Ron Paul and the Immorality of Income Tax
I know that Ron Paul is a popular figure with those who are sick to death of big government, huge deficits, uncontrolled bureaucracy, runaway courts, and social engineering. But as with any political figure, one has to pay attention to underlying principles. In Time magazine’s “10 Questions” column in the front of the September 28th issue, Ron Paul answered a question about income tax:
Why do you oppose the income tax? Because I have a right to the fruits of my labor, and government does not. If you concede the principle of the income tax, you concede the principle that the government owns all of your income and permits you to keep a certain percentage of it. God-given rights to our life and our liberty don’t come from government.
If that doesn’t make your Catholic ears burn, it should. You might also notice that God-given rights to life and liberty aren’t exactly the same as a God-given right to unlimited wealth. And you might notice that conceding the morality of taxation does not in any way imply that government is the ultimate owner of everything. Apart from this shaky logic, however, the most important thing to note is that Catholic social teaching has quite a bit to say on this issue. The very first thing it says is that the right to private property, like every human right without exception including the right to life, is conditional upon other principles which similarly inform the common good. Thus, for example, even something as primary as the right to life is rightly balanced against the requirements of personal or national self-defense.
Regarding economic matters, the Church calls strong attention to what she rightly calls the “universal destination of goods”. In other words, the material gifts that God has given to us—the world and all that is in it—are destined by God for all persons, not just for some. For this reason, while an individual person certainly does have a right to the fruits of his labor, he does not have an unconditional right to those fruits, for the universal destination of goods is a key principle of the common good, which must also be taken into account.
In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict teaches that the best way to ensure the common good, economically speaking, is to build solidarity into all economic activities, so that they are specifically designed to benefit all the stake-holders in the business, including “the community of reference”. He also teaches that an exclusively binary model of “market plus state” in which (to oversimplify) rapacious businesses create wealth, attending only to commutative justice, and heavy-handed governments redistribute it, attending only to distributive justice, is “inadequate” and “corrosive of society”.
But that doesn’t mean we ought not to consider the universal destination of goods and, indeed, the common good as a whole, in framing laws, including tax laws. It is therefore legitimate for citizens, through the mechanisms they have established for government, to choose to impose various kinds of taxes for projects which serve the common good, including taxes that have the impact of repairing to some reasonable degree the economic rift between rich and poor which, as it grows, is also corrosive of society, undermines the common good, and may even deny to the very poor their just enjoyment of God’s gifts.
In Catholic social teaching, we do not have an absolute right to everything we earn through work, nor to everything that finds its way into our pockets through other means. As always, we must attempt to arrange our affairs with prudence, including our political and economic affairs, in accordance with all the principles of the common good. Thus a Catholic is free to make the case that this or that tax on income is imprudent because it does not effectively serve the common good, but a Catholic cannot argue that a tax on income is necessarily immoral because it violates an absolute human right.
Ron Paul, of course, is not a Catholic. As with many other political figures, including many who falsely claim to be Catholic, sometimes it shows.
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