Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A few general and tentative thoughts about taxation

Like most people, I do not know exactly all that is contained in the tax-related proposals that have emerged from the House and the Senate, and I'm not sure what will be in the tax legislation that eventually is enacted and signed into law -- if anything is.  (Given that things so rarely get "signed into law" these days, it's hard for me to be confident that anything will be.)  These two proposals contain some specifics that strike me as good policy and some that do not.  The process that is producing the proposals and that will (perhaps) eventually produce the legislation is, in my view, impossible to admire, but -- again -- I'm afraid it's been a while since our national legislature did much legislating.

My social-media feeds and the commentary I'm reading -- particularly from public Catholics, including bishops -- are largely skeptical, critical, or worse about these proposals.  My sense is that some skepticism and criticism are warranted, but also that some of the denunciations are exaggerated, underinformed, and/or overwrought.  We'll see.

What, if anything, do "Catholic Legal Theory" or the Church's social-teaching tradition have to say about all this?  Judging, again, from my social-media streams, many are confident that the answer  is "a lot of very specific things."  I don't think that's right.  A few thoughts . . . 

First, although it's not a distinctively "Catholic" position, it is a position that Catholics and everyone else should endorse that, generally speaking, that law-making should be characterized by "regular order", due consideration, deliberation, and transparency.  At present, our federal law-making is not. 

Next, I feel confident that the Gospel and the social-teaching tradition do not prescribe any particular mechanisms for political communities' important task of raising the funds necessary to do what political communities ought to do.  As I see it, a political community's taxation policies should be seen as, and should function as, a mechanism for that task, and (pretty much) only that task.  

Third, this mechanism should function well, not poorly.  That is, it should efficiently, justly, and intelligently raise the necessary funds, in ways that do not create counter-productive incentives and wasteful losses, that are constrained by law and due-process norms, and that impose proportionate burdens across the board.

Fourth, political communities should be willing, in normal circumstances (i.e., not war), raise as much money (through taxation and other means) as they want to spend, and should not spend more than they are willing to raise.  

With these four points in mind, I'm inclined to think that the taxation mechanism should not be used for policy purposes other than raising funds, although I realize that, in our world, it is used for other purposes (e.g., encouraging and subsidizing home ownership), even though I wish it were not.  I'd like to see those other purposes pursued in more transparent and direct ways.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink