Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Fact Checking SWNIDishly

SWNID is famous, among the dozens who read SWNID, for questioning the accuracy of the now-commonplace assertions that the gap between rich and poor is getting horribly, horribly wide.

SWNID is also famous, among the same dozens, for objecting to the bowdlerization of Jesus as a figure of politics.

Now we will use one column to do both.

In what may be the most important opinion column of the year, Cato Institute's Alan Reynolds lays out the problems in citing individual income levels from federal tax returns as a means of tracking the prosperity of the 1% against the penury of the 99%. Specifically, Reynolds notes how changes in tax rates and tax law have over a generation removed the incentives that the rich have to shelter their incomes--via corporations and tax-favored investments--from federal taxation. Hence, what was once corporate income is now personal income, what was once sheltered in tax-free bonds is now is dividend-earning stocks, and so forth.

In other words, all those scary graphs about how much the rich have now versus then have mostly to do with the way the rich report their incomes. When rates are high, they shelter them. When rates are low, they unshelter them. When incomes are unsheltered, they seem to go up. "Seem" is rather important in this matter.

Why should you or we care about this, inasmuch as you and we don't have the kind of income that would ever be sheltered? Well, when the rich shelter their incomes, the shelters tend to be favored for tax purposes but not in and of themselves beneficial for economic purposes. That is, the tax accountants decide where to put the money to avoid taxes rather than the venture capitalists deciding where to put the money to make a lot more money. When more money is made, value has been added to the economy, making most people more prosperous in the long run.

So high tax rates may seem to rob from the rich and give to the poor, but they really just make the rich hide their money where it won't do anyone much good.

Now to Jesus. The estimable Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, former prez of Chi Theo and now a fellow of the hard-left Center for American Progress, insists that Jesus Was an Occupier. Why? Because he raided the abusive temple and declared them robbers. And because from her seminary teachers she learned other interpretations of Jesus' parables that involve commerce, like the Parable of the Talents cited by some right-winger to say that Jesus is for the free market.

Honestly, people, do we still have to do this nonsense? "A plague on both your houses."

Dr. Thistlewaite, could you please acknowledge that Jesus' "robbers" statement is an obvious quotation of Jeremiah 7:11, that the word translated "robbers" means "rebels," that the combination of word and quotation shows that Jesus' indictment is about rejecting Israel's God, not about money as such (though abuse of money is always a consequence of rejecting Israel's God), that he goes on to elaborate in the Parable of the Tenants, which also has commerce in it but isn't at all about commerce, and that if Jesus was speaking about socialism versus capitalism here there or anywhere, he spoke with singular obscurity on the matter? Sheesh.

Theological conservatives, whether conservative or liberal politically, will you please stop abusing the Bible to prover your point about politics in the present? When you do, it only encourages the liberals to abuse the Bible too, something they're happy to do since they don't think much of it to begin with.

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