Proverbs on Taxes and the Rights of the Poor
Our local fellowship collectively read through the book of Proverbs last month, and I couldn’t help but be struck repeatedly by the sound practical advice given both on individual and societal scales. In particular, Proverbs 29 struck me in light of current discussions in my current country (and in others no doubt) regarding taxes and the plight of the poor, particularly refugees.
Proverbs 29:4 says, “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts (or, taxes heavily) tears it down.”
Of course, the conservatives among us love that alternate translation and want to jump all over as justification for a low tax, free market approach to economics. And while I see a decent bit of danger in trying to force the Scriptures into speaking directly to a 21st century discussion of tax policy, I do think that it lays out a helpful principle that overtaxation (what the line for that is obviously is the question) does not build up a country but tears it down. So regardless of what a tax policy should look like in particular, perhaps my more politically liberal friends ought to consider that perhaps overtaxation is actually a problem at some point (even on those with a lot).
But I couldn’t help but notice that only a few verses later, Proverbs 29:7 says this, “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”
Now, in this particular section, “the rights of the poor” are not elucidated. But again, we seem to be left with an important principle: the poor have rights, and whatever policies the powerful make should not infringe upon them. So if verse 4 gives Jim Wallis something to think about, verse 7 probably gives my free market homeboy Ron Paul something to consider.
Now of course, none of this is profound, and it obviously doesn’t really solve anything politically. But perhaps as Christians, as those who believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, we ought to at a minimum challenge ourselves to let these verses shape out attitudes about such questions. We ought to always remind ourselves that the state isn’t God, and so we can’t trust in any amount of taxes to solve earth’s ill. But neither can we forget out the poor who are truly suffering. God apparently considers them to have rights, and so if we forget about them in our politics or in our daily lives, we have skipped over something that our Savior considers important.