The media this week has been full of chatter about corporate inversions, the Panama papers, Mossack Fonseca, shell companies, and the mountains of $$$$ and other currency units that the world’s elite has anonymously stashed in some 70 to 92 swarmy tax havens worldwide. We’re talking about maybe $21 to $32 trillion according to the Tax Justice Network, an international research and advocacy organization.
Oh yeah, for years, governments have talked about cracking down on the elite tax cheats. The U.S. government famously requires all “U.S. persons” to report annually all their foreign-based financial accounts and assets and has conducted a high profile shakedown campaign against a variety of large overseas banks that had previously provided their American clientele with banking privacy, i.e. tax avoidance. But while Uncle Sam self-righteously collects $billions in fines from those cheating foreign banks, it overlooks the tax-avoiding shell game run by its own states of Delaware, Nevada, and South Dakota! Talk about hypocrisy.
Most nations’ governments realize that they just can’t keep up with the high-priced and highly creative “financial gunslingers” that the rich and infamous hire in order to keep their money safely beyond the reach of national revenue agents. So the tax man often resorts to making deals in order to collect even a token amount from the wealthy elite. As the CBC journalist Don Pettis noted:
“If you have enough money to move your funds overseas, you have enough money to retain lawyers and accountants and, rather than fight, because of a lack of resources the revenue agency folds like a cheap suit,” said PEI Senator Percy Downe in a CBC interview. Governments need revenue to go on operating. If corporate tax goes abroad and rich people’s taxes go abroad, who is left paying the taxes? Well, you and me, of course.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/inversions-panama-revenue-quandary-1.3521358
It’s painfully easy for governments to collect their taxes from us. We can’t hide our salaries, pensions, property, or the daily goods and services we need in order to live. For the most part, the ordinary citizen is pretty transparent, while the wealthy elite is mostly opaque to the government’s tax man. The core message about ubiquitous taxation in the Beatle’s 1960s song “Taxman” remains contemporary.
Anywise, we already knew that the rich and powerful elite who run this world — these One and Two Percenters who also own the majority of this world’s assets — avoid much of their lawful tax obligation. After all, they’re the aristocracy of this present society, and we’re just the peasants. We are made to pay the bills. This has been the story throughout the history of humanity. Kings and their ruling elite make ordinary “Joes” pay the taxes. Jesus of Nazareth understood this perfectly:
“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax (a tax equal to two days’ work) came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offence, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours,” Matthew 17:24-27 (NIV).
Jesus’ point to Peter was that for now, in this world of darkness held captive by the Adversary and his collaborators, we, the people of God, pay taxes and put up with what is unfair. This is not our kingdom. And that’s a good sign because we’re looking for a new world in which righteousness dwells and a never-ending life of peace and prosperity that no amount of the ruling elite’s money could buy. Consider, once again, this updated story about Jesus and taxes:
The rich and the powerful of the world’s ruling elite sent some of their agents, along with some of the national government’s tax collectors and informants, to meet with Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favourites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus knew their evil motives [they were looking for grounds to accuse him]. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used to pay your tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, [like a U.S. $100 bill with Ben Franklin’s image on it] he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply amazed them, and they went away. Matthew 22:16-22 (my paraphrase).
There is a spiritual payoff for those who now give God His due. In the coming Kingdom of God they will become the children of God the Father, and brothers and sisters of the King of kings [Christ] and so will be far freer from the exaction of every debt and obligation than even this world’s elite is today from the tax man.