Friday, December 3, 2010

Mary and the Tax Cuts

"His mercy is for those who worship him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the imaginations of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made
to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants
Luke 1:50-55

In Luke’s narrative of the birth of the Messiah, he describes Mary’s encounter with an angel, a messenger of God, who tells her that she will bear a child. The angel also tells her that her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is much older than Mary and beyond the normal age for having children, will also give birth, “for nothing is too wonderful for our God.”

When Mary visits Aunt Elizabeth, they share together in the joy of their pregnancies. Mary’s song of praise, called The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56), contains a vision for what Biblical Scholars call “the great reversal.” In that vision, which also serves as a foretaste of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God, the mighty are cast down and the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty.

But if the Senate has anything to say about it, the rich will not be sent away empty any time soon. Instead, the unemployed will be sent away empty and the rich will be filled with tax cuts, at least that seems to be the vision.

You may have read that Thursday the House of Representatives passed what some are calling “middle class” tax cuts. And you would also have seen that they did not vote to extend tax cuts for the “rich,” those with annual incomes above $250,000.

Actually, that’s not what they did.

The House voted to extend tax cuts for everyone.

Under their plan, everyone would receive a tax cut on income up to $250,000. Everyone, from Bill Gates to the laid off steel worker, would receive a tax cut on the first $250,000 that they earned. And everyone would pay a higher rate on income over that amount. Under that plan, the rich and the poor all get a tax cut. And no one gets a tax cut on amounts from $250,000 up to infinity.

But that is not enough for the Senate. Until the rich are completely filled with tax cuts, the unemployed will be sent away empty.

Their argument is that the tax cuts will stimulate the economy, while extending unemployment benefits will add to the deficit. And they are right on both counts. What they don’t say is that extending extra tax cuts on income above $250,000 will also add to the deficit, and extending unemployment benefits will also stimulate the economy. The independent Congressional Budget Office calculates that unemployment benefits are a more effective stimulus than tax cuts, and economists generally agree that upper income tax cuts provide less stimulus than middle class tax cuts.

For Christians, there are really two arguments here. One is about economic effectiveness and the other is about economic justice. Both are important and both deserve a lot more attention than they have received to date.


  1. Bill;

    I'm not totally convinced that there really ARE TWO arguments. I am as fearful of our national deficit as anyone alive but it seems as though to me that the administration (even PRIOR to Nov., 2010) has thrown money at every problem that confronted them and, now at THE HOLIDAY SEASON and going into the WINTER, they're going to tighten the belt by canceling unemployment benefits IN THE CURRENT economic CLIMATE.
    I agree with venture / "seed" dollars but
    cannot, in good conscience, justify choosing,as The Senate appears to be, to ignore the plight of the vulnerable in favor of the secure (or even the extant!) AND at the outset of winter (even if one chooses to disregard (with "perfect" political correctness) the Holiday season. If The Senate is hoping that the se people will rise-up they would be far better to have done so BEFORE the election or, wait until the heat of mid-summer for greatest effect with the least risk to those who will shortly be homeless and/or freezing.

  2. A most interesting blog.

    I would however dig further into a couple things. While we must obviously have to rely on some group for honest, unbiased projections, the CBO should not necessarily be the only route to that end. Here is a most interesting article.

    On the subject of tax cuts and economic growth, may I suggest perusing this article as well as many of the articles contributing to it. It is a look at the real history of tax cuts and their effects-from Harding to Bush.

    I would prefer to view history through the sharp lens of experience rather than the future through a fuzzy crystal ball.