Jesus: Socialist or Capitalist — Part 1
I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t hear our president or somebody in congress make the claim that redistributive monetary policy is the most moral, according to the Bible. This is a typical talking point for the Democratic Party in defense of their efforts to raise taxes on the wealthy in America. I’m all for living according to conscience; in fact, I’m all for that conscience playing a large part in affecting your legislation and politics – but let us examine whether or not his claim has merit. The premise is that the Bible (and by extension, Jesus) endorses the right of government to confiscate private wealth to redistribute it, whether through social programs or disparate taxation, to the impoverished or unemployed. Is this a teaching or concept that Christ taught or implied? This 4 part series seeks to describe God’s view of money and how that relates to government and everyday life.
Many cite the story of the Rich Young Ruler as the evidence that Christ believed that all wealthy people should sell off their goods and distribute the proceeds to charity. This story certainly shows us that Jesus was in favor of sharing, giving and charity for the poor – no questions there. It also shows us that Jesus was in favor of the Rich Young Ruler selling off all of his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor. The real question is, does this story give us an aggregate view of Christ’s stance on wealth and charity in general, or could this be a case of personal advice given to one man – not a blanket statement for wealth in general? Jesus concludes this story by telling the disciples that it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to travel through the eye of a needle. In another example of Jesus’ teachings, He advocates giving to Caesar (government) what is due Caesar, and giving to God that which belongs to God. So we can conclude:
A) Wealth is not necessarily advantageous to eternal life (in fact can be a hindrance)
B) God does indeed favor the idea of wealthy people giving their money of their own free will to help the poor.
C) God favors us paying the taxes we owe to our civil leaders
None of these conclusions lead us to the position that redistributive legislation is universally God’s will, however. They also do not give us a clear moral foundation that God is opposed to people having wealth. Most people in favor of taxing the rich heavily would never claim that being wealthy is morally wrong, but that the responsibility of the wealthy to society is to either give more to help support those that cannot support themselves and/or pick up a larger share of the tab of government spending. They typically argue from a stance of “fairness.” In fact, fairness really is the only intelligent argument for excessive taxation of the rich for the benefit of State and the Poor. You certainly cannot intelligently argue that sound fiscal policy involves removing capital or assets from those who have proven themselves to be intelligent with money to redistribute to those who have proven their lack of skill with handling money.
I have actually heard proponents of redistribution argue that unemployment and welfare somehow benefit the economy. This is, of course, a very weak argument. Unemployment or welfare dollars may be immediately spent back into the economy, therefore creating less of a net loss of opportunity, but that is a far cry from being “beneficial” to the economy as a whole. Handout money, not unlike taxed income, has been transferred with no real production in return. Other advocates of socialist economics point to events in government intervention that seemed to yield positive results in the short term. The argument may say something like, “If FDR hadn’t adopted socialism, America would not have recovered as quickly from the Great Depression.” There is absolutely no evidence that FDR’s policies helped the American economy but the correlation of recovery makes that a popular argument. Even if it was his policies that helped in the short term, the long term effects of ‘The New Deal’ are still plaguing American citizens with a very high tax rate and little hope for ever recovering their Social Security Pensions in full. Furthermore, For every successful country built upon redistributive fiscal policies (most point to Singapore), there are multiple failed attempts at socialist economies to counter the argument. To speculate that Keynesian Economics helped to climb out of the Great Depression is simply that, speculation.
So again, I would argue that the only rational argument for redistributive tax policy is the argument “it’s only fair” argument. In the next 3 segments, we will explore the fairness argument in light of the teachings of Christ and of the Bible in general.