The ascendancy of the lawyer, banker and political professions are as sure a sign of any that our society is becoming less free and more tyrannical. In many ways, these professions have replaced scribes and Pharisees as the money changers in our temples. Just as the scribes and Pharisees interposed themselves between the average believer and God, so lawyers, bankers and politician have interposed themselves between the citizen and the society. However, when we as individuals begin open our hearts to each other and rekindle moral excellence as the primary social currency, the need for oppressive laws and taxation lessens. Not to mention the deadening impact lawyers and so many laws have on the cultivation of virtues in the first place. It’s to the point where we’ve stopped talking about what’s right and wrong and more about what’s legal or illegal – what one can successfully get away with, instead of what one should do. What’s right or wrong hinges more on recent case law – whether Napster or the recording industry won, for example. When trying to determine whether a course of action is good for the soul or the community of which we’re a part, it’s more “What did the Supreme Court recently say?” than “What would Jesus do?”
Certainly the rule of law is a pillar upon which a functional society is upheld, but you can have too much of a good thing to the exclusion of other goods. In order to return to the time when virtue was the family’s and society’s focus – in its homes, churches, and schools – a lot more has to be done than simplifying our laws, but it’s certainly one thing we can do.
Thomas Paine, the great American freedom fighter, echoed the common sentiment among Americans that government is a necessary evil in a society of free men. It is a device that must be used sparingly and eyed with suspicion, for it’s tendency is to accumulate in the name of protection, what truly belongs to a just and good people.
Because the laws governing society have become so complex, ordinary people often feel helplessly lost and feel they have to rely on experts just perform basic, ordinary functions as citizens. Laws governing the voting process require proof of identification that can be difficult to obtain. The system of taxation has become opaque, fuzzy and susceptible to all forms of trickery and abuse. Small business owners find themselves bound by a mind-numbing set of regulations that impede the basic economic engine of our country from growing, stifle innovation, and discourage the entrepreneurial spirit. And our members of Congress have succumbed to the self-serving and amoral dictum, when fighting to fund this or that worthless project, that it’s going to be spent somewhere, so why not in my district? We certainly have lowered the standard for what’s right and wrong, haven’t we? In no small part because the laws are so complex and self-contradictory that we’ve almost been left with no other way to look at moral matters.
Surely good laws and regulations are essential in ensuring orderly societal direction and providing for the public good. A just, sound legal system can, in many ways, foster entrepreneurship and international trade. And by protecting the rights of minorities, they exemplify the best that Western Civilization has to offer.
One idea for simplification would be to abolish progressive taxation and institute a single, flat tax on all personal and business income. The Bible teaches us to tithe ten percent of our income. It does not ask one person to tithe more of their income if they are rich and less of their income if they are poor. By tithing ten percent, each pays to the common trust an equal proportion of their means. This practice alone would virtually eliminate the need for the army of accountants, tax lawyers and government agencies dedicated to enforcing and mitigating the laws of this country. But more importantly, it’s what the founders envisioned – a tax levied based on the population, and not ability to pay. Perhaps they saw the inherent political danger in allowing politicians to vary this or that constituency’s tax burden, which would be an invitation to the very kind of class warfare we’re engaged in today. Imagine a nation in which all are in – everyone pays the same amount to the government. What would such a nation look like?
First, you’d eliminate the classes of people who are able to convince politicians to tax another class for their own benefit. How different would our nation look if everyone who lobbied for this or that benefit had to contemplate paying out of his own hard-earned paycheck to fund it? The calculus certainly would change. The entire nation would have to buy into a proposal – literally – before a constituency could act in its own self-interest. Taxpayers at the low-income end of the spectrum might think twice about whether they want to be taxed on the few dollars they earn to obtain some benefit, or whether they’d rather take their chances and work harder to get more pay. Instead of eagerly anticipating, for instance, the health-care bill that was signed into law this year because it would benefit them at no cost, those who thought this way during the debate might have looked closer at the legislation if they knew that they, too, would be paying higher taxes – just as much higher as the rich guy on the other side of town – to receive that benefit.
The advantage to a flat-tax system, then, is that the all-in approach would force all to think a bit more clearly before they lobby for a benefit they themselves will have to help pay for. Of course, this would never happen. Far too many tax lawyers stand to lose in a truly fair tax system, and what would Congress do all day if they didn’t have tax loopholes and favors to write for their campaign contributors?
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