Americans often tell pollsters they yearn for a return to the Christian principles on which the U.S. was founded. If so, they should take a closer look at the Mitt Romney–Paul Ryan ticket. Jesus’ teachings regarding wealth are nowhere to be found in Ryan’s budget proposal.
As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of “If you have two coats, give one to the man who has none”) and 100% (if you want to get into heaven, be poor). Mostly, he suggested giving all your money up for the benefit of others. And Jesus made no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor; his love and generosity applied to all.
What about Ryan? Ryan hasn’t released his tax returns yet, so we don’t know what rate he pays. But under his budget plan, according to a recent analysis in the Atlantic, Romney would pay only 0.8% of his income in federal taxes. That’s right: in Ryan’s budget scenario, one of our wealthiest citizens would pay less than 1% of his income in taxes, or less than $200,000 from a taxable income of almost $22 million. When it comes to paying taxes, Ryan is Romney’s wing man.
Theologically informed individuals are beginning to weigh in on the ethics of Ryan’s budget plan. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social-justice lobby, has called Ryan’s budget proposal “unpatriotic” and “immoral.” As she notes, Ryan’s budget “rejects church teaching about solidarity, inequality … and the common good.” In a recent address at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Campbell observed that it’s the government’s responsibility to control society’s excesses. “In our culture of individualism,” she said, Catholic social teachings can “counter that individualism with a keen knowledge of solidarity.”
Ryan’s proposed tax cuts for the rich would be shouldered by the working and middle classes. According to Forbes magazine, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center calculated that those earning more than $1 million would get an average tax reduction of more than $250,000, while 50% of people earning $20,000-$30,000 per year would get nothing. Put another way, under Ryan’s proposed tax plan, the after-tax incomes of the rich would grow by 12%; those of the poor would increase by less than 1%.
But it gets worse. The estimated $4.6 trillion increase in the national deficit over the next 10 years as a result of these tax cuts will be absorbed by cuts to programs that provide economic opportunity to working poor and middle class, such as Medicare and Food Stamps. Some might argue that freeing our wealthiest taxpayers to keep more of their own money will allow them to care for the poor privately and in their own way. Indeed, we have a long tradition of private philanthropy in the U.S., and religiously affiliated people are known to be generous — albeit mainly to their own churches. But no amount of private giving can compensate for such a massive breakdown in the government infrastructure that gives needy people a helping hand. As Campbell has noted, the many people receiving food stamps are not lazy ingrates but full-time employees struggling to make a livable wage and nearly half of all recipients are children.
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We’ve heard a lot of Bible-based discussion in this election season, but if we are going to evaluate social policy using so-called Christian principles, why stop at abortion and insurance coverage for birth control? Jesus’ distaste for wealth is an uncomfortable reality that many Christians ignore at the ballot box. It’s one thing to lower taxes for rich people, but these plans actually hurt the poor. That’s not noblesse oblige; it’s cruelty.