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Taxing times PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Wednesday, 22 October 2008 17:03

Tax return time

Are you rushing to complete your tax return for the end of October? Unlike the poor chap above I feel pretty virtuous having completed mine and submitted it online back in the summer!

I've read quite a lot of chatter back and forth in other blogs and journals both here in the UK and in the USA about taxation recently: whether it is fair, whether we should be able to keep our money and spend it the way we want, whether it is right to redistribute wealth amongst the population and so on.

With many connections in the USA, we hear quite a few voices giving a hard line on taxation: that it should be reduced to an absolute minimum and that a flat rate should apply. When questioned about what then would happen to the social programmes that help people with little income, the usual response is that churches would step in to fulfil this need. (There's more...)

While there is a part of me that wishes this was a sensible argument and that personal taxation could be minimised (let's face it, if you pay taxes, wouldn't you prefer them to be lower?) and allowing me the choice to determine where my money is spent to help others less fortunate than myself, I also have to be honest. It wouldn't happen.

In situations where churches did reach out to others, would they be able to do it without judging or making decision on who they would help with their precious resources? 

I dare say it would see growth in the big churches who might, with, for example, the best health care screening provision, attract most new members. "Come and join us and we will heal you using this new MRI scanner we've had installed behind the altar..."

Whenever I hear critiques of taxation, particularly from fellow Christians, I'm always reminded of the early church model when there was considerable redistribution of wealth so that all had enough to live. Those who had more, I have no doubt, gave more.

And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. The sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. (Acts 2: 44-45, NLT)

Even Adam Smith, the great Scots philosopher, economist and founder of modern capitalism, had this to say on the subject in 1776:

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

Adam Smith, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes
of the Wealth of Nations, Book 5, ch. 2, 1776

With taxation we are making a decision to live in community and society with one another, not just those we know immediately around us, but those across our nation. In pooling a proportion of our resources to help and aid one another we are making a wonderful commitment to one another.

How do we then decide on what the priorities are for this money? Is it healthcare for one and all? Is it military and police protection? Is it for education? Is it for bailing out the banks? And so on. Of course, it is for all of these in the UK, but how the pie is sliced is the key. And surely that is why we vote? Does this or that party reflect what I believe are the best choices in dividing up the money at hand?

And if I happen to earn enough that it means I pay a little more in tax, then, as my brother-in-law said to me, "I'm just happy to be earning enough to hit that higher tax band!"

What do you think?

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