The forgotten eighth and tenth commandments

This post argues that people have forgotten and/or conveniently ignored the eighth and tenth commandments. What are they?

Exodus 20:15 — Don’t steal

Exodus 20:17 — Don’t covet somebody else’s property.

What does it mean to covet? Dictionary.com’s definition of “covet” is interesting: “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others: to covet another’s property.”

Laws should have some basis in morality. The 10 commandments are one of the foundations for many of our laws, but the moral laws against theft and against coveting are often ignored today.

It is clear from the Constitution and even modern-day revelation that property rights were central to our republic’s sense of identity. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution implies expansive property rights (the government cannot search your property without probable cause — if your property were community property, the standard would be different, but the Constitution is clearly implying private, individual property); the 5th amendment says people cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The 14th amendment says no law may abridge the “privileges or immunities” of any citizen and again says: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” I would argue in fact that a careful reading of the entire Constitution, including the 9th and 10th amendments, makes it clear that it is primarily a document intended to protect individual rights — including property rights — from a tyrannical majority.

Today, there is a much more expansive view of property rights than in the 18th and 19th centuries. We don’t think twice about passing new taxes or fees, without considering that we are in effect stealing from some people to give to others. And our desire to covet other people’s property knows no bounds: we love to talk about taxing “the rich” without considering that we may in fact be encouraging people to violate the 10th commandment against coveting.

The Founding Fathers were very aware of the need to protect property rights from overweaning government. Their writings are filled with worrisome references to populist uprisings caused by majority rule, in which the majority would pass laws violating the property rights of the minority. John Locke was often cited as one of the most influential philosophers read by the Founders. This is the same John Locke who said: “Government has no other end, but the preservation of property” and “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

Therefore, it is no surprise that Thomas Jefferson said the following:

“To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association–’the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.’”

Madison warned that the loss of freedom would be gradual, as indeed it has been: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

This sense that property rights were central to the American experience extended to Joseph Smith and modern-day revelation. Doctrine & Covenants Section 134:2 says very clearly:

“We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”

Right now every liberal or progressive who is reading this is saying: “well, if you can’t take any property at all, how can you form a government with an army, a police force and courts?” And, interestingly, this is exactly the conundrum faced by the Founding Fathers. John Adams struggled with this issue and finally came to the following conclusion:

Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; and to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary. But no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people.

To sum up: property can only be taken with the consent of the people involved or by the representative body of the people. But notice that the property that can be taken is intended to provide funds to defend only his “life, liberty and property.” Adams is not saying property can be taken for a long list of reasons, but instead only to help form the most basic features of a civil society.

In practice, this meant that taxation was minimal for most of the first 140-plus years of the republic. The income tax was used during emergencies and was not formally approved until the 16th amendment in 1913. And it was only intended for the very richest, people who today would be multi-millionaires.

In 100 years, we have buried ourselves under sales taxes, property taxes, state income taxes, city income taxes, federal income taxes, car registration fees and on and on in an endless parade of taking from one person or group of people and giving to another.

Clearly, some level of taxation is needed to form a society. We can all probably agree on paying taxes for national defense, police, fire and the courts. Some of us would favor some level of taxation for education and roads and anti-monopoly federal enforcement. But as we ponder the endless list of taxes that we have allowed to be foisted on ourselves, I think we should ask ourselves in each case: are we violating private property rights? Why do we have the right to steal from somebody else to give to another? Are we basing our laws on coveting the possessions of another?

I’ll give one example that clearly, in my opinion, amounts to theft and clearly involves coveting the goods of another: the death tax.

Let’s consider a business owner who successfully grows a profitable enterprise. Let’s consider how his profits are taxed in the United States. First, he pays a corporate income tax of 35 percent (one of the highest rates in the world) on his profits. Then he pays income taxes on his salary. The top rate is 35 percent scheduled to go up to 39.6 percent in January. Then, if he saves any money (the money intended for his heirs), he is taxed on capital gains and dividends. So, the same money could have been taxed three times for this business owner.

How under any just system (taking into account the eighth and tenth commandments) could we then turn around and tax the savings of this business owner another 55 percent (the amount planned in 2011)? The only justification used by modern-day thieves is, yes, that they covet this money. The caterwauling over the untimely death of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner daring to die in 2010 — a year without an estate tax — rather than in 2011, when the tax will be 55 percent, was positively ghoulish. What better example of coveting do you need than people trying to steal the wealth of another person after he dies?

Frankly, I believe we need to re-think many of our assumptions about society’s right to take money from some and redistribute to others. It is not justified, in my opinion, by the words of the Founding Fathers and important philosophers like Locke. It is not justified, in my opinion, by the broader intent of the Constitution. And it is not justified, in my opinion, by the eighth and tenth commandments and modern-day revelation.

What does this mean in practice when we live in a society with an ever-growing burden of taxation? It means we take immediate and persistent steps to decrease the size of government and the amount of taxation. It will likely be an unending battle. And we might want to remind people about the eighth and tenth commandments while we’re at it.

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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.

52 thoughts on “The forgotten eighth and tenth commandments

  1. Rasputin, appropriate name. Your thoughts don’t mesh very well with the Constitution, the writings of the Founding Fathers or modern-day revelation. 0-3!

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  3. To the extent that you are arguing for some sort of a substantive due process right to be free from taxation, I think the Adams quotation undermines it. Strip away the preferatory language and Adams is saying that Congress is the arbiter of what a just taking of property for taxes is for. This makes sense, as the founders modeled Congress after the House of Commons and House of Lords. A tax or appropriation bill must originate in the House of Representatives in the US, just as it must originate in the House of Commons in the UK. Congress’s most important role is the protector of the public fisc, and if the public does not like the tax rate, the solution is the ballot.

  4. “Let’s consider a business owner who successfully grows a profitable enterprise. Let’s consider how his profits are taxed in the United States. First, he pays a corporate income tax of 35 percent (one of the highest rates in the world) on his profits. Then he pays income taxes on his salary. The top rate is 35 percent scheduled to go up to 39.6 percent in January. Then, if he saves any money (the money intended for his heirs), he is taxed on capital gains and dividends. So, the same money could have been taxed three times for this business owner.”

    Whatever salary a business owner pays himself is a business expense and therefore subtracted from the accounting of company profits, therefore not part of the company’s tax liability. The tax on gains and dividends is also not a tax on the “same money”. The “same money” is the cost basis, or original savings, not taxed twice.

  5. Nate W, I think Geoff is making a moral argument, not a legal argument. This proposition is not going to win in the courts anytime soon. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have an effect on the way people vote and what remedies they advocate.

    Conservatives will make arguments in court when and where they can make a difference, but the foundation of constitutional conservatism is the proposition that the courts are not the ultimate arbiters of what should rightly be considered constitutional or not, _even_ if judicial precedent prevails in actual cases or controversies that come before the judicial rather than the legislative or executive branches of government.

    This particular argument is far more a question of morality that constitutionality of course. And in particular it is about the morality of unbounded majoritarian excess, well recognized by the Founders as the Achilles’ heel of democracies everywhere – hence the bicameral system, the mode of election of the President, and the Senate prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, separation of powers, enumerated powers, and so on. All those efforts in part to prevent what has clearly come to pass.

  6. Bill, I think there are some technical errors in Geoff’s enumeration, but there certainly are many cases of multiple taxation of the same original income.

    For example, when a corporation earns a profit, it pays corporate income tax on that. If the corporation distributes some of that profit as dividends, the shareholders pay personal taxes on that. The retained (undistributed) income of the corporation is likewise reflected in the value of the capital gain a shareholder takes when selling his shares, which is similarly taxable to the individual.

    If the individual taxpayer then consumes anything he is required to pay excise and sales taxes. Or if he saves it for his heirs, they are required to pay estate taxes. That is _three_ layers of direct taxes on the same profit (or economic gain) in each case.

  7. _Three_ or _four_ I should say: Corporate income tax, dividend/capital gains tax, estate tax, sales tax.

    If I were relatively wealthy and put my savings at risk by investing it a corporation, and that corporation earns $1000, and I pass the earnings I receive onto my heirs, it is highly likely that the economic value of what they receive will only be a tiny fraction of the original profit attributable to that investment.

    $1000*(1.00-0.39)*(1.00-(0.20+0.10))*(1.00-0.55)*(1.00-0.07)

    Or approximately $179 of economic value to my heirs with the other $821 going to the government. Worst case, no games. At best a full employment plan for lawyers and tax accountants.

  8. Well, if you are getting into sales taxes, I guess the same dollar could be taxed hundreds of times as it goes through various transactions. Any time I pay someone for a good or service, I am using money that, if earned, has presumably already been taxed. Does that mean that it shouldn’t ever be taxed again for any future recipients?

    “the courts are not the ultimate arbiters of what should rightly be considered constitutional or not”

    True at least in the case of amendments (although these are also interpreted). It was because the supreme court found the income tax (partly) unconstitutional in 1895 (even though they had four times previously found it constitutional and it partly financed the civil war) that the sixteenth amendment was ratified quite quickly by the states. The income tax had grown popular as an alternative to the crushing tariffs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Incidentally, the Spanish-American War of 1898 was largely financed by a national inheritance tax (passed judicial review in 1900, but repealed in 1902).

  9. #7 is a very strange way of looking at things. Not all corporate profits go directly into dividends, nor are they necessarily associated with any particular capital gain (in fact, you could easily have a capital loss on a very profitable company if your timing was wrong) so the $1000 profit will probably be even further diluted. Not sure how sales tax figures into your calculations. Also, the 55% estate tax will only kick in on the portion above $1,000,000 or more, depending on exemptions.

  10. Nate W, just to be clear, I am NOT arguing for a due process right to be free from taxation. I recognize we live in a world where the long case history of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the commerce clause will make that impossible in our lifetimes.

    I would consider it a victory if some politicians began to say to themselves: “do I really have a right to take from somebody else?” and “is is just for me to covet that rich guy’s stuff?” I consider it a world gone mad where politicians blithely discuss raising taxes and fees without considering such moral questions in every case.

    Bill, believe it or not, it occurred to me as I was going to sleep last night that a corporation may count the owner’s salary as a business expense and therefore there was not quadruple taxation but triple taxation. So you are correct. My larger point — that it is unjustice to tax the same money several times — remains with the caveat as you say that the 55 percent rate is for larger estates. I’m sure you’re aware that in the case of farms and small businesses it’s pretty easy to get above $1 million. In addition, I hope you will admit my larger point that the estate tax is primarily justified by coveting — ie, “they are so rich, and it’s not right that they pass that along to their heirs who didn’t do anything to earn that money.”

  11. By the way, thanks for the civil tone so far. I know this is controversial stuff, but if you can’t discuss it on a Mormon blog among friends, where else can you?

  12. Nate W, referring to your number 3, let me expand on the purpose of this post. Mormons often use the “moral argument” as a basis for laws expanding the power of government. What you often hear is: “Zion means there should be no poor, therefore we need to expand government to take care of the poor.” There is no doubt in my mind that Zion and the teachings of the savior call for personal charitable giving and personal actions to help the poor, sick and needy. I would argue there is no evidence, however, that the savior called for giving to the government so it could give to the poor, and in fact there is no evidence that Jesus called for people to give to the Romans or Sanhedrin so they could give to the poor. His appeal was for personal, individual giving.

    But the moral argument in favor of government giving remains powerful among many people. I would like Mormons to consider another moral argument: that it is morally wrong, and a violation of property rights, which are central to the founding of the United States, for government to steal from one to give to another, and it is equally morally wrong to encourage coveting the property of another. If you take these two moral arguments together, hopefully you will arrive at the conclusion that taxation should be rare and hopefully temporary, rather than what it is today.

  13. A few clarifications:

    The statutory corporate rate is 35% — the effetive rate is around 27% with some companies paying much less thanks to accelerated depreciation, stock options, tax credits, and offshore sheltering.

    There is also some confusion between marginal and effective rates in personal income tax. Yes, if you are making millions and millions of dollars then the majority of your income is taxed at 35% (soon to be 39). Let’s say you make $200,000 (less than 3% of Americans make that much, so you can see to what a tiny number of people some of the above assumptions apply to) You make it into the 33% bracket, but that doesn’t mean you pay 33% on the whole amount — you still only pay 10% on the first 8,000, 15% on the next 26,000, etc., for an effective rate of 25.5%

    The following two paragraphs come from this link which explains why the estate tax could be good policy for reasons that have nothing to do with covetousness:

    http://www.cbpp.org/files/estatetaxmyths.pdf

    “Today, more than 99.7 percent of estates owe no estate tax at all, according to the
    Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Among the few estates that owe any
    tax, the “effective” tax rate — that is, the percentage of the estate’s value that is paid in
    taxes — is less than 20 percent on average.”

    “The estate of only 0.24 percent of all people who die in 2009 (i.e., the estates of
    between two and three of every 1,000 people who die) are expected to owe any estate
    tax, according to the Tax Policy Center.2 And only about 1.3 percent of the few
    estates that still are taxable are small business or farm estates.3
    TPC estimates that only 80 small business and farm estates nationwide will owe any estate tax
    in 2009. This figure represents only 0.003 percent of all estates”

  14. Bill, this post is mostly about the issue of “what is moral” with regard to taxation, but I appreciate your clarifications. I have three points on the estate tax. The first is a general “is it fair” argument.

    Famous liberal Whoopi Goldberg made the clearest moral argument against the death tax, which is, “is it fair for people to have to pay taxes again when they die when they have already paid taxes during their lifetime on the same money?” And I agree with her: it is not fair, just or moral on the most basic level.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fnz7De4nTnk

    The second argument has to do with savings. We have a huge savings problem in the United States, and indeed one of the causes of our current crisis is that people are not encouraged to save as they are in other societies. A high death tax is the best way to discourage savings because of course the incentive would be to spend all your money before you die so you don’t stick your heirs with a huge tax bill.

    The third point is that there may or may not be good economic reasons for the death tax, but that is irrelevant. The primary motive for it is the “Paris Hilton argument,” which basically is: “get the rich people — they don’t deserve all that money, and their kids certainly don’t deserve it if they never worked a day in their lives.” Notice this argument is all about what some people deserve to do or not do with their own money. What gives you or anybody else the right to pass judgement on what other people do with their own property (take a look at the Jefferson quotation above to see what he thought about it)? We can talk all day about what other people should do with their own property, but again if you stop and think about it, we are violating the eighth and 10th commandments when we do so.

  15. I think we’re ignoring two key components Geoff mentioned: The 10 Commandments and the Constitution’s built-in demand for limited government (at least on the federal level). Even the Supreme Court has begun stepping back from the excessive use of the Commerce and General Welfare clauses to justify taxing and regulating.

    We need to help people realize they cannot have both a nanny state and a free state. They must choose. Yes, there are some legitimate reasons for taxing. Interstate highways have increased commerce, for instance. However, those things not given to the Feds to handle specifically in the Constitution are to be left to the states to handle. That means health care is a state issue, not a federal one. Mitt Romney was not wrong to do it in Massachusetts and insist it is wrong on the federal level.

    Are we teaching and mandating in federal regulation that people covet others’ private property? Perhaps pushing such a view in an official way has also opened the door to coveting others’ wives and outright theft from one’s employer, etc? No wonder we’re going to h#ll in a hand basket.

  16. Geoff…great post. I found it very timely as our property taxes will be a bit more this month (start of the new fiscal year)….sigh…

  17. Great post, Geoff. Too quickly we forget that Americans are not guaranteed happiness, but only the pursuit thereof. We have no guarantee of equal results, only a level playing field where the game can be played. Through our modern tax system, however, Washington is clearly more preoccupied with making rich people poor than making poor people rich.

    As for the Constitution, I am continually bewildered that members of Congress are sworn to uphold its principles and yet are as unfamiliar with it contents as they are with the 1000+ page tax-laden bills they ram through.

  18. Here is a perfect example of why this post is so great and is a moral question on so many levels. My grandfather died this year, he was a very wealthy man and would have been taxed at the highest level. I’m sure he had a great lawyer to protect his investments, however here is the moral dilema that Geoff is trying to get at. His children and grandchildren have made their own way through life and had to work just as hard as he did. We did not grow up with his money floating us through life. My husband and I have worked hard to get where we are, but during these economic times, we too have felt the pain. I stand to inherit some of my grandfathers estate, would it be fair for the state to take that money away from my family, who has worked hard and could really use it at a time like this? If my grandfather wishes to share his wealth with his family after they have worked just as hard as he did, I think that is his choice. All too often we think of the “rich” as some fictional monopoly character. There are a lot of people who fit into this group, why is it fair to punish success? It isn’t, it’s just the best way for the government to steal from you.

  19. Hillary, I know what you are going through because of stories from people I know who are classified as “rich” but are cash-poor. One result is they are forced to sell assets from an estate to pay the death tax, and often these sales cause businesses or farms to be closed or sold at inopportune times. The death tax is only one example of a covetous and unjust tax, but there are many others, including our ridiculously high corporate tax rate, among others.

  20. Does that mean that it shouldn’t ever be taxed again for any future recipients?

    No. Sales tax should only be counted once. Income taxes are also normally only counted once. (The exception is with corporations because unlike payments to employees, payments to shareholders are not deductible expenses, so two levels of income tax apply before net corporate income is actually applied to the benefit of an individual).

    It is quite true of course that most people are not subject to estate taxes, but that doesn’t obviate the moral and economic arguments with respect to those that are. All the rates I quoted are marginal, not net rates. One of them is actually too low, because the special tax treatment of dividends is expiring at the end of the year, with the sort of hit that is going to encourage companies to quit paying them at all.

    Supposing we leave out the estate tax for now, that is still:

    $1000*(1.00-0.39)*(1.00-(0.39+0.10))*(1.00-0.07)

    Or $289 in economic value to a relatively well off shareholder and $711 to the government. Adding back in estate taxes that is $130 to the shareholder and $770 to the government. It is a wonder why wealthy people invest their money at all, instead of just spending it on homes and automobiles.

    I happen to be one of those people who thinks that the deficit is a serious enough problem that broad based tax increases would be better than doing nothing, but these particular taxes are so high that increasing them (or letting the existing cuts expire) could be fatal.

  21. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society” Oliver Wendell Holmes Filipinas v. Collector of Internal Revenue 275 U.S. 87 (1922).

    You interpretation of the 8th and 10th commandments is really a stretch and twists the text to the breaking point.

  22. John Willis, Holmes wrote that in an era when many of the sales, property and other taxes that exist today had not been imposed and when federal income taxes were minimal. Interesting to note that you have no argument to justify your claim that my interpretation is a “stretch.” What does the text actually say? What does the Constitution actually say? What does D&C 134:2 actually say?

  23. Anyone who thinks the sales tax is onerous is going to love it when we finally get the VAT that the Democrats in Washington have been talking about for decades. It’s exactly like a sales tax, only it applies the tax every time the item changes hands.

    Manufacturer to wholesaler: VAT. Wholesaler to distributor: VAT. Distributor to retailer: VAT. Retailer to consumer: VAT.

    All hail the nanny state!

  24. What is the “right” level of taxation is a social, economic and political question. It cannot be resolved by a forced interpretation of the 8th and 10th commandment. You clearly don’t like the current level of taxation in the United States(FYI the United States has one of the lowest or lowest level of taxation relative to the GDP of any Western Industrialized Society). This is your position and you are entitled to it. But your opposition to the current level of taxation came first and you then interpreted the 8th and 10th comandment to fit your position.

  25. John Willis, when you read what many of the Founding Fathers wrote in connection with the 8th and 10th Amendments and the Constitution as a whole, you get to understand their original intent. They did not want a nanny state. They understood that more taxation and regulation meant loss of jobs and property, loss of freedom.

    The European states that you mention with such high levels of tax are now beginning to reverse it. They realize they cannot maintain their huge nanny states. They realize that they are crippling their own economies. Sweden, England, France and others are looking at reducing government’s giant footprint in Europe. Greece is also wanting to do this. Sadly, many of the people and unions do not see it as an issue of freedom and survival of the nation. Instead, they protest and riot about losing their “rights” to live on the dole.
    We have people in the USA who complain about wanting more Medicare/Medicaid, who have never paid into the system (both old and young). And because of the lust for government “freebies”, we’ve allowed Congress to steal all the money in the Social Security “Trust” fund, so that there is nothing but an IOU. Unfunded liabilities for these programs are now estimated at $70 Trillion on the low end.
    It isn’t a matter of IF we go bankrupt. We already are. It is a matter of WHEN we and everyone else realizes it, we lose our credit rating, and end up a third world nation with nukes, a la Russia 1993.
    Our nation has become so lazy, we can’t even get kids to stay in school and graduate. We can’t get good teachers to teach them, because the unions have created the lowest common denominator: tenure at 3 years. While Obama thrashes the teachers’ unions in public, behind the scenes he is giving them billions and hiring more unionized teachers to increase their ranks.
    He hired Larry Summers, the man who originally deregulated the banking industry but kept the safety hooks in place for his banking buddies, to dig us out of the economic recession. Guess what? He bailed out his buddies, but 9 of 10 foreclosures are still going through on taxpayers. Obviously, we have banks to big to fail, but go ahead and let regular Americans lose their homes as his solution!
    This is the problem with big government. The banks didn’t need to be regulated. But neither should they have been protected by federal promises of bail outs, which caused the huge risk taking. AIG’s paying big bonuses with our bailout money shows just how incredibly wrong big government has been! And we’re still not out of the woods, as they can still “fail” or be bailed out again.

  26. John Willis, your answer is extremely instructive because of the tactics used. This post makes some arguments using quotations from Locke, Jefferson, Madison and Adams and the scriptures. Your answer makes no real argument and uses no citations and then calls into question my motives (without offering any real evidence). Such tactics are unlikely to convince anybody of anything.

  27. I repeat ,whether or not the proper level of taxation in a given society at a given point in time is 10, 20 30 or 50% of GDP is a economic, social and politcal question. It cannot be answered by referencing the 8th or 10th commandments. They 8th and 10th commandments apply to indivdual behavoir and are not guides to the proper level of taxation in a given society.

    I have no desire to argue economics with you. I do not question your sincerity in your economic, politcal or social beliefs. I question your interpretation and use of scripture. You are asking the 8th and 10 commandments to bear a greater load than they were designed for.

    I take a Ponitus Pilate attitude to my comments, what I have written ,I have written

  28. Which is a cop out, because it really is not a discussion, but your opinion which you will not discuss or give evidence for. Opinion is fine, but it does not promote discussion.

    I noted that many Founding Fathers, those who first came up with the Bill of Rights, have discussed the concept behind the 8th and 10th Amendments. Now, you can either discuss why you accept/dismiss their argument, or share how you think the Constitution is a “living” document that means whatever the current progressives think it ought to mean. Which in this case means that the Constitution no longer means anything, as it can be read to mean anything or ignored.

  29. John Willis, sometimes a person has an opinion and can’t explain why, and that’s OK. I’m not going to beat you up because you can’t explain it. I would like to repeat something that I made up in comment number 12:

    “Mormons often use the “moral argument” as a basis for laws expanding the power of government. What you often hear is: “Zion means there should be no poor, therefore we need to expand government to take care of the poor.” There is no doubt in my mind that Zion and the teachings of the savior call for personal charitable giving and personal actions to help the poor, sick and needy. I would argue there is no evidence, however, that the savior called for giving to the government so it could give to the poor, and in fact there is no evidence that Jesus called for people to give to the Romans or Sanhedrin so they could give to the poor. His appeal was for personal, individual giving.

    But the moral argument in favor of government giving remains powerful among many people. I would like Mormons to consider another moral argument: that it is morally wrong, and a violation of property rights, which are central to the founding of the United States, for government to steal from one to give to another, and it is equally morally wrong to encourage coveting the property of another. If you take these two moral arguments together, hopefully you will arrive at the conclusion that taxation should be rare and hopefully temporary, rather than what it is today.”

    If your argument is that the scriptures should never be used as reference to government, then I think that’s an OK argument, but it’s highly problematic. Different people read scriptures differently. But I hope you remain consistent and never, ever use the scriptures to justify one policy position or another. But if we can never use the scriptures as a justification for laws, we have some interesting things to explain. Biblical ideas of right and wrong are constantly used in U.S. society as the basis for many laws and morays. They are certainly used by “progressives” to justify taking property from some people and giving to others (in the name of “helping the poor.”)

  30. Interesting post Geoff B.

    I will definitely agree with you that certain taxes and other government laws have become onerous to the public. The death tax is one of these things, for example, from what I understand of it and from what has been written above. And so in principal I will agree somewhat with your basic statement Geoff B. Government actually is too big and controlling in certain cases. (Yeah, I’m shocked too. :-D)

    But there are some things within your argument that don’t stand up to reality, in my opinion. The idea of limited government and few taxes is a great idea on paper. It is something that would cause some exceptional benefits to certain people and many sections of our nation. But in our industrialized and world-connected society, how exactly will you achieve this? What exactly is the plan to successfully repeal government’s power and it’s ability to tax the populace while still ensuring that the US will remain a viable and powerful nation?

    Yes, I’ll agree that the US does not need to overtax it’s people to be a powerful nation. And in an alternate universe the US could have achieved as much or more than it has without the need to overtax it’s people as it does now. Unfortunately, we aren’t in that alternate universe: we are in the one where many popular and successful (and not so successful) social programs are in place to help the public, and have been for many years. And so unless someone has a portal where we can all step into that alternate universe, I’d like to know exactly how you plan to transition from where we are now to where you want to be without ruining the country? Because unless there is a strategic, overarching plan to ease us into such a transition slowly and with foresight and intelligence, such a radical change will ruin our country.

    Two examples:
    Higher education (and education in general) has become severely underfunded in many states in the last few years in part because of laws enacted recently to limit government. See Colorado’s example of a 60% drop in funding. As a result, the institutions have been forced to raise tuition. Because of the higher tuition, now many young people who would have been able to attend college can no longer afford to, leaving them with only the prospect of lower paying jobs. And it is a proven fact that an educated public benefits society in more ways than just making people smarter. So as a result of a limited government, only those who can afford to will be able to attend college.

    Our national infrastructure is a disgrace. More than 26% of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. One-third of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 36% of major urban highways are congested. The nation’s electrical grid is in urgent need of modernization and if not corrected, blackouts will become more and more common in large cities. The limited government movement does not address this at all. And with a severe lack of funds that will be a result of such anti-tax measures, our nation’s infrastructure will continue to crumble around us. As the infrastructure continues to fail us, prices for food will rise dramatically and our drinking water will become more and more unsafe, among many other things. And again, only those who can afford it will have access to what they need.

    Of course there are other issues I could delve into if I had the time, such as the negative effects for thousands of poor people if a sudden repeal of some of the nation’s social programs were to occur.

    As I see it, the end result of these ideas if they were enacted within our society would be to create a fatally divided state between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Those who could afford the service or opportunity that is currently available via social government programs will not have their lives significantly changed from what it is today. But those who can not afford “luxuries” such as education and clean water will be out in the cold with absolutely no recourse to rise above their condition. The old American ideal of rags to riches will be gone.

    Some argue that the private sector will step in to help those that the government no longer could under such an anti-tax regime. Yes, that is true – but only to a point. There would be some philanthropy from many businesses and individuals, just as there is now. But would it be enough to keep the country above a Third-world state of severe social stratification? No.

    To conclude, I emphatically agree that government can and should be scaled back or altered a little bit. There are far too many functions of government that have become antiquated, poorly run and obsolete. And so the basic idea of scaling back is a good one. But not to the radical degree that has been voiced by the many powerful GOP senators and businessmen. If we are to do this, then let’s take baby steps. Let’s scale back without removing that which is critical for the nation to function in the world. Let’s give government a “shave” without leaving untold thousands of our neighbors out in the cold. This doesn’t need to be a black or white solution, you do not need to choose one extreme or another. Some of your ideas can be enacted if they are done with intelligence, care and respect for those it will negatively affect.

    You say, Geoff that we are ignoring two of the ten commandments. By advocating for such an extremely severe cut to our government as you’ve described, you are ignoring this one: “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” As I’ve said above, your ideas look great on paper. But think through to what would eventually occur if these ideas were enacted. What would be the results and what would happen to those who would be negatively affected.

    No action, good or bad and no matter how well intended, comes without a consequence.

  31. James, very good comment. I am in transit and it will take me many hours to respond. Check in friday am for a response. Cheers, Geoff B

  32. “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

    Your assumption is that there would be insufficient mercy/charity without the force of government. Interestingly, studies show that the less people are taxed, the more they donate to charity. Studies also show that those who advocate for higher taxation, especially on higher income earners, give much less in charity. Makes sense if you believe in compelling charity as opposed to charity freely given. I certainly don’t believe we could manage without some level of compelled taxation, but I do believe high tax rates are detrimental on many levels and the tax structure is out of balance. Call it the principle of diminishing returns.

    It seems to me that tax-funded social programs our government created as a kind of “forced charity” to ensure nobody falls behind is not entirely dissimilar to the plan Satan hatched in the Council in Heaven. Both examples undermine free agency, the bedrock principle of our existence.

  33. “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

    The problem with this interpretation is that it is NOT a commandment for us! It is what God says he does for those who are obedient to him. Yet, he doesn’t make the same promise for those who are not obedient: “I the Lord am bound when ye do as I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)

    Are we to be merciful? Yes. But define mercy? Does it mean putting forth government programs that enslave people to the nanny state? Doesn’t God’s mercy include letting people learn from their bad choices, in order for them to grow and overcome? Isn’t that the purpose of agency sometimes? There is mercy, and then there is whatever our government tries to do. After trillions of dollars in welfare assistance since LBJ began his Great Society and war on poverty, more people have fallen into poverty than before he began his war. More people are addicted to drugs today than before the war on drugs started. We spend trillions on health care, and people just insist on having more benefits, as if free prescriptions were a right found in the Constitution. Jimmy Carter began the Education Dept, yet we have more kids dropping out of school than ever before, and we’ve dropped from being 1st in science and math to somewhere around 25th place. Having our military build nations and serve in wars run by politicians, instead of just fighting and winning wars has cost us precious lives and trillions of dollars since Korea and Vietnam.

    While our government has thrown trillions of dollars at perceived problems around the world, they continually end up failing us. The Middle East isn’t fixed. Woodrow Wilson tried fixing the balkanization of the Serbian state, yet we “had” to go back in under Clinton to fix it again. The French failed in Vietnam, so we also had to have a long drawn out turn of failing there, as well.

    Do we see a pattern here? I do, and it is in no way merciful. We are not merciful in throwing money at problems, which then become worse. Iraq is now on the way to being a failed state. Afghanistan is still a failed state. Our interference may cause Pakistan to collapse. As with Vietnam, it is just a different country name.

    The best way government can be merciful is to shrink drastically, give everyone their money back, and then just be ready to assist when real disasters strike (like another 9/11 attack, or a hurricane).

  34. Skaught said,

    Your assumption is that there would be insufficient mercy/charity without the force of government. Interestingly, studies show that the less people are taxed, the more they donate to charity

    Could you please link to those studies? I’d be interested to read them as I have not heard of them.

    My assumption is based mainly on typical human behavior. Before the social programs that are being railed against here and from those in power in the GOP, there were most definitely charities and organizations that helped those in need. I do not want to say that they weren’t a great help, they were. And they assisted not only the poor, but the nation as well. But yes, they weren’t enough.

    Before the “New Deal” living conditions in the 19th Century were typically brutal for the poor. A worker in the factories had a life expectancy of around 25 or so because of the horrible conditions and the laborious work for little pay. “Before the outbreak of large scale diseases in the 1830s, such as cholera and typhus, that the government and local councils started paying attention to the appalling conditions in the slums and the grave risks posed by the overcrowding in substandard housing, by contaminated wells, lack of a sewage system etc.” (from Answers.com) If you had money, you had a chance for a good life. If you didn’t, your life was horrendous and short. Of course that isn’t new as this disparity has existed since Adam’s children walked the earth.

    Now while the New Deal did raise the conditions of the poor in the US significantly and in a few ways helped us get out of the Depression, the idea wasn’t all roses and sunbeams. There are sections of the New Deal and a few other social programs since then that have been abused, corrupted and out-lived their usefulness. Nothing man made is perfect and this definitely applies to government programs, no matter what side of the isle you are on or who created the program. Many social programs have caused, and many more are still causing more problems than they ever solved. Others were and are still being abused by those who rely on the tax dollars. I emphatically agree that some social programs have created a welfare state in the US that needs a serious house cleaning or elimination.

    Nonetheless out of that mess, some good has been made for the benefit of both the poor and America as a whole. For example:

    The bank and monetary reforms made it much harder for the abuse of those with power and money to get away with outright theft from the middle class and the poor. It also made it much harder to repeat the conditions that created the Great Depression. (Although a portion of those laws have since been eliminated. Thus our current problems.)

    The lifting of the poor’s condition opened the door for the social reforms, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which allowed much more freedom and independence for women.

    The arts and culture were promoted.

    The severe rural poverty throughout the South was turned around.

    Protection of workers from abuse from their employers was created.

    A huge amount of our nation’s infrastructure was created because of the New Deal. Dams, roads, reforestation, national parks, city parks, housing, waterways, and so on and so forth were created because of these social programs.

    And one of the best results of government intervention into societal matters was the creation of assistance for and enabling to African Americans which eventually led to the creation of the much needed anti-discrimination laws.

    In short, a great deal of what we currently take for granted as a God-given right in America did not exist in the US before these social programs were put in place. The fact that we have the time to post our thoughts to a blog in and of itself is a result of social programs that have allowed generations to live in a way that gives us the free time to enjoy ourselves. In the 19th Century, if you didn’t have money you had no leisure time. At least not as we know it now. Our standard of life at this moment is far, far greater than every single generation before us in the history of the earth. And significantly greater than even 100 years ago. And a large part of the reason we live so well has been a result of social programs such as have been demonized here.

    But once again, let me say that I do not think any social program, no matter how well constructed or implemented is a panacea for all of the nation’s ills. They can be and have been terribly abused. They can outlive their usefulness and become a burden to the US. They can be neglected and they can be overblown and onerously expensive. All of these things are true and all of these things must be fixed. But if the conditions are right and the need is there, some government social programs are the only way for some things to occur. Things like the Jim Crow laws.

    Basically what I’m saying is that we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t repeal all social programs because their are some that are terribly broken. Fix or eliminate the ones that are broken and leave the ones that have proven to work alone.

    And like I said in my last post above, look at the consequences of what would happen if you got your wish of severely limited government. I’ve yet to hear from anyone who has taken your position on this subject any workable concept to mitigate the obviously inherent social stratification between the rich and the poor that would be the consequence of the elimination of these programs. If there is such an idea that I just haven’t heard of yet, please let me know. I would very much like to read it.

    But if there is no plan to successfully ease the nation into these ideas of limited government and significantly lower taxes; if this is only a political ideal without any real substance; then I personally can’t see how such an idea is actually feasible in the real world without terrible social repercussions for the US.

  35. James, you ask:

    “But in our industrialized and world-connected society, how exactly will you achieve this? What exactly is the plan to successfully repeal government’s power and it’s ability to tax the populace while still ensuring that the US will remain a viable and powerful nation?”

    Believe it or not, I do have a plan. And it is not the Republican plan. Or more accurately, it is only partially a Republican plan.

    Here is the plan.

    1)The president’s deficit commission will reveal its results in December. I expect the commission to call for large decreases in government spending and address the elephant in the room, which is entitlement spending (this is future spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). There is a potential $100 trillion unfunded liability on entitlement spending. You read that correctly. $100 trillion if entitlements are not reformed. Once the commission comes out, I would favor the following.

    A)Across-the-board cuts in every area of government. This means NO AREA is a sacred cow, including and especially defense spending. Politically, this is the only way you can tackle things like Social Security, which Bush could not touch in 2005. You need to create an “austerity culture” where we all pull together to lower the size of government for the good of our society.

    B)Where could we cut? Take a look at this page:

    http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/

    There are dozens of ideas there. Our deficit right now is in the range of $1 trillion. If you add up the cuts there, and you make cuts to discretionary spending, you could cut the deficit in half. Such a move would cause a stock market and economic boom because it would help reverse the uncertainty of the current environment.

    C)What about entitlement spending, which must be seriously reformed in the future? We adopt Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, which gets rid of the deficit and seriously reforms Social Security by changing benefits for those under 55. It’s not fair to change Social Security for those who are 64 and have planned retirement for next year, but it is fair and necessary for those who have some time to plan.

    http://www.roadmap.republicans.budget.house.gov/

    D)I am skeptical of a balanced budget amendment. Instead, I would prefer a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. This would keep budget increases within a certain range (say, capped at 2 percent a year or capped at the level of GDP growth) except in the case of a declaration of war. This way we control spending in the future.

    E)We need to change a culture that thinks that taking from one and giving to another is “normal.” We need to do a better job of educating our kids about the Constitution and its call for limited government.

    So, that’s the plan.

  36. James, regarding your question to Skaught in number 34, I would urge you to read the following, written by a liberal columnist in the NY Times!!!!!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html

    To quote:

    “Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.”

    AND

    “Something similar is true internationally. European countries seem to show more compassion than America in providing safety nets for the poor, and they give far more humanitarian foreign aid per capita than the United States does. But as individuals, Europeans are far less charitable than Americans.”

    In general, Americans are still taxed less than Europeans. Americans are personally more charitable, but Europeans tend to think they “gave at the office,” meaning they already paid for their charity in their taxes. This causes less personal charity, which is exactly what the Savior wants us to do. Let me ask you this: did the Savior want us to write a check and forget about the poor, or did he want us to personally go and help the poor and needy individually? Only the latter causes the kind of change of heart the Savior wants us to make.

  37. Geoff, taxes are not contrary to the Constitution. All of us want lower taxes. It’s not a religious or cosmic thing. We don’t like it when we are required to give our money to someone we judge is less deserving of wealth.

    Reading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, I don’t see anything that remotely inveighs against taxes to the same extent that you do here. This post is extremely partisan in that sense.

    Our taxes in the United States have been enacted by the representatives of the people put into place by the republican system established by our Constitution. Perhaps you think that if we still had Senators elected by state legislators then our taxes would be lower. That is possibly true. The best way to get the lowest possible taxes is to elect only and strictly middle-class people as representatives, not rich people or poor people, according to De Tocqueville’s astute observations about how democracies function.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that we as a people can have as high of taxes as we want — taxes in and of themselves aren’t inimical to our republican system. If you don’t like the level of taxation, you should be arguing against the wisdom or necessity of certain taxes and making arguments that such taxes are not true to a fiscally conservative mindset — not casting taxes in our democratic republic as contrary to fundamental founding principles or religious principles.

    (By the way, hopefully you’ll coordinate your push for lower taxes with generous voluntary donations to programs and institutions that provide real and reliable assistance to the poor — now that is a religious principle, lest we be found guilty of grinding the face of the poor as we sit in our McMansions watching our big screen TVs and planning our next ATV outing.)

  38. To summarize more briefly: taxes are not theft in the constitutional system that exists in our democratic republican system in the United States of America. The Eighth Commandment has nothing to do with any of this. That is just purely partisan rhetoric and I would have thought to expect better from you. Now the Tenth Commandment — you might be on to something there.

  39. Total US charitable contributions are less than 10% of the US budget. Anyone who thinks Americans will voluntarily increase their giving by 1000% in the absence of taxes is dreaming. But I guess they probably also think 90% of US spending is “waste”.

  40. Geoff B. wrote,

    Believe it or not, I do have a plan. And it is not the Republican plan. Or more accurately, it is only partially a Republican plan.

    Unfortunately that is the problem. While you have given me a fairly good argument, Geoff B., I have never heard anything like this from those who have the power to authorize these sweeping reforms.

    I’ve spent some time looking through the sites you’ve provided links to. (Thanks!) I will agree that there are some good ideas there; I would love to see a couple of those ideas enacted. And I see some bad ones as well, as is typical for any government policy. But I did not see anything that directly addressed my concern of social stratification based on income which would be the natural repercussion from a broad cut throughout government.

    I don’t have time to go into all of the details unfortunately. So let’s focus on education as an example as I personally consider that a critical component of a modern society that should not be neglected. “In the schoolhouse, we have the heart of the whole society.” ~ Henry Golden.

    A quote from one of the sites you linked to says: “The Department of Education should be closed and its programs terminated.” On that same page it says:

    Federal loans and grants to college students should also be ended. Personal savings, financial institutions, and charitable organizations are more efficient funding sources for college costs. Federal student aid has proven to be hugely wasteful, with large amounts of fraud and abuse combined with inept federal administration. A further problem is that rising federal aid has generated inflation in college tuition and other educational costs. Thus, ending federal student subsidies would create beneficial pressure on colleges and universities to trim their bloated budgets and reduce their tuition.

    No, that is not true. While I would agree that the Federal loans and grants have to some degree been “hugely wasteful, with large amounts of fraud and abuse,” the rest of the paragraph is not true. Ending Federal student subsidies would not be in any way beneficial to colleges and universities in any stretch of the imagination. Unless you are looking at the privately owned colleges, or those that are subsidized by some other means such as BYU, all higher education throughout the country have already trimmed their budgets to the bone and are still bleeding profusely. Except for the big name universities such as Harvard, there is no such thing as a “bloated budget” anymore. And most importantly, young people who are poor are finding far less opportunity than even a decade ago to advance themselves through college.

    Let’s take Colorado’s higher education for example: Colorado is a disgusting 48 out of 50 for the amount of money given to higher ed, and has been near the bottom of that list ever since the TABOR amendment passed (a poorly written anti-tax measure that forces increased spending on K-12 with an ever shrinking budget, to the detriment of all other critical needs). Since 2008, even that minuscule amount of money spent on CO’s universities and colleges has plummeted 60%. Sixty percent!!! As a result, every college in the state is forced to raise tuition by a significant degree, important programs that have a proven return on investment to the State and the students have been cut, students have been overburdened with more fees and a huge amount of employees have been laid off causing additional economic problems in the surrounding cities. To put it bluntly, Colorado’s higher education is on life support and the vital signs don’t look good.

    Now multiply that problem by the hundreds of other universities in the country who have lost a significant amount from their budgets and have been forced to raise tuition and cut programs, faculty and staff. Now think about the vastly increased number of young people who can now no longer afford college because of these changes.

    In addition, by eliminating the Dept. of Education you would also eliminate Title 1, which distributes funds to schools and districts with high numbers of low-income students; Pell Grants for low-income college students; and Head Start, an early childhood education program for lower-income children. Sense a pattern? Would these programs be reinstated at the State level? Maybe in a few states, but throughout the country? Hardly. My example of Colorado above is evidence enough that there wouldn’t be any reinstatement there. But for more proof, what about poor states such as Mississippi where the poverty level and discrimination is beyond appalling, and growing worse? Further elimination of these social programs will create problems such as this. Or this. I don’t see a practical solution to these real world problems in the web sites you linked to Geoff B.

    As I had said before, on paper the idea of removing Federal departments and social programs looks very good. I absolutely agree that there are problems with the government education programs that should be addressed. And the general operation of education in the country should be overhauled and the many problems fixed with intelligent and not reactionary reform. But in the real world, the bottom line is the fact that if the Dept. of Education was eliminated, it would also eliminate the ability for poor people in a large part of the nation to get a good education. To put it bluntly: if you are not rich, you will be ignorant. That is an unconscionable condition, and one that will eliminate what we call the “American dream.”

    Such actions as you support will bring about further social stratification between the rich and the poor. And that has been my one and only point since I started commenting on this post. Unless that specific issue is addressed, I can not support any of these ideas, and I consider them radical and dangerous.

  41. John F, a graduated income tax violates the principal of equal treatment under the law.

    What I’d like to see is a state with enough balls to refuse every dollar of federal funds and then instruct its citizens to unilaterally take a credit on their income tax returns equivalent to their share of their states refused government money. Even if only 1% or 2% of residents in the state took such a credit, it would bring the IRS to its knees.

  42. That’s an interesting argument DKL and one that makes more sense than claiming that taxation in a democratic republican governmental system violates the Eighth Commandment.

  43. “Even if only 1% or 2% of residents in the state took such a credit, it would bring the IRS to its knees.”

    A problem is that the IRS collects in advance from most of us. Over the past several months I’ve spent several hours on the phone and written a few letters to straighten out a denied tax credit. There are weak signs that maybe, maybe it’ll be resolved before the end of the year. Bringing the IRS to its knees just means more intransigence paying out claims.

  44. John F,

    You wrote:

    “To summarize more briefly: taxes are not theft in the constitutional system that exists in our democratic republican system in the United States of America. The Eighth Commandment has nothing to do with any of this. That is just purely partisan rhetoric and I would have thought to expect better from you. Now the Tenth Commandment — you might be on to something there.”

    I would have thought to expect better from you than to deny the obvious brilliance of my argument, which you have managed to misunderstand.

    My point, which I clearly state in this post many times, is that there is an obvious tension in our republic between no taxes at all and protecting property rights 100 percent on one side and 100 percent theft and covetousness on the other hand. If you were to draw a continuum with 0 being no taxes and 100 percent property rights, and 10 being Castro’s Cuba, I would argue that most of the first 120 years of the republic (with some exceptions like the Civil War) we were a 1 on that scale. After the income tax was adopted and Wilson got us into WWI we grew to a 3, then back to a 2 during the 1920s, and then a 4 or 5 during FDR’s time, and now we are somewhere around a 6. In an ideal world, I’d like to dial things back to a 3 or 4. I realize this is difficult, and probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but it is something to shoot for.

    Notice, this still involves a LOT of taxation.

    The point that you seem to miss is that there clearly IS a sense in society that too much taxation is morally wrong and theft. This is so obvious that I didn’t think it needed to be stated. Even Whoopi Goldberg, a notorious liberal, was able to see that there is something wrong morally with the death tax. If we were to tax everybody 99 percent, there would be obvious reasons to oppose it based on lack of incentives, but there would be other reasons to oppose it, including the fact that it is simply wrong to take that much money from somebody. I hope you would agree. And if you don’t agree, how about this: would it be morally wrong to tax American lawyers living in London at 10 times the rate of lawyers living in Utah? Theft (ie, the eighth commandment) clearly plays a role in taxation.

    So, your statement that “taxes are not theft” misses the point. As Adams pointed out, and Holmes reiterated, taxes are the price we pay for some government. Somebody has got to pay for the basic stuff that everybody agrees government should do, and I clearly pointed this out. But reminding people that taxation does involve taking from some people and giving to others, and that this involves taking other people’s property, and we should be extremely careful about how we do it, makes perfect sense, and I am surprised you can’t see the logic of it.

  45. James, I’m afraid we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this issue. Our visions are so far apart that we are simply talking different languages and there’s not much chance for agreement. I live in Colorado. The amount of waste that goes into all levels of education, from CU to CSU to the community colleges to the local elementary school where my kids go to school, is just ridiculous. I am in favor of drastic cuts in spending and taxes. That is the only way we can balance our budget in Colorado and keep the state competitive. Every year the liberals and unions scream and yell about not having enough funding, but it is all a charade to get more union fees and to soak the citizens for more money so union leaders can get more Democrats elected. James, your way of thinking has gotten us to the the situation where we have a $1 trillion-plus deficit because nothing can be cut without hurting the poor. It has gotten Colorado to the state where people are violating TABOR, which clearly was intended to limit spending. Don’t get me wrong: most of the Republicans in Colorado and elsewhere are just as much to blame as the Democrats. But the situation will not be resolved without massive spending cuts along the line of what I propose.

  46. Geoff, Castro’s Cuba is not a representative democracy so the scale makes no sense at all. These taxes are not imposed on us from a higher power in our society. We the People enact them through those we have elected through the republican democracy that our Constitution provides. This might be covetousness to some extent but it certainly is not theft, unless of course you are ultimately not on board with the principles behind representative democratic republicanism. the answer is the ballot box and throwing overtaxing representatives out on their ear, which is what I understand you are trying to do. More power to you. (I hope you will give a large percentage of your mightly income to institutions that provide real and reliable assistance to the poor in the face of taxes that accomplish that end on a routinized basis for us.)

    I’m not trying to get in the way of your campaign to lower taxes in what you believe is a return to fiscal conservatism. What I object to is the claim that taxes in our Republic equate to theft. This does violence to the principles underlying our Republic — and a close reading of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers does not set up any kind of tax litmus test or gradation of how much the government can tax. Anything goes in this framework, as long as it has been duly enacted by We the People through the legislative process and as such there is direct political accountability to the voters for taxes that have been enacted.

  47. John F, sigh. It is a moral argument, not a legal argument. I don’t know what else to say. Most people who have read this post so far and commented, even a few liberals, have understood this point. I’m not sure why you cannot, and I don’t know how to explain it so you can.

    In terms of my scale, I was using 0 as a perfect anarchical libertarian society without government where nobody takes any property at all. 10 would be a society where EVERYTHING is owned by the state. Cuba was like this for many decades. I know Cuba is not a democracy, having spent a few decades traveling in Latin America and writing about Cuba for major publications, including the Economist, the Daily Telegraph, the Miami Herald and others. The point is to have a real scale. In Sweden or another socialist democracy, there is still private property, so using those examples is meaningless.

  48. Geoff B. said,

    Let me ask you this: did the Savior want us to write a check and forget about the poor, or did he want us to personally go and help the poor and needy individually? Only the latter causes the kind of change of heart the Savior wants us to make.

    I have only superficially touched on the religious aspect of your original post, as I have been focusing on my one point of economic disparity caused by such a radical repeal as you’ve described. However, the statement copied above needs a reply, I think.

    In my view, the Savior’s commandment for us is to serve the poor. Period. End of sentence.

    Would God want us to be more actively involved in the caring for our brothers and sisters in person instead of writing a check? Given what I know about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’d say you are probably right.

    But how exactly does that invalidate writing a check or paying taxes to help out the poor? If you are helping your next door neighbor who is out of a job, does that mean you shouldn’t help a homeless family in New Orleans via the HUD? If you meet a poor woman face to face by volunteering in a soup kitchen, does that mean you shouldn’t pay taxes that will help teach her little girl to be a scientist? I fail to see how serving someone next to you removes your responsibility for helping others you don’t know.

    Unlike many other churches, we have an example on this subject given to us by God. It’s called the Law of Consecration. D&C 42:29–32 Now I will be the last person on earth to say that the New Deal or any other government social program is anywhere near similar to what is described in the Doctrine and Covenants in those passages. What is found in the D&C is God’s will and is therefore perfect. All government policies are created by man and is therefore deeply flawed.

    But there is some similarity, specifically that the poor are relieved of some of their burden. There is enough similarity to make me think that there is a vast dichotomy between what is asked of you by God and what is asked of you by your politics.

  49. Geoff B. said,

    James, your way of thinking has gotten us to the the situation where we have a $1 trillion-plus deficit because nothing can be cut without hurting the poor.

    Ok, that’s it…

    Geoff, you seriously need to take a long breath before you start typing and actually READ what I’ve written. In almost every single instance when I’ve commented on this site in the past, and just now, you have automatically placed my comments into the radical “Liberal” box with the nutjobs and lunatics, and disregarded what I said as worthless. And every time you have done so without bothering to understand what I’ve written. And every time I’ve commented on this site I have proven over and over that I am not one of the rabid, tree-hugger liberal extremists that you think I am. If anything, I am a centrist. As I have said many times on just this thread alone: I AGREE WITH YOU on many of your positions. Let me write that again: I AGREE WITH YOU MORE THAN HALF OF THE TIME!

    “My way of thinking” is not what has “gotten us to the situation.” My way of thinking is not partisan. My way of thinking takes the best ideas from both the Dems and the GOP. My way of thinking does not automatically think an idea is crap just because it came from a Republican or a Democrat or a Tea Partyer. My way of thinking looks at the consequences of a government policy. My way of thinking does not blindly follow any political figure or any political party. My way of thinking looks at the character of the politician and not which side she just happens to belong to. My way of thinking looks at the truth of the matter and delves into the details instead of automatically and blindly believing what those in power tell me. My way of thinking doesn’t rely on some hate-filled extremist on the radio to tell me what to believe. My way of thinking takes every single thing I hear from the corporate media, no matter where it comes from, with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    It’s what works for me. Your mileage may vary.

    Just because I happen to disagree with you on one part of a topic does not make me your political opponent. Life is not black or white. I am not your enemy and I should not be flippantly disregarded and ignored as “one of them” because I am not in perfect lock-step with you. I am not your imagined liberal nutcase who wants to ballon the deficit or do what other idiotic thing you believe I want.

    So stop treating me like I am! As you can probably tell, being flippantly ignored over a long period of time really ticks me off. If it was just this once, I’d forget about it. But it’s happened every single time I’ve posted and I’m finally tired of it.

    So let me try this one more time: I agree with you on most of the things you’ve said about WHY government programs should be fixed, repealed or eliminated. We both agree that something should be done to get rid of the waste, abuse and corruption. The biggest difference we have is HOW to do so. I believe the methods you suggest will cause a terrible rift between the rich and the poor which will ruin this country. I would suggest instead a more measured and controlled method of reform and house cleaning that would retain our current standard of life for everyone, not just the rich.

    And that is it. I am not advocating raising taxes. I am not saying we should add to the deficit. I have never said that tax cuts or reducing spending is wrong. I have only said that irresponsible tax cuts and reducing spending is wrong.

    PS: Sorry for getting a little hot under the collar. I hope I have been restrained enough with my frustration so as not to offend you. I just wanted to point out how you offended me over the last few months. You can disagree with me all you want. But I really don’t like being ignored.

  50. James, don’t get your knickers in a twist, as my British friends used to say.

    The site I linked to advocated getting rid of the FEDERAL Department of Education. Until the 1970s, there was no federal dept of Education and education was doing fine. We have a $1 trillion-plus deficit. When you look at the budget and do the numbers, we need BIG cuts. Massive cuts. The only way you get truly big cuts is by cutting entire departments and radically changing how government does business. If you are not willing to make radical cuts, the deficit will not be lowered. And it will get worse over time because we have a $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities from Soc Security, Medicare and Medicaid coming up.

    Your comment was an excuse for not making big cuts specifically in education because you are concerned about inequality. So, I stand by what I wrote, which is: “James, your way of thinking has gotten us to the the situation where we have a $1 trillion-plus deficit because nothing can be cut without hurting the poor.” That is still true. I am not saying you are a flaming liberal. You are one of my favorite commenters. But unless you change your way of thinking, which is that we can’t make BIG cuts because it will hurt the poor, the deficit will not get under control. That is simply a fact. I obviously hit a sore spot, which was certainly not my intention, but it is nonetheless true.

    Can you tell me what else we can cut to come up with $500 billion annually? If so, I will retract my statement.

  51. Your comment was an excuse for not making big cuts specifically in education because you are concerned about inequality.

    Nope.

    It was not an “excuse.” I was pointing out the consequences of removing the Dept. of Education completely with no plan to enable the poor to receive an education. I never said the Dept. of Ed. shouldn’t be reformed or even eventually eliminated over a period of time. Those ideas are still on the table.

    But to just suddenly chop it off like a finger and expect the private sector to “pick up the slack” in some vague, nebulous unplanned manner? That is the height of irresponsibility.

    Yes we need to eliminate or at least severely reduce the deficit, I agree. And yes, you can balance the budget and eliminate the deficit by gutting government so that it is no longer effective in what it needs to do for the populace. But what is going to be the human cost for having a zero in the deficit column in the spreadsheet?

    As for the $500 billion? As I’ve been saying all along: reduce corruption, eliminate waste, and so on. What would also help significantly is for the rich and the mega corporations to pay their fair share. I’m not talking about a huge tax upon the wealthy like some of the nutcases on the Left have suggested. I’m only talking about a true fair share. If the middle class pays approximately 10% in taxes (I don’t know the exact number), then so should the rich. But even though some charts show the wealthy as spending much more than 10% in taxes, it doesn’t take into account the huge tax loopholes, exemptions and deductions they use to significantly reduce their payments to well under the middle class percentage.

    And then there are the corporations who use legal loopholes to pay zero taxes even though their corporate headquarters are located within the US. Zero taxes!

    If you have money, you have power. And if you have power, you don’t have to give your money away. That’s the way it’s been since coinage was invented. But America is better than that.

    The last method, among many others, would be to do exactly what Obama has done with Iraq. We were spending upwards of 270 million per day in Iraq. That’s about 8 billion a month or somewhere around $100 billion a year. Five years would make $500 billion.

    In short: If everyone paid their fair share and if we wouldn’t have borrowed to pay for two wars, we wouldn’t have much of a problem.

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