Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's wrong with higher taxes and socialized medicine?

Someone asked me why I believe high taxation and socialized medicine are contrary to a Biblical worldview. I am not an expert on such things, but here's how I replied to her. Feel free to sharpen my thinking where it needs improvement:

The Bible commands us to pay our taxes (Romans 13:7). But government should not levy a tax rate that effectively cuts God out of the picture. As tax rates rise, people have less and less money to save, invest, spend wisely, and give - things the Scripture commands us to do. Higher taxes limit freedom of choice (e.g., choosing a school or college for our children to attend) and undercut personal responsibility. In effect the state takes over the roles that the individual, the family, the church, and the community are supposed to have.

As a Christian I'm particularly concerned about what happens to the cause of church advancement and world missions when people stop tithing because they can't afford to give. The state usurps the place of God by taking more and more of the money that rightly belongs to Him. It also creates a culture of entitlement in which people grow up thinking the government is supposed to solve the problems that God wants the individual, the family, the community, and the church to solve.

The reason I object to socialized medicine is neither that it is much more inefficient than our present system (see the Canadians coming to the U.S. for healthcare); nor that we don't have to change our present system in order for the poor to get healthcare (they can get it now). The main reason is that it's just another form of entitlement program, teaching people they can rely on the federal government to do for them what they can and ought to do for themselves and what the church ought to do for the needy.

Also, socialized medicine kicks the legs out of charity. Why should I sacrifice my money to help organizations like the Red Cross or St. Jude Children's Hospital when the government will mandate healthcare through taxation? Enforced charity is no charity at all. Socialized medicine parades as compassion when really it kills compassion. It takes responsibility away from me and vests it in the federal government. Generations later, virtue and sacrifice will have virtually disappeared from our culture.

The role of government is, in the Bible, limited in scope. It is to administer justice, keep the peace, and protect the citizenry - what Romans 13:1-7 teaches as the "power of the sword." Socialized healthcare (like the other forms of socialism we've been seeing like government bailouts and takeovers) expands the role of government beyond that intended by God. The hardworking, entrepreneurial person gets penalized, while the lazy person gets rewarded - a violation of Scripture (e.g., Proverbs 10:4-5).

Here's a good article to read on the subject.


Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

There are some interesting comments back on the original post.

First, I'll say that I like the idea of limited government because I don't trust the people in government to function efficiently or honestly, but that's pragmatic reasoning based on a doctrine of sin. I don't think limited government as a theory can be deduced from Romans 13 or any other part of the Bible. Certainly, Romans 13 proves that the government has the power of the sword, but Paul does not intend therein to give a general theory of government or to prescribe absolute limits on government in any of the forms appearing in the Bible (e.g., judgeship, monarchy, empire).

Second, I think of Abraham Kuyper, a pastor/theologian, journalist, academic, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands. In a speech to a gathering of Christian statesmen, published as The Problem of Poverty, he said that if help comes from nowhere else, the government must take action, but he also commanded them, "Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior." I agree. If the church cannot or will not help, I'm fine with the government helping.

This will tend to make the church less involved in helping the needy in more and more ways because the government is already doing it. Our deacons, for instance, will refer people to existing government services rather than putting up our money for something that can be had elsewhere. That's not laziness on the deacons' part; it's just good use of existing resources.

If the church has been lazy, however, the government stepping in will likely serve to make it lazier, absent a supernatural work of repentance. That doesn't mean the the government was wrong to step in (though I fully agree that that is suboptimal) just that the church has further shamed her savior by persisting and further indulging in her disobedience.

Finally, I'm not afraid of people not tithing because of high taxes. I heard a good sermon on tithing in Malachi by Gordon Hugenberger, pastor and OT prof at Gordon-Conwell, in which he suggests that we should tithe on our net rather than our gross pay. The example he gives is Boaz, who is required (n.b., enforced charity) to leave part of his field so the poor can come and gather grain for free (cf. Lev 19:9,10; 23:22; Deut 24:19; Ruth 2:2,7). He isn't, according to Hugenberger, required to tithe on that portion of the field which he sowed but does not reap, and since in our society, we care for the poor through government services (whether for good or ill doesn't matter for Hugenberger's point), we needn't tithe on that amount either. So taxes themselves shouldn't limit one's ability to give.

In any case, I think people in the West could almost always -- even under European-style tax systems -- live with less in order to tithe. Yes, our lifestyle would suffer, but we wouldn't suffer much if our priorities were rightly aligned. The question is, are we truly willing to take up our cross and sacrifice of ourselves in order that our brother may live?

Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

Another point, going off of what Laura B. said on that other post:

Is it better to do something inefficiently than not at all? For instance, is it better to put people on the dole when they are starving even if it will tend to make them lazy and dependent?

A similar question arises with respect to abortion: Is it better to fight the "pure" fight to outlaw abortion, or should we try to curb it through social programs (including, perhaps, sex ed and prophylactic distribution)?

I'm not in favor of more government programs in general, but I'd be willing to live with some in order to reduce the number of abortions. The latter is certainly the greater evil. More government programs are a suboptimal means, but since the optimal means is out of reach, why not do what we can for now to reduce abortions while continuing to seek its proscription?

And of course we shouldn't rely on the government to solve abortion problem from the top down. We should invest our time, money, and lives on a bottom-up approach (e.g., crisis pregnancy clinics, adoption, foster parenting, etc.) -- doing the former without neglecting the latter, as it were.