Monday, January 30, 2012

Whose Scandal in Tax Bluster?


According to Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson of The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, the way Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's personal taxes have been berated by the media is scandalous.

Writing in an article which appeared on last Thursday, Hendrickson breathlessly exudes:

"It is scandalous that so many journalists and commentators have gotten their basic facts wrong [by claiming Romney's tax rate is too low]. They have conflated average “effective” tax rates with statutory rates. Under our complex and convoluted tax code, no American pays an effective rate that is as high as his top marginal rate (the statutory rate on the last dollar of income). As it turns out, Romney’s effective tax rate of 14 percent is higher than the effective tax rate of approximately 97 percent of taxpayers."

So, who's complaining?  Even the New York Times pretty much agrees with you, Dr. Hendrickson.

Nevertheless, he goes on to commiserate, "an even greater scandal is that Romney’s tax rate is as high as it is."

Oh, the ignominy!

Hendrickson then jumps into an economic quagmire of class warfare soundbites and dubious assertions about money and workers that he backs with about as much research and data as the liberal media does with their own soundbites and dubious assertions.

In other words, Hendrickson writes a crassly political blurb for an evangelical website with the hopes of stoking right-wing resentment against liberals and creating the illusion that taxation - particularly at what they consider to be high rates - is unBiblical.  Ironically, the conservative business site ran a story admiring how low Romney's tax rate is.

Might Hendrickson be misunderstanding why Americans are marveling at Romney's tax rate?  From what I can tell in the legitimate business media, the surprise doesn't come from comparing his rate with average taxpayers, but by comparing it to the 24% generally paid by people in his income bracket. 

Unfortunately, even if he's precisely on-target with his assessment, Hendrickson's nonetheless bitter attack represents what's become a tired trick by politically-savvy right-wing evangelicals.  Banking on the knowledge that many modern-day people of faith understand about as much of the US Constitution and our country's tax code as they understand the Bible, agitators like Hendrickson take the practice of taxation and paint it with as heinous a brush as any bona-fide sin.

Problem is, the only thing sinful about taxation is if believers don't pay theirs.

That's all the Bible has to say about taxes.  "'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's,'" remember?

Now, don't get me wrong:  I don't like paying taxes any more than people like Hendrickson do.  Living in America, we citizens have the right to petition for the lowest possible taxes upon which our nation can possibly function.  But whatever Romney's tax rate may be, whether it's too high or too low, or less than the average taxpayer, it is not scandalous in the faith-based sense, as Hendrickson would have us believe.

What is scandalous - and it's perplexing that a professor at a Christian college misses this one - is the fact that Newt Gingrich's charitable contributions totaled a miserly 3% of his income last year.  Romney's was 13% - almost equal to his tax rate.

Actually, that's not really scandalous, either, even though Gingrich's ingratitude for the wealth he has seems more left-wing than right.  After all, people with a healthy attitude about money aren't threatened by charitable deductions.

No, the scandal is that Hendrickson thinks people of faith need to spend our time getting all worked up over how much taxes everybody pays.

Instead of rendering to God the things that are God's.

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