On August 1 liberal religious spokespersons convened a Capitol Hill press conference to oppose the Republican budget proposal that would perpetuate the Bush tax cuts. Among them of course was Sojourners chief Jim Wallis, who pronounced: “The Republican budget is an immoral document.” Generously, he allowed that he didn’t think “all our Republican lawmakers came to Washington to hurt poor people.” But he wants at least a few of them with conscience to “challenge the dominant forces in their party and face the consequences of such indefensible choices.”
(Photo credit: Sandi Villarreal of Sojourners)
It was boilerplate Jim Wallis. He cited more than 2000 Bible verses that “call us to defend the poor and vulnerable.” But do any of these verses give specific counsel on the morally correct tax rates for a modern nation state?
Recently I heard former National Economic Council Director Lawrence Lindsey recall that although the 1950s top tax rate was 90 percent, as of 1960, a total of 8 persons were actually paying it. Unsurprisingly, taxpayers of all tax brackets adjust their behavior to avoid high tax rates when possible. The very wealthy typically seek tax shelters. Lindsey said the tax rate that optimally gains the most revenue is probably in the mid 40s. But he cautioned that it should not be any government’s purpose to extract the highest amount of possible revenue from the economy. Every decent government’s purpose is to extract only what is needed for minimal good governance and to leave as much as possible for the happiness and prosperity of the governed.
Of course economists and policymakers may disagree about the optimal tax rate. But confiscatory taxes, among other problems, almost never achieve the desired revenue. Instead, they encourage the targeted tax payers to reduce or shelter their income. Each individual usually seeks his or her own interest, which is a hard concept for Jim Wallis and the Religious Left. In their ideal, the government can procure unlimited new revenues simply by seizing them. And everyone will fully cooperate in that seizure, ostensibly creating a more equitable society, as bureaucrats distribute the funds according to principles of social justice.
Others with Wallis at the Capitol Hill press conference were liberal Catholic activist Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK, President for the World chief David Beckmann, Michael Livingston of the National Council of Churches, and Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life. They collectively sent a letter to Congress calling “pro family values” congressmen “hypocritical” for not seeking higher tax rates. As Sister Campbell, who headed the recent “Nuns on the Bus” aimed at Congressman Paul Ryan, explained: “These are not family values; they are faithless immoral values and an affront to people of every faith.”
Wallis declared their initiative was in the spirit of the “Circle of Protection” founded last year by his own Sojourners, the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to defend Big Government against Republican initiated attempts at limiting government growth.
Fortunately, the press conference was widely ignored. But why do religious officials who claim spiritual discernment remain so indifferent to laws not only of economics but also of human nature?