Why Is It Corrupt to Call for the End of the Bread Subsidy in the Politics of Bread and Circuses?
April 14, 2011
Jim Wallis attacks Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed budget proposal in the name of the Bible. As I shall show by direct citation of his words, Wallis calls him a self-righteous bully, a hypocrite, and corrupt.
He forgot to add: "Nevertheless, Jesus loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life."
He does this on the website of his tax-exempt religious foundation. Will the IRS investigate? Nah!
Why such rancor? Because Ryan has proposed cuts in the 2012 budget. This is in response to the fiscal 2011 budget, which the President's economists expect to run a $1.65 trillion deficit.
Wallis assures us that the Ryan proposal is not about deficit reduction. Yes, of course, the proposed budget cuts Federal spending so that the deficit will decline. But this is really not about deficit reduction. Not really. Not when "really" means "it is, but I want to talk about something else."
While widely lauded by conservatives, Congressman Ryan's budget isn't really about deficit reduction. It's about choices -- choices that will determine what kind of a country we become.
The modern science of economics is all about choices: human action and human choices. So, by the way, are theology, ethics, psychology, and a lot of other academic disciplines. But this fact does not faze Wallis, who has not studied economics.
And Paul Ryan has made the choice to hurt people who don't have the political clout to defend themselves.
They don't? You mean the Democrats do not defend them? Either this is a serious accusation of 80 years of chicanery on the part of the Democrats, or else Wallis is using rhetoric rather than logic to promote his cause.
Two-thirds of the long term budget cuts that Ryan proposed are directed at modest and low-income people, as well as the poorest of the poor at home and abroad.
He offers no proof -- no footnote, no hyperlink.
In short, the most vulnerable members of society are being attacked by Ryan and his supporters. This makes them bullies.
Bullies. They beat up on defenseless widows and orphans. He goes on.
At the same time, he proposed tax cuts up to 30 percent for some of our country's wealthiest corporations. Let me say that again: Two-thirds of the cuts come at the expense of already struggling people and families, while corporations posting record profits get tax breaks.
The Bible teaches that a king who takes 10% of anyone's income is a tyrant (I Samuel 8:14, 17). The modern Federal government takes 38% of a rich man's income in the top bracket after charitable donations. But never in his career has Wallis offered any discussion of I Samuel 8 as being authoritative in assessing whether a tax proposal is tyrannical or not.
Tax cuts on corporations will let them invest more. If they give the money to investors as dividends, the investors will pay an income tax. The double taxation of corporations is one of the major reasons why America has fallen behind Asia in economic growth. The way to help the poor is by offering them better tools and better jobs. But Wallis never discusses taxation and capital formation. He prefers rhetoric to economic analysis.
He has a strange view of ethics. If the state sticks a gun in a man's belly and tell him to hand over 28% of whatever he has earned, and then voters get get a twinge of conscience and ask him to hand over only 25%, Wallis refers to this act of reduced theft as helping rich people.
In dramatic contrast, Ryan has chosen to help the people who need help the least. Wealthy individuals and companies reap a windfall of benefits in Ryan's plan -- with tax cuts and breaks, continued subsidies and loopholes for every powerful special interest, and increased corporate welfare payments from the government. Congressman Ryan and his supporters have carefully and faithfully rewarded the rich people who make their campaign contributions, and, in most cases, have also rewarded themselves as rich people. This makes them corrupt.
Organize politically to steal from a man in the name of Wallis' favored special interest groups, and you are doing God's will, Wallis says. Stop stealing quite so much, and you are corrupt.
This is a strange ethical system. It cannot be found in the Bible.
And, as self-professed budget hawks, they have completely ignored the most consistently egregious, wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget -- our endless and unaccountable military spending. Paul Ryan and the Republicans would cut nothing from the Pentagon profligacy. This makes them hypocrites.
No, it only makes them obedient to the voters. This is also why the Democrats never cut military spending. They know where their political bread is buttered. I wish this were not the case, but it has been ever since 1942.
You may think that my language sounds too strong: "bullies", "corrupt", "hypocrites." But listen to the prophet Isaiah:
"Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims -- laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?" (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)
Odd; I do not recall the Prophet Isaiah calling for tax rates above 10%. I do recall the Judge Samuel identifying such a rate as a reason not to ordain a king.
Ryan's budget seems to follow, almost line by line, the "oppressive statues" Isaiah rails against.
(Wallis meant statutes; Isaiah and the other prophets had a great deal to say about certain statues -- called idols.) No, the budget does not follow Isaiah's discussion. Isaiah was talking about theft. So am I: the kind of theft involved in the Social Security tax (hypocritically called a contribution), which takes 7.6% from a worker's pay and an equal amount from his employer -- money that the employer would have been willing to pay to the worker, except that the tax man took it away.
Ryan's budget slashes health care for the poor and elderly by gutting Medicaid and undermining Medicare, and cuts funding for food stamps, early childhood development programs, low-income housing assistance, and educational programs for students.
If a politician in the era of the Caesars had called for a reduction in spending on bread, Wallis would have attacked him as a bully. The Caesars were buying public support from the crowds. So in Congress.
Cuts of this magnitude for people of modest and low-incomes will result in a direct increase of poverty and misery in America. Furthermore, poverty-focused international assistance proven to save lives is under continued attack. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said, not all cuts are equal because some will lead to "a fever and a small coffin."
Simply put, the Ryan budget is a bonanza for the rich and devastation for the poor, and it will never be accepted by the religious community. And I don't believe Ryan's budget expresses the values of the American people. I just don't believe it.
I don't believe it, either. The voters want bread and circuses. They also want war.
Of course, many Americans, including the faith community, believe that rising deficits are immoral and a threat to our future. But how you reduce a deficit is also a moral issue, and to do so by further impoverishing the poor in order to add more wealth to the wealthy is not an acceptable political or moral strategy.
But wait! Where will the money come from -- the money to reduce the deficit?
Also, should the deficit be reduced to zero? He does not say.
Should the national debt be paid off? That is, should the budget run a surplus? He has never said.
What he has said is that anyone who believes in cutting taxes from three times what the Bible says is tyrannical is not following the Bible.
Also, he says that anyone who wants to cut the bread ration to the voters is a bully, corrupt, and a hypocrite.
Include me in.