October 22, 2003

Department of "Huh?"

National Review outdoes The Onion on this one!

The smart and usually sane (for a believing supply-sider, that is) Bruce Bartlett goes off the deep end with an enormous SPLASH!!!!, and in the process demonstrates that his comparative advantage is not Bible commentary. He argues that the estate tax makes the Baby Jesus cry, and that Jesus was the first supply-sider, acknowledging "the value of wealthy people to society as a whole":

Bruce Bartlett on the Estate Tax on NRO Financial: Lately, [Bill] Gates [Sr.] has invoked the Bible to argue for the estate tax. "This notion that there's a God-given right to pass everything on to your kids, that's not in the commandments I've read," he recently said. Actually, it is in the Bible....

However, the most emphatic repudiation of wealth redistribution appears in Luke 12:13, in which Jesus acknowledges the value of wealthy people to society as a whole: "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully."

Ummm... Ummm... Ummm...

Let's look at the whole passage: Luke 12:13-21:

And one out of the multitude said to him, "Master, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me."And Jesus said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" And then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness; for the life of any man does not consist in the abundance of those things which he possesseth."And Jesus spoke a parable to them, saying, "The field of a certain rich man yielded an abundant produce.And the rich man thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do? for I have no place in which I can collect my fruits.' And the rich man said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and will build larger ones, and there I will collect all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, thou hast many goods laid up for many, years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and enjoy thyself."' But God said to the rich man, 'Fool, this night they shall demand thy soul from thee; and as to the things which thou hast provided, to whom shall they go?'So is he that layeth up for himself: and is not rich toward God."

It's called "The Parable of the Rich Fool" for a reason, after all. The message of Luke 12:13-21 is not: "I, Jesus Christ, hate the estate tax, and wealthy people are extraordinarily valuable to society as a whole." The message of Luke 12:13-21 is: "Fools! You need treasure in heaven, not treasure on earth. So sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me."

Unless, of course, this is a peculiar [Texas(?)] form of Christianity that is unknown to me...

:-)

Posted by DeLong at October 22, 2003 11:54 AM | TrackBack

Comments

jesus...

Posted by: Mats on October 22, 2003 12:05 PM

How do we know that the man who asked Jesus for a share of his brother's inheritance wasn't asking him to establish an estate tax? Many Jesus meant to admonish tax-advocates through the ages for covetousness ...

Posted by: pj on October 22, 2003 12:08 PM

What did Jesus think of the step-up in basis at death for capital gains?

Posted by: Max Sawicky on October 22, 2003 12:26 PM

Jesus was a liberal Jew.

For a good time, read The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus.

(Also putting in my homepage URL if that didn't work).

Posted by: Stoffel on October 22, 2003 12:26 PM

Stoffel, Brad's comments won't parse links:

http://www.buzzflash.com/contributors/03/09/17_franken.html

"It is easier for a rich man to enter heaven seated comfortably on the back of a camel, than it is for a poor man to pass through the eye of a needle!"

Posted by: Sven on October 22, 2003 12:40 PM

'Fool, this night they shall demand thy soul from thee; and as to the things which thou hast provided, to whom shall they go?'

Uhm, in this tale, even GOD grants the
soon-to-be-deceased the last rights to dispose
of his accumulated assets. It's not as if
God says -- 'Fool, I will plunder your barnload stash of goodies and rain your riches upon the poor, because redistributing existing wealth among my chosen is SO much easier than miraculously creating manna and letting it fall from heaven...'

It's rather as if God was chastising the fool for not having Jim Glass develop his estate tax shelter or trust instrument.

Posted by: Pouncer on October 22, 2003 01:12 PM

- "It is easier for a rich man to enter heaven seated comfortably on the back of a camel, than it is for a poor man to pass through the eye of a needle!" -

Obviously! I never did get the knack of reading the parables properly. Thanks.

Posted by: lise on October 22, 2003 01:13 PM

I did a similar piece, which I called "Supply-Side Genesis" (but my editor gave a different headline) as my weekly column for the East Valley Tribune (Mesa, AZ), for January 13, 2002. I've re-posted the column at http://www.liberaldesert.blogspot.com/2003_10_19_liberaldesert_archive.html#106685368937435298.

Posted by: Sam Coppersmith on October 22, 2003 01:19 PM

But cutting edge technology will produce nano-camels!

Posted by: john c. halasz on October 22, 2003 01:24 PM

pj, I'm guessing you've given tons of thought to what a "no-tax advocate" looks like? For visions of how no-taxation works out, start with no government, throw in a few really ugly people and and then add your kids. Due to the oft repeated cycle of violence no-taxation creates, save for a few extremist whackos most of the planet is comprised of tax advocates. The general disagreements we tax advocates have all surround levels of taxation and who pays. There is no Biblical support for Bartlett and company. His Church should be asking him a few questions about his faith.

Thomas Jefferson believed that history showed concentration of power as a bad thing. He was so convinced he formed the U.S. government around the idea of dividing power. Economic power is a type of political power. Economically powerful actors tend to restrict the liberty of others and to do things that inhibit national economic growth for their own personal interests (oddly enough Daron Acemoglu just published a model on the concept at NBER - the abstract is below).

Since we generally want to respect rights to property for both the liberty and economic good doing so provides, taxing transfers of property between generations would seem to be a logical, non-intrusive solution. Despite add campaigns to the contrary, the estate tax is an income tax on totally unearned income of heirs. Of course elitism is alive and well, catch phrases like "its your money" and "the death tax" are all the rage, and anyone opposed to the elitist cause is a tree-hugging Commy.
____
Daron Acemoglu

NBER Working Paper No. w10037
Issued in October 2003

---- Abstract -----

This paper develops a model where this is a trade-off between the enforcement of the property rights of different groups. An oligarchic' society, where political power is in the hands of major producers, protects their property rights, but also tends to erect significant entry barriers, violating the property rights of future producers. Democracy, where political power is more widely diffuesed, imposes redistributive taxes on the producers, but tends to avoid entry barriers. When taxes in democracy are high and the distortions caused by entry barriers are low, an oligarchic society achieves greater efficiency. Nevertheless, because comparative advantage in entreprenuership shifts away from the incumbents, the inefficiency created by entry barriers in oligarchy deteriorates over time. The typical pattern is therefore one of the rise and decline of oligarchic societies: of two otherwise identical societies, the one with an oligarchic organization will first become richer, but later fall behind the democratic society. I also discuss how democratic societies may be better able to take advantage of new technologies, and how the unequal distribution of income in an oligarchic society supports the oligarchic institutions and may keep them in place even when the become significantly costly to society.

Posted by: Stan on October 22, 2003 01:48 PM

If I remember correctly, Jesse over at Pandagon composed an appropriately Biblical smackdown covering this very point not long ago:

http://www.pandagon.net/archives/00001646.htm

Posted by: Tom Runnacles on October 22, 2003 02:00 PM

I skipped the Biblical verses of Bartlett. He told his readers that there were empirical studies as to the inefficiency of this tax but NEVER said what studies. He just started quoted the Bible which I found pathetic. So thanks for pointing out that he even misrepresented the Bible.

Posted by: Hal McClure on October 22, 2003 03:59 PM

I skipped the Biblical verses of Bartlett. He told his readers that there were empirical studies as to the inefficiency of this tax but NEVER said what studies. He just started quoted the Bible which I found pathetic. So thanks for pointing out that he even misrepresented the Bible.

Posted by: Hal McClure on October 22, 2003 04:02 PM

Agreed that the Biblical analogy is off the deep end but any comments on actual economic effects of the tax? After all that is the point of the article.

Joseph Schumpeter: "As long as an inheritance tax remains a true inheritance tax it always involves a conversion of capital into income, hence an act of economic waste which is damaging to all."

Posted by: Frank on October 22, 2003 04:32 PM

A question re:
Joseph Schumpeter: "As long as an inheritance tax remains a true inheritance tax it always involves a conversion of capital into income, hence an act of economic waste which is damaging to all."

Isn't this a confusion between physical and money capital?

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on October 22, 2003 05:03 PM

Just a brief note for those of you who seem to be cobnfused about where Jesus stood on the issue of taxes. Jesus actually befreinded tax collectors and allowed them to enter into his congregation. These were probably the most hated people in the Roman Empire. This wass because Roman governors had a habit of _EXEMPTING THE RICH_ from taxation and assigning their tax burden to the poor. Tax collectors thus collected the tax and siezed the property of those who couldn't pay it. These governors also had a pattern of granting "indulgences" meaning if the wealthy had managed to avoid paying their taxes through, say , bribing their tax collector they were forgiven what they owed. This was in turn added to the burden of the poor. So Jesus not only had an unfavorable view of earthly riches, as in the parable of the fool, he also forgave the hated tax collectors. Those that made this regressive system work.

It is incrediblty easy to draw paralells with the Roman Empire and its fiscal system and the Bush administration. Of course that would be just before the fall of the Roman Empire rather than its hieght. George Bush is no Auguistus. Nor does he seem fanmiliar with the Bible.

Posted by: Lawrtence Boyd on October 22, 2003 05:52 PM

Lawrence - Jesus also welcomed prostitutes and adulterers into his company, so his welcome to Matthew says no more about his support of taxation than his welcome to Mary Magdalene of sexual promiscuity. In fact, there are other indications in the Gospels that he opposed payment of taxes. He and his disciples were late paying taxes and were pressed by the authorities on the matter, upon which Jesus did not pay with his own or his followers money, but told Peter that he would find a coin to pay the taxes in a fish. In another instance, the Pharisees brought Roman soldiers as they tested him with the question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes?", clearly expecting him to say that it was not, after which he could be arrested. (This is when he answered with the enigmatic "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, give to God what is God's.") So the overall impression is that Jesus was anti-tax.

Stan -- To conflate all kinds of power into one category is to miss the critically important distinction between the use of force and the use of enticements. The difference between tyranny and freedom is the difference between which kind of "power" we rely on -- the power to coerce or the power to persuade.

Posted by: pj on October 22, 2003 07:13 PM

pj:

But "enticement" based on one party being highly needy and with a severely constrained choice set and the other party being well endowed with the freedom to withhold services at low cost amounts to a form of coercion. The notion of coercion is not reducible to the direct application of force, nor do governments rely in the normal case on such direct resort to force. And persuasion is different depending upon whether it relies upon reasoned argument and a due consideration of the values and interests of others or fraudulent manipulation and the non-transparent inducements of material incentives. Political and economic power are differently constituted, to be sure, but their are pathways of conversion between the two.

Posted by: john c. halasz on October 22, 2003 07:42 PM

Yes, pj. Lawrence's comments were ill-thought. It's easy to quote the Bible out of context; Jesus took in the worst sinners precisely because he felt they needed the most work. Prodigal son, and all.

The rich man through the eye of a camel bit was also out of context. The message in that particular passage was that nothing, absolutely nothing at all that the rich man in question was willing to do were going to score him any points with God. Other than complete repentance, that is. But what do I know? Next to nothing about the Bible, is what.

Posted by: David Perron on October 22, 2003 07:44 PM

What? Lawrence, Jesus lived around, well, around the turn of "B.C." to "A.D." The Roman Empire didn't reach its height until around 200 A.D. or so. You probably know this, but your phrasing is confusing, so it sounds as if you mean that the fiscal policies around Jesus's time ~ regressive taxation ~ Bush administration ~ just before the fall of the Roman Empire. Interesting post, but try to phrase more clearly, so that I don't think Jesus lived during the reign of Romulus Augustulus.

One thing I find interesting about supply siders is that they seem to conceive of themselves not as champions of unfettered free markets, but as champions of the upper class. Grover Norquist's objection to the estate tax wasn't that it was economically inefficient, or that government in general should shrink to avoid the nanny state (indeed, he claimed that all levels of government could be cut in half in GDP terms while maintaining the level of services that we have now), or even, primarily, that it, like all taxes, violates, strictly speaking, property rights. It was that it was focused on the wealthy. One gets the impression from the NPR interview that Norquist might not have minded had the inheritance taxes been uniform for everyone, but since the inheritance tax has a large exemption, and only taxes the marginal wealth of the comparatively well-to-do. The fact that it taxes the rich progressively -- not that it is a great burden on them, not that it is inefficient, not that it raises government revenue destined to be misspent -- is the fatal flaw.

http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=1452983

Similarly, Donald Luskin has attacked Robert Schiller's idea of having taxes arranged so that after-tax inequality is fixed at a given level. Basically, if inequality increased, taxes on the wealthy would automatically go up, taxes on the poor automatically down, etc, etc. I'm not sure how I feel about the idea myself (sounds like it would complicate an already complicated tax code, and might reduce political pressure to improve "equality at the starting line" efforts to reduce income inequality (which I prefer), since greater starting line equality would manifest as less progressive taxation, not higher after-tax incomes for the poorer segments of society, but at the same time, it would have some good effects directly speaking), but I do think that one quote from Luskin is very illuminating about how he thinks about such issues.

"In other words, he would have the tax code structured to freeze in place any and all of today's relative incomes. If you made a lot a more money than you did last year, it would be taxed away (unless everyone else made as much more as you did)."

The obvious objection here is that your relative income could change compared to someone else's, allowing you to make more, but the interesting part comes when you look not at what's wrong with Luskin's statement, but under what circumstances it would be *right.*

In particular, it would be right if your income moved up in proportion to everyone else's who has about the same income as you (at first, when I read it, I thought that Luskin got things precisely the opposite of right (not merely wrong, but the exact negation of the right answer, that is), since your taxes only increase because of higher incomes if lots of other people make higher incomes too).

Luskin seems to assume, implicitly, that people are not individuals competing in a free market, finding wealth or poverty depending on circumstance, but that, Marxist-style, they are divided into classes, which progress or decline collectively (Though in other places, naturally, he talks a great deal about how socially mobile the U.S. is.), and he finds Schiller's proposal worrying because it would block, not enterprising individuals from reaping the rewards of their efforts, but the wealthier classes as a *whole* from increasing their income share. At least, that is the only sensible interpretation that I can make without assuming that Luskin totally misunderstood Schiller's proposal in the first place (another valid possibility, given Luskin's evident comprehension level of basic economics), so my guess is that Luskin views himself not as an advocate of free markets, but as a champion of the upper class.

http://www.poorandstupid.com/2003_05_11_chronArchive.asp

Add to this Bruce Bartlett's critique of the estate tax, already critiqued by Brad, which rests not on a biblical argument against estate taxes (he has three of those, but those are not what *he* thinks are his strongest biblical case), but on an endorsement of the wealthy for the good they do society. Did the rich man whose lands brought forth plentifully acquire it through a supply-side government and free markets? Did he acquire it through government patronage? Who cares! He's rich, therefore, he's good! This is perhaps the clearest example of a supply-sider seeing himself as a champion of the rich rather than the defender of a specific ideology/set of policies.

I might be being unfair to supply-siders as a whole by picking three pieces from Norquist, Bartlett, and Luskin. While they seem to view themselves as champions of the rich rather than champions of free markets per se, it's possible that other supply-siders don't have such views, and are just cranks who think that the social science of economics reached its peak in Austria around 1900. It's still interesting how Bartlett, Luskin, and Norquist think, though.

Posted by: Julian Elson on October 22, 2003 07:45 PM

Frank:

I agree with you that the interesting question is what are the economic effects of this tax. Alas, Bartlett totally copped out on this. He said there were lots of 'studies' on the economic effects but note he failed to identify a single one. Having read some of the so-called studies, many are rightwing spin. There are some serious studies on these issues, but they do not generally support Bartlett's spin. Which may be why he did not identify the relevant literature.

Posted by: Harold McClure on October 22, 2003 09:45 PM

Harold-

I'm just going by common sense here. The "rich" obviously save a large portion of their income. The question is does an inheritance tax cause them to divest from the market and spend it before their death? Common sense would say yes if the rate is high enough.

Capital investment is extremely important to productivity and economic growth. George Reisman (Pepperdine) goes into the details of this on his web site. Can you please site the biased conservative studies you refer to? Thanks

Posted by: Frank on October 22, 2003 11:05 PM

There are two examples at www.house.gov/jec/tax

One was written in Dec. 1998 and an update came out in June 2003. It's the usual JEC style of Ann Coulter footnotes (if you read the original source, you'll see the author misrepresents the original study) and almost high schoolish writing style (piecing together a set of numbers in a truly misleading way). Not to insult high schoolers who can think and write - but this JEC crowd is even more dishonest than the NRO crowd.

I'm not saying that the estate tax does not have economic effects, but 'common sense' does not quantify these effects and the JEC grossly misrepresents what the published literature suggests. Which may be why Bartlett side stepped giving us citations. He knew folks have checked this literature including the JEC spin.

Posted by: Harold McClure on October 23, 2003 06:27 AM

The truly wealthy have SO MUCH money they need help spending it. Seriously. Consider the amount of money available to someone like Bill Gates (65 billion estimate?) Assume he lives another 65 years. He would have to spend $1 Billion per year or almost $3 million per day to spend it all. After the $50 million dollar house and the $1 million fleet of cars, how does one consume that much money??

It really is not possible. That is the rate of $2000 per minute. So the only way that money can be spent is by giving it away or hiring others to spend it for you. Since wealth accumulates wealth (just like in the board game Monopoly) unfettered collection of wealth would rapidly drive any society to a plutocracy. Most consider a plutocracy to be inefficient in managing an economy. This is because the resources are controlled by a very few and are generally not available for independent entrepreneurs that expand the economy.

However, if one is in favor of concentrating wealth and power intot the hands of ones political cronies, then eliminating the estate tax and relying on those beneficiaries to finance your political campaigns in order to maintain their hold on wealth and power can be a winning political strategy. Large contributions allow campaign spending limits to be ignored and money and power can be used to influence the public discourse. A small cabal of very wealthy people can eventually control government policy. For people like President Bush who rely on wealthy individuals to create an overwelming political war chest for push polling, negative ads and get out the vote efforts, serving the wealthy class is his key to power. The campaign funds are so large that they could be used to weigh in on the Democratic primary and try to help choose the opposition as Gray Davis tried to do in the CA GOP governor primary in 2002. The wealth effect was clearly seen in the 2000 primaries and the large donations to Mr. Bush forced many would be candidates quickly to the sidelines. Wealth can make an unappealing and lesser qaualified candidate into a contender and a winner.

The inequality gap will eventually establish the plantation economy of the old South with indentured slaves replaced with wage slaves. It is not surprising that the GOP, controlled by neo-Confederate Southerners would want to reestablish plantation economics in the US. The South shall rise again.

Posted by: bakho on October 23, 2003 06:48 AM

There is no real contradiction between what Brad is saying and what I am saying. The question hinges on coercion. Jesus was saying that rich men should give away their wealth and that's fine. But the whole point is that they should do so voluntarily, out of the goodness of the hearts. He was not endorsing force to take such wealth, which is what the estate tax does. I still maintain that the passage supports my view that Jesus would have opposed redistribution by force.

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on October 23, 2003 07:02 AM

The verse in question - which Bartlett misattributes to Luke 12:13 instead of Luke 12:16 - and its surrounding context have absolutely nothing to do with taxation. It deals with the "soul" of the rich man, where God is pictured as calling this particular rich soul a "fool." What part does Bartlett think actually relates to issues of taxation?? This passage, unlike others alluded to in the comments above, simply doesn't deal with the subject at all. The subject is "covetousness" where Jesus states that money can't buy you life.

Or, in the more recent paraphrase by Lennon and McCartney, "Money Can't Buy You Love."

As to who gets what the rich man has collected - whether it's the children or the tax collector - the answer is left vague: "and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"

That, of course, is the point. One cannot control who gets one's things once one dies. The rich man's ample supply of goods, stored up for the future, meant nothing on the day of his death in terms of their ability to aid the rich man in avoiding death.

In fact, Jesus' further admonition in this passage was "do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind." (verse 29) Don't go after it, like the rich fool. Rather, "Sell your possessions, and give alms." (verse 33).

You cannot build a case that this passage is antitax for rich folks. The passage is anti-rich folks, and against even trying to accumulate wealth. His followers were to have other priorities: "And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well." (29-31)

Don't seek wealth. That's what he says. Don't be like the rich fool.

Get it?

That's the point. It ain't hard to get.

Posted by: Jon on October 23, 2003 07:34 AM

pj, this a fairly gross misrepresentation:

"In fact, there are other indications in the Gospels that he opposed payment of taxes. He and his disciples were late paying taxes and were pressed by the authorities on the matter, upon which Jesus did not pay with his own or his followers money, but told Peter that he would find a coin to pay the taxes in a fish. In another instance, the Pharisees brought Roman soldiers as they tested him with the question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes?", clearly expecting him to say that it was not, after which he could be arrested. (This is when he answered with the enigmatic "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, give to God what is God's.") So the overall impression is that Jesus was anti-tax."

Jesus was hardly anti-tax. There are still plenty who will contend to this day that the Bible supports slavery however so I won't argue with your spin on this point. I will say that the parable of the rich fool fits you and your sort quite well. The part of your nonsense I will expose here is your attempt to pretend that all of the other government transfers not called taxes aren't forced.

"To conflate all kinds of power into one category is to miss the critically important distinction between the use of force and the use of enticements. The difference between tyranny and freedom is the difference between which kind of "power" we rely on -- the power to coerce or the power to persuade."

The government makes thousands of forced wealth transfers a day. It is virtually impossible for the government not force a wealth transfer through its actions. Calling transfers contained in monetary transfers (those specifically termed taxes) tyranny while pretending all of the others are simply through persuasion is a form of lying. Whether done through ignorance or malice, the untruthfulness and falsity of your claim is complete.
___

Frank, "I'm just going by common sense here. The "rich" obviously save a large portion of their income. The question is does an inheritance tax cause them to divest from the market and spend it before their death? Common sense would say yes if the rate is high enough."

I believe the literature shows the net loss from divestigers to be very low due to the tendency of income loss through divestiger to be offset some by increased economic activity. On the other hand, the literature seems to show the economic loss from oligarchic protection is fairly high. A brief look at the histories of the U.S. steel and textile industries should drive home exactly how high those costs are. If so, it would seem that the rate of inheritence taxation would have to be fairly high before it becomes economically less efficient than not taxing inheritance. Either way the basic economic question would be which is more restraining on an economy the tendency of oligarchs to protect their dying industries, or the economic loss from divesting estates.

You do not have to be advocating confiscatory inheritance taxation to believe that some form is healthy on economic and political grounds.

Posted by: Stan on October 23, 2003 08:03 AM

" The subject is "covetousness" where Jesus states that money can't buy you life."

And, in the passage, the admonition to avoid coveting another's goods is directed at someone who wants another's goods redistributed toward him. Not at the rich man.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on October 23, 2003 08:15 AM

Bruce Bartlett,

"There is no real contradiction between what Brad is saying and what I am saying. The question hinges on coercion. Jesus was saying that rich men should give away their wealth and that's fine. But the whole point is that they should do so voluntarily, out of the goodness of the hearts. He was not endorsing force to take such wealth, which is what the estate tax does. I still maintain that the passage supports my view that Jesus would have opposed redistribution by force."

No Bruce, the whole point of the passage cited was covetousness not volutary giving. Jesus' thoughts on taxation are accurately captured in the quote "render unto Ceasar...". On your point on voluntary giving I refer you to my reply to pj. Any thoughts on what the Bible says about lying?

Posted by: Stan on October 23, 2003 08:25 AM

I should be fair to Bruce Bartlett after my criticism that he did not provide references to those studies. He was kind enough to email me a short bibliography which will allow me to check out these studies.

Posted by: Hal McClure on October 23, 2003 08:39 AM

I should be fair to Bruce Bartlett after my criticism that he did not provide references to those studies. He was kind enough to email me a short bibliography which will allow me to check out these studies.

Posted by: Hal McClure on October 23, 2003 08:42 AM

"It's rather as if God was chastising the fool for not having Jim Glass develop his estate tax shelter or trust instrument. "
~~~

Now on my letterhead and business cards:

"From God's mouth to my estate plan for you. At reasonable rates."

Though my rate is going up.

Posted by: Jim Glass on October 23, 2003 08:51 AM

Patrick says,

"...the admonition to avoid coveting another's goods is directed at someone who wants another's goods redistributed toward him. Not at the rich man."

Well, the rich man is called a "fool" by God himself in the parable; it seems to me he IS admonished as well.

Additionally, it also seems that, if anything, Jesus is "anti-inheritance." Since the "someone" asking for the inheritance would logically be a child or other close relative of the person who had the riches which would be inherited, and Jesus advises that the inheritor give the inheritance away, both the giver and receiver come into play here.

So - perhaps we could speculate that, if anything, Jesus is here "anti-inheritance", tax issues aside... perhaps...

Posted by: Jon on October 23, 2003 09:12 AM

Patrick,

"And, in the passage, the admonition to avoid coveting another's goods is directed at someone who wants another's goods redistributed toward him. Not at the rich man."

So wanting an inheritance tax automatically means that people covet somebody else's goods? This would assume first that the only people advocating inheritance taxes are those who would receive them. This is false. Numerous very wealthy individuals who would clearly pay the inheritence tax have publically stated that repealing the inheritence tax is a bad idea. Second, it assumes that all wealth is ones own. We know for a fact that theft occurs. We also know that every government action from contract awards to frequency allocations redistribute wealth. That assumption is also false. Finally it assumes that inheritance taxation is a different form of transfer than other government transfers and taxation. All government transfers are forced. As a democratic country though, our vote gives us a voice in where it is spent. This assumption is also false.

The statement is patently false when applied to the estate tax. It doesn't even apply to those who would benefit because of the other two falsities. Not all wealth is ones own, and all forms of government transfers are forced. Most supporters of the inheritence tax simply put the good of the nation above their ability to turn their children into nobility.

Posted by: Stan on October 23, 2003 09:12 AM

It's been a while since my Jesuit education has been applied interpreting scripture, but...

~~
"Master, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me."

And Jesus said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" And then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness...
~~~

Pretty clearly the person being chastised here for covetousness is the one who wants in on the rich man's estate, not the rich man.

As to the later reprimand, "You need treasure in heaven, not treasure on earth", that would seem pretty cleary to apply to those who are covetous of the rich man's goods just as much as to the rich man.

So if we are looking for support in scripture for an estate tax, it wouldn't seem to be here.

And as to the famous "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's", there is a bit of difference between that and "Render unto Caesar that which is Charlie's by way of rendering it unto me."

Posted by: Jim Glass on October 23, 2003 09:18 AM

The estate tax, besides being a tax on entirely unearned income, is a form of social engineering. I'm for it. I'm hostile to great concentrations of inherited wealth. I have Lincoln, Carnegie, and Gateses Sr. and Jr. on my side.

Posted by: Lover of Liberty on October 23, 2003 09:36 AM

"There is no real contradiction between what Brad is saying and what I am saying. The question hinges on coercion. Jesus was saying that rich men should give away their wealth and that's fine. But the whole point is that they should do so voluntarily, out of the goodness of the hearts. He was not endorsing force to take such wealth, which is what the estate tax does. I still maintain that the passage supports my view that Jesus would have opposed redistribution by force."

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett

I'd think that eternal damnation would constitute coercion of the highest order.

Posted by: Barry on October 23, 2003 09:49 AM

Jim,

"So if we are looking for support in scripture for an estate tax, it wouldn't seem to be here."

As far as I can tell nobody here was looking for support for a particular type of tax in scripture although there is plenty of Biblical support for taxes. The whole thread was dealing with a false claim of Biblical opposition. Despite attempts to paint it as such, support for an estate tax does not equal covetousness. Attempts to avoid paying taxes by making false Biblical claims is an example of both covetousness and lying.

Posted by: Stan on October 23, 2003 10:10 AM

Lover of Liberty,

"The estate tax... is a form of social engineering."

Yes it is. Just like all of the other examples of social engineering: building a bridge, allocating radio spectrum, offering tax credits and breaks, opening or closing trade, increasing or decreasing immigration, land use zoning, professional accredidation, purchasing for the military... Just about all governments actions are forms of social engineering. I can only assume that you threw that in since you work for the Heritage Foundation? Are you Milt?

Posted by: Stan on October 23, 2003 10:26 AM

When I read the Bible, I must be reading the same one as Jon. When people turn this parable upside down to mean that the message here is that the estate taxers are being admonished for being covetous of the rich man's fortune I feel sorrow for Man. The message is plain. Accumulation of wealth means nothing in the eyes of God. It doesn't say anything about taxes, and to imply it does is a very twisted interpretation IMO. He says right out, "Who made me a judge or divider over you?" It's not as bad as comparing the estate tax as the same attitude that created the Holocaust, but to rationalize what is at its root greed in this moral language is terrible.

And to say that people who support an estate tax are covetous towards the rich man's fortune is more twisted logic. The posts above about the ideas that founded this nation regarding the concentration of power are more appropriate motivations. We don't want an oligarchy. Wealth accumulates wealth. That is no great secret and allowing to accumulate unfettered will lead to that oligarchy we fear. Oh, right, I forgot about how it all trickles down.

Posted by: Chibi on October 23, 2003 10:51 AM

Uh, Stan, did you read Lover of Liberty's actual post, and not just the first line? Here's the rest: "I'm for it. I'm hostile to great concentrations of inherited wealth. I have Lincoln, Carnegie, and Gateses Sr. and Jr. on my side."

In short, LoL (hmm... not a good acronym to have on the internet) says he thinks the estate tax is a GOOD idea. Hardly sounds like Heritage Foundation material to me.

Besides, in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, social engineering is a routine tool used to optimize your resources allocation relative to your priorities. Nothin' more nefarious than that, unless your style of social engineering involves a power-oriented police state with a planned economy and a thought-control future society.

Posted by: Julian Elson on October 23, 2003 12:27 PM

I am seriously amazed that anyone would think Jesus would oppose inheritance taxes.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on October 23, 2003 01:18 PM

Julian, you may be right. At a minimum the Milt part was probably unfair. I very well could be wrong in reading it as an attempt to hide a far right anethemia to social engineering in a fake endorsement. My point was that the far right anethemia is itself fake. I wish the odds weren't with my interpretation. Nonetheless if the comment was real, I apologize to the author.

Posted by: Stan on October 23, 2003 02:18 PM

Dr. Delong:

Why did you have to go and do that?

You may be right about what the bible says. My guess is that it probably says everything about everything. But the mistake you make is to promote the notion that it is some sort of relevant authority on issues that apply here in reality space. I think it is the duty of a leading academic like yourself to dispell rather than embrace superstition.

I know Gates started this and that you did not get into the fight until the third round. But I expect more from you than from Bill Gates, who is only a multi-billionaire and not even a professor.

Posted by: Gerard MacDonell on October 24, 2003 04:10 AM

Bartlett is a worse proof-texter than Jerry Falwell. With regard to the Bible, does he have any familiarity with the concept of Jubilee? It's a provision in the Priestly source that prevents accumulation of wealth over generations by returning land to its original owners every fifty years. It freed debt slaves at the same time.

This concept survived, at least in principle down to the time of Jesus. It is cited by Ezekiel (in the very passage Bartlett misquotes). It is the basis of the famous passage in Third Isaiah (Isaiah 61) and that passage is applied by Jesus to himself when he announces his mission in the Nazareth synagogue.

The quote from Ezekiel is outrageously out of context. It refers to a prince who might take land from less wealthy commoners and give it to his sons, not to any effort to take property from the wealth and give it to the poor. In fact, whenever the prophets criticize state confiscation, it is in the context of a monarchial system that used taxation to take from the poor and give to the rich.

Bartlett even misuses Adam Smith. Smith actually points to the effects of unbridled markets on workers and recognizes a need for government intervention to prevent the subjugating effects of capitalism upon workmen.

I've written about these issues in "The Gospel According to Adam Smith" at http://www.therightchristians.org/archives/000088.html.

I've also written about some of the difficulties involved in basing economics on the Bible here: http://www.therightchristians.org/archives/000032.html.

Posted by: Allen Brill on October 24, 2003 05:12 AM

Bartlett is a worse proof-texter than Jerry Falwell. With regard to the Bible, does he have any familiarity with the concept of Jubilee? It's a provision in the Priestly source that prevents accumulation of wealth over generations by returning land to its original owners every fifty years. It freed debt slaves at the same time.

This concept survived, at least in principle down to the time of Jesus. It is cited by Ezekiel (in the very passage Bartlett misquotes). It is the basis of the famous passage in Third Isaiah (Isaiah 61) and that passage is applied by Jesus to himself when he announces his mission in the Nazareth synagogue.

The quote from Ezekiel is outrageously out of context. It refers to a prince who might take land from less wealthy commoners and give it to his sons, not to any effort to take property from the wealth and give it to the poor. In fact, whenever the prophets criticize state confiscation, it is in the context of a monarchial system that used taxation to take from the poor and give to the rich.

Bartlett even misuses Adam Smith. Smith actually points to the effects of unbridled markets on workers and recognizes a need for government intervention to prevent the subjugating effects of capitalism upon workmen.

I've written about these issues in "The Gospel According to Adam Smith" at http://www.therightchristians.org/archives/000088.html.

I've also written about some of the difficulties involved in basing economics on the Bible here: http://www.therightchristians.org/archives/000032.html.

Posted by: Allen Brill on October 24, 2003 05:15 AM

Allen - Great comments on the Jubilee - it's good to see that subject brought up in discussions like this. The Jubileee is an economic thorn in the side of the wingnut Bible thumpers - so much for individual rights! All those deals we've been working out for the last 49 years get trashed! All the debt cancelled! No more interest earned on those outstanding loans - because the loans are forgiven! We'd be REALLY angry at whoever came up with this idea - except for the fact that it was - oh yeah - God!

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun (www.tikkun.org) suggests in his writings that folks who really understood what the Old Testament says about taxes should actually consider April 15 a day of rejoicing. The Old Testament repeatedly calls upon the faithful to give their tithes (taxes) with rejoicing. It's one of the major motifs of the Psalms and shows up in many other passages. Lerner asserts that, among other things, that the faithful should be happy to give BECAUSE of the fact that it benefits the entire community in addition to one's relationship with God. Since, in his view, relationship with God by definition is a connectedness, this central fact extends to all others on this earth.

That's one of the problems of the whole notion of individual rights. It emphasises an essential disconnectedness - a view of things that accentuates a fantasy that an individual exists apart from others - as if we just made it to adulthood on our own, forgetting all the help we got along the way from others, our parents (or parental substitutes), the many hands along the way that allow us to finally stand on our own.

Even the Marlboro Man - that archetypal icon of Solitary Man, cutting His Path across the wilderness - had to buy that horse off of someone else! Did he make that gun himself, or did someone else have to give their particular genius to that task?

The right wing pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap Bible thumper class have forgotten that relationship with God demands relationship with others - that loving God demands that they "love their neighbor AS themselves" like their neighbors WERE themselves. If the wingnuts really got that, and this is such a Christian Nation, we should see poverty erased, now shouldn't we? Who, after all, would let THEMSELVES starve if they had the means to prevent it? This estate tax crap wouldn't matter, since any discussion of "trickle-down" would be moot. We'd all see the obligation we have toward our neighbors - which elevates our neighbors - ALL OF THEM - to the same level as ourselves.

No trickles here. We're talking about a full-fledged FLOOD.

But I guess that's just too radical. According to the stingy wingnut class, if I had the power to divide loaves miraculously, I should really just keep it to myself. All those poor folks begging for food shouldn't be listening to me anyway - they should be out looking for a DAMN JOB!!! And if they can't find one, who cares, since God predestined them to poverty anyway??

Posted by: Jon on October 24, 2003 06:40 AM

'Jesus also welcomed prostitutes and adulterers into his company, so his welcome to Matthew says no more about his support of taxation than his welcome to Mary Magdalene of sexual promiscuity.'

I know I'm chiming in a little late here -- after reading most of this I have a headache. Wow. But thanks to all of you, for clearing it up for me! In ref to the above statement, please see:

"...there is absolutely no biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene ever was a harlot. All we really know is that she was a business woman from the town of Magdala, and evidently very successful. Somehow, she met Jesus and began traveling with him and the disciples early on, and her wealth allowed her to finance their journeys. She was with them in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, and when all the male disciples fled, she stayed. She was with the other women at the foot of the cross. And later, it was she who went to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. The evidence is: she was a faithful follower of Jesus, even more so than the chosen twelve.

"But there is no evidence that she ever was a wanton woman. We are only told that she was healed, by Jesus, of "seven demons." Whether this was a physical or emotional or even a spiritual sickness, we are not told. All we know, is that when she encountered Jesus, she was freed of them."

Etc., etc. I just thought I'd throw this into the discussion, albeit at a late time. I think it's worth thinking about. Mary helped Jesus and the apostles directly. Intuitively, I think we know which side of the issue you've been discussing she came down on here. Feminist theology has helped this to become the prevailing progressive thought about M.M.

Love, Pat

P.S.: My html skills aren't up to the task of linking the above. I simply googled "Mary Magdalene" + "business woman". Received over 100 links.

Posted by: Patann on October 24, 2003 09:09 AM

"I am seriously amazed that anyone would think Jesus would oppose inheritance taxes."

Personally I'm usually reluctant to presume what another person would think about a subject when he or she has never actually said anything about it. Especially a person who died 2,000 years ago.

I'm even more reluctant to presume what God thinks about something, if the subject didn't come up during my last conversation with a burning bush.

It's that agnostic strain the Jesuits beat into me.


Posted by: Jim Glass on October 24, 2003 11:33 AM

wtfwjd?

Posted by: can't help it on October 26, 2003 07:38 AM
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