I have a simple plea for politicians. I’d like you to stop saying you’re giving me “back more of my own money” when you cut taxes.
The fact of the matter is that it’s not “my own money”. Government’s tax revenue is money that we pool together to fund the services and infrastructure to provide for a decent life for all citizens and to help those around the world who are striving against terrible poverty and injustice.
US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr said, “Tax is the price we pay for a civilised society.” Christians should always be eager and ready to contribute to the common good.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
– Philippians 2:4
To be honest, I don’t agree with everything my taxes are spent on. I think we are too willing to go to war, for example. I lament the billions we spend imprisoning vulnerable asylum seekers or jailing Indigenous Australians at horrendous rates.
But, despite this, I’m glad to pay my taxes for the good they contribute to. When government uses tax revenue effectively, it can scale up and coordinate outcomes that individual donations, or even group efforts, can’t achieve.
If a disaster strikes my neighbours in the Philippines, my tax dollar helps coordinate emergency assistance and relief efforts. When a woman I will never meet flees from a violent and abusive relationship, my tax dollar helps fund a refuge for her to find shelter and support. When an industry closes down, my tax dollar can help to retrain workers and provide support for those thrown out of work.
Christians can and should argue about what our taxes are spent on and what activities should be taxed in the first place. I support lower taxes on personal and business income as well as activities that benefit society. I support higher taxes on socially and environmentally harmful activities, as well as capital gains (which is basically money you get from making use of money you already had).
We can and should argue about how high various tax rates should be. We want to ensure that people have incentives to invest in productive activities and use their skills and labour to make a contribution to society. Bear in mind, though, that Australia already has low taxes compared to other developed nations – lower than Norway, New Zealand, France, the UK, Canada and Japan to name just a few in the latest OECD figures.
Pay to all what is due – taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due. Owe no on anything, except to love one another.
– Romans 13:7–8
Yet we can’t argue that the money we pay in tax is “ours to begin with”. Because any time I start a job or a business, I have an obligation to render a percentage of my business or job income to the Government to support our “common wealth.” The business I start or the job I find is not my own creation.
It requires an educated population (and tax paid for that education). It uses a huge range of tax-funded infrastructure and services – from telecommunications to power to transport to sewage to the bureaucracy and legal system that allows me to employ people or be employed and sign contracts. I didn’t create those systems and institutions. They were gifted to me by the taxpayers who went before me and by those who pay their taxes around me. To maintain those institutions and pass them on to another generation of businesses and employees requires me and all of us to pay our fair share of tax.
Part of why Christians should be happy to pay our fair share of tax is because we recognise that we owe a little bit to everyone.