Taxes: What Would Jesus Do?

The Senate’s six apostles can choose between Caesar and economic opportunity.

 
 

Jesus Christ could count himself lucky that for the completion of his earthly mission he had the 12 apostles and not the 52 Republican members of the U.S. Senate.

Imagine: The Lord tells Lazarus to walk from his tomb, and the apostle Bob, the first fiscal hawk, objects that if Jesus continues raising people from the dead, the unplanned population growth will blow out Judea’s deficit. Apostle Bob says he won’t go along without a hard cap on resurrections.

The Lord reminds the apostles of how he fed the multitudes with the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Forget it, says the apostle Jeff. Unconstrained loaf-and-fish division will create a culture of entitlement. Apostle Jeff says he’s leaving.

Angered, Jesus threatens to drive the money changers from the temple. You’re wasting your energy, says the apostle Ron, an accountant before joining the discipleship. Ron explains to the Lord that the money changers are pass-through entities who are withholding their support until Jesus extracts equal tax treatment for them from King Herod.

Susan of Magdalen says she’s having doubts about the entire messianic enterprise. Unless the Lord creates high-risk pools for endangered Christians, she’s withdrawing her support.

From ‘Life of our Lord’ (Religious Tract Society, 1907).

 

Defeated by a determined minority of his apostles, Jesus abruptly announces his retirement and returns home to the family carpentry business in Galilee.

***

We won’t know anytime soon what Jesus would think of the Republicans’ tax bill, so we’ll default to guessing at the second-best opinion: the American people’s.

Watching the current debate, what many of them think is that the Republican tax bill is about the swamp, because this is what the swamp does—bog down in Washington’s unfathomable arcana and produce clouds of gas.

The Senate Republicans, to the last man and woman, say they are doing this tax reform to “lift the economy,” but when is the last time one heard any of them, especially the six doubters, explain what that means in the real world most voters inhabit? 

The swath of the electorate whose view of the Republican tax effort intrigues me the most is the group that has the least experience with the tax system but a lot to gain from a new one—millennials.

Wind the clock back to 2008, when Barack Obama was elected and when people now in their 20s were between 10 and 18 years old.

The only economy they’ve lived with is the weak one the Obama years produced. Many of them overheard parents or grandparents talking about how, year after year, the annual pay raise didn’t amount to squat, so the budget belt had to be tightened again.

Or they wondered through the second Obama term who would hire them out of college. It is no surprise—though it is a stunning and pathetic indictment of the U.S. economy in our time—that so many of these millennials concluded that batty Bernie Sanders’s socialism made sense.

Why shouldn’t they? They’ve never lived inside the sort of exciting, upward-moving economy their elders enjoyed in the 1960s, ’80s or ’90s. Absent real economic opportunity for eight years, the default option has skipped past Democratic liberalism to socialism.

If it’s OK with six Republican senators, the tax bill would attempt an alternative to that. It will drop the corporate tax rate to 20% from 35%, allow immediate expensing for new capital investments, and return to the U.S. several trillion dollars in profits held overseas to avoid that 35% tax rate.

The purpose of these reductions in taxation is to create incentives for companies or individuals to invest in business expansions, which in time will require paying higher wages to attract workers.

Democrats who know better, such as Chuck Schumer, and newspaper pundits in the progressive resistance dismiss this as “tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.” Not even Elizabeth Warren believes this hooey.

Procter & Gamble, the very model of a U.S. corporation, employs about 95,000 people. I’m going to guess that maybe 90,000 of them support middle-class families, directly or indirectly, with what P&G pays them.

This reality of sustaining the American middle class is repeated with all the U.S. corporations everyone knows, the companies no one’s ever heard of, and the new companies entrepreneurs will create to support more families if six senators let this tax bill pass.

What would Jesus do? He had a thought: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” My biblical translation is that Jesus set the terms of the debate between the claims of the state and the spiritual and daily life of the people.

The Democratic Party refuses to participate in legislating the bill because its tax collections for the state are insufficient. That is who they are and will be, permanently.

The Republicans are set to choose: Become Caesar’s footmen if they fail, or creators of opportunity—if the six doubting apostles don’t flee into the Beltway desert.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

Appeared in the November 30, 2017, print edition.

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