The Divine Truth Supporting the Progressive Income Tax

I was scrolling down my Facebook feed tonight when I came across this little “gem”:

 

There’s an inherent fallacy in this video: It assumes that all people can just magically “work harder” or longer and make more money (never mentioning how big an impact the wives in the movie make), and that anyone in our society who’s making more money is obviously working harder than poorer people. At the levels of income that determine tax brackets, that just isn’t true in today’s economy.

In fact, a lot of the richest people—the 1%-ers everyone’s mad at—know how to invest their capital (or, more commonly, have enough money to hire someone to do it for them) such that they never have to work at all in order to keep making seven or more digits a year. The few Americans who really have worked super hard on their genius idea and made it work—people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates—tend to understand the sheer luck involved and support a higher progressive income tax on their bracket.

And historically, a high progressive income tax is the one policy that reliably does lower wealth inequality—making the whole market more free and fair for small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to compete. Whereas flat tax rates like the one this video implies are better tend to keep poor people poorer and cut off opportunities for rags to riches successes. America’s middle class flourished post-WWII in part because we had an 80% tax rate on the highest bracket, which gave employers an incentive to spread wage increases across their workforces rather than concentrating them in the hands of executives. If there’s one thing we need to fix America’s problems today, it’s a more progressive tax code.

For more details on exactly how this works, go to your local library and check out Thomas Piketty’s excellent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. (I’ve basically given an entire chapter a very brief summary here.) It’s the most accessible and important economics book I’ve ever read, and his data is absolutely spot-on. He also just published a column on this topic and how it relates historically to Bernie Sanders.

And on a more Christ-centered note, I find the habit of accusing the poor of laziness to be demeaning. Some may be lazy, but a lot more are working two or more minimum-wage jobs because that’s all they can get. Many can’t go to college because they would have to stop working—which often means not feeding themselves and their children—in order to do so. And then videos like this tell them they’re just not working hard enough? Christ always ennobled and empowered the downtrodden. When he called people out for their crap, he was usually calling out the rich and powerful. And even when he did call people to repentance, he offered a helping hand—some way to “help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). He gave people hope that their dire situations could change. A progressive income tax offers that helping hand, where a flat tax rate just says “deal with it.”

Finally, I believe there’s a real-world lesson to be learned from the doctrine of “unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3; see also Luke 12:48). Wealth is most certainly given to us by God, no matter how much natural talent we have or hard work we offer. (Not to de-incentivize hard work—we want to encourage a good work ethic, and a judiciously applied progressive income tax can do that.) But requiring more from those who have more—even in something as worldly as money—is a divinely approved principle. And if this principle works for God, who is crafting us into a perfect society, then it should certainly work for an American society aspiring to create a more perfect union.

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