as much as possible by making govt assistance temporary. This is not the system we have today.

    Today we have unemployment insurance that lasts nearly two years because we have to “help the poor.” We have Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP and Obamacare and a myriad of health programs that we can’t afford. We have a Social Security system that is already in the red. We have various housing, food stamp and other programs that people feel entitled to their entire lives. And in my experience if you oppose *any* of these programs, even because they don’t work, you are an insensitive, greedy person who hates the poor.

    So, which is it: do you support temporary programs that really help the poor emerge from poverty so they can be self-sustaining or do you support large government programs that don’t work very well and are bankrupting the country? If is is the former, then we are in agreement. But I have a feeling it is the latter, although you would probably describe it differently.

  45. Wow… I really want to jump into the discussion but can’t figure out how to.

    Okay, let me first point out that there is actually yet another example of taxes in the BoM. I don’t have time to look it up, but after King Noah was removed from office, the Lamanite king taxed the Nephites 50%!!!

    I used to have a joke where I would point to the part of the BoM where it mentions how evil Noah was for 20% and how much worse the king of the Lamanite was for 50%. Then I say, which are we today?

    But here is the thing, I honestly feel this is a difficult comparision to make. It is true that nowhere in the scriptures do taxes get a good wrap.

    But it is also true that no where in the scriptures does interest payments get a good wrap. Yet I still have no issue with mortgage payments and frankly the capitalistic system can’t survive without them.

    That being said, I have to agree with C.S. Lewis in this regard. I really don’t know that God intended for us to learn from the scriptures that we shouldn’t modernly not have interest payments (or taxes). But it absolutely gives me pause that it says so many negative things.

    Plus, if we are going to accept that taxes and interest payments are unavoidable in modern society, I think we can at least be as part and minimal with it as possible. For example, I know I’ll get flamed for this, but I think it was a massive mistake to allow businesses to get a tax break on interest payments for loans. This virtually guarentees that companies will stay in debt forever and not try to use their profits to run the business because they can’t be competitive if they are ‘self sufficient.’ I think this is a HUGE problem and the end result is a over debted society with a fairly fragile economy with few deep roots.

  46. I don’t understand how this passages have anything to do with our day, or current society?
    True. A righteous society with a righteous king makes it possible for them to support each other, spread the wealth basically, and voluntarily is the keyword, you said it right Geoff.

    But thinking about our society,today, let’s just go back a couple years ago, to the Great Depression. We were talking about this very subject the other day on my BOM class, and one student brought up this point. During the Depression, dozens of people died in California, where was the voluntary support? Not even the Church was able to sustain it’s members and the people in the area, hence the need for the government to jump in and help, hence the beginning of all the programs that we are taxed for. True it is a complex issue, in a society characterized by individualism and self reliance, but there are those that really do need help from the government, because not everyone is like the people that lived in King Benjamin’s time, and not everyone knows of the LDS church. So to view taxes as evil? No quite. To view Government as evil? Don’t think so either. I think it just falls on the necessities, complexities and current political arena. On the other hand, we complain about taxes, yet we enjoy all the benefits it brings to us and we use them (hum hum grants? Roads? ) We just contradict ourselves too much, we ask a lot from government yet we expect it to sustain itself and magically come up with all the money to carry out it’s role, oh, let’s not forget the war’s we are involved in. We American’s just confuse the heck out of politicians making their job a tad, harder.

  47. do you support temporary programs that really help the poor emerge from poverty so they can be self-sustaining or do you support large government programs that don’t work very well and are bankrupting the country? If is is the former, then we are in agreement. But I have a feeling it is the latter, although you would probably describe it differently.

    Yeah, it is, and I would, in that I’d describe the ‘bankrupting of our country’ as resulting from unfunded wars and irresponsible tax cuts.

    I don’t get why taxes are such a boogey man for Republicans anyway. We live in a free society, but as so many people are fond of pointing out, freedom isn’t free. It’s actually pretty expensive. Our government does an awful lot with the money it takes from us in terms of keeping us safe and providing us with the skills we need to contribute. If our government weren’t so involved in our lives, it’s likely none of us would be as prosperous as we are today because access to education would be limited by class, there wouldn’t be as many protections for us individually, or opportunities for advancement, and it’s likely just getting around this country (which is an essential part of interstate commerce) would be a lot more difficult. America’s prospered because we prospered together–we lifted everyone up, not just the wealthy. The government’s played an important role in growing our economy and, for a long time, in seeing that the benefits of economic growth are distributed to everyone.

    And I second what Bruce and Phil said.

  48. There is much to be desired about our tax system, but the simple fact is that without taxes there would be no nation. No air traffic control system, no military, no dams in the arid west, no student loans, no public universities, nothing. To argue against taxation is, to be kind, juvenile. Besides, the United States has the lowest tax rate of any industrialized nation. We have problems with our tax system that need to be fixed, such as the mortgage interest deduction (why should be subsidize million dollar homes or large, corporate farms?), but if you don’t believe in taxes, try living someplace that doesn’t have any first.

  49. Aaron, it certainly is juvenile to have $14 trillion in debt. Well, actually not juvenile, more like a case of sudden maturity hitting you in the face. Most Americans these days are like those 18-year-old teenagers saying they would love to live away from home and have freedom, and when their parents kick them out of the house they suddenly face the fact that they have to come up with a rent payment, a car payment, a cell phone payment, a car insurance payment, etc, etc. The payments are the debt that we are continuing to pretend is not there. So, is it juvenile to ignore the debt or to face it and try to deal with the fact that we cannot spend the way we have been?

    Being mature about our actual situation involves a look at what government really should provide and what it shouldn’t. In economics, there are such things as public goods, which are things that a government needs to provide because nobody else would. A military. Police. Fire. A court system. So, we can agree that any society, especially one as large as ours, should provide those. Everything else, in my opinion, is up for discussion. Should 85-year-olds without kids be paying for education? I’m not convinced. Personally, I think most education should be privatized. You mention air traffic control. Did you know that air traffic control is privatized in many countries and it works fine? How about a postal service? Well, there are such things as Fedex and various other private companies that could take over our bankrupt postal service.

    I love how liberals always bring up “unfunded wars” as if only Republicans start wars. Anybody ever hear of Kosovo, Vietnam, the invasion of the Dominican Republic, World War I and Korea? How about increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan? You could easily argue that U.S. participation in all of these wars was avoidable, and they were all started by Democrats, most of them liberal heroes like LBJ, Wilson and, yes, Obama.

    How’s this for thinking differently: I am in favor of cutting the defense department in HALF. We currently spend about $700 billion on defense. I am in favor of getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq and taking our troops out of Japan and Germany. I would make a deal with the Chinese and get out of Korea.

    But even if you cut $350 billion from the Defense Department, we still have a $1 trillion yearly debt to deal with, and we have not touched the real sources of our debt long-term, which are Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

    So, let’s discuss what is juvenile and what is not. It is juvenile to think we can continue to fund government programs endlessly because we are “helping the poor.” And it is juvenile to think that you have a right to anybody else’s money.

  50. Geoff,

    I didn’t actually read the original comment you are responding to, so I’m neither agreeing nor disagree with Aaron.

    But I think your point about us being “juvenile” is dead on.

  51. As Jon says so eloquently above, “While a superficial equality could be achieved through the force of man made governments, it would be an empty equality, without virtue.”

    Jon is a friend of mine so it is distressing whenever I see him make these judgments. In my view it seems that what Jon has written far too casually judges others of harboring empty virtue.

    Social market economies are based on real virtue. The taxes in place are the result of the democratic process, i.e. the representatives of the people who have been elected democratically have legislated the taxes that apply in teh face of full political accountability to the people whom they represent. This means that the people are choosing the taxes. This is a voluntary act and represents mass consecration. The government is chosen as a vehicle to achieve charitable ends. To casually dismiss this as without virtue is troubling.

    How do you know that this is not exactly what Zion will be like? A society in which all those who are privileged to be a part agree on the framework for giving and then give accordingly to a centralized administration that can coordinate the effort in alleviating suffering and the effects of poverty?

    I think a Mormon or two will be surprised when their Bishop assigns them to consecrate X amount to X charity project.

  52. The government is chosen as a vehicle to achieve charitable ends.

    Sorry, John, I do not see the Constitution as a framework for establishing government as a charitable institution. Where in the Constitution does it say the government is supposed to function like a charity?

  53. 51 and 55 are both excellent comments.

    The Europeans I’ve spoken to about taxes are happy to pay those taxes if it means the poor are cared for. I think in some ways they’re closer to the gospel ideal of willingly (and actually) taking care of the poor than Americans are.

  54. Tim,

    If you read the article I linked to in comment 57, you will see that the government is extremely inefficient when it comes to delivering charity. Private charities do a much better job of caring for people.

    I am happy to pay taxes for Constitutional and necessary government programs. I do, however, object to my money being used to bail out Wall Street robber barons, funding manure research, bridges to nowhere, expanding underutilized airports, etc., etc., etc.

  55. John F, as you know, we have a republic, not a democracy, in the United States. And one of the primary reasons is that in a democracy if you ask people to vote on the proposition, “the top 1 percent of earners should pay higher taxes to finance the bottom 99 percent,” of course the majority of people are going to be in favor of it. But it doesn’t make it right, just or effectual in creating a working society. A system that takes money from a few to give to the many is not just, and personally I think that the scriptures, especially the ones I cited, show that when you take from some to give to others you are usually trampling on rights in ways that end up hurting your society more than helping.

    I have tried to have this discussion with you on other threads, and we seem to talk past each other, but let me ask you this: if 51 percent of U.S. voters decide that it is fair to take properties away from Mormons and give it to Catholics, is that fair or just? So clearly our standard must be something other than, “the democratic process is the fair way to decide what is virtuous and voluntary.”

    For latter-day Saints, there is a better definition of “virtue.” That is doing as Christ did. And as I point out way up in this thread, Christ was virtuous at least in part because he *personally* helped the poor and encouraged others to follow his example. Christ did not ask the rich to give all they have to government so it could be distributed to others — he asked them to do it *personally.*

    Tim, I really think you need to take a long look at European societies’ social welfare states. On a purely practical basis, those social welfare states are falling like dominoes from over-spending. But on another level, you need to take a look at charitable giving and volunteership in Western Europe compared to the United States. The data show that Western Europeans are *much* less likely to give on a personal basis than Americans, and one of the key reasons is that they pay higher taxes.

    http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577

    Just to use one example, only 12 percent of Swedes report volunteering in the last month, compared to 39 percent of Americans.

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

  56. Geoff, Europeans give on a personal basis by supporting legislation that sets up an appropriate tax framework and then paying those taxes.

    Your comments to me about a Republic vs. Democracy are off base. As you know, in guaranteeing us a republican form of government, our Constitution guarantees that we will always live in a democracy. Our Republic is a democracy and functions according to the same principles of representative government as the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe, most of whose constitutions are informed by the US Constitution.

    Trying to draw a distinction between a Republic and a Democracy and use that as a basis for meaningful conclusions about the supposed evils of taxation WITH representation might get someone some mileage in the Alpine school district but it falls short in a discussion where people who have expressed their virtue by supporting elected representatives who construct appropriate social-net oriented taxation policies in Europe’s republics and constitutional monarchies (which are also parliamentary democracies) are characterised as being devoid of virtue or of only possessing hollow virtues.

  57. John F.,

    I am certain that almost all of my riends who advocate achieving Zion through government confiscation and redistribution of wealth are completely sincere in their belief in the righteousness of their cause. The impulse is generally righteous even if the method is catastrophically wrong-headed.

    The problem with the kind of democratic charity you describe is the issue of unanimity. Unanimity, if ever achieved, will not last long. So, in your democratic system there will essentially always be those, probably in the minority, who are being forced to give their own property to others. Forcing them to give to the poor does not make them virtuous. On the flip side, while those who do support the system as a way to voluntarily give their own property to the poor are virtuous in their own giving, there is no virtue in forcing your stingy neighbor to give her property to the poor in addition to your own.

    Rather than being distressed at my supposedly “casual” judgement of other’s virtue, why don’t you make a positive argument that:

    1. There is virtue in being forced to give your own substance to the poor against your will.

    2. There is virtue in forcing others to give to the poor against their will.

    3. That forcing or being forced to give to the poor produces both a more Christlike, Zion people on both a collective and individual level.

    I don’t believe you can do it. In fact, your own description of a Zion society recognizes the issue of unanimity: “A society in which all those who are privileged to be a part agree on the framework…” [Emphasis mine].

  58. Jon, in a democracy (or a Republic, Geoff) there is always a segment of society that is in the democratic minority, i.e. people whose candidates lost in the election and who therefore do not support the proposals and policies of the winning side. Your comment seems more of a strike against the fundamentals of democracy (or Republics, Geoff) than anything else.

    You are actually on to something there. The scriptures tell us that if it were possible for us to always have a righteous king, then that would be better than (it is implied) a rudimentary system of hereditary judgeship in which basic democratic principles play some kind of role (i.e. the system we observe in much of the Book of Mormon after the Law Reforms of King Mosiah and after the Civil War at the beginning of Alma). But this is not possible because you get kings like Noah whose taxation went to enriching himself and his priests and to erecting monuments to himself. This, of course, has no basis for comparison to taxation in representative democracies, and perhaps that is why representative democracy is the best option that we have in our fallen world — because at least in a representative democracy the taxes that exist are an expression of the will of the people and the representative who have enacted those taxes are politically accountable to the electorate, which is not the case with taxes imposed by an absolutist tyrant like King Noah.

  59. John F, not sure where the Alpine school district is, but it appears we are talking past each other again. I will try one more time and then, if we can’t see eye-to-eye, I’ll just have to put in the category of: “we agree to disagree.”

    My point with a republic vs. a democracy has to do with the age-old question of, “is a majority opinion always right?” My point is that the Founders realized that a majority opinion was not always right. The majority of Americans in 1789 thought slavery should be legal. They were morally wrong. So, clearly, a majority position on something — pure democracy — does not make any position virtuous. The Founders were also concerned about the issue of people without property voting to take away things from people with property. If you have pure majority rule, there are fewer people with large amounts of property than people without property. So relying on the writings of Locke, Montesquieu and others, the Founders realized that a pure democracy without a variety of checks and balances with ensure that the virtue of respect for property would be balanced with societal needs.

    My only point was to help you understand that just because people vote for something, does not ipso facto make it morally correct or virtuous.

    Our “virtuous” democracy has also voted in people who have allowed us to accumulate $14 trillion in debt. Our democracy has also voted in such luminaries as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter as recent presidents. So clearly democracies can make mistakes and very often do.

    My argument is very simple: I don’t deny that our current taxation system is the result of the democratic process. I deny that is is virtuous, and I am actively trying to change it through the democratic process by influencing as many people as possible. My influence so far doesn’t extend to you, but hopefully I might change a mind or two and get people to think about things differently. I am actively participating in the democratic process to further my viewpoint that our current levels of taxation are morally wrong. In so doing, I am appealing to Latter-day Saints by using scriptures that, in my opinion, clearly support my point of view. You disagree. Well, I guess I must not be that convincing to you. But I am not rejecting the entire democratic process by putting forth my opinions — I am acting within the democratic process.

    You argument appears to me to be: “people voted for it, and they are voting for things that they are virtuous, so they must be making correct decisions.” Now, again, I might be completely misunderstanding your argument (as I say, we seem to talk past each other a lot), but this seems to me a ridiculous argument. People in the South overwhelmingly supported slavery in 1960. They thought it was more virtuous and actually better for the slaves than freedom. In addition, the armies of the South were fighting for their right to self-government, which they also saw as overwhelmingly good. Was the position of the South correct, yes or no? Obviously not. Freedom is the most important imperative for all human beings, and the right to secession is not a right that is virtuous, especially if you are doing it so you can maintain people as slaves. So, the democratic process failed and brought about something that was not virtuous (in the case of majority opinion in the South).

    My argument is that this is happening again. I do not deny that the overwhelming growth in the size of govt took place because of the democratic process. I do not deny that most people are voting for more government because they think they are doing something good. My point is that, using the democratic process and argument, I am trying to change what I think is an injustice. I do not think it is virtuous to bankrupt our country through massive social programs. I believe these programs do more harm than good. And I believe a reading of the scriptures in their totality, especially the stories of King Noah and King Benjamin, show the dangers of taxation.

    Is that clearer now?

  60. Geoff, in the Alpine school district earlier this year some activists were touting the line that we live in a Republic not a democracy to make points about the socialist nature of school textbooks, a quote on the wall of a school district building and how BYU had become a socialist training ground.

    I deny that is is virtuous, and I am actively trying to change it through the democratic process by influencing as many people as possible

    I applaud you in doing this because I am a believer in representative democracy, whether Republican or parliamentary. More power to you. If you are able to achieve your ends, you will have an immense sense of satisfaction and no doubt you will feel that you have promoted the greater good, even if more people are suffering due to a reduction in the social engagement undertaken by our government in the fields of education, housing, feeding the poor eetc.

    What concerns me is your appeal to scripture to support this, particularly your use of the example of King Noah.

    I don’t think you will find any support in the scriptures for labelling a society’s collective action in addressing the suffering of the poor immoral. To the contrary, the single biggest message of the Book of Mormon after testifying of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of his Atonement is that of the moral condemnation a society brings upon itself by failing to address glaring disparities between rich and poor and by grinding the face of the poor, to use Isaiah’s phrase as quoted by Nephi.

    I would encourage you not to use the King Noah example when referring to taxation in constitutional republics and parliamentary democracies. Two short key differences that render the analogy unusable are as follows: (1) King Noah’s taxes were not for the benefit of the people but for his own enrichment and building palaces for his own pleasure; (2) the taxes at issue in King Noah’s society were not enacted by democratically elected representatives of the people who were enacting the will of their constituencies to the best of their conscience. Sadaam Hussein’s totalitarianism is a much better comparison to King Noah’s absolutism.

    In 4th Nephi we read of a society living by Christian principles that enjoyed a utopia of no disparities between rich and poor and no ethnic strife or contentions for hundreds of years. We are not told, however, what the status of taxation was in their society, whether it was a social democracy in which the people collectively voluntarily decided to contribute to a central pot for redistribution by relevant authorities according to need (which is what we have in the free market democracies of Western Europe) or whether it was some kind of benevolent dictatorship that effected this redistribution (more likely if the system of theocratic hereditary judgeship was perpetuated during this time period). If the United Order of the Doctrine and Covenants provides any clue, then it was a mixture of both because of the principle of common consent that is supposed to govern in Church affairs. However, redistribution is still taking place. Taxation as it occurs in modern representative democracies (which did not exist in scriptural times) is therefore likely a red herring in discussions about what the scriptures say about the morality of taxation.

    Elder Oaks, however, has taught that it is immoral not to pay duly enacted taxes and, at the same time, he counseled against trying to appeal to Elder Benson to justify not filing tax returns.

    Also, as has been pointed out, the Church actually tacitly endorses the social welfare programs enacted in modern industrialized representative democracies because of its explicit policies of sending those seeking assistance to the relevant government programs first, before making any contributions out of the Church’s fast offering funds.

  61. John F.,

    You said: “Jon, in a democracy (or a Republic, Geoff) there is always a segment of society that is in the democratic minority, i.e. people whose candidates lost in the election and who therefore do not support the proposals and policies of the winning side. Your comment seems more of a strike against the fundamentals of democracy (or Republics, Geoff) than anything else.”

    You have conceded that the system you advocate would always be forcing some number of people to give their property to others against their will.

    But you have failed to make a positive argument for the virtue of forced charity. I believe you are incapable of successfully arguing that forced charity produces virtue in either the forcer or forced, as well as arguing that it creates a more Christlike, Zion people BOTH individually and collectively.

    Until you address this key issue, all your hemming and hawing about scriptural instructions to care for the poor and your beloved social democracies in which “people collectively voluntarily [decide] to contribute to a central pot for redistribution by relevant authorities according to need” are irrelevant because you have already admitted that the contribution of a minority of the people, possibly even a significant minority, will always be involuntary.

    Make your case for forcing these to give and how that produces Christlike individuals and a Zion people or concede that you cannot.

  62. John F, much better comment, and much better arguments.

    Let’s take them on.

    1)”even if more people are suffering due to a reduction in the social engagement undertaken by our government in the fields of education, housing, feeding the poor, etc.”

    I am in favor of temporary assistance with the intention of getting people off govt assistance as quickly as possible. I believe more harm is done by people remaining on govt assistance than is done by severely reducing this assistance. In short, the government should be making sure people do not starve but should rely on private charities for most other activities. I favor a radical privatization of education with the goal of decreasing the government role as much as possible. This is probably an area where we will simply never find agreement because it goes to the core’s of one’s political beliefs, so this falls into the category of “agree to disagree.”

    2)”I don’t think you will find any support in the scriptures for labelling a society’s collective action in addressing the suffering of the poor immoral. To the contrary, the single biggest message of the Book of Mormon after testifying of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of his Atonement is that of the moral condemnation a society brings upon itself by failing to address glaring disparities between rich and poor and by grinding the face of the poor, to use Isaiah’s phrase as quoted by Nephi.”

    I think you radically misunderstand these scriptures. You are ignoring that a society cannot change without individual actions by individuals. A society cannot “grind the face of the poor” without individuals deciding to do so. Once again, we should follow the example of the Savior who performed personal charity but never called on governmental authority to perform charity. Here is the problem with seeing “societal condemnation” the way you describe: it takes away individual responsibility. If the entire society is responsible, then how I am personally responsible? In your description, the condemnation is not aimed at me, it is aimed at the entire society, and there’s not much I can do about that. I can’t change the entire United States, so if the United States is under condemnation, it is all those other people, not me. This is the exact opposite of the message of the Gospel, which calls for personal responsibility and personal action. So, society may be under condemnation for grinding the poor, but I can do my small part by volunteering and paying tithing and fast offerings. In short, I really think you need to reconsider your position on this, which ignores the primary message from the scriptures.

    3)”I would encourage you not to use the King Noah example when referring to taxation in constitutional republics and parliamentary democracies. Two short key differences that render the analogy unusable are as follows: (1) King Noah’s taxes were not for the benefit of the people but for his own enrichment and building palaces for his own pleasure; (2) the taxes at issue in King Noah’s society were not enacted by democratically elected representatives of the people who were enacting the will of their constituencies to the best of their conscience. Sadaam Hussein’s totalitarianism is a much better comparison to King Noah’s absolutism.”

    There are no examples in the scriptures where taxes are discussed positively. There is an inherent respect for property rights throughout the scriptures, including, btw, all the way through the D&C. My point is exactly that it is totalitarian systems like Noah’s that tax people excessively and it is in virtuous systems like King Benjamin’s where they don’t. We should aim for a King Benjamin-like society and remember property rights, not a King Noah-like society where we don’t.

    4)The principle of taxation is exactly the same today as it was in ancient times. It is taking somebody else’s property and forcibly giving it to another person without your consent. This is the exact opposite of a Zion society. I will agree with you that we have no idea what that Zion society will look like, but it will involve voluntary participants giving of their own free will. Now, the vast majority of people are certain that the vast majority of their taxes go to things they don’t agree with, and they pay because if they don’t they are fined and/or sent to jail. Again, this is the exact opposite of a Zion society and involves force, not voluntary action.

    5)Your Elder Oaks comparison is a straw man argument. Nobody is arguing that you personally should not pay your taxes. If you don’t, you’ll get fined or go to jail. Pay your taxes. In the meanwhile, some of us are fighting so they will be lower.

    6)The Church asks people to ask for governmental assistance in some cases, but I have served in bishoprics, and every bishop I have seen writes a check for temporary assistance when asked. Yes, they are sometimes asked if they can get help from friends or family or the government, but the actual process (regardless of what the handbook says) involves giving money to needy people. So, even if the handbook says you should appeal for govt assistance, many bishops don’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. In any case, the Church is asking for people to look at all possible resources. This is basic common sense and has nothing to do with ideology and the Church’s position on political issues.

  63. John, I have not made a case against all democracy. Democracy has a proper role within a certain sphere. I have made a case against employing democracy inappropriately in an attempt to produce the trappings of Zion (all in common, no poor), without regard to the essential, underlying virtue of Charity and Christlike individuals.

    Zion is the pure in heart. All in Common and No Poor are the accoutrements of Zion; the outward signs of internal virtue. They are the consequences of virtue, not the cause of it.

    You cannot produce Christlike, charitable people by imposing upon them the outward appearance of Zion any more than you can produce a faithful people by forcing them to be baptized and attend weekly sacrament meetings at the point of a sword. Neither the forcer nor the forced is virtuous. Such a system has a form of godliness but denies the power there of.

    Can you refute this?

  64. John F, your comment #67 exactly captures why we seem to be talking past each other on this issue. Your position seems to be: “if the majority of people vote for it, it must be right.” To take that position, you must then logically take the position that *everything* the majority of people vote for is right, including slavery, poll taxes, electing Richard Nixon, etc., etc.

    The point Jon and I are making is: yes, people voted for the positions that got us to where we are now in some cases. In other cases, judges made erroneous decisions ignoring the Constitution or reinterpreting the commerce clause and the general welfare clauses in ways that were way off base. People voted for positions that ignored property rights. Our argument is that the majority of people made decisions that were wrong, which is exactly why we are sitting here with 9.8 percent unemployment and $14 trillion in debt. Our position is people need to make other decisions. (I hope you don’t mind me making an argument for you, Jon).

  65. Jon, I think your argument fails, to some extent at least, because there are other uses for taxes besides promoting virtue among the populace. There is value in paying taxes to maintain the interstate highway system and the police force regardless of whether it makes me a better person or not.

    Geoff, the problem with claiming that charity is better taken care of by private parties is that we always come back to the question of why there are charity cases to begin with. If private charities are so great, why don’t private parties take care of it so public entities don’t think they need to get involved?

  66. Mark Brown,

    My argument is not against taxes in general. Mine is specifically directed at those Mormons who advocate government confiscation and redistribution of wealth by citing scriptural references to establishing Zion, with all things in common and no poor among them.

    Interstate highways, public schools, libraries and parks, and police protection are available to everyone equally. A rich woman can take advantage of them if wanted or needed as well as a poor man. But the redistribution of wealth is fundamentally different. It is available exclusively to the poor at the expense of the rich. That is really a different argument then the one I am making.

  67. I think anyone interested in discerning the truth of the socialism issue as it relates to the United Order really should read and consider this
    http://codylds.wordpress.com/2007/05/06/marion-g-romney-socialism-and-the-united-order/

    Especially without knee jerk assumptions. It’s really saddening to me to see some of us so quick to just chalk up true principles as mere political opinions when they are taught from those who are near to the Lord and have carefully considered and patiently tried to persuade these things to us.

    Do you think the Apostles and Prophets who laid the current foundation of church leaders were really so petty as to be concerned with political intrigue? Do you think their cause was not Zion? Or is it you just think you can clearly discern while it is they who were confused. Perhaps you might want to twist that thought around on to yourself? At least consider it?

    I’d say start from the truth. You have true and righteous feelings there is something wrong here. There is something wrong with the rich who scream for lower taxes for its own sake (so they can greedily accumulate more). There is something wrong with not seeking to exalt the poor and help them lift themselves up wherever possible. But this does not follow that what is right is to enact a carefully enacted scheme to ensure these things come to pass. Most of the prophets and apostles have seen this and many have spoken on it.

    This is not a call to “get back in line”. But to consider the principles at work on both sides of the equation and not be so quick to dismiss as mere misguided political opinion the dozens of very clear quotations to the contrary.

  68. Mark Brown, 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.

  69. While I find this topic very interesting, unfortunately I don’t have time to read through all the thoughts and insights added. Just want to throw a couple of things out there.

    It’s interesting that liberal leaning Americans so easily limit the supposed goodness of wealth distribution to this country. Soak the greedy rich to feed the poor! It’s only fair!

    But why should that be limited to the US? Let’s equalize things around the world! That’s REALLY charitable!

    So, who want to figure out how much each person gets when we do that?

    Tell you what, the day that Obama, Biden, Pelosi, and Reid give every thing they have OVER THE NATIONAL AVERAGE — or better yet, as I’ve suggested, the WORLD average, then they have a credible case for actually believing in wealth distribution. Until then, it’s just a power play.

    I believe that the idea that it’s moral to forcibly take from those who earn and give to someone else comes from three actual causes:

    (1) People who want to buy power by promising free goodies to constituents

    (2) People who want something for nothing

    (3) People who feel bad that others are less fortunate and want to assuage that guilt without the complete PERSONAL sacrifice that putting their money where their mouth is would require — instead, they want to force others to collectively assuage their guilt (although, as I said, if they’re logical, no matter how far they go, there will still be plenty of guilt (poverty, sickness, misfortune) to go around)

    So, yes, I think PEOPLE should take care of themselves and PEOPLE should help other PEOPLE (and, note, conservatives give vastly more of their own money to charity than liberals). And I think government should get out of the babysitting business. And, yes, I think we’d have to undergo a weaning process to get there.

    Rant out. Have fun.

  70. Alison, thanks for dropping by. I would add that I don’t actually question the motives of most left-leaning Mormons who favor redistribution. I disagree with them fervently, but I think they are mostly well-intentioned. I think that, just like John F above, they misunderstand what the scriptures say about societal condemnation vs. personal action. But their intentions are good. For most politicians, however, I agree with your comment above.

  71. I have some strong opinions on taxes and how much of my money the government should get, but I always appreciate having a thoughtful dialogue on the issues with those who have differing opinions.

    I love and appreciate Matt B’s comment #25 about the Savior teaching about rendering to Caesar and rendering to God. Despite our differences politically, we have the example of the Savior on how we should act. If we are following the Savior’s example in our personal lives, little else matters in terms of our politics.

  72. After thirteen years of a government committed to tax and spend that almost drove the UK off the fiscal cliff, Britain now enjoys a coalition government, led by David Cameron’s Conservatives. We are now beginning a process of massive government cuts and lower taxes. It’s not popular — witness the riots in London yesterday in which even Prince Charles’s car was attacked. However, deep down the country knows it is necessary medicine and I predict the Conservatives will do well in the next general election. People tend to trust good economics, even if it hurts them.

    I am a card-carrying supporter of the Conservatives and back their current programme of shrinking government and getting people off welfare. But this conversation is a reminder of how completely American Tea Party conservatism has lost the plot. It is unthinkable that conservatives here would rail against the evils of taxation and use scripture to do so. One can support small government and welfare-to-work without descending into Ayn Rand insanity.

    N.B. Cameron (= normal) Conservatism put him in 10 Downing Street.

  73. To add to that, mainstream conservatism in Britain is interested in social justice through welfare to work, civil libertarianism, internationalism, green conservatism, lower taxation, a strong identity for England, repatriating power from Europe and retaining stronger national defence capabilities.

    Ordinary folk in England angry at New Labour’s profligacy nod their head at such ideas. On the other hand, what Geoff is promoting here is seen as crazy talk. Please note, I am not saying that American and British conservatism are or ought to be the same. However, if you want to win elections, I would suggest you take a few steps closer to the centre.

  74. Ronan, I respect your opinion, and I consider us friends on Facebook and elsewhere. It’s interesting that you feel a need to demean people who disagree with you by throwing around terms like “insanity” and “crazy talk.” On occasion, I have used similar but I would say less forceful terms on BCC, for example, to discuss various political issues, and Mark Brown and others have swooped in to decry my use of such non-charitable language. I predict that Mark, if he is still monitoring this thread, will not take such a stand against even stronger language here. I have never, for example, said that people who disagree with me are engaging in “crazy talk.” So, the message is: it is OK to demean people you disagree with. Funny that I’ve never heard such talk at Conference — in fact, at Conference you hear talks about civility, not calling people who disagree with you “crazy.”

    It seems that your point is to distance yourself from such viewpoints rather than to actually have a discussion. Fine. We get it. You think it is crazy. Well, I and many others don’t. I think you will find such viewpoints widespread in America, and there are a few people who share them in Europe. My reading of the press shows that opposition to rising taxes is actually increasing in Europe, so apparently my line of thinking is not so crazy after all. Do you really think it is productive to simply marginalize rather than discuss?

    I think some of the steps being taken by the Conservatives in the UK are admirable. I like the sense of community that is being created to take on decades of over-spending. I visit the UK regularly, however, and I would not choose to live there because I disagree with giving such a high percentage of my income to a wasteful central government. I prefer direct charity.

    But notice, I do not think you are crazy for living under such a system and for holding the political views you have. So, which one of us is being more charitable and in line with how modern-day prophets ask us to behave in our public discourse?

  75. My point is exactly that it is totalitarian systems like Noah’s that tax people excessively and it is in virtuous systems like King Benjamin’s where they don’t. We should aim for a King Benjamin-like society and remember property rights, not a King Noah-like society where we don’t.

    Geoff, we don’t have a King Noah-type society. We live in a constitutional republic whose laws are created by democratically elected representatives of the people. Taxation in a system such as ours represents the will of the people. When the people no longer will it, they will send representatives to repeal the taxes.

    There is no possible comparison to King Noah, his system or his taxes.

  76. That Joseph in Egypt was so down with the temporary nature of taxation that, according to the Bible, after the period of rationing he used the dole to actually buy all the land and cattle and, eventually, all the people in Egypt (aside from the Israelites). God must have approved Joseph’s plan.

  77. I actually think Rand was insane: no-one can be that nihilistic and lacking in basic compassion and claim to be reasonable. Also, the weird sexual masochism in her books coupled with the rambling prose is a warning sign. So, I won’t retract that one.

    As for the crazy talk jibe: please note, Geoff, that I wasn’t calling you crazy nor necessarily promoting my own view on that matter, just reporting that the European centre-right majority would find this stuff crazy.

    I regret using that language to the extent that it has made you ignore the substance of my comments, namely this:

    I support the radical deficit reduction plans of the UK government and the shrinking of the welfare state. This is an unprecedented peacetime move on the UK government’s part. Even Thatcher did not go this far. So, this is bona fide conservatism that most American Republicans would support. I hear that David Cameron is widely admire over there. Like you we want smaller government and less taxes and we’re getting it.

    But my point is this: to then couple such policy with talk of the intrinsic evil of taxation, an argument then supported by an appeal to religious proof-texting, is far, far beyond even the wildest thoughts of hard core Tories in the UK. I also don’t think it’s representative of the Republican mainstream in the US and I don’t think it will bring back the White House.

    My appeal to you as a fellow conservative across the Atlantic is to return to the party of Reagan and Thatcher.

  78. John F, my point was that this is where the logic you are referring to leads. That’s exactly what we want to avoid, the logic that leads to not making personal change because the entire society is corrupt.

    John F, I think you are seriously misunderstanding the message in the scriptures regarding societal condemnation, and let me tell you why. God condemns societies so that individuals look at their individual actions and try to change. Your comment way up in #65 seems to imply that the condemnation is only collective, ie, that a society in its entirety can only be culpable. This is the exact opposite of what the scriptures say in so many places, from Abraham questions the Lord’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to every condemnation in the Book of Mormon.

    You seem to be claiming that we are under collective condemnation because taxes are not high enough and are therefore not taking care of the poor. OK, according to you, we are under collective condemnation because of our policy prescriptions. OK, God also condemns society for committing murder. What would you say to an evangelical who came on M* and said the entire society is under condemnation because abortion is legal? I know exactly what you would say: he’s judgemental, doesn’t understand the nuances, etc, etc. What would you say to an evangelical who came on M* and said the entire society is under condemnation because we allow gay marriage and don’t penalize sodomy enough? Again, judgemental, etc.

    I would agree with you because societal condemnation in the scriptures is about changing individual action so that we become Christ-like people. We change the society by making individual choices. In the case of the issue of charitable giving, we change the society by making the personal choice to become more charitable. I simply don’t accept the point of view that in God’s eyes we become more Christ-like if we lobby the government to raise rich people’s taxes (therefore taking away their property) so the money can be given to a central bureaucracy for inefficient distribution.

    You seem willing to condemn entire societies (and use the scriptures to justify it) to further your political positions. As I say, I don’t think you understand what the scriptures mean about societal condemnation.

  79. John C, I know this is a long thread, but I address Joseph way up in comment #3. This is the only positive example I can come up with in the scriptures of using taxes. It is temporary and it is for a societal emergency. And notice that by Moses’ time, taxes are described negatively because the new Pharoah uses taxes to oppress the Jews.

  80. Geoff,
    It is neither temporary nor a good example (it leads to permanent state ownership of people). It is also, apparently, suggested by God. So, you are completely misreading it and its moral direction.

  81. Geoff, your # 74 is much more like it. Kudos. You did that without a single misplaced reference to King Noah or comparing our constitutional Republic to King Noah’s absolutist tyranny, our taxes raised for the purpose of providing benefits to the people with King Noah’s taxes to fund his extravagant lifestyle and self-aggrandizing building projects. You did not call into question the virtue of people who pay high taxes with the desire to alleviate the suffering of the poor. You did not implicitly suggest that people in the social market democracies of Europe are less free or value private property, personal liberty and the right to life any less.

    I can get behind arguments like those in your # 74, but not in the original post. To the extent that arguments like those in the original post permeate the Church we have opened the door to a major impediment to the establishment of Zion.

    As for your comment to me about misunderstanding the scriptures on the collective condemnation point, I think that you need to go through the Book of Mormon with an eye for this issue specifically. Given what you’ve written here and the conviction with which you’ve told me that I don’t understand the scriptures, I am guessing that what you will find is really going to scare you. The Book of Mormon is one huge epic tale about an entire society’s collective fate. The Gospel principles that are found in the Book of Mormon are meant to strengthen each of us as individuals in our quest to allow the Atonement to become effective in our lives, transforming us into true disciples and thereby making individual decisions to live accordingly. But make no mistake, the trajectory of the book follows the collective condemnation that society and many other societies bring upon themselves by grinding the face of the poor and allowing all manner of divisions (ethnic, economic, political etc.) to persist and fester.

    This is a message that comes out loud and clear in the Book of Mormon. It is reiterated many times by church presidents and Apostles in the Latter Days as well. The Lord has shown alternatively that he is collectively well-pleased at the Church as a whole (D&C 1) or else puts the Church on warning that it has placed itself under collective condemnation for taking his words and guidance lightly (e.g. President Benson and his admonitions relating to taking the Book of Mormon and its Christ-centered message more seriously).

    And of course none of this even touches the message about collective responsibility that comes through many of the stories/histories collected in the Old Testament.

    Glenn Beck is wrong on this one, Geoff. Your own salvation before the judgment bar of God depends on the choices that you make and the extent to which you have let the Atonement of Jesus Christ into your life, including through receiving the saving ordinances. But this does not mean that you will not be wiped out together with the rest of a society that has rejected God’s counsel about any number of issues, including grinding the face of the poor.

  82. 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.

    There are plenty of places like this. Guatemala, Somalia (and every other country of Sub-Saharan Africa), most of South America, a lot of southeast Asia — there is a ton of choice out there if you want to go to a country with low taxes and little or no government services.

  83. Geoff,
    Hie thee to Genesis chapter 47. There, in exchange for redistributing wealth, righteous Joseph purchases all the land, the cattle, and the people of Egypt for Pharaoh. Additionally, the 1/5 tax extends “to this day” which is meant to make it seem permanent. So, what I am saying, is that you have completely misread the Joseph taxation story and that it appears to say that God approves of tax slavery and permanent taxation (assuming of course that God approves of Joseph’s actions).

  84. “Glenn Beck is wrong on this one, Geoff. Your own salvation before the judgment bar of God depends on the choices that you make and the extent to which you have let the Atonement of Jesus Christ into your life, including through receiving the saving ordinances. But this does not mean that you will not be wiped out together with the rest of a society that has rejected God’s counsel about any number of issues, including grinding the face of the poor.”

    John F, I will put the most charitable face on this comment and avoid the many uncharitable thoughts that came to mind when I read this. I will assume you are trying to be helpful and see your better motives. But I will also remind you that if you dared to write something like this to somebody who defended homosexuality or another controversial issue the entire force of the Bloggernacle would descend upon you and rightly condemn your intolerance. So now you know how God will judge me? Wow, just wow. Again, the irony is interesting. It is OK to condemn individuals for expressing their sincerely held beliefs when you are pursuing a “progressive” (intolerant? judgemental?) point of view, but not in other cases. The contrast is interesting, to put it mildly.

    John F, don’t worry, I don’t depend on your approval to know what my standing is before God. Luckily we have a Church that supports direct revelation. I regularly ask Him how I am doing, and my answers are personal, but I do ask and I do receive answers. You are neither my bishop nor my stake president so do not have any authority to judge me in any way. I would not presume to make the same judgement about you. Frankly I am ashamed for you that you have stooped to such rhetoric.

    I stand by what I have written.

    John F, I will end this discussion with you, which I feel has brought out an interesting side of your personality, by assuring you that I have read the Book of Mormon, the Old Testament and the New Testament plenty of times. I have also read Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion several times. I understand fully the point of view that the scriptures call for more social spending. I disagree with it for reasons I have put forth here and in other threads.

  85. So now you know how God will judge me? Wow, just wow.

    Where did I ever imply that I know how God will judge you? I wrote that I understand your point about individual responsibility in accepting Jesus Christ and leading righteous lives. That is what you will be judged on, not whether American democrats raise taxes. But what if reducing the assistance available to the poor and needy in our country brings us to the brink, as the scriptures show over and over again is the result of grinding the face of the poor? If society collapses or some other calamity occurs as the natural consequence of this, you will suffer as well. Thus all of society will be affected by this collective condemnation.

  86. John F, don’t worry, I don’t depend on your approval to know what my standing is before God. Luckily we have a Church that supports direct revelation. I regularly ask Him how I am doing, and my answers are personal, but I do ask and I do receive answers. You are neither my bishop nor my stake president so do not have any authority to judge me in any way. I would not presume to make the same judgement about you. Frankly I am ashamed for you that you have stooped to such rhetoric.

    Geoff, I think you have severely misread my comments. I agreed with you that when we each as individuals stand before the judgment bar of God, we will be judged on our own individual choices about whether to accept or reject Jesus Christ as our Savior and on the decisions we have made during our lives with regard to righteous living.

    Given this, I cannot understand your response to me without concluding that somewhere in my comments you have read a judgment of you or you think I have said that I think you have made unrighteous choices or something else. I have not judged you in any of my comments.

    Please clarify.

  87. John F, actually, by giving money to the poor rather than asking them to work for it (which is Church policy, btw), we are doing more harm than good. So your position is grinding the face of the poor while I am trying to uplift the poor.

    Sorry, John, as much as you would like to backpedal now, your comment was way out of bounds.

  88. Geoff, I am not backpedaling. I am standing by my words and telling you that you have misunderstood. I would like you to reread them. You will see the following:

    (1) I agree with you (and Glenn Beck) that we will stand before the judgment bar of God as individuals to be judged according to our own individual choices and our own acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ;

    (2) I disagree with you (and Glenn Beck) that this individual responsibility that we have before God means that the scriptures aren’t about societies’ collective responsibility for the evils that pervade them.

    That is why I said, in the paragraph you quoted and took issue with,

    “Glenn Beck is wrong on this one, Geoff. [1] Your own salvation before the judgment bar of God depends on the choices that you make and the extent to which you have let the Atonement of Jesus Christ into your life, including through receiving the saving ordinances. [2] But this does not mean that you will not be wiped out together with the rest of a society that has rejected God’s counsel about any number of issues,
    including grinding the face of the poor.”

    I hope that my addition of [1] and [2] into the text of that paragraph make it clear that in [1] I was agreeing with the obvious point that we are individually responsible for our own actions, our own acceptance of Jesus Christ and our own life choice but that in [2] this point you are making about misunderstanding the scriptures about collective or societal responsibility or action (which coincides with Glenn Beck’s famous outspoken position against what he calls the “social gospel” etc.) is, in my view, not supported by the Book of Mormon or the Old Testament, both of which overwhelmingly tell the story of societies that have faced collective condemnation for disregarding God in any number of ways.

  89. “Your own salvation before the judgment bar of God depends on the choices that you make and the extent to which you have let the Atonement of Jesus Christ into your life, including through receiving the saving ordinances. But this does not mean that you will not be wiped out together with the rest of a society that has rejected God’s counsel about any number of issues, including grinding the face of the poor.”

    John F, I don’t know if you are feigning ignorance or not. I will take you at your word that your intention was not to judge my righteousness. I do not know how one could read the above any other way, but I will accept your word if you say that was not your intent.

  90. Re #92:

    Your tone is extremely harsh in this comment, john. I read this the same way Geoff did, and it was not even directed at me.

    In a previous comment, I asked you about charity, the government, and the Constitution. You completely ignored my inquiry.

    You are quick to condemn those who argue for reduced taxation, yet you fail to justify the constitutionality of the government functioning as a charity with tax dollars. There is, as I read it, no constitutional authority for the government to act as a charitable organization, redistributing wealth to the poor.

    I think we both would agree that poverty and starvation must be met with prompt generosity. The means to accomplish that task, however, is the matter upon which we likely disagree. I contend that private charities are more efficient at dealing with these issues than the Federal Government. The Federal Government is rife with wasteful and mismanaged spending. My trust in government’s ability to effectively manage the treasury of the United States is greatly diminished.

    If the government reduces my taxes, I am in a better position to donate to charities and directly help those around me. As it stands now, my tax burden prevents me from doing more.

  91. Brian, since you read my comment the same way Geoff did, could you please explain to me where in the comment specifically I judged Geoff or called him unrighteous or in any other way put myself into the position of his bishop or stake president?

  92. In 1850s Utah, Albert Carrington was appointed by the Church leaders to be an assessor, collector, and treasurer of the emerging territorial government. Among his listed responsibilities was the duty to use his own “discretionary power, to pin down upon the rich & penurious, and when he comes to a Poor man or widow that is honest, instead of taxing them, give them a few dollars.” And guess what: it doesn’t matter. This story doesn’t mean that any current policy regarding tax rates or the proper use of tax revenue is right or wrong.

    The great thinkers whose political philosophy as well as personal courage led to the founding of this great democratic republic understood that good government never forgets the inextricable relationship between taxation and representation. The two go together, and must go together. Taxes are not some ontological Uber-Evil; they are the price we pay for having a modern civilization as a part of a modern nation state with a democratically elected representative government. The founding generation did not revolt against England because they believed taxation to be evil. It was because they resented having taxes levied (taxes which England imposed to pay off the massive amounts of debt the government had incurred successfully defending British North America from French encroachment) without being given direct representation in parliament. The Revolution was a powerful historical reminder of the centrality of direct representation to proper republican government. But it was also only half of the birth of our country. The second half came when the finest minds of a generation got together in secret to constitute a new, central government and settle, among other things, the problem that the existing government had no real power to tax (and, more generally, that the existing central government was not nearly powerful enough to do much of anything). There was a wide range of opinions on all the issues debated (Adams and Hamilton, for instance, wanted the office of the President to be vested with near dictatorial powers in certain regards). The document which emerged was highly controversial and aggressively opposed by many who felt it to be the ultimate betrayal of the principles for which the Revolution was originally fought (such opponents included Patrick Henry). But those who signed and later ratified the Constitution agreed that the levying of taxes was the perfectly legitimate means of government to carry out its responsibilities, responsibilities which included promoting the general welfare of the people, who would more specifically apply that principle to their growing and changing needs and circumstances over the course of the life of the nation through laws enacted by their duly elected representatives. Of course the kind of radically paranoid, hysterical anti-tax sentiment on display here (taxation=confiscation? sigh…) did have its place at the time of the Republic’s founding: on the side of the new Constitution’s opponents.

    To compare the presence, mode, or rates of taxation of any non-modern, non-democratically based non-republic (say, for example, a vaguely described ancient, meso-American, semi-agrarian, tribal kingship), with current systems in the US or Europe is a fantasy of people who wish to wrest the scriptures into serving as a trump card for their own personal political preferences. You might as well invoke Nephi as evidence that decapitation is an appropriate form of punishment for public drunkenness. Or the Levitical code in support of some new and radically strange system of laws governing dietary and gardening practices. Or the curse of Ham to rationalize the enslavement of black Africans. It’s a foolish game played by people who would rather invoke, in crudely proof-text fashion, the scriptures to end debate, than engage in a serious, robust debate about the merits of this or that taxation rate or the policies that said rate enables.

  93. john f, I love how you ignore my comment with an inquiry about the harshness of your comment directed toward Geoff. Well done, sir!

    I did not specifically say you judged Geoff, rather, I commented that I agreed with Geoff that it was particularly harsh. If I had used similar language directed at you on a post at BCC, I would expect you to react in similar fashion.

  94. Ladies & gentlemen, being Christlike is of more importance than being right. Let’s discuss & not contend, share without damaging relationships. Certainly a heated topic, but not one on which testimony, faith or friendship should hinge.

  95. Geoff,
    If you read the “you” in John’s offending paragraph as a generic you, you’ll realize that he was not personally condemning you, Geoff B., as an individual. That’s a much more straightforward reading of what he wrote.

  96. I did not specifically say you judged Geoff, rather, I commented that I agreed with Geoff that it was particularly harsh. If I had used similar language directed at you on a post at BCC, I would expect you to react in similar fashion.

    I do not think that is true.

    As for ignoring you, I am not ignoring you. As Brad points out, the Constitution sets up a framework of government in which taxation is completely legitimate, and for only vaguely defined purposes.

    I think we do the Founders a discredit when we take positions that seem to ignore their ability to see ahead and allow for future elected representatives to make provision for their electorate and society in the way they best see fit, which includes taxation for whatever purposes they see as coming under the proviso of supporting the general welfare.

    As to my comment, it is clear that Geoff skimmed it briefly (easy to do as there are so many comments on this thread coming so fast) and misread it to say that God would judge him for choosing the reduce assistance to the poor. that is unfortunate as that was not what I wrote or intended.

    In an earlier comment, Geoff noted that he thought I was misunderstanding the scriptures. He said that the scriptures are about each individual making right choices and being righteous/virtuous. My comment, the comment that he misunderstood, was meant to show him that I understand and agree with the point that we are ultimately judged based on our own individual choices and actions (and never passing judgment on Geoff’s own choices and actions) but that this did not mean that the scriptures are not telling us the story of societies who have suffered collective consequences for a collective rejection of God’s guidance (despite the fact that some individuals in said societies are indeed righteous).

    I didn’t write it very clearly and thus accept all responsibility for the disagreement. However, I must stand by the larger point I was making (individual responsibility at the judgment seat, yes, but also collective or societal responsibility/condemnation for various issues, as shown by the scriptures).

  97. Brad, interesting your comment has many good points but once again you resort to ad hominems (“foolish game”) to make your point. It seems to me that such tactics completely undermine some of the legitimate points you are trying to make.

    Actually, there is wide disagreement about what the founders felt regarding the role of the Constitution and taxation. Well-respected scholars discuss this to this day, and there is no concensus that the Founders would have accepted the wide myriad of taxation to which we are subjected today. Jefferson himself said:

    “”I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans, and for increasing by every device the public debt on the principle of its being a public blessing.” –Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:77

    He also said:

    “The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.”
    –Thomas Jefferson to M. L’Hommande, 1787.

    Brad, as much as it apparently pains you, it is a completely legitimate pursuit to look at the appropriate role of taxation in the country. We have a $14 trillion debt and yearly debt of $1.3 trillion. My argument is that part of the reason we have gotten to this situation is that we have allowed ourselves to stray from our most basic principles, ie, that government should be small and frugal and that we should not burden our people with excessive taxation.

  98. john f., you are putting words in my mouth, arguing points that I have not personally made. The Constitution is designed to be vague, but even in it’s vagueness, the providing for the general welfare does not equal the government acting as a charity, nor does it provide for a means to redistribute wealth. The foundation for such a system does not exist.

  99. Despite our disagreements here, john f., I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and admire your tenacious arguments on behalf of the poor. Thank you for your comments.

  100. If my insertion of [1] and [2] into the offending paragraph did not make it clearer, Brad, I think that the following might do the trick to throw my intended meaning into starker relief:

    Glenn Beck is wrong on this one, Geoff. [It is true that] your own salvation before the judgment bar of God depends on the choices that you make and the extent to which you have let the Atonement of Jesus Christ into your life, including through receiving the saving ordinances, [as you have said in your comment to me wherein you express your opinion that I misunderstand the scriptures]. But this does not mean that you will not be wiped out together with the rest of a society that has rejected God’s counsel about any number of issues, including grinding the face of the poor, [contrary to what you seem to be saying, in agreement with Glenn Beck, in your points about collective responsibility not being part of the message of the scriptures].

    Again, I take full responsibility for inartful drafting but am belaboring the point because it would not be fair to leave that hanging thereby giving the impression that (a) I have indeed misunderstood the scriptures, as you have claimed, (b) I would ever take the liberty to judge you in a blog comment (I often militate against this so if my comment were read in the context of my overall approach, with which I thought you were familiar, then that would also have been clear) and (c) I’m OCD like that, I suppose.

  101. Look, this discussion is getting interesting. John F, I take you at your word that you were not condemning my righteousness. Let’s move on.

    Now, can I ask the many commenters (liberals of the Bloggernacle unite!) to avoid personal attacks. I don’t think it helps your case.

  102. The Constitution is designed to be vague, but even in it’s vagueness, the providing for the general welfare does not equal the government acting as a charity, nor does it provide for a means to redistribute wealth. The foundation for such a system does not exist.

    Brian, the providing for the general welfare as a basis for taxation does not mean that the federal government cannot be involved in providing assistance and services to the poor, which you are referring to as the government being involved in the charity business.

    As for how you and Jon are referring to taxation in a representative democracy such as that which exists in our constitutional Republic as “confiscation and redistribution” of wealth, I do not think that really works since it is not properly confiscation where the taxation is by representation. The legislators who enact the taxes are legitimately accountable to the people through the political process and will be voted out of office if their actions with regard to taxation are inimical to their constituencies’ demands.

    Bob Bennett is an example of this. I personally found it to be a shame that a deeply conservative politician of his intellect, virtue and compassion, with his political assets and capital built up over a long and successful career in representing the people of Utah in the federal government, was voted out of office in favor of Mike Lee. There is no doubt in my mind that after his long career in the Senate Bob Bennett knows the Constitution better than Mike Lee, despite Mike Lee’s experiences with Constitutional law. But Lee was able to convince the primary voters (i.e. the convention delegates) that Bennett’s record was wrong on taxation and the proper role of government, and this small number of delegates were able to act on behalf of Bennett’s entire constituency (based on the local rules for the primary process in Utah) to vote him out of office.

    Although I found this a shame, it is exactly how the system should work where we are subject to taxation by representation and not taxation without representation as was the case with the colonists when Parliament reduced the taxes, causing the Revolution.

  103. Geoff: “government should be small and frugal.”

    I very much agree and this is exactly the programme on which the British (Conservative-led) government is embarking, much to the chagrin of the hard left.

    My point, Geoff, is that David Cameron can do this because he’s in power. But he would not be in power if he were to abolish or even reduce taxation using Iron Age dictatorships as a model.

    America has a colossal debt but is utterly paralysed in the face of it because the conversation surrounding it is hyperbolic. Get Romney into office and get him, like David Cameron, to do something about it. This kind of rhetoric ain’t the way.

    Love,
    Ronan, your conservative ally across the Pond.

  104. You’ll get no argument from me that Jefferson viewed the legitimate purpose of government and its ideal scope very differently from, say, Hamilton or Adams. Conversely, Jefferson viewed the Constitution as a much more flexible, malleable, changeable, living document than most of either his contemporaries and much of our current politicians. Still, even if Jefferson felt that particular rates of taxation or powers of a specific government at a specific time in history were not ideal, he’s far from an anti-tax ranter or someone who would consider all taxation to be confiscation. It’s also worth noting that, in contrast to his political opponents, Jefferson’s vision of the Republic was not as an industrialized world power but as an agrarian republic of small, independent farmers. Ultimately, it was Hamilton’s vision that proved prophetic.

    I’ll elaborate a bit on my point about the centrality of taxation to good republican government. Taxation is not just necessary because it enables the government to carry out its responsibilities. It is necessary because it invests the citizenry in the business and actions of the government. Taxation and representation are the two mechanisms which dually bind the government to the citizenry. The whole source of the governments duties, powers, and legitimacy is the people. In elected representatives, the government depends on the people’s voice. In taxation, it depends upon their earning capacity, their economic stability, their prosperity. Taxation and Representation. This is why governments who derive their revenue from alternate sources (like oil states) ultimately lose their democratic character and responsiveness.

  105. Ronan and John F, I love you guys, I really do!

    Let me say for the record that I support the (Obama-appointed) deficit commission report as a good first step toward deficit reduction. Ronan, I don’t know if you’ve read it but it is completely in line with British Conservative principles. As I said, I admire what Cameron has done, and I admire the widespread British spirit of community that is allowing it to take place. So, while I am a libertarian on economic policy, I also see the need for compromise. Group hug.

  106. Taxation and representation are the two mechanisms which dually bind the government to the citizenry.

    Exactly. And further, all action of government is essentially, taxation. This is why I have no response to Jon’s challenge for me to refute the principle that a government can force anyone to be virtuous.

    First of all, it is a straw man as I have never made an assertion that a government can force or cause anyone to be virtuous. So why should I spend effort trying to refute such a point.

    But more importantly, Jon, your comments are indeed an argument against democracy itself as a principle because every single action taken by a government in a constitutional Republic or a parliamentary Democracy is going to be opposed by some minority of citizens who would not and in fact did not cast their votes in favor of such a measure. They are thereby “forced” to go along with it as members of the overall polity, if “force” really can be taken as the correct term here.

    If this is immoral in and of itself, then you have argued against democracy as a principle and blog comments are not the place to rehabilite the concept of democracy from the ground up.

  107. Brad, #117, good points. I actually agree with you that SOME level of taxation is necessary, and there are some benefits to taxation in terms of uniting the citizenry. Interestingly, we are seeing exactly what you are discussing taking place before our eyes. Today, about 47 percent of citizens pay no federal income tax at all. John M has done the math, and you can pay no federal income tax if you have a house and five kids and make $100k per year. This is divesting a large number of people from the income tax process. Nearly half of the population does not care what the income tax rate is because it doesn’t affect them. And this is ultimately bad for society in the ways you describe.

    I personally favor a flat tax with no deductions. That would resolve a lot of those issues you discuss.

  108. JJohnson #29….sorry I’m just now answering your question…

    Yes, my federal taxes are lower, however my city, state and county taxes are not. In Santa Fe we pay 9% city sales tax in addition to the 5% state sales tax. Those taxes rack up after a few purchaes. And yet, the roads still have pot holes, curbs are crumbling, but there is plent of money for “Art in Public Places”, which serves no purpous what so ever.

    I work hard for my money, and so does my husband. I realize there is a need for taxes and for the government to provide services, I’m ok with that….however, it’s not the government’s job to take care of every last thing in our lives either.

  109. Yikes! I see the discussion has taken a turn toward acrimony in this conversation. And that someone called in the BCC brute squad ;) (Is that a sufficient contribution to the acrimony to allow me to continue to participate in the conversation?)

    Quick responses to various people:

    @Ronan

    If I am understanding your initial comments, you are in favor of scaling back your own government’s spending and taxes. Your primary disagreement is with rhetoric that cites scriptural texts in order to frame tax policy in religious terms of good and evil rather than in terms of efficiency and suitability. Is that right?

    @John F. and Geoff B.

    I understood John’s comment to you regarding the condemnation of collectives the way he intended it. He is making a good point even though his final conclusions are wrong. He did not judge you or condemn you personally, even though I can see how you misinterpreted it that way. Although I think both of you could refrain from telling the other that they must not have read or must not understand the scriptures.

    @John F.

    You have made made new comments since, but I am still waiting for a response to my previous comments (here and here). You need to either refute my argument or concede my point. Should I take the “A Man For All Seasons” approach and interpret your silence as agreement? ;) Even a “I don’t have time right now” or a “I cannot refute it but I still think I’m right” would do.

    @John C.

    Genesis 47 must also contemplate Genesis 41. Egypt under Joseph did not have a dole. The contents of the storehouses were sold, not given, to both the egyptians and foreigners. Then in 47 the money system failed and the egyptians came and asked for bread, but Joseph didn’t give it to them. He made them pay in livestock. Then, when they only have their selves and their lands left, he made them pay with their lands. When they have nothing left he basically makes them feudal subjects and gives them food and protection in exchange for working the land that they have sold to the Pharaoh and let’s them keep 4/5 of the increase. (here) It is also not clear that when it says he “gathered up all the food of seven years” that he was not buying it. (It was so abundant that the prices would have been driven way down during the years of plenty) It is hard to see how the proto-feudal system that resulted can be used as support for liberal welfare states based on taxation and redistribution, or even to support taxation.

  110. Geoff,
    We may not all pay cap-gains taxes or even federal income taxes, but all residents pay taxes in some form or another, even if it’s just consumption taxes. This, by the way, includes folks without direct representation (because as non-citizens they cannot vote for their representatives). I’d be perfectly fine abolishing the 0% federal income tax bracket, and taxing income below the current threshold at, say, 5%. We should all pay taxes. We should all be profoundly grateful for the privilege of paying taxes to a democratically responsive, accountable, republican government in return for having the services that such a government can provide. I think it’s great to vigorously debate what marginal rates and what kinds of services are optimal or appropriate, but evil-leaders-tax-while-righteous-leaders-don’t-tax is not a particularly useful or realistic way of partitioning our moral world.

  111. Harmony reigns supreme! It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t be having this conversation at a nice restaurant, enjoy good food, to go along with the good company.

    I miss the Bloggersnackers of yester year. I attended one at Geoff J’s house a few years ago where John F. and Kaimi were present. Good times.

  112. Brad, number 125, could you point me to comments you have made on BCC or elsewhere saying left-leaning Mormons should not use the scriptures to support their version of society, either on income distribution, immigration or any other subject? My impression is that the Left loves to use the scriptures to lecture “extremist” right-wingers about how they are ignoring the Gospel but then they bristle as you have when anybody who disagrees with them dares to quote a scripture that says something different.

  113. John F,

    Thanks for responding.

    “First of all, it is a straw man as I have never made an assertion that a government can force or cause anyone to be virtuous.”

    Yes you have. Follow my logic here: You have advocated bringing about Zion, citing scriptural instigations to care for the poor, and descriptions of Zion societies with no poor and all in common, through the vehicle of government taxation and redistribution. You have also warned that God will destroy societies that fail to care for their poor with the implication that a society will avoid such condemnation and destruction through this democratically imposed redistribution of wealth.

    If, as you concede, the system you advocate does not remove the covetousness from the people and make them virtuous, then it 1. is incapable of bringing about Zion, so the frequent citation of relevant Zion scriptures by you and others is meaningless to your argument and 2. will not prevent the condemnation and destruction of a people by God because He destroys peoples because of their wickedness, and your system is incapable of making them righteous, it only produces a superficial appearance of righteousness (form of godliness denying the power thereof), so your frequent citation of relevant scriptures equally meaningless.

    The system you advocate is incapable of accomplishing your cited objectives in employing it. How is that a strawman argument?

    You said: “your comments are indeed an argument against democracy itself as a principle because every single action taken by a government in a constitutional Republic or a parliamentary Democracy is going to be opposed by some minority of citizens who would not and in fact did not cast their votes in favor of such a measure.”

    I will address your comments about democracy (as well as Brad’s) when I have more time. Right now I have to fix a bug that is affecting my company’s financial reports.

  114. Brad, on this very thread there are several comments where left-leaning people use the scriptures to justify a zion society. Do you a problem with their use of the scriptures to justify their version of society? I would submit that you simply disagree with my interpretation, whcih is OK, people have been disagreeing about what the scriptures mean for millennia. But this does not mean using the scriptures is somehow off-base, as you have implied.

  115. You have advocated bringing about Zion, citing scriptural instigations to care for the poor, and descriptions of Zion societies with no poor and all in common, through the vehicle of government taxation and redistribution.

    Jon, I have indeed advocated bringing about Zion (what Latter-day Saint would not? — building Zion is what we’re all about) but not “through the vehicle of government taxation and redistribution”, as you say I have argued. I have, however, argued that societies that have chosen to assist the poor by enacting legislative frameworks toward this end in representative democracies may well be working toward such a goal and are certainly in keeping with scriptural injunctions to address the disparity between rich and poor and to help the poor, thus weighing against your judgments earlier in this thread that such legislation constitutes empty virtue. The focus is on the people who vote in support of the legislation, which is the reason the legislation is enacted at all. As to these people, the virtue is not empty but real. The empty virtue is in those who do not want or support such legislation but pay their taxes anyway to avoid going to prison. For them there is no virtue in the help they thereby give to the poor. Is the fact that a minority puts itself into this position with regard to any act of a representative government sufficient grounds to say that the government therefore lacks virtue in its actions?

  116. Also, how do we know that Zion will not be a social market democracy? That system has all the elements that could theoretically lead to a general prosperity: it is built on the free market and the social net that is constructed is created through representative democracy as a true expression of the will of the people, and therefore of their freedom and choice in determining the priorities for their society.

  117. Geoff,
    Tis neither here nor there how many mentions are at lds.org. I’m saying that you are misreading Genesis. Unless the brethren are directly contradicting me on lds.org, it don’t matter.

    J. Max,
    ‘Twas Geoff who offered the example. I only noted that it isn’t a particularly good one. I suppose if you don’t consider the acquisition of goods and the redistribution thereof by government a form of taxation, then it really isn’t related. At least, though, you can say that God endorsed socialism in Egypt.

    To be fair to our capitalists, the OT is generally perfectly happy wishing all sorts of bad stuff on other peoples (Egypt in particular) and so it may well be that socialism there was seen as a negative thing. That Joseph instituted it there would make him a trickster figure like Jacob.

  118. John F, your 132 shows a possible area of agreement, so let’s look at that first.

    I will first stipulate that nobody knows what Zion will look like in terms of economic policy. But I will also stipulate that a lot of people imagine a kind of Amish agrarian society that seems to me to ignore reality. Presumably people will still want to make phone calls, access the internet (or whatever exists during that time) and have electricity during the Millennium, so there will have to be some form of system that maintains basic services.

    So we can imagine a Zion where companies exist to provide basic services. Will stock certificates for these companies be given so we can say “they all hold things in common?” It is nice to think so, but of course I don’t really know.

    Your description of Zion as a “social market democracy” sounds right to me, although I will quickly admit that I have no idea what exactly this means. But the point is that we can imagine an economic system that incorporates private enterprise, democracy and “having all things in common.”

    Personally, I imagine Zion as somewhat similar to my current ward in a small town in Colorado. A large percentage of people in town are Church members. We are very unified and have very little contention. We readily volunteer to help each other and perform service. There is a social unity that is unique and special.

    So, if Zion is a system where I give, say, 20 percent of my income to a bishop so it is distributed to help others, and it resembles in any way my current ward, I can tell you that it will be a wonderful thing, and I look forward to it.

    But there are key elements to his system that don’t exist in the United States today. The first is that it is voluntary. Presumably by accepting the terms of Zion you are making a voluntary decision to participate. I do not pay taxes voluntarily. I do not agree that taxes go to things that are worthwhile (on the whole). The list of government programs I disagree with is too long to list here, but it includes the war in Afghanistan, the TSA, bailouts for ethanol production, bailouts for GM, bailouts for Wall Street bankers, bailouts for unions, Obamacare, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I simply don’t agree with how my tax dollars are being used, and the only reason I pay taxes is that I would face fines and/or jail time if I didn’t. This is not a voluntary system — it is forced confiscation.

    The second is that I know my taxes today are wasted through inefficiency, whereas I also know that my tithing and fast offering money is not wasted. The comparison between what works and does not work could not be more stark.

    Your answer would be that I must change my attitude toward government and see all the wonderful things the government does to help the poor. I’m sure Brad would write long praises to Social Security and Medicare. I would point out that both programs are going bankrupt and have saddled this country with literally tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities over the coming decades. There are better ways to achieve the goals set forward.

    So, we are at an impasse: any attempt to discuss the moral and ethical and scriptural foundations of our current taxation system is dismissed (although of course any attempt to justify bigger govt through the scriptures is accepted). Any attempt to point out that our current government programs don’t work is cast as not caring about the poor and not wanting Zion.

    Well, as JMax has said so eloquently, you can’t force Zion on people through taxation. It simply will never happen. I am hoping for Zion, and I am 100 percent sure it won’t look like the current mess we are facing on a national level.

    In the meantime, I will continue to work for my own version of Zion the way that I, after reading the scriptures and listening to modern-day prophets, feel is right. You can work for yours. But prepare yourself for future posts on this subject with which you will probably not agree. They will definitely be coming.

  119. John F.,

    Sorry John, you can’t express your charity by forcibly giving your wealthy neighbor’s money to the poor, even democratically.

    Let’s say that a hypothetical majority of the people is virtuous and desires to give of their own substance to help the poor. A minority is wicked and does not desire to do so.

    Why does this majority employ the force of law to give to the poor? The majority would be able to pool its own wealth voluntarily without the need for law except that 1. a significant portion of the majority is poor itself and there is not enough wealth among the willing to take care of them and 2. a significant amount of the wealth is in the possession of the unwilling wicked minority.

    Their only possible motivation for using law and government instead of voluntary donation is to force these unwilling wealthy to give to the poor. The law is unnecessary otherwise, because a virtuous majority would gladly give to the poor without the threat of law. So these kinds of re-distributive laws can never be a manifestation of the virtue of the majority because they exist only to force others to give. And the fact that a significant portion of the majority will be the beneficiaries of these laws clearly undermines their claim to virtuous charity.

    Since that is the only reason these kinds of laws are made, they ARE empty of virtue and can contribute nothing toward either the edification of Zion nor avert the wrath of an angry God.

    Again, you can’t express your own charity by forcibly giving your wealthy neighbor’s money to the poor, even democratically.

  120. I can easily envision a society where entities still exist to provide services. How will that look absent the profit motive? As you know, the invisible hand is not a benevolent principle — it is neutral at best and untrustworthy at worst since it functions by reliance on people’s selfishness and selfish desires, which are characteristics of the natural man. I imagine that profit motive will not play a big role in a Zion society.

    As to common ownership, my sense is that this has indeed been the case in previous scriptural accounts of such societies — in Fourth Nephi, Acts, the United Order, etc. I am aware that J. Reuben Clark argued forcefully that there was not common ownership in the United Order but I am not convinced that is true. Especially given the time in which he made those statements (1940s), he may have been speaking from a lack of information from the historical record.

    In my mind common ownership would not be required for the type of Zion society in which there are no rich or poor. I think that society will be characterized by common prosperity and not a lowest common denominator of all people having their basic needs met.

    This is why I turned to the social market economy as an example. 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.

    The social market economies of Europe probably won’t really be necessary in the Millennium. But are we to wait for the Millennium to establish Zion? If not, then given the parameters of our fallen world, a social market economy sounds like a reasonable approach for a society to choose for itself as a first step — perhaps a huge step — toward achieving the exact goals towards which we are working in building Zion.

    As I’ve noted before, God has left it to us to set up governments and to use our best resources, reason and intellects in crafting policies that we deem beneficial for ourselves. I would think that an honest reading of the scriptures teaches us that God is indeed interested in seeing us make efforts communally as a society to alleviate each other’s suffering and to care for the poor and needy, etc. in the here and now and not waiting for the future day when all opposition is set aside. Whether a society chooses to do this through tax policies similar to those implemented in Western European countires with social market economies or by some other means is, I would think, entirely irrelevant to God. (One exception might be doing nothing at all because I would think that God will expect accountability from us to justify how we as a society, the richest on earth and in the history of the world, had the means to help those suffering and chose not to do so based on such arguments.)

    Moral Agency as a doctrinal concept or principle also seems irrelevant at this juncture. Nothing that any government does can take away someone’s Moral Agency in the Gospel sense. For example, Latter-day Saints in Western European democracies that have implemented socially beneficial systems funded by taxation are in fact evidencing Christlike attributes by paying their dues into such health care systems (and also of course reaping the benefits of those systems).

  121. J Max,
    Your argument seems to indicate that governments that take money in order to kill people (in the name of self-defense) are more morally justified than governments that take money in order to save people who are starving. Of course, governments that do just one or the other are rare indeed, but that does seem to be the thrust of your argument (and the argument of the post).

  122. Brad,

    Your condescending, insulting tone may be emotionally satisfying for you, but it is a poor approach if you have any sincere desire to change the minds of those with whom you disagree. If you don’t feel that a grown-up conversation is possible with me, then don’t converse with me. I know it’s easier, and more satisfying to assume those who disagree with you are simply irrational and therefore incapable of having their minds changed by rational argument, and having decided that let fly with the sarcasm, derision, and mockery. But it hardly demonstrates the kind of grown-up conversation you claim to want, let alone the Zion society being discussed.

    I have known John Fowles in real life as well as on the interwebs for a long time and he is my friend, even though we strongly disagree.

    I have known John C. in real life as well as on the web for at least a few years, and I consider him my friend too, even though we strongly disagree.

  123. Brad,

    “Conservatives seem pretty optimistic about the ability of government policy to promote virtue when it comes to definitions of marriage or attitudes toward the unborn, but wholly dismissive of the idea that social programs which help the poor and are enacted by democratically elected governments could possibly reflect or promote anything but empty virtue.”

    Let’s not pretend that Liberals aren’t equally, if not more, full of apparent contradictions. They say “While I am personally opposed to abortion and think it is immoral, I am pro-choice because I don’t believe the government should force my moral beliefs on others. After all, the gospel teaches us that we have agency.” But when it comes to wealth redistribution, do they say “While I personally believe that it is immoral to withhold wealth from the poor, I am pro-choice because I don’t believe that the government should force my moral beliefs on others?” No. They want to force the rich to give to the poor by government confiscation and redistribution. They are contradictorily pro-choice about abortion but anti-choice about giving to the poor.

    As I have said before, I am not opposed to taxes as a general concept. I have also acknowledged that liberals often have righteous motivations, even if they are wrong. Will you say the same of conservatives like me or are we only to be dismissed as tendentious?

  124. Brad, I have to second JMax’s point regarding your #134. We have had a large number of people who appear to share your politics comment here. Some of them have gotten a bit snippy, but most of them have avoided the snide tone you adopt. If we are so beneath you that you can only respond with such sarcasm, then I truly suggest it would be better for your health and happiness to just ignore the opinions expressed here. People express opinions I disagree with all the time — I mostly choose to ignore them. If I engage them, it is in the tone of understanding more or trying to bring up things they may not have considered. If you want to have a real dialogue (and so far we have had some real dialogue in a few areas at least), then drop the sarcastic tone. Please.

    By the way, you still have not told me why it is OK for people who have politics you agree with to use scriptural arguments but it is not OK for me to do so if I disagree with your point of view.

  125. I can’t speak for Brad, but I find scriptural arguments for policy x or law y overly selective and often deliberately ignorant of opposing interpretations. Not speaking to the use here (because, aside from one little thing, I haven’t been paying attention), but in general experience this has been the case. Let’s just admit that the scriptures can be used to support just about any sort of policy and move on.

  126. John C.,

    “Your argument seems to indicate that governments that take money in order to kill people (in the name of self-defense) are more morally justified than governments that take money in order to save people who are starving.”

    Your statement is calculated for emotional effect by using loaded words and oversimplified parallelism . Not all poor people are people who are “starving” and not all “killing” is unjustified, murder.

    The question of whether or not the killing is for defense and justified or not is an independent evaluation except for those who do not believe in self defense or justified killing at all.

    If it is justified defense, then it defends everyone who was taxed, just as public libraries are open to all. But the kind of redistribution we’re talking about is like a library that is funded by confiscating the wealth of the rich, but that only allows the poor to take advantage of their services.

    If you want a government funded soup kitchen (publicly funded does not imply that it should also be government administered and staffed–that’s an additional issue) that will feed anyone, including a rich guy who stops in for a bite, then it would at least be a real public service. He helped fund it, he should have equal access to it.

  127. John C, I look forward to seeing you say that the next time somebody uses the scriptures to argue in favor of unemployment benefits or immigration or higher taxation or any other social policy.

  128. Geoff,
    I generally only do it in order to note that there is another side the story, scripturally speaking. You’ll note that is what I done here, at least.

    J Max,
    I actually meant what I said. I was talking about people starving to death and people defending themselves and their families via killing others. Why not talk about folks who are justified in their actions instead of just straw men?

    Libraries are actually funded by confiscating from the rich, so I can’t be too against them. They are traditionally called “the poor man’s university,” after all. Certainly, library boards collect for libraries, but they’d be dead without public support.

    Your analogy seems to argue that rich and poor are inherent human characteristics, rather than temporary human conditions. If a rich man becomes poor, he has just as much right to help as people who have been poor all along. If a poor man becomes rich, he has just as little need of that help as folks who have been rich all along. You are seeing an element of exclusivity that isn’t intended.

  129. This will be my last comment for a while, though I will read responses.

    John F., John C., Guy, others who defend redistribution. In your view, is there anything that it would be wrong or immoral for a democratic government to use tax money to do even though the voting majority supports it? If so, what makes redistribution different?

    The government derives its just powers from the people. However, the people cannot delegate powers that they do not possess. A majority of my neighbors cannot justly drag me to the my savings and loan and force me to give them the contents of my bank account to distribute among themselves. Why, in your view, are they justified in doing this when using the government as their proxy? Whence does the government derive this this power? Why is is just?

  130. J Max,
    I think it would be immoral for the government to do all sorts of things, even if a voting majority supports it. Generally, these are acts against persecuted minorities. However, I don’t really see the rich as a persecuted minority. They, at least, can pay for advertising to promote themselves and their causes.

    I suppose that this difference for me is that I see my neighbors as my neighbors, not as a horde of piranha or some such. I believe that membership in our community requires sacrifice on my part. Of course, I would like to see some of my sacrifice better managed (ok, most of my sacrifice), but I don’t have a problem with making the sacrifice.

    Perhaps you should consider the Sisyphean task of paying taxes as Camus suggests Sisyphus does and own it. They can’t take it from you if you give it to them first.

  131. John F #122

    True to a point, however, I still need to eat and clothe my family. No matter what, I will be taxed when I spend money, or just when I sit in my house, via my property taxes and my state income tax, which is also very high in New Mexico. Not to mention every year our legislature here in New Mexico floats the idea of reinstating the food tax. You can’t not eat. (and I totally get it, I could grow my own food, if I wanted to but really it was a farce the one time I tried it..haha). It seems to be with politicans lately, it’s all about raising taxes to fix our problems. No, I say it’s about cutting spending. I’m tired of them spending money that we really don’t have, on a federal level and on a state and local level.

  132. John C, another way of saying what JMax is saying in 143 is that governments are justified in providing public goods. As I have said in this very, very long thread a few times, public goods are things like the military that would not be provided by anybody else and are universally recognized as necessary for a functioning govt. Locke, Montesquieu and the founding fathers spent a lot of time examining this issue. There was general agreement that a govt could not function without paying for the military, the police, the court systems, etc.

    There was not agreement on how to deal with the poor. During the late 18th century, the primary way of dealing with the poor was through private charity. You can call this barbaric, but it was nevertheless a widely accepted truth.

    Your emotional appeal to govts killing people vs. allowing people to starve is an age-old conundrum that cannot be summed up with simple slogans. In the name of not allowing people to starve, we have adopted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which allowed a system that incentived the poor to buy houses they couldn’t afford. So, we have gone from the poor “not starving” to the poor buying houses they can’t afford instead of living happily in apartments. All in the name of govt being kind to people. It seems we have jumped the shark as a society.

  133. J Max,

    Hey buddy, you didn’t respond to my request. So we need to talk sometime soon. So you need to call me or I’ll have to get people with torches and Bloggernacle you. ;) Want to talk this weekend?

    Geoff,

    I’m overwhelmed by this thread. Obviously you’ve hit upon a topic near and dear to everyone’s heart. Great job.

  134. The issue of the morality of forcing individuals to contribute 50-60% of their income to the government has been mentioned, as well as the point that there is little or no virtue in doing something because you are forced to do it.

    There is another major point however, that I don’t think has been mentioned. Government socialism corrupts the beneficiaries. I don’t simply mean in terms of discouraging the incentive to work and produce, or in terms of self-reliance and individual responsibility. Those points are well known.

    The problem with government socialism is that it creates a moral climate where a majority of the population defines political morality in terms of expropriating the labor of others. It turns traditional morality on its head. Theft becomes not only morally desirable, but morally obligatory. It is the only thing most “liberal” interest groups think about.

  135. Geoff,
    I wasn’t thinking in terms of slogans. I was thinking in terms of the realities that you and JMax have laid out. I admit that military is something that is best done by governments (don’t tell folks in militias, though). I also think that some welfare is better accomplished by government.

    I certainly don’t think that we should subscribe to 19th and 18th century notions of the poor. Generally those folks did think of poverty as endemic to lesser folk and races. As I wouldn’t rely on those guys to guide our government’s approach to race, I wouldn’t rely on them to guide our approach to poverty.

    Nor is the government solely responsible for the housing mess. Certainly, the government (along with everybody else in America) saw home ownership as a fail-proof means of personal investment. But there were plenty of young capitalists using the system for their own personal enrichment. Indeed, the size and scope of the problem was more a factor of folks on wall street than folks on capital hill. But that’s a different issue and we’ve obviously bought into different narratives of how it took place. So I agree to drop it before it becomes another distraction.

  136. Certainly, the government (along with everybody else in America) saw home ownership as a fail-proof means of personal investment. But there were plenty of young capitalists using the system for their own personal enrichment.

    Where did “the system” come from though? Why does the middle class universally view home ownership as a financial necessity?

    It started in the Depression era, when the government decided to start promoting home ownership. These days the value of the mortgage interest deduction is so significant that the government is practically covering ~1/3 of the initial cost of owning a home every year.

    If you have an average income and you choose to live in an apartment, you lose out on $3,000 to $4,000 in government subsidies every year. Those subsidies increase in value with the size of your mortgage as well, punishing those who save more or pay down their mortgage ahead of schedule.

    That is apart from all the other things the government does to promote home ownership, including and especially since the Clinton administration, some exceedingly stupid things, like buying up sub prime mortgages, promoting lending to those who have no hope of paying it back, and printing lots of extra money so that people can afford to buy bigger and better houses than they need.

    Commercial banks are creatures of the federal government, and have been since the early part of the last century. They are not in a position to say no to almost any government request, because they rely on the Federal Reserve and have their entire business model guaranteed by the federal government.

    So if the government says, we really want you to make more of these borderline loans, the banks have relatively little say so, lest they face the wrath of the federal regulators. And it is a relatively decision to make. Who is going to get hurt after all? Certainly not their depositors.

    The government creates the environment where it is a risk free enterprise for commercial banks to gamble with other people’s money. The saps running those enterprises just dance to the tune the federal regulators call. And they make lots of money doing it, not so much for their shareholders, but in the form of exorbitant bonuses provided courtesy of a taxpayer guaranteed business model.

    The government says, “lets do virtuous thing A” for the benefit of the general welfare, and instead subsidize corruption and ruin. The government just isn’t capable of running a financial system, because everyone is always out to collect a little more from the public trough.

    No one should be angry at the banks, so much as the federal government for making corrupt banking practices not only legal, but practically mandatory.

  137. Mark D,
    It certainly goes back further than that. Homesteading played on the desire for a place of one’s own. To some degree, even the earliest settlers were thusly motivated. Don’t blame the Democrats for making that a part of the American Dream; so far as I can tell it has been a part of the dream as long as there has been an America.

    Additionally, Mark, it is a hard road to argue that government regulation caused the meltdown in an area where there was no government regulation (like the very areas of finance where most of these securities were created). However, this is all a threadjack. I’m happy to say that the government is partially responsible, but that’s because I blame everybody for it (even me). It’s the folks looking to escape blame for the recent series of fiascoes that we should keep an eye on.

  138. There is nothing wrong with a dream if you don’t create a national house of cards to sustain it, to kill it, and to take it away.

    I belong to the school of thought that maintains that a fractional reserve banking system is morally corrupt root and branch, a ticking time bomb waiting to explode with who knows what collateral damage. It doesn’t matter what the government does, they can’t make good on a unsustainable banking system.

    Government attempts to prop up a fractional reserve banking system do not make the system any more stable,
    they just increase the time horizon to the next major disaster. Meanwhile the bank higher ups are not earning money from honest labor so much as the benefit of some sort of public guarantee.

    The contemporary banking system is essentially a scheme where the public provides credit default swaps to the creditors of every bank on the planet for free. We essentially have the same business model as AIG, except we don’t bother to charge for it.

    Meanwhile the banks (and their creditors) collect enormous sums courtesy of this form of corporate welfare, and when the rainy day comes the entire system washes away and the public is left holding the bag.

    We haven’t done anything since the last crisis to make this outcome any less likely. Instead the major governments on the planet are doubling down on a bad bet, a bet that ultimately has no chance of paying off, whatever the temporary benefits are in terms of sustaining the unsustainable.

  139. Geoff,
    The closest I have come to using the scriptures to defend a liberal social policy or defending those who do was citing an instance from our shared history which could easily be invoked to rationalize taxation and redistribution, and then arguing that it is, in fact, irrelevant on its own to the merit or utility of any particular program for taxing the polity and providing a public service. The “so’s your dad” defense isn’t a defense at all, and I know you and JMax are smart enough to know that. This entire post was an exercise in pressing the scriptures (carefully selected passages) into the service of drawing sweeping, generalized, but ultimately errant conclusions about bad governments taxing and good governments not taxing. It bothers me when liberals do it (it embarrasses me, actually) and it bothers me to see you (and others) do it here.

  140. Quick one limited by time.

    John F. you said “…an honest reading of the scriptures teaches us that God is indeed interested in seeing us make efforts communally as a society to alleviate each other’s suffering and to care for the poor and needy, etc. in the here and now and not waiting for the future day when all opposition is set aside. Whether a society chooses to do this through tax policies similar to those implemented in Western European countires with social market economies or by some other means is, I would think, entirely irrelevant to God.”

    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?

  141. Brad, you neatly tried to sidestep my point, but I’m not going to let you off that easily. Here is what you wrote way up in comment #82:

    (My post) is a “fantasy of people who wish to wrest the scriptures into serving as a trump card for their own personal political preferences. … It’s a foolish game played by people who would rather invoke, in crudely proof-text fashion, the scriptures to end debate, than engage in a serious, robust debate about the merits of this or that taxation rate or the policies that said rate enables.”

    You then reiterated that comment in #125 with the following:

    “I think it’s great to vigorously debate what marginal rates and what kinds of services are optimal or appropriate, but evil-leaders-tax-while-righteous-leaders-don’t-tax is not a particularly useful or realistic way of partitioning our moral world.”

    It appears you are trying to make the point that using the scriptures to make moral or political arguments is not a good way of “partitioning our moral world.”

    Interesting.

    I just spent a half-hour going through a dozen or so politically related posts at BCC going back many months. In many cases, the commenters and original authors used various scriptures to back up their political viewpoints. In fact, this was a very common tactic. It’s funny, I never saw you tell a single one of them that using the scriptures to make political points was “not a good way of partitioning our moral world.”

    I’ve seen you comment a fair amoung on BCC, so I find this very confusing. Is it right to use the scriptures to back up our politics or not? Is it just wrong when I (or another person with whom you disagree) does it? That appears to be your argument.

    I happen to think that peoples’ politics are shaped by a lot of things, but their view of religion is a large part of it. Liberals, including many, many on this very thread, tend to cite the Book of Mormon, the D&C and Jesus’ words to justify income restribution as a way to help the poor or create Zion. But you have no problem with their using the scriptures to back up their beliefs.

    Brad, you are on very, very shakey logical ground here. It is completely acceptable for you to disagree with my interpretation of the scriptures, but to do so you have to deal with that whole thing about taxes always being treated negatively in the scriptures. So instead you have decided on the tactic of attacking my use of the scriptures in general. I don’t think that tactic will convince anybody because most people know that nearly all thoughtful politically active religious people use the scriptures all the time to back up their political beliefs one way or another.

    Next time you might want to try a different tactic, because this one falls flat.

  142. John C: Additionally, Mark, it is a hard road to argue that government regulation caused the meltdown in an area where there was no government regulation

    This is by far the most widely held misconception about the financial crisis. The contemporary banking system is a creature of the federal government. It requires intense government regulation to work at all. The problem is that the government regulators were more interested in other objectives at the time than making sure the Ponzi scheme didn’t (nearly) collapse.

    To be considered “free of regulation”, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Reserve would have to be eliminated. We wouldn’t need those institutions in a sane banking system, but in the system we have we need them and we need them to do their real job, not chase after fairies.

    The sort of banking regulations left-liberals typically want are the the exact opposite. The banking crisis is substantially due to implementing the left-liberal/”moderate” idea of banking regulation one bridge too far.

  143. Mark D,
    As I’ve said at least once now and thought at least twice, I don’t want to have this conversation here and now (if for no other reason than it is absolutely irrelevant to the thread). What I would say is that I am discussing investment banking and you are discussing commercial banking and therein lies the difference.

  144. No problem. The relevance of the issue to this thread, by the way, is that applying major distortions to the banking system and the currency in the name of housing or whatever generally is every bit as pernicious (if not worse than) as high levels of taxation. And by that I mean of questionable morality for the same reason as the high taxes of King Noah.

    Periodic financial implosions aside, the main effect is to water down the savings of retirees and the elderly, in the name of bigger and better houses for everyone else.

  145. Brad,

    If you’re going to start labeling transparently sophomoric and self-indulgent arguments (I think tendentious was a a little more succinct, don’t you? you should stick with that one) then you should also single out the comment made by some guy above where he produced a tendentious retelling of the U.S. founding in which he declares that those who signed and ratified the Constitution “agreed that the levying of taxes was the perfectly legitimate means of government to carry out its responsibilities” without noting that the same men were so certain that certain forms of taxation were so illegitimate as to be expressly prohibited by the same Constitution. A tendentious retelling that opportunistically treats Patrick Henry like some static, unchanging character, even though he later changed his mind about his opposition to the Constitution and vigorously supported it. A retelling that ignores the repudiation of the the Hamilton and Adams Federalists by the presidential election of 1800, a repudiation that became the nearly universally understood interpretation of the constitution for the next 120 years until it was eviscerated by the New Deal democrats.

    Why don’t you take that guy to task for his transparently sophomoric and self-indulgent arguments?

    Oh! Because that guy was you.

  146. Well, it appears everybody has had a chance to vent and, in the case of a few people, prove their liberal bona fides. It’s too bad a few people feel it necessary to use ad hominems to make their arguments — such tactics are not very effective although they may be emotionally satisfying. 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. There will be more to come.

    For now, I’m closing this thread. The arguments are becoming circular.

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