Quite a discussion broke out over the questions surrounding taxation, theft and redistribution, and so I thought it would be good to set down some basic principles on the subject. This is to prevent the “guiding principle” from becoming a charge of theft for any tax I might find distasteful.
1. The point is not that taxation is theft, but rather that taxation can be theft. Obviously, in Scripture, there is legitimate taxation (Rom. 13:7), which would not be theft, and illegitimate taxation, which is (Matt. 17:25-27). If that is the case, then there is a line that a state must not cross, and it is incumbent upon both rulers and citizens to know where that line is, and why it is there.
2. In biblical law, the fact that the civil rulers can steal is indisputable. Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:7), and it would not alter the facts of the case if it had been done under cover of zoning regulations or land reform. How hard would it be for a Michael Moore kind of filmmaker to make Naboth out to be a greedy “landowner” who cared more about the “land of his fathers” than he did about “the good of the people.” And by “people,” we of course mean “Ahab.” Ahab’s a people.
3. If a state can steal, then the question becomes “how do we tell?” Anybody who wants to give the authorities an automatic pass because what they did was perfectly legal is a naif who ought to have his drivers licence revoked. Anybody who resents giving any portion of his income for legitimate civic purposes is a scofflaw. So, where is the line?
4. The line will of necessity have to be enforced by the rulers of the people, and this is why one of the first principles is that the rulers of the people are not qualified for their task unless they are men who hate covetousness.
“Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens”
“The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days” (Prov. 28:16).
But we are currently governed by men who love covetousness.
5. Determining the line between legitimate taxation and illegitimate thieving taxation is not necessarily an easy task. It can be complicated. I acknowledge that it could be a challenging task for men who fear God. And so this is why we must be led by men who fear God. And it is also why I deny that it can be done by our current gaggle of miscreants, buffoons, knaves, poltroons, scoundrels, and then, of course, there’s the Democrats.
6. One approach to answering the question would be Samuel’s dire warning to the Israelites, when they asked for a king “like the other nations.” He said that if they did that, the result would be an unthinkable level of taxation . . . at ten percent. And here we are, looking back longingly at ten percent levels like they were the leeks of Egypt or something. When the state takes more than ten percent, then the state is claiming more than God claims in the tithe. When this happens, if the state has not done something overweening or despotic, then wait ten minutes.
7. While the ten percent ceiling is a good rule of thumb, a better approach would be to measure by what God tells the civil government to do. The state is God’s deacon (Rom. 13:4), and God never leaves His deacons without instructions. A deacon is, by definition, under authority. We should measure his appropriations and expenditures over against what he was told to do. When servants use the master’s resources for tasks unassigned by him (Luke 12:46-47), what is the result? When the Lord comes back to evaluate His deacons in the Congress, what will He do? He will not be indiscriminate; the punishments will fit the crimes. Some He will cut in sunder, and others will simply be beaten with many stripes. This will not happen because our rulers are not His deacons; rather, it will happen because they are.
8. The assigned task that was given to the civil rulers was to punish the wrongdoers (Rom. 13:4). It most emphatically was not to level the economic playing field. Anybody who can read the New Testament and think that it is the under-deacons role to preemptively make sure that the servant with ten talents is left with only three, and the one who hid his one talent is given two more to hide, is radically out of touch with the spirit of the Bible.
9. The U.S. Constitution is an “express powers” document. With regard to the risks involved in letting sinful men rule over other sinful men, this is a wise and biblical approach. It means that those who rule can only do what was laid down for them beforehand to do. That which is not required of them is prohibited to them. This is in the spirit of the Bible — civil rulers can rule, and they can tax us for that rule, and in exchange, they need to be able to show us from the Bible how that task they have undertaken is legitimate. If they need funds for the cops to chase down the murderers, this is easy to do, and no one who is biblically informed would begrudge it. If they need funds to send Charlie Rangel to the Bahamas, the authorization is a bit more murky.
10. In the Hebraic parallelism cited above (Prov. 28:16), a prince who does not hate covetousness, besides ruining himself, is also oppressing the people. And when it comes to understanding the nature of this oppression, trust the feedback you get from a welder who attends the academically-disreputable tea parties, and not the sycophantic musings of the prince’s hired economic brains, who can write learnedly of this and that. Oppression is as oppression does.