Morality, Christian ethics and the “fair share”

There is something wickedly attractive about comparing coffers.

Especially when you look around and see rampant need — need in the federal treasury, need in the state accounts, need down the street — we find it very appealing to look at those who have much (the “rich”) and to suppose that they could do something.

It’s easy, then, when we suppose they could do something, to suppose they should do something. Contemporary social discourse and political expectation have taught us to refer to this should as the “rich paying their fair share.” It’s then not very difficult at all, since they should do something, to require them to do something.  And we have found an ingenious method of requiring the “rich” to pay “their fair share”: the U.S. tax code.

But despite its wicked attractiveness, there is something morally reprehensible about this train of logic and where it leads.

This is true because the “rich” — those the rest of us suppose are not paying “their fair share” — comprise a very small percentage of the three hundred million or so citizens of the United States. And because we set the tax code in large part by the result of majority vote, why, it is not surprising that the majority find it relatively easy to majority-vote the code into compelling the “rich” to give up “their fair share.”

Even the term “their fair share” is disingenuous. What happens in reality is that the majority vote for programs and projects and handouts that they know they will not — indeed cannot — pay for, and as we can see in our present economic situation causes entire states and the U.S. Treasury itself to spend more than what they have. We vote for spending that is not necessary, send the bill to the “rich”, and insult them by referring to it as “their fair share.”

Our nationalistic, centralized government is in part to blame. Rather than contribute our taxes to the local authorities and deal with the “rich” man we know, we send votes to Washington, DC, which then converts them to money (“block grants”) and sends it back to us. It’s much easier to compel the rich guy from the other side of the country to send his “fair share” than it is to look across the table at the rich man from across the street, and tell him that he has too much and we’ve come to collect his “fair share.”

Jesus Christ certainly suggested that we should care for the poor, the widow, the orphan. But he did not direct that charge to governments. Instead, he put that burden on individuals, and he did not imply that they could then obey with other peoples’ money.

Covetousness has been sanctified with relative poverty, and dressed up in a nice majority-rule suit.

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