Friday, August 29, 2003

A Theology of Economics?-Jason Steffans looks at a Tapped piece on the Alabama tax reform proposal. Republcan governor Bob Riley has championed an increase in property taxes and added state income taxes on the wealth and an increase in the amount of income that people can earn before paying income taxes. The tax package is the brainchild of a tax lawyer named Susan Hamill, who found a so-so Methodist faith strengthened during a sabatical at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School. Hamill started seriously studying the Bible and grafted a help-the-poor message of the Bible to a left-leaning political outlook. There has always been a economically-liberal branch of evangelical thought, especially pronounced in areas where populism is at play. I don't have a good scriptural recipe for what a proper tax code is; for that, I have to look to see the damage done by taxes versus the good done by the spending. The zero-bracket on Alabama's state income tax could use raising and a hard look at property taxes might be an order. However, when I looked at Hamill's paper, "[h]er desired hermeneutics (that progressive taxation is good and low taxes on agricultural and timber land are bad) seem to be overstate the exegesis of a basic call to look after the poor." People on the economic left can take Biblical passages that ask the believer to look after the poor and apply it to any number of "progressive" economic issues. Would Jesus be in favor of a national-health-care system? Hard to tell from scripture. It's also hard to tell if Jesus would be a hard-core supply-sider, either. That's one of the reasons that I get nervous when Christian Coalition types start making God out to be anti-taxation. I can't point to chapter and verse and show where the Hamill-Riley proposal is unscriptural. What I can do is ask what the increased taxes will do to the Alabama economy and what the increased spending that will flow from it will do to actually mitigate the poverty problems Hamill seeks to help. I do think we spend a bit too much on government and that many things could be better done with less government interference, but that assessment is done by weighing the pros of the spending/security of regulation against the cons of the taxes needed to pay for it/burdens of the regulation. My theology of economics is to set up a system where we, as a people, can enjoy as abundant a life as we can within a broad moral framework. I'd probably vote no, but I don't think that Gov. Riley has lost his soul backing this one. He's the liberals favorate Republican at the moment, but I'm not about to excommunicate him for it.

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