Monday, October 16, 2006

Federal Income Tax and the Doctrines of Grace

Spend a little time reading tax cases or commentary upon tax law and you are likely to run across a phrase such as this:

"Deductions are a matter of grace and Congress can, of course, disallow them as it chooses." Commissioner v. Sullivan, 356 U.S. 27, 28 (1958).

Such a statement jars the ear of a Christian remade by God. Who is it that administers grace? Our old 1928 Webster's had it right:

1. (theology) a. The divine unmerited favor toward man; the mercy of God, as distinguished from His justice; also, any benefits His mercy imparts; divine love or pardon. "And if by grace, then is it no more of works." Rom. Vi.6.

Webster's New Int'l Dictionary of the English Language, G&C Merriam Co. 1928.

I first happened across the doctrines of tax grace in law school in 1990. My tax professor had been raised Catholic. He often intoned another truism: "The IRS has awesome powers."

Back then I was a full-bore pagan. Even so, I was familiar with the Bible. The idea of Congressional grace seemed a quaint way of saying what was unquestioned truth to modern citizens: "The government giveth and the government taketh away, blessed be the name of the government." It was sort of a sick joke that we tossed about in our class discussions. We'd imagine the IRS as the avenging angel of the State. None of us dared to really explore the implications. We had finals to prepare for.

In case you think that "grace" might have a special legal meaning, consider this definition of grace in a common legal dictionary: "a favor or indulgence as distinguished from a right."

Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition (West Publishing Co. 1979).

Grace, then, is administered by God, or at least by a sovereign. It is unmerited. Nobody has a right to it. Without the administration of grace, justice demands a harsher outcome.

Our federal income tax system (and, by extension, our whole system of federal laws) presupposes that whatever you have belongs to the government. Justice demands relinquishment. It is by grace (alone?) that you are allowed to keep some of it. The courts defer to Congress's awesome power. Lawmakers have taken upon themselves the former role of the Catholic Church. Indulgences are dispensed at whim.

People these days fear theocracy. What they miss is that we already live under a theocracy. The theos of our day is named demos. It claims everything. We are told to at least be grateful for the grace it has so far shown. Perhaps we should be careful, lest it be angry.

November elections approach. We are starting to hear advertisements from the government and others to exercise our "sacred" right to vote. As Rushdoony pointed out: "the source of a society's law is its god." In exercising this secular sacrament, we should seriously reflect that demos (the will of the people), deserves no worship and has no claim to being gracious. Rather, it is better to acknowledge it for what it is: a usurper.

Even so, it is a wise idea to pay your taxes. Just because a usurper is wrong doesn't mean he can't hurt you.


Ruben said...

Vic, I've mentioned the same thing with property taxes. As long as I'm taxed for 'owning' something I'm really just renting.
When did the government get the idea that it owned everything?
Ah well: He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.

Mrs. B said...

This is why American capitalism is on the retreat to mythdom. Average Americans pay upward of 40% of their income in taxes, when all the taxes they pay are factored. Higher-earning Americans pay substantially higher percentages because they pay higher percentages in income taxes and own properties that are assessed for higher taxes. So no one really owns anything.

Joseph took everything the Jews of Egypt owned but at least he redistributed to them. Our government takes half or better of what we own and redistributes it to itself and others.

But I contradict myself, because I just said we own nothing, so the government could not really be taking what we own. My misconception entirely.

Ruben said...

Yes, the Egyptians must have owned their land at one point because they sold it to Joseph. What I don't remember is the American government buying anyone's land.

Mrs. B said...

They don't have to. They're natural heirs by escheat. Taxes simply reaffirm the government as the object of our bounty. The apple of our eye.

Ruben said...

Oh, it's not bounty: it's coercion. But we should love them. After all, who else would be so nice as to let us live on land we paid for as long as we give them an annual cut? Who else would let us keep 40-60% of the money we work to earn (less if you're an independent contractor, naturally)? Who else would pay farmers to undercut crops in order to make sure that food prices remain at the level we all were familiar with? Who would want the depression of going into the store and finding that prices had dropped? That's really disorienting.

Victorbravo said...

Ha, Ruben, even under Pharoah, after he owned all the land, he only charged 20%. The workers got to keep 80%. Tyrant that he was, comnpared to our loving rulers, he seemed like a pretty decent guy.

Gen. 47:24-25.

Mike Pitzler said...

Taxes? (i tried to fish for coins, but ended up just writing a check.) As the guy married to the one-legged model said: "I'm exempt. I'm the walrus. Get it from the eggmen."
But we know that it all belongs to God, and the wheat of it will be gathered in and the chaff blows away.
Isn't this a nation that worships Mammon?

Ruben said...

Yes, Victor, that's all well and good. But Pharaoh probably did not provide child protection services, or have a secretary send you back a one-paragraph letter when you wrote to complain about something with a cardboard insert to keep it stiff and a massively expensive envelope because his communication are too important to be folded. When the White House did that to me I almost wrote back rebuking them for the stupid waste of taxpayer dollars; but I figured they might waste more answering me again.