“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” the Authorized Version says in Matthew 7. We’ve all heard this saying at some time or other. I’ve usually heard it when someone is criticizing someone else’s lifestyle choices–usually referring to moral issues. Oftentimes this is a function of judgmental moralists on the right being pitted (or pitting themselves) against more libertine individuals often on the left. This is not always the case but this is the context I’ve most often seen this verse used.
Yesterday, Mitt Romney released his tax returns for the past few years. In 2010 and 2011, Romney earned approximately $42 million, virtually all from capital gains (obviously long term not short term, a distinction that is important) and not wages. In other words, his income came from investments. Nothing in the returns suggests Romney has done or is doing anything illegal or “cooking the books.” ABC News calculates that Romney’s income puts him in the top 0.006%, not just the top 1% (an obvious stir of the class warfare pot). Interestingly, his income compares more favorably to professional athletes and Hollywood’s elite than it does to Wall Street CEO’s (read: the former is paid far more than the latter).
In all of the hoopla, the biggest complaint has been that Romney doesn’t pay enough in taxes. He averaged about 14.5% over ’10-’11 in federal taxes. This along with Warren Buffett’s assertion that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does has made the topic of tax rates a contentious one, especially among the class warriors who use socioeconomic differences to divide people for their political benefit. The advantages of lower long-term capital gains rates extend to anyone who has money in a retirement fund or investments, not just the very wealthy and these rates encourage long-term (duh) investment instead of short-term speculation (which some people still do but pay a higher rate for it). This is not to mention that capital gains have already been taxed at the corporate level (at about 40%, the highest rate among industrialized nations).
But I’m not writing to defend investment returns or wealthy people or even capitalism (all of which I would defend). I’m going a different direction. Joe Biden famously (or infamously) said that paying taxes is patriotic. Now you can interpret that how you want, but the assumption is that the middle class need help (we need to “take money and put it back in the pockets of middle class people.”) The fundamental flaw is that this is the very definition of theft. If we’re supposed to be paying more in taxes to help those who need help, maybe we should encourage people to give more to charities that actually meet people at their point of need. Unfortunately for Biden, this is apparently a foreign concept. For tax years 1998-2007 the Bidens gave $3,690 to charity. That’s ten years at about $370 per year (and that’s after the Biden’s upped their charitable giving from $120 in 1999 to $995 in 2007) out of an average adjusted income of about $250,000 per year. That comes to about 0.15%. Romney gave approximately $7 million to charity, over half of which went to his church.
“Whoa, now!” you may say. “Weren’t you just talking about Matthew 7 and not judging and all that?” Yes, I was. I suggest we go back to Matthew 7 when we begin to talk about people and their money. The problem with “Judge not lest ye be judged” is that half of the saying is missing. The rest of the passage in the TNIV says “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, when you pronounce judgment on others, the standard you use against them is the standard that’s going to be used on you.
The narrative the class warriors want to tell is that the wealthy don’t care and don’t give to help anyone because they don’t pay their fair share in taxes. But digging deeper shows, at least in this instance, that Romney is far more generous than Biden. However, even that comparison is not my point. My point is that it’s none of your of my business how much money Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates has or how each one made his money (so long as it was legally gained, obviously) or what they do with their money. It’s their money. Not the government’s. We’d all be a lot better off if we learned to respect all of the property rights of others.