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London Times Online - 11 August AD 2007
"Pope set to declare income tax evasion socially unjust"

Ecce, advénit publicánus!

«Is it lawful to pay tribute unto Caesar?»
«Show me the coin of the tribute.» And they offered him a penny.
«Ostendite mihi nomisma census» at illi obtulerunt ei denarium.
—Matthew 22: 19

    Even before Vatican II, but particularly since, Church documents have often contained the economic fallacy that the wealth needed to serve the needs of the poor was somehow created through the intervention of governments.  At worst, the wealth of society would just be redistributed to the deserving poor with no net loss—optimally, the wisdom of government would cause even greater total wealth to be created.  The fallacy is five-fold:

  • First, the large bureaucracy of government consumes a significant portion of the total wealth to maintain the administrative agencies necessary to gather, redistribute, and regulate—and to investigate and prosecute those who commit the inevitable fraud associated with government programs.  Even more is consumed, often with even more pernicious effects, when the redistribution is made to the rulers in power in a foreign government.

  • Second, businesses with good connections in government prosper at the expense of other businesses and the general public.

  • Third, government becomes the forum for politicians to support each other's unnecessary and even dangerous projects—I'll vote for your Naval base in Iowa, if you'll vote for my building land below sea level in Louisiana.  Whether we'll vote to maintain either one is a problem for some future politician."—While levees and bridges are assets to everyone else, they are maintenance-intensive liabilities to the political sector.

  • Fourth, welfare recipients, and the bureaucracy which serves them, are withdrawn from the society's pool of productive labor.

  • Fifth, capital and administrative costs imposed on businesses and productive people give them less ability and incentive to produce.  The most tyrannical government cannot redistribute what does not exist.

Even without seeing an advance copy of the forthcoming encyclical on tax evasion, we can predict, with almost "papal" infallibility, that this economic fallacy will be at its foundation.

    Nonetheless, governments do perform essential services unlikely (but not impossibly) to be provided by the private sector.  Clearly, the cost of these services must be paid for by society.  Societies have raised funds for these services through a variety of different taxes—on imports, on exports, on investment income, on personal wages, on sales, on property, on luxury goods, on a per capita basis—and even by donations and volunteer labor.

The state has a right (of legal, not commutative justice, q.v.) to impose moderate taxes on its subjects, and they are bound to pay their reasonable share of such taxes, not merely as payment for services rendered but as an obligatory contribution to the maintenance of the civil society Most theologians hold that indirect taxes (e.g. customs and excise) are purely penal (see LAW, PENAL), unless the civil authority has made clear its intention to bind the conscience;  hence smuggling is not sinful in itself, unless engaged in on so large a scale as to constitute a menace to good government.  Many hold the same view of direct taxes (e.g. income-taxes, rates), provided that the citizen contributes in some way a moderate sum towards the state's expenses, but "there is no possible excuse for studied evasion of taxes....  No countenance can be given to fraud, deceit or lying in the matter of income-tax returns (Davis, Moral Theology, Vol. II).  So to make false returns or declarations is sinful;  but a reasonable sum may be deducted to allow for immoderate exactions on the part of the civil authority.  To expose one's self to the probable danger of incurring very heavy penalties by omitting to pay just taxes would be a sin against prudence if not against justice.  The Church has the right to tax her subjects, and the faithful are bound to contribute to the material support of religion where this is not already otherwise provided for;  however the Church rarely, if ever, imposes determinate taxes (but cf, cathedraticum).
   — Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Taxation." 

    There is a tacit assumption in this that the government of the state is legitimate, and its laws generally moral.  Together with Saint Thomas we can say that "all laws, insofar as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law".  Government thus derives legitimacy by governing according to the laws of God, expressed in universally known natural law.  He recognizes that rulers are imperfect and that they will sometimes stray from the divine law.  Their rule remains legitimate unless their departure from the divine law becomes an oppressive burden on the people. (S.Theol. Ia IIæ, Q93, a3  Q95, a2)

    Thus, by and large, the legitimate state is one that sets out to follow the natural law in theory and in practice.  Even where the state is pagan, it must honor God as well as He can be known through human reason; it must strongly promote family stability and marital fidelity;  it must strongly discourage lying, cheating, stealing, beating, murdering and such like behavior—among its subjects, toward its subjects, from its subjects, and with respect to foreigners.  It must require good behavior for no society can survive without it.  In brief, everyone in a legitimate state—ruler, subject, outsider—is expected to keep the Commandments to the best of his ability.

    A few concrete examples are in order.  Note that they apply to the Vatican, as Church and as a state, at least as well as they apply to civil societies.

  • The honor and obedience due to God must be observed with all diligence.

  • The rights and duties of husbands, wives, and families must be respected and fostered.

  • The rights of parents to educate their children under the auspices of the Church must not be infringed.

  • The rights of the Church to administer schools, hospitals, and charitable works, and to regulate matrimony, must not be infringed.

  • Subjects must be safe from spiritual and material harm caused by each other, by rulers, and by outsiders.

  • The right to self defense, individually and collectively, intrinsic to human society, must not be infringed;  but must not serve as cover for aggression.

  • All must be secure in the right to property and possessions.

  • Subjects have the right to a full and honest disclosure of the state's finances.  The national money must not be subject to debasement (a hidden and discriminatory tax, itself).

  • State liabilities must be fully funded and honestly reported.  Debt must be kept at levels where repayment is possible without economic ruin.

  • Legal contracts between any and all parties—state, subject, outsider—must be uniformly and impartially enforced.

  • Government must be conducted in accordance with its founding statements, documents and principles. No one may be above the law.

  • The political process may not be controlled by a small number of parties, controlling ballot access, ballot counting, and the very political discourse in monopolistic fashion.

  • Subsidiarity—government at the lowest possible level—must be observed.  Government interference must be at the lowest level consistent with the common good—not with the agenda of those in power.

  • Absolute power corrupting absolutely, international entanglements must be kept to a minimum, with anything approaching a global government being out of the question.

  • Fraud, perjury, libel, and slander by ruler, subject, outsider, are equally reprehensible and must be uniformly and impartially prohibited.

    The Roman Republic and its Cæsar, to whom Christ declared the rendering of tribute lawful, were indeed firm rulers, sometimes harsh.  From Cæsar Augustus to Marcus Aurelius (27 BC - 180 AD), the Empire enjoyed a relative peace and prosperity heretofore unknown in the ancient world.  Subject peoples were generally free to practice their religion and customs;  were relatively free from invasion:  benefited from a publicly known, uniform, and consistently applied set of laws;  and enjoyed a general period of prosperity and culture.  There were, of course, exceptions—some of them terrible, including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Civilization has had two-thousand years to learn from the mistakes of the Romans and those who followed them.  It would seem that before the Holy Father concerns himself with collecting more taxes from the peoples of the world, he ought to concern himself with admonishing the various governments of the world that they must rule in accord with God's law—the government based in the Vatican not excepted.

in XTO,
Fr. Brusca
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Postscript:   Is it  my imagination, or does the Gospel passage not suggest that taxes were rendered to Cæsar at a rather low rate, compared with today's?  A penny?  A denarius?  Even when adjusted for government caused inflation and currency debasement?

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CATHEDRATICUM.  An annual contribution to the support of a diocesan bishop, payable from all churches or benefices under his jurisdiction;  in countries where there are no proper benefices (e.g., England [and the USA]) the amount payable, and by whom, is a matter of local legislation generally dealt with in diocesan synods.
   — Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Cathedraticum."

JUSTICE. ii.  More frequently the term is limited to legal and distributive justice [on the one hand], which refer respectively to what is due from us to the state, and from the state to us;  and [on the other hand] to commutative justice, which inclines one to give another his due as a man irrespective of who he is.  Thus to infringe another's rights by damage to his property, theft, calumny, detraction, adultery, etc., is to sin against justice (cf., Restitution).
   — Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Justice."

LAW, PENAL i.  A positive law which is not binding under pain of sin, but only under pain of the penalty attached.  The state has the power to make laws that bind in conscience and the infringement of civil laws often involves the transgression of a moral precept, in which case such laws are binding in conscience for that reason.  Otherwise they may be presumed purely penal, unless the civil authority makes clear it intention of binding the citizen's conscience.  This is considering the matter strictly from the point of view of sin, and is not to be construed as an irresponsible encouragement or condonation of law-breaking;  all citizens should scrupulously obey the just laws of their country.  It is a very probable opinion and one supported by the authority of Blackstone that the positive laws of Great Britain are purely penal (cf., Taxation).
   — Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Law, Penal"

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