Monday, 27 April 2009

The 50% tax rate and the Bible

I’ve been musing about the new 50% tax rate that the government has introduced for high earners. It appears to have popular support. Some people may like it because they envy the wealthy. Some may support it because they believe in will bring in much needed revenue (though there are others who doubt that it will actually bring in anything extra at all.) But I suspect that most approve because they think that it is good and moral and appropriate and fair that the rich should pay more - much more.

For Christians, the interesting thing is that the principle of a proportionate tax on income is one that is found in the pages of the Bible. In the law that God gave to the people of Israel, we find the ‘tithe’ - i.e. a tax at a rate of 10%. The basics are found in Deuteronomy 14:22,28-29. “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. . . . At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

What interests me is that everyone paid at the same rate: 10%. There was no higher rate for very wealthy Israelites. So it seems to me (as a Christian) that if that is the way God chose to do it, it must be fair, because God is just. God could have decreed that those whose fields produced more should set aside more than 10%, but he didn’t - presumably because everyone giving their tithe at the same rate was just.

And if that was the case with the tithe in ancient Israel, surely the same applies to income tax in modern Britain. The fact is that if everyone pays tax at the same rate, then the person who earns £200,000 a year will pay a lot more tax than the person who earns £20,000 a year. That seems fair. The biblical pattern is that everyone pays tax at the same rate.

So surely Christians should not want to depart from a pattern which is not only clearly fair, but also biblical?


Renegade Parent said...

This is really quite interesting - thanks. I was aware of the concept of the tithe, but had never really thought through the implications for possible modern day interpretations.

I am not a Christian, but (as with other Christian concepts, incidentally) my position is very similar on this: I just can't see how the imposition of an external, arbitrary higher tax rate for rich people is in any way moral or fair.

After all, 10% of a lot is a lot more than 10% of very little :-)

patently said...

The other oddity is that people tend to think that a reasonable and fair starting point for a punitive top rate of tax is, roughly speaking, a bit more than they themselves earn.