As a pro-life Catholic, I wouldn't vote for a politician with radical pro-choice views. And, for the most part, even those who disagree with me respect that position. But people begin to raise eyebrows when I say I believe that raising taxes on the wealthy to benefit the less well-off is wrong as well.
How do I reconcile my obligation to promote social justice and embrace Jesus' teaching that "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" with my strong beliefs that high taxation is wrong?
Let me count the ways.
There's the economic standpoint, which has little to do with my Catholic faith -- the fact that high taxation results in sluggish economies where enterprising individuals and businesses sustain such a heavy tax burden that they either look to do business elsewhere (as in abroad) or cut jobs and stop hiring.
But standing on its own, my economic arguments do little to show why, in my mind, high taxation does not only hurt economies, it hurts humanity.
Let me explain.
Income should not be distributed; it should be earned. There is something morally wrong with coercively taking people's money and punishing diligence. That's exactly what "redistributing the wealth" does: We give government the power to determine who is in need and who isn't. We take away a person's ownership of their work. Creation belongs to the creator.
Do we have a Christian duty to share our God-given blessings with others? Definitely. But not through government coercion. When government becomes the central hub for the distribution of wealth, people's work no longer belongs to them; it belongs to the greater society, the "common good." As Americans, we are entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." By burdening upper-income earners with tremendous taxes in order to "restore fairness," we're saying that some of us are entitled to happiness without the pursuit.
Even Scripture is clear on the importance of work for able bodies:
For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat (2 Thes 3: 7-10).
High taxes feed a fat government, not hungry children. Lest I start to sound really uncompassionate, if I honestly believed that taxing the rich would help the underprivileged, I'd reassess my beliefs. Proponents of taxing the wealthy seem to believe the money will only be used to support social programs to help those truly in need. Call me a cynic, but what most politicians on both party lines really want is more power, and they garner that power by raising taxes and implementing more government programs. The taxpayers' money is squandered, and rarely does it end up in the hands of those who really need it.
Even if a politician supports high taxes and the social programs it will fund with the best intentions, this form of a tax system doesn't work in the long run from an economic stance (just look at socialist societies of the past -- or even states like Michigan with super high taxes that are struggling, while low-tax states' economies like Florida and Texas are thriving). That's because there end up being more takers than givers, and it becomes impossible to keep up with the demands of the takers.
Taxpayers have no say in where their money is "distributed." Many liberal politicians support taxpayer funding for abortions and would like nothing better than to see the Hyde Amendment overturned. If they had their way, even those taxpayers who morally oppose abortion and would never work to support it would find their tax money redistributed to pro-choice causes.
This is not social justice; this is social injustice. In fact, the very foundation of the Catholic Church's social teachings rests upon upholding the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the person. Yet in high-tax economies, politicians take what they deem fair from a person's income and use it to support their own (or their party's) personal agenda -- even those that many taxpayers find morally reprehensible.
Taxing the rich is socially divisive and breeds resentment. The lines are drawn: It's the Haves versus the Have-Nots. The Have-Nots resent the Haves because of their wealth. The Haves resent the Have-Nots because they start to see them as leeches. The more income you create, the more you are forced to give, so those statistically defined as rich become impervious to true charity. Those considered "poor" begin allowing someone else to be responsible for them and risk losing the power in themselves to determine the course of their lives.
High taxation is not highly moral, nor is it loving your Christian brother. It is coveting his wealth, if the government has pegged you as poor, or resenting him if you're lumped with the rich. It is not selfless giving, but 'giving' by coercion. And it is not about preferential options for the poor.
The bottom line? The only one really getting preferential treatment from high taxes is the government.
Printed with permission from InsideCatholic.com
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.