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July 18, 2010


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#4 is very good. Today the constant drone from our "leaders" is that those who are successful (read as "rich" - defined however you want) somehow got there improperly. :-(

Interesting that you sight Romans 13:7 as it also includes "...fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor." (King James version).

I don't know any of our 'leaders' (here I assume you mean president Obama, but I don't want to put words in your mouth MasterPo) who think any significant fraction of those who are successful got their improperly.
I do know that I, and many other people are pretty upset at the finance companies on Wall Street that made bad bets that they couldn't cover and contributed to a massive recession, and yet still think that all regulations are bad.
I also think that regardless of how honestly you made your money, that it makes sense for the government to tax at a higher rate those high income earners who can better afford it, but that doesn't mean I think being successful is bad.

STL pastor,

How many times have you heard various leaders say, "the rich should pay their fair share". Doesn't that imply that rich people are not paying their "fair share" and, as such, have benefited from such (possibly to the detriment of others)? If you haven't seen other similar examples, then I think you are blind/deaf.

As to your comment on bankers, I think you run the risk of painting a very broad brush. I have worked with various investment bankers over the course of the last 15 years. Most of them are very ethical people and have helped to drive our economic engine by facilitating investment in businesses (read jobs). Like any business, there are those that are have given others a bad name and it becomes a popular football. To give you an analogy, do you think all ministry leaders should be labelled as sex offenders because of the few priest pedophiles?

Finally, your position on higher tax rates for high income earners, please show me one biblical text that indicates that higher income earners should pay more taxes. Jesus clearly separated himself from politics. Remember when he said "Give unto Ceaser what is Ceasers, but give unto God what is God's." Shouldn't your focus (given what I assume is your position) to look how we as God's children should be serving (giving) to others individually versus more government enrichment?

Sorry to be unloading on this post, but I have read this and many of your past posts and you come off very political, which is surprising if you are a leader in the ministry.

Jim - Thank you. Well said.

STL - Does your comments on "bad bets" include Freddie and Fannie who gave out mortgages like popcorn at a carnival regardless of proving ability to repay? I also don't think you were complaining too much when your 401k and IRA was soaring.

"Who can better afford it" - By what grand power does one man (or woman) judge what another can 'afford' to pay and then TAKE IT from them?

Can you give an example in your daily life of something you purchase where the cost is not fixed but rather determined based solely on what you have in your wallet? In fact, that's illegal in most places.

I think #12 is one of the most important especially in the financial days ahead. Proverbs says it very well.

Hey Jim and MasterPo,

My comment on Bad Bets definitely includes Fannie and Freddie. There's plenty of blame to go around for the financial crisis, both public and private. Also, I certainly wouldn't want to lump all investment bankers into one category, or suggest that they have primary blame for the crisis, most I agree are great businessmen contributing to society.

But that doesn't mean that they are taxed at their 'fair share.' I don't think its a moral judgment against rich people to say that their taxes ought to be higher-after all, its not like they set their own tax rates! Rather, I think it is clear that people with high incomes can afford higher taxes than people with lower incomes since they have more disposable income, and because these people with higher incomes (like my family) are blessed to be living in a society that rewards their particular gifts with great financial wealth, and thus they have received a superior service from our society-this great success. If they had been born in a different age, they would almost certainly have faced a different outcome.

Theologically, I agree that Jesus didn't get involved in tax rates or social service debates, he would have voted for neither Republicans nor Democrats (which might mean that Christians shouldn't vote at all), and so I try not to wield my faith too much in that realm. But I do think that societies that provide strong social safety nets and tend to equalize income distributions through progressive taxation are happier healthier societies, and that is an ethical good I'm willing to vote for, and that things like food, shelter, and health care for the poor are worthwhile things for a wealthy country to provide for human beings in need.

Now, of course all of this is indeed really political, and I acknowledge it wholeheartedly. I try really hard in my ministry to be non-partisan, and to remember that Jesus envisioned a different kind of community, not based on the coercion of the state, and my congregation spans the political spectrum, so this blog is also my place to blow off steam (and to test my ideas with a really interesting and diverse group of people). I was a debater in high school and college, and that combative side of me is usually not so helpful in the ministry, and so I find this a safe place to express some of that. I appreciate you all providing a theological/philosophical counter-point, I really enjoy the way conversation works in this space.


I have to agree with each and every point you make here. Most of these are foundational principles of personal finances, and a few (#8 and #11) are very solid pieces of advice in general.

Really would find it interesting to see someone try to challenge these. We are all different, and I certainly value and encourage diverse points of view. That said, these points all seem to be valid no matter what a person's background is. Anyone see it differently?

STL - The very concept that a "rich" person (defined however you like) is properly taxed more simple because, by definition, they have more then someone else is intrinsicly unethical at best, destructive at worse.

If we are talking about 1-2-3 percentage points more or less, while the ethics are still wrong, fiscally it's more acceptable.

But we're not.

Double-digit differences.

PLUS the loss of a host of deductions/allowances/credits that others are able to take. And how about that wonderful AMT? You ever have to pay it? MasterPo has. :-[[

Then add in the constant vilification of the "rich" as the source of our problem (Sec of State Clinton said recently the problems we're having is because "the rich" world wide just aren't taxed enough) and one has to wonder why people even bother trying??

MasterPo can find no ethical or moral treatment for a group of people other than the historical commonality of blaming someone who has more then you for your own problems.

I'm not sure that Jesus had a complicated global finance system in mind at the time of his preaching. Shares, derivatives, debt swaps, foreign currency exchanges. As far as ecconomics and incentivising people to contribute to society I think it's a little unfair to jesus to look for answers in the bible. I mean the first book on the subject was written in 1612!

5 and 10 kind of seem contradiactory. Don't cosign, just give them you money? I guess if you just give them your money at least you won't lose more than you've got. Though I like the "without worry of being repaid" because you won't be.

I just remember the first rule of banking. "Never lend money to someone who needs it".


I don't understand why you pick a fixed percentage of income as the 'ethical' amount to tax people (say, what, 25%?). Wouldn't it make just as much sense to say 'we all receive the same benefit from society, we all ought to pay the same fixed dollar amount in taxes?' Certainly, in some cases we do this as a society-everyone pays the same amount for a driver's license, its not on a sliding scale. How do we decide what is the right tax rate? I don't mind taxing the wealthy 10% more than the middle class, and 100% than the poorest in society, because I think its just as appropriate to argue that when you tax the wealthy, you are taking from their surplus, when you tax the poor, you're taking from their scarcity, and it is more ethical for society to draw from surplus than scarcity, e.g. the story the prophet Nathan told David in 2 Samuel 12.

Its only ethically questionable to set tax rates based on greatest social utility if property is an unconditional right and taxes are tantamount to stealing. But it seems to me, philosophically, that property rights exist at the whim of the state-in anarchy, like in Somalia, property is defined by what you can hold by force of arms, and people who became wealthy because of the American system would be very unlikely to control those weapons. I don't vilify the wealthy as the source of our problems (and certainly not my own personal problems!)-we've always had plenty of problems, and will have more in the future, but I don't mind acknowledging that they have uniquely benefited from our system, and its ethically OK for them to bear a larger financial burden to support the system that has been so good to them.

Also, it seems to me that inequality in wealth tends to be bad for countries-undermining social cohesion, breaking down social capital, and harming the economy. Thus, I think the government, and we the people ought to work to have the most efficient system, which involves a progressive tax system and a strong social safety net. The US economy has hummed along nicely in very high marginal tax rate environments, and I'm not worried about a few more percentage points now.


Even at fixed percentages, the "rich" pay more. With our progressive tax system, those in higher income brackets pay even more of a share than those at lower income levels. Despite that, we hear that the "rich" still need to pay more. Why? It is not that we have a revenue problem, because we can see over time that the government has consistently collected more and more revenue. Instead, it is a spending problem. So now, rates are obviously going to go up and it is being sold under the guise that the "rich" are not paying their fair share.

In your last post, you said "I am not worried about a few more percentage points now". If you aren't, you should be. Think of tax like any other cost. No matter who pays it, they will factor it into their budgets/expenditures. In our business, we are doing okay, but our revenues are flat. At the same time, you local/state taxes and fees are going up as well as our health care expenses. As such, our current plans are to reduce our largest expense category, which is labor. We expect to reduce headcount by approximately 5% by the end of the year. Whenever you have increased cost, be it raw materials, utility expense, taxes or whatever, something else WILL get cut, including jobs.

Be careful what you ask for.


You commented that Jesus didn't vote, and suggested that maybe Christians shouldn't vote either. I don't want to read into what you are saying to make assumptions about your beliefs, but I will say this.

Throughout most of history, including in Jesus's time on earth, government has been in the hands of a select few. In that regard the USA and other countries with similar governments are very unique. This government is a government OF the people, and BY the people.

As I understand it, by being eligible to vote, any citizen is already involved in the government whether he wants to be or not. Since I am the governemnt (or at least one part of it) I am therefore morally responsible for the governments actions, at least as far as it is in my power to influence them. If I choose to stand by and let the government (which represents me) engage in unethical or unmoral activities, It would seem to me that I would be responsible before God for those actions.

Hmmm... my 2cents on the tax rates - i feel it would be unethical if it was "if you make $a, you pay b%, if you make $c, you pay d%" but in reality with the progressive tax system everyone pays the same percentage on the first 8,375, the same percentage of taxes on the money they make between 8,375 – $34,000, they same percentage of taxes on the money they make between 34,000 – $82,400 and so on.

If you had to pay a higher blanket percentage on all of your income I would think it was unethical, but everyone pays the exact same tax rates - some people just never make it to the higher brackets. Taking the average percentage skews the result - when you deduct something from your income, you get the advantage of not paying the highest bracket percentage - not the advantage of not paying the average percentage.

My favorite part about income tax is when it was first introduced there was a huge uproar. Then the politicians assured everyone that there was no way that they could see the income tax rate ever rising above HALF of ONE percent.

On a more serious note, it is the personal responsibility of those who have been blessed with an abundance to share with those in need. If I was to use money from my own pocket to help someone in need, that would be a good thing. If however, I was to steal money from my neighbor to help someone in need, I would be a thief and would deserve to be punished. This is what the prophet Nathan was teaching in 2 Samuel 12. Whether the person I was stealing from is a stingy billionaire who never helped anyone or was the poorest of the poor is irrelevant, as his generosity would be a matter between him and God.

Yet when government takes from person A (taxes) and gives to person B (welfare, aka legalized theft), somehow that is considered ok. I'm not saying that taxes don't serve a legitimate purpose, but that all forms of welfare and assistance to the needy should return to being the direct responsibility of churches, individuals, and private organizations.

@BrasilianEngineer - I think it is a stretch to call taxes theft. Taxes are part of the social contract of being a member of society. There is no such thing as "legalized theft" as theft by definition is illegal. Social safety nets benefit us all indirectly, if not directly. If you have never had a time in your life where you or someone close to you has needed a safety net, consider yourself very privileged and very fortunate.

Paying towards welfare, unemployment, etc., is like paying insurance bills. Hopefully you will never need it, but if the time ever comes that you do need it you will be very grateful that it is there.

For me, someone advocating getting rid of welfare and other social safety nets is the same thing as advocating that people don't pay insurance. Its the mindset that it will "never happen to them".

It feels like your two comments go at cross purposes with each other-if we vote because we are part of the government, and are morally responsible for the government's actions, and our duty as a citizen is to see Christ's work done, than the tax dollars that we pay and that we vote for that go to the poor and the elderly are not theft, they are a proper sharing of our resources that go to those in need, working to help the poor and elderly as Jesus commanded.
If we don't vote, because the state is not the proper tool for Christian action, then sure, it makes sense to get rid of welfare/medicare/social security.
Personally, I'm happy to have the government 'take' from person A and 'give' to person B through taxes, because I don't believe that property rights are inviolate, and I think that one of Government's proper roles is social insurance-insuring against significant risks like medical catastrophe, lack of funds at retirement, and deep poverty (not to mention foreign invasion). These social insurance programs have dramatically helped the lives of millions of people in this country, both the poor and the elderly, making lives much better than they would have been otherwise, and I'm glad they exist.
I like Richard Rorty's idea that a just society is one that considers what is best based on the perspective of an unborn child, and it seems to me that the best society is one where each unborn child is going to have their basic needs met regardless of who their parents are or what kind of brain they happen to have, while still rewarding those who contribute the most to society with wealth and status.

Also, I read 2 Samuel 12 and it doesn't sound like a simple story about theft-putting a billionaire in the place of the man with one sheep eliminates the whole point-that because of he only had one sheep, he cared more when it was lost. If the poor man had a billion sheep, he would have brushed it off.

Jim, I agree that taxes do have a slowing effect on growth, and so I wouldn't want to increase them for no good reason. It just seems to me that our options as a nation right now are to go back to the tax rates of the 1990's and cut spending (defense spending, aid to big business, followed by modifications to Medicare, if you want my personal list) or dramatically cut spending on a lot of different social insurance programs, and it seems like meeting in the middle is the best bet.

Sarah: Ilike the way you think. In particular, glad you point out that we all pay the same %'s at the same income levels.
Mastrpo and Jim don't like to pay taxes, and, certainly don't want to provide any assistance to those less weel off than themselves (Gentlemen I have mistated the thrust of your posts, my apologises.) At least StlPastor puts down what he is willing to cut.

Have you noticed we always have trillions to fight foreign wars, bail out large corporations, give tax subsidies to agribusness, oil companies, dairy and sugar farmers, but when it comes to helping the lower/middle class--perish the thought we help the lower income--well that just bad, anti capitalist, soicialistic, creating dependencies, bread and circuses and now we have unethical.

BTW, StlP, I 've read your posts before and while you have an opinion, they are no near the very thinly veiled political tone of Jim and mPo.

STL Pastor,

Your concept of individual property rights is where you make the philosophical error. As our founders well knew, the rights to life, liberty and property (as written by Locke) were endowed to us by our Creator - and thus inalienable and could not be taken away. Unlike the Kings of old, who ruled by divine right, our founders recognized that men were granted all these rights directly by God, and therefore the only authority Government has is that given by the people's consent. Hence, James Madison's famous saying: We have no King but Jesus.

That a state or lack thereof (like Somalia) either denies or cannot enforce the right to life, liberty or property does not affect the independent reality. Your right to life is not at the whim of the state, nor is your right to liberty (particularly religious), nor is your right to property.

But what does the property right consist of?
The founding fathers believed that taxation with representation was legitimate, which is what we have in our system. Sure, you can't take people's property away without going through the proper channels, but that the state has decided to tax for the purpose of providing good services (e.g., social security) to the people is precisely the kind of due cause that I believe in.
Presuming any taxation of any kind is legitimate, then at that point, the question is what is the proper limit of government action, which is a fair philosophical/theological debate. I personally would rather the government take money from me to pay for food for the poor (food stamps) because I believe the government has the obligation to promote the general welfare than take money from me to pay for misguided wars (Iraq) but I think, philosophically, the government can do both, as long as it continues to function under the structure of laws and the accountability of the electorate.

The U.S. Constitution sets forth a specific list of powers that the Federal Government holds. Two of those powers are declaring war and collecting taxes to support the armies. Therefore the war in Iraq is constitutionally permissible. I am making no judgment whether it passes moral, ethical or other tests.

However, I have yet to find any section anywhere within the Constitution that makes providing individual welfare one of those powers. Therefore either I have yet to find the relevant section, or Federal Government provided individual welfare programs are unconstitutional. Only State governments are allowed to run individual welfare programs.

STL Pastor,

The right of property is, simply put, the ownership right you have to the fruit of your labor. If a carpenter takes a raw log, and then mills it and fashions a chair, he has increased his wealth. The chair is rightly called his property for it came by the sweat of his brow. This matters.

So, contrary to your assertion above, this right to property does not rely on the whims of the state, for it exists apart from the state. And wealth exists apart from the state, does not inherently belong to the state, and can only be siezed (in whole or part) by consent of the governed.

Again this matters, because it utterly destroys the argument that certain individuals have benefited more "from the system" than others. If a man is entitled to the fruit of his labor by God-given right, then all "the system" does is enforce those rights - it does not create them. And so a just system will enforce them for the pauper as well as the prince.

This is why communist/socalist ideology declares all property as belonging to the state in an attempt to deny reality. And any attempt to deny reality ultimately fails because the people know it is a lie.

Article I, section 8 of the U. S. Constitution grants Congress the power to "lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States." I think not having starving people in the streets is part of the general welfare of the nation. Both the congress of the United States and the Supreme Court agree with me.

STL Attorney, I believe both that property exists at some level outside of the state, and that it is a result and dependent on the state. Without the entire modern economic system, Bill Gates would have only the most minute fraction of the wealth he currently enjoys, since his wealth is derived from the complicated interactions of many thousands of people working at Microsoft, an organization which would be completely impossible in a failed state (On a totally unrelated note, since you brought up Marx, one of his criticisms of capitalism was that it took the fruit of the labor of workers like those at Microsoft who are not billionaires and gave it to the owners of the company who had only invested money, not time or effort in the creation of the new property). Further, Gates' wealth is the creation of billions of people working together to create a society that supports computer technology. Mr Gates happened to have some particular skills that allow for remarkable success in our modern economy. To pretend that he wasn't tremendously lucky to be born when he was, and that the public safety, defense of intellectual property rights, free education for all children, and other benefits of living in America have nothing to do with his success is equally ludicrous as believing that all property belongs to the state.

The reason we have a mixed system in the United States, and all industrialized countries at this point, is because most people recognize both that property is a real thing that people create from their labor, and also that the state has a function in providing for the needs of those disadvantaged by the modern system.

BrasilianEngineer - Very well stated.

Sarah - What is so special to say that from $A to $B the tax rate is X%, $C to D$ it is Y%, $E to $F it is Z% etc? That is the clearest way to indicate the higher the income the more value it has since that tax rate gets higher and higher as the scale increases.

Also, keep in mind that as incomes go up the amount of allowed deductions, credits, shelters, allowances, etc is reduced to the percentage takes a higher bite of the income.

@MasterPo - from how I'm reading your post, you are saying the same thing as me. My argument is when people use an overall average percentage to make it seem like since they make more money they are taxed a a completely different rate. someone who makes $8000 may be paying no taxes, but someone who makes $50,000 also didn't pay any taxes on the first $8000.

Would people feel differently if it was a discount that you get on the first part of your income? If the tax was a flat 35%, but that the first $8375 was exempt, and the next few brackets qualify for differing amount of discounts to help with every day expenses? And the income that reaches the level far above what most would consider needed for everyday expenses no longer qualified for a discount? that is essentially what the tax code is.

STL Pastor,

Would you say that the right to life results from the state? That if we lived in Aztec Mexico, we would have no right to life, and the state could literally offer us up for sacrifice? Of course not, because the independent reality is that life is God's gift. The same with religious liberty.

But now you propose that the property right derives in part from the State. To do so is tantamount to proposing that the right to life derives in part from the State, because, as mentioned, what is property, other than fruit of labor, and labor being the expenditure of life itself?

That Bill Gates profitted from the labor of others proves no point. Since time memorial, men have profited from the labor of other men. In Gates' case, it was a just profit because the workers are paid an amount that they agreed to accept. No slavery or indentured servitude.

Simiarly, where did the investors get their money? Was it not as a result of their labor? These first things are important, STL Pastor.

The socialist thinking, that wealth and property are really derived from the state, permits the state to claim and re-disrtibute however it fahsions.

When one recognizes that property and wealth inherently belong to the individual, one approaches the foricble taking of such wealth with more apprehension. This is not to say that the consent of the governed cannot determine to take from A and give to B - redistribute wealth in some fashion.

It is to understand where wealth comes from (hint: not the state), that wealth is not a concrete thing to be distributed (it can increase or decrease), and that the true creators of wealth respond to incentives resulting in more or less wealth.

STL Pastor,

My nose detects that you are pastor of a mainline protestant church - perhaps Methodist or ELCA. You are for sure not Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican. You are most likely not MO Synod Lutheran or PCA. You are probably not Southern Baptist or non-denominational evangical.

Fess up.

STL Attorney - Very well put!


Yes, you are wrong.

I understand that you and Stl Pastor believe that increased taxes will mean greater aid to the poor, but that is not very likely. Take a look at the current % of tax dollars going to those programs. Also note that very little of increased tax dollars will actually go into programs to address those in poverty. The real problem we have is out of control spending that is leading to higher debt that will cause us to spend more dollars on interest payments versus any real tangible benefit.

From a christian point of view, the care for those in poverty falls on us as individuals, not on pushing that responsibility to the government.

One last thought, it is clear that increased taxes (read increased cost) will lead to job cuts. That will drive more into poverty situations. Why would you encourage an activity that is clear to cause more problems? It doesn't matter what income level you are at. Poor, middle class, rich, whatever class will adjust spending based on expense levels.

Simply raising taxes is not what I was saying. If it read that why to you I must have been unclear (though Iwould ask you to take another read) Too much government spending? Deficit too large? Maybe and maybe. For the short tem I think it may be regretablely nececessary. Long term? I would agree spending needs to be brought under control. Where do you cut?

If you re-read my post you'll see I am against many types of spending: wars ( please note I did not say defense-though I believe we are not appropriating properly. By that I mean we may not need 11 major carrier fleets and more on the new asymmetrical enemies we have)

I do not favor subsidies to big businesses, the argri-industry(sugar, dairy ethanol). I was against the GM Chrysler bailout. Taxes designed to shape policies are suspect--such as mortgage interest deduction.

Social Security can be stablized by increasing the age at which it begins, the method by which increases are calculated.

One last thought Jim, I didn't read StL Pastor's posts the same way you did, I won't speak for him but give his a re read.

I don't expect nor want to convert you to my way of thinking; we clearly have differences. But I believe we have areas of overlap.

First, I love the quizzes ... I am becoming a master at them. I teach a class at my church and I often share some of the info from the quizzes. Anyway I want to comment on the what the Bible says about MONEY, these are powerful scriptures and I agree with all of them ... I took #7 as another to tithe. To give back to God is just another opportunity to be blessed. Keep up the good work. You are blessing Christians like me and I am more powerful because of this ... Be Blessed.

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