Moral dimension to the economy

A deal President Obama struck with Republican leaders last week will extend tax cuts across the board including, controversially, to … Continued

A deal President Obama struck with Republican leaders last week will extend tax cuts across the board including, controversially, to the richest Americans.

Some politicians argue that religious values should be reflected in the public square. Should this faith-based view of politics be applied to the economy? Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

In a time of economic turmoil and record poverty levels, are tax cuts for the wealthy moral?

The question of the role of faith in the public square is sometimes framed in terms of “Church and state.” But there is a third term in the equation, namely, “morality.” It is a distinct but related term, because morality is something that both the Church and the state are responsible to observe. Both Church and state, furthermore, exercise in various ways their responsibility to remind the other of moral obligations. Moreover, morality is not something that springs only from religious beliefs; basic principles of right and wrong can be discerned by human reason alone. And wherever there are human decisions and actions, there are – by definition – issues of morality.

That is why, in regard to the economy, there are certainly moral dimensions to consider, and those moral considerations spring partly from faith, and partly from a rational understanding of the demands of justice.

In short, when God created the universe, he created it for everyone. The goods of the earth are destined for the benefit of the entire human family, and the fact that we are capable of possessing those goods brings the immediate obligation to share them with the needy. We often think of the sharing of goods as “charity,” and often give out of our surplus. But the measure in which we are called to share is not determined by how much we do not need; it is determined by how much the other person does need.

At the same time, it is also true that we have the right to own our own property. It is not the state’s role to dispose of our private earnings.

These moral principles do not translate into mathematical formulas of how much we need to give, nor do they easily translate into specific forms of legislation. The role of legislators is precisely to wrestle with the practical nuts and bolts of specific policy proposals, to make the most persuasive arguments, to engage in “trial and error,” and to be willing to admit and correct mistakes, all the while listening to the voices of those they serve and respecting the moral principles of justice.

So, are tax cuts for the wealthy immoral? Not necessarily. Are they, on the other hand, always moral? Again, not necessarily. And faith should never be used to short-circuit the meticulous and challenging task of crafting policies that take into account both the rights and needs of all.

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  • zorro2

    There is no peace without justice.

  • MichelleKinPA

    13 One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; 17 and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” There’s a fine line between someone who uses current laws and exemptions to their benefit. One may use it to make sure that the workplace is as good as it can be, the other uses it to increase their bottom line, and yet another keeps it for himself.No one can earn money without another person contributing something to the equation. Someone has to buy , sell and distribute the product/service. A good businessman and a moral one may reside in the same body.Those 2% who resent their “high tax rate” – come and walk in my shoes. I’d gladly trade your position for mine, as long as I could live morally in that position.I’d consider it a privilege to have so much money that I didn’t know what to do with it all. Actually, I think I’d live like Warren Buffet, frankly.Remember, you can’t take it with you.

  • jinnyhann

    To Haveaheart: Must your answer to this question bash the Catholic Church? It sounds as if, in your mind, Fr. Pavone would have been wrong no matter what he said. I thought his comments were on target, rational, and acknowledged the complexity of “truth” and rights. Talk about sounding like a droid…if you’d do some research about the Church, you’d see giving on a truly massive scale. The Church is not perfect — far from it — but you can’t say it doesn’t care for the needy. It does. I get so sick of the same old tired, prejudiced utterances about the Catholic Church. Get the facts, and a little sensitivity and sophistication, would you, please?

  • DaveHarris

    There’s an old line of thinking which says that the rich are morally superior to the poor, because God has obviously favored them by making them rich. Conversely, he punishes the poor by making them poor. This seems paradoxical, since the poor are generally less educated and more religious than the rich. Just what is Jesus trying to say here?

  • areyousaying

    Oh do lecture us on “morality,” Father. How about the “morality” of your Church hiding its pervert priests from the state?

  • areyousaying

    “…morality is something that both the Church and the state are responsible to observe.”….except when it is convenient for either not to….

  • CHAOTICIAN101

    The issue here transcends whether the Tax Giveaways for the wealthy are moral or not! At issue is the governance of the nation! What is immoral is the acceptance that a desirable thing, unemployment benefits, can be purchased by an undesirable thing, tax cuts. What is immoral is the high-jacking of the political process by dirty tricks, arcane rules, acts of privilege and power! What is immoral is the need or decision to do a backdoor stimulus using tax cuts, tax loopholes, tax termination! If a stimulus is needed, then a real stimulus, thought out and enacted is what is needed. If tax cuts are affordable and appropriate, then this should be done as well. What is immoral is the so-called compromise, horse trading of our politicians along with the connivance of our President to accomplish anything! Balancing bad stuff to get good stuff; bribing politicians with pork and earmarks; giving and receiving political favors; the blatant purchase of public representatives by corporate, wealthy, religious, other special interests; these are immoral, these are malfeasance, these are acts of treason!

  • Penniman

    Here’s a quote from Anatole France that’s worth thinking about. I’ve carried it around for years:”The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.”Thanks for asking the question.

  • haveaheart

    “I get so sick of the same old tired, prejudiced utterances about the Catholic Church. Get the facts, and a little sensitivity and sophistication, would you, please?”Jinnyhahn,And I get so sick of the same old, tired rebuttals from wealthy churches (e.g., Catholic, LDS). Whenever they’re called down for mixing money and politics, they try to weasel out of the criticism by saying, “But look how much we give! Look how much we do for others!”Charity can be a very effective smokescreen for political activism, as many churches have discovered…and not so recently, either. And tax-exempt status is underwriting all the partisan political activities that churches engage in.So don’t whine to me about prejudice when church officials can spend millions defeating legislation they don’t like to marginalize people they don’t approve of.That’s where the real prejudice lies, and you don’t need a great deal of sophistication and sensitivity to recognize this.

  • lcarter0311

    What’s immoral is that the United States of America is borrowing trillions of dollars from another country to fund these Tax-Cuts, War’s and Lord knows what else. Not only is it immoral but it’s also crazy.

  • gladerunner

    Chaotician101:

  • SeekingtheTruth

    Right you are Fr. Pavone! One religious viewpoint should not dominate the discussion on faith and economic policy. If it did, one group might say “Tax the rich to the hilt, they can afford it.” The other extreme would say, “Let the poor pay for everything like the rest of us; if they don’t have enough money it’s because they’re not working hard enough or their lazy.”Yes, as you suggest the best approach to ‘fixing’ the economy and respecting the demands of religious faith is to analyze the options and implement policies that have the most realistic chance of working. The Obama stimulus plan was one approach and it only worked temporarily; now their needs to be another one, that historically has been more effective and hopefully will work this time—lowering taxes for all, including the rich with the expectation that it will promote consumer spending and new entrepreneurship. To force the wealthy or the poor to pay more could be a “coercion of the will” which is opposed to the demands of both religion and reason and at the same time economically ineffective. Men and women should have the free will to use their talents to the best of their abilities for their own benefit and that of others. This historically has been the best approach to both improve the economy and help the poor at the same time.

  • seriesoftubescleaner

    Luke 18:24-25 (New International Version, ©2010)24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

  • gladerunner

    “At the same time, it is also true that we have the right to own our own property. It is not the state’s role to dispose of our private earnings.”After the church gets its 10% cut, of course.Tithing: The original flat tax.

  • jwdkturner

    Excellent write up. I have always been offended by the liberal definition of “charity”, which is to tax me to pay for their pet cause. Nevertheless, taxes in themselves are neither moral or immoral; however what they are spent on can by highly immoral (e.g., Planned Parenthood).

  • david6

    It’s as if Father Pavone is doing his best to ignore that the tax cuts will be used as an excuse to cut benefits for the poor, the infirm and the elderly.Has the Church become so reactionary that it no longer supports a strong social safety net?

  • areyousaying

    What is immoral is that the US does not tax the Father’s church and others who stick their pointy hats or secret underwear into American politics in blatant violation of their tax exempt status.

  • haveaheart

    “At the same time, it is also true that we have the right to own our own property. It is not the state’s role to dispose of our private earnings.”Ah. Spoken like a true corporate droid — a lot of fluff to lull the audience and then the blunt bottom line. “Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, and don’t think you’re taking any of mine.”The Catholic church understands this brand of corporatism; they practically invented it. Still, it seems a little unsavory for one of its representatives to be trotting out the party line on a blog dealing with religion and faith.

  • GabrielRockman

    Favoring non-political churches over political churches is a violation of the first amendment’s guarantee of freedom to exercise your religion.The government should not be allowed to penalize religions for getting involved in the political process, as doing so interferes with the free exercise of that religion. There are Christians at my church who believe that their religion compels them to be politically active in opposing abortion. While I disagree with them (since I’m pro-choice), I acknowledge that the government must not punish their political activism against abortion by revoking the tax exempt status of my church. The government cannot financially reward churches for their political views or prohibit churches from having political views.It also begs the question – why should political activity be punished? Shouldn’t political interest be encouraged, not discouraged?

  • areyousaying

    I get so sick of the same old tired, prejudiced utterances about the Catholic Church.One thing that might help you is standing up against hiding pervert priests from civil prosecution. Until you Church does this, the “utterances” will not go away. Since Ratzinger has not intention of doing this, get used to them.

  • haveaheart

    “What is immoral is that the US does not tax the Father’s church and others who stick their pointy hats or secret underwear into American politics in blatant violation of their tax exempt status.”Areyousaying,Perfect encapsulation of the fundamental hypocrisy at work here. Thanks.

  • purcell66

    Flat tax is fair.

  • dollyangel

    I wish people would understand the importance of sharing their treasures, but Father is correct in saying this is NOT the government’s job–unless of course we want to have even more of a nanny state, big brother government, and who wants that, unless you happen to be someone who admired Hitler or something! (hard to believe there are actually a few people like that in this world!)

  • areyousaying

    While you moralize to the rest of us, your pope calls for “soul searching” regarding your pervert “Brothers in Christ” and blames pornography. How about some Catholic “soul searching” to cough up these predators for civil prosecution?

  • johnleslie

    Something that is always misstated.

  • GSeeker

    The wealthy are the ones who know how to create wealth. No one else. That’s why America is wealthy, because the now rich had , and have, the skill to create wealth.