GUEST COLUMN
Dives the Tax-Evader

June 2006By Angus Sibley

Angus Sibley, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, and a former member of the London Stock Exchange, writes from Paris, France. His website is equilibrium-economicum.net.

The parable of Dives and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) has puzzled and worried many an interpreter. It drew from St. Gregory the Great the wry comment that "here it is cleverly suggested that guests at a banquet can scarcely celebrate without blame." But that could hardly have been the intention of He who provided such abundance of wine at Cana.

The strangest feature of this parable is that Abraham does not accuse Dives of any sin, or commend Lazarus for any merit. The text indicates that Dives was a man of greedy and extravagant habits who cared little about the poor; it tells us nothing about the character of Lazarus. Yet from what Abraham says about their conditions in the afterlife, they would seem to have been judged simply on the basis that one had a splendid time in this world and the other the opposite. The emphasis falls on their earthly circumstances.

This curious twist in the argument suggests that the main purpose of the parable is to ram home the message that exorbitant inequalities are, in themselves, offensive in the sight of God. But why blame an individual for a general social problem?

Jesus' hearers belonged to a society that had a well-established system for alleviating poverty. They would doubtless have recognized in Dives the kind of person who is untroubled by glaring inequalities and unwilling to play his part in the task of mitigating them. He failed to help Lazarus, who presumably stayed only briefly at his gate because, according to the Vulgate, "no-one gave him anything." But that, I would suggest, was just one example of Dives's habitual disposition.


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Back to June 2006 Issue

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Chascurtis - are you saying that the Government should enforce charity on all members of society- a new constitutional amendment encompassing the Sermon on the Mount with full enforcement powers in a new class of Pharisees?

When you say LBJ had the Great Society going - what society was that; how did he use federal executive power to improve the American society?
Posted by: BuzzWhite
June 20, 2006 08:35 AM EDT
The struggle against excessive inequalities is meaningless unless you are a godless communist?

What? Com'on mykleone. You and the Bush Dynasty are killin me.

It's our responsibility as Christians to love and look after one another, even our enemies. That means it's our struggle to seek a just and merciful society. Not just for us, but for all humanity.

That's not just a mess of sentiment. That's the Cross. That's a part and parcel of our charge to win the world for Christ. We are revolutionaries... You can't separate the economic (material) from the spiritual. We can't just bless and tell our brother to eat; we have to feed him. And clothe him, and teach him -- help him in any way we can.

You know, at least LBJ had the Great Society going for him... He did America quite a bit of good, despite the tradgedy of Vietnam. That's more than Bush and the Republicoids can say.
Posted by: chascurtis
June 15, 2006 01:37 AM EDT
My initial reaction to the piece is that this is tripe, gibberish, and a total waste of space but perhaps if there was some context. Angus “has a particular interest in the conflicts between Catholic social teaching and the theory and practice of modern economics” according to a small bio of his on the internet. His last sentence is meaningless unless you are a godless communist or socialist. Does the writer approve of the slave conditions operated by the French? His alluded to theories on social justice have been tried and found wanting every single place enacted. Go Pol Pot!!

It is no accident that the US is the world’s largest tax haven for non-Americans and the French want it to stop. Angus believes in paying substantial taxes to the common fund. Imagine a tax code like the one in France that takes 95% of your income. Would you work overtime for the IRS to keep less than 5%? And Social Security is not considered a tax by many in the US but a insurance plan?!

There were no poor in Judea 2000 years ago? NOT! How many dollars/person has the US spent since the 60’s on so-called poverty reduction? If they just gave the money away for the ‘correct’ vote, it would make just as little difference. I wish someone would add up all the teachers, city, county, state and federal employees throw in those on welfare, social security, workers at non-profits and compare those numbers to the rest of the workers in every US state. Adding attorneys, actors, and casino workers to the public trough group will add character to the mix. Can you imagine going to war over a 2% tax on tea?! (July 4, 1776)

The last time I checked the bottom has not moved and zero is, and for many of us is, in a plus direction after the government decides what is theirs. With the top always rising, the gap between the bottom and the top will always increase. Neither startling nor evil unless you believe Karl Marx was a saint, Hugo Chavez a living saint and Fidel Castro will live to be 150. I doubt that paying taxes believing it will absolve you of the maxim for assisting the poor among us will carry much water in Hell or Heaven.
Posted by: mykleone
June 01, 2006 02:42 PM EDT
Tax is alway a very contentious issue. For me, taxes are not voluntary and therefore I never associate them with chartitable works. Mr. Sibley would establish "common funds" through taxation which would eliminate "inequities".

Now if I am told that the money exacted from me by law was used for the poor, I cannot take any credit since I did not give to the poor; the government did. However, if the government gives it to the poor of Africa so that political stability in the region is maintained, that is a proper governmental use of the money for the common good of this country.

Today the lines are blurred between good works properly out of charity and good works with ulterior motives.

I do not think the government should tax its citizens to do charitable work. I think this is properly left for the church.
Posted by: BuzzWhite
June 06, 2006 04:10 PM EDT
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