Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I saw a tv commercial in prime time last night that made me think. I don't actually know what the message the commercial was trying to convince me of was, since I typically mute the sound when there's a commercial. But I did see (something like) the phrase my energy taxes are already high enough written across the screen. I think the actor spoke those words, and they were written for emphasis. As I think about it, the commercial may have been a political advertisement, either for or against some bill or referendum, or maybe supporting some particular candidate.

I understand that a candidate doesn't have much hope of being elected if she or he promises to raise taxes. It's not a very popular position to take, since we are so very greedy and self-centered. But I'm not running for office, so I can make the statement I believe our taxes aren't high enough without worrying about my political future.

Don't get me wrong ~ I certainly do celebrate whenever I get a refund check from the IRS. Why, then, am I so willing to give up more of my money to the government? First, because I am so amazingly privileged to have a job, particularly a job that pays me well. Second, because though my seminary-era credit card statements to the contrary, I was taught responsible use of money ... namely, that a person shouldn't spend what they don't have. Third, I am willing to give up more of my money because I believe that it is our societal responsibility to contribute to the maintenance of our society and of the world. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I don't believe it's mine in the first place.

Take the above, one at a time:

1) I have a job that pays me very well. If my income were doubled, it would be just under six figures. Now, according to economics magazines, that's not really all that much. And according to the government, my family's income is approximately triple the poverty line, which by some measures is a lot, and by some measures isn't that much. But unlike many in the world, I have a job, so I count myself amazingly blessed.

2) Unlike so many people in our society today, our family has learned (from our parents, and from trial and error) to live within our means. We're certainly not financial geniuses; at the same time, at a very basic level, we don't outspend our income. To pay a little more in taxes won't hurt our sense of self or pride (because our sense of self isn't based on how much we can buy).

3) I'm not convinced that we as people are able to make significant changes in the way we operate without significant external motivation. Take the example I saw on the tv. I believe we drive too much. I believe that our driving too much contributes to greater pollution, more exploitation of natural resources, obesity/poor health/lack of fitness, and individual social isolation (among others). But driving everywhere we need to go is ridiculously convenient, and we're not likely to give up driving so much until we're compelled to change our habits by external influence. To significantly increase the energy tax on (for instance) gasoline would certainly curtail quite so much driving. Then there would be more money available to put toward improving mass transit, research on cleaner fuel technologies, more and better bicycle-travel infrastructure, and better health. Obviously it's not as simple as I make it out to be, but without significant incentives (or dis-incentives), status quo will remain the same.

4) It isn't my money to start out with. I believe that everything I have comes from God, and that part of my job as a member of this society is to use what God has given me for the betterment of our society. My first thought ought not to be how can I keep as much as possible? but how can I use what I have to make the world a better place for everyone, especially those who don't have enough?

I think most political advertisements target our fears and/or our sinful nature. And the ad I saw, I think, targets our predilection toward selfishness and greed. In fact, I think this is why we're dealing with the current economic situation, because we're greedy. Everyone was saying I want more, I want more without considering in real ways the impact on their neighbors, or even the impact our greed would come to have on all of society.

Of course, I'm thinking about these things from my own perspective, knowing full well that there are people for whom additional taxes would mean they and their family going hungry. Obviously, they can't afford higher taxes. Part of our trouble, though, is that many people (no matter how high their income is) feel like they can't afford higher taxes.

So perhaps it's here that people of faith have to call one another to accountability for our own sin; perhaps it's here that we remember our obligation to take care of our neighbor; perhaps it's here where we have to remind one another of the difference between needs and desires.

Perhaps, if it has the guts, this is where the church steps in.


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