June 11, 2003 -- One Republican is finally making moral arguments to support his tax policies. Unfortunately, they’re the wrong arguments and the wrong policies. Alabama’s Governor Bob Riley has just shepherded through the state legislature the largest tax hike in the state’s history, justifying a greater tax burden on the prosperous on the religious grounds summed up in the slogan “What would Jesus do?”
Alabama’s tax code—like most other state codes—is complex and needs changes. But approaching reform from the wrong moral premises guarantees immoral results. For example, Adam Cohen in a New York Times editorial supporting the tax hike notes that “Christians are prohibited from oppressing the poor.” So it’s “oppression” if an individual creates wealth and fails to hand over enough of it to others? Of course, without the creators, for example, of logging companies in Alabama, there would be no timber industry jobs for Alabama citizens or for employees of stores and other enterprises that serve them.
Collectivism—from the Left or the Right—maintains that individuals who create wealth can only retain it with the permission of those who did not create it. Individualism maintains that if you earn it, it’s yours, and you need answer to no one but yourself.
For those like Governor Riley who believe in the Biblical decree that Christians “take care of the least among us,” private charity at least does not punish the productive. A tax collector with a government gun does.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.