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.