Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jesus Is Not A Macroeconomist

Erika Christakis commits poor exegesis:

As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of “If you have two coats, give one to the man who has none”) and 100% (if you want to get into heaven, be poor). Mostly, he suggested giving all your money up for the benefit of others. And Jesus made no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor; his love and generosity applied to all.

Jesus promoted generosity and radical self-sacrifice as individual virtues that would have been meaningless if not freely offered, as his sacrifice of himself was. He never endorsed and probably never imagined government agents and leaders seizing 30-45% of people's income and using the proceeds to pay their salaries and expenses while spending the rest, often discerningly but sometimes not, on the public's behalf. Jesus actually lumped tax collectors with prostitutes as exemplars of sin. Unlike our decent, diligent IRS agents, they were notoriously corrupt in first-century Palestine, Still, I'll bet they came away from most transactions with less than 30-45% of their victims' worldly goods.

I'm for a government that's generous toward those in need because it's good for the strength and stability of our society. I hope Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists agree that a decent and wise state is also a compassionate one. While I don't resent paying taxes, it's not because I think confiscation of my property has anything to do with Christian ethics but because I believe in representative democracy and count on our leaders to make smart decisions about national security and those who need help while discerning the tipping point where taxation and the size of government impede a free-market economy's capacity to grow and produce wealth and jobs. It may be 27%, 39%, or 55%, but it's definitely not 100%. Let's please leave our LORD out of that strictly technical calculation. Anyway, he's actually concerned with what each of us does for those who suffer by using our remaining resources and free will. We can't outsource our consciences to Congress.


Yastreblyansky said...

I always thought Jesus lumped together tax collectors and prostitutes as people he, unlike the scribes and pharisees, accepted, and had over to dinner. Matthew 9:10-11. And Matthew himself was a tax collector when Jesus recruited him, Matthew 9:9 ff. Aren't you the one who is taking on the attitude of a pharisee? (Isn't that the Republican way?)

Fr. John said...

Thanks for your comment. I have absolutely nothing against tax collectors. My point about them was tangential and, I think, imprecisely made. Christakis was arguing that Jesus would be for high taxes, so I just wanted to note right off the bat that he lumped tax collectors with his society's most abhorred sinners. That he associated with them was an expression of his redemptive and forgiving power. But it didn't mean that he approved of what his society's tax collectors did, which was generally to skim something off the top when collecting the rate from people living subsistence lives.

Love your blog!