It would be well worth reading the following article, "The Pitchforks are coming for us Plutocrats" alongside the post below ...
Death and taxes are the great certainties of life. Last week listening to someone - have forgotten whom - on the radio talking about taxes I heard mention of 'death duties' as a tax worth exploring. For overseas readers we do not have death duties or tax payable on estates. But, to coin a phrase, 'I've been thinking' and I wonder if we should discuss death duties as part of the politics of Jesus.
In my view some very mischievous talk takes place about taxes. Recently I read a report of an otherwise sound and sensible NZ journalist asking a party leader committed to tax cuts why, if part of government, he would 'give' more money to the wealthy. Er, when we work for money, the income is ours, the government takes some it as taxes, the only 'giving' in the transaction is from the earner to the Inland Revenue. A tax cut is taking less from the earner not performing a charitable act!
In the end, from the politics of Jesus perspective, summing up teaching in passages such as Romans 13, taxes are contributions made by citizens for the apparatus of the state, including defence of the realm, and for an efficient means of enabling shared societal goals to be reached concerning the welfare of all.
Taxes have nothing to do with, say, depriving the wealthy of wealth, or redistributing income in order to equalise incomes or to at least compress the differences between highest and lowest earners. The latter goals may be laudable according to socialist theory, desirable in terms of developing a harmonious society, and - most importantly - they may be agreeable in terms of a proposal to an electorate which is accepted through voting at an election, but they have nothing to do with the politics of Jesus. Those politics require the care of the weak and vulnerable but doing that via voluntary charity is as much an expression of Jesus' teaching as doing it via a tax funded welfare system.
My view on taxes as a means of creating an agreeable society is that I happily pay taxes in order to fund a welfare state as I prefer the dignity of people in need receiving benefits rather than sitting or lying outside every shop begging (literally) for their livelihood. Funding education (assisting people to be ready to take their place in the workforce) and health (ditto re avoiding begging for money to pay doctor's bills) is a logical extension of social contracting to be a welfare state rather than a non-welfare state. Elections, in such a society, in one perspective, are about the amount of tax required for that agreeable society.
Thinking in this way, responsible governments have a duty of care to the medium and long term future of the welfare state to ensure the economy is humming away: workers earn incomes from which taxes are taken. To take too much tax can be to drive down the number of workers (in NZ's case, people tend to avoid high taxes here by heading for overseas jobs) and/or to force away from NZ the entrepreneurial business people who start and develop new industries and businesses. If we really care for the poor we will want a rockstar economy! (Apparently we have one at the moment ... that is a better state to be in than a poorly performing one).
If all such talk means that we take care not to over tax incomes, nor to drive businesses away through unreasonable burdens of taxation, then the question arises, as it is around the world, are there nevertheless ways in which we can prevent the rate of growth of inequality as some wealthy people/families acquire more and more capital leaving less and less for the 99% (or even the 99.9%) to share in?
Death duties potentially are a means of constraining that growth. They have the advantage of not constraining business people through taxation while they are using their skills and acumen to grow and develop their wealth. Breaking up large estates is something NZ has form on: a long time ago large farms were forcibly broken into smaller parcels of land in order to allow more people to farm.
Of course in the politics of Jesus nothing is directly said about death duties. But quite a bit is said about the inability of wealth to be utilised after death! Our treasure should be built up in the Bank of Heavenly Credit, not stored in barns below.