27 January 2023

The deficit -- the obvious solution

As is usually the case when Republicans control part of Congress but the president is a Democrat, the deficit is a hot topic in Washington (normal people in the rest of the country are focused on more personal concerns).  And as usual, an obvious strategy for reducing the deficit without cutting any popular programs is being ignored.

At present, churches and certain other religious institutions receive special treatment -- they are not taxed, and are supposed to stay out of politics.  In far too many cases, there is no longer much effort to retain even the most threadbare pretense of being non-political.  It's time to drop the fa├žade and treat churches and other religious businesses like secular ones.  Tax them like any other business, and let them express themselves politically just like any other business does.

The claim that this would clash with the separation of church and state has things backwards.  The Constitution prohibits Congress (and by extension government in general) from establishing an official religion, and bans religious tests for any office (Article VI).  It doesn't prohibit religious entities from expressing political views just as other private businesses can do.  As for exempting churches from taxation, one could argue that this violates the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion, by granting churches a special privilege and by getting the government into the business of judging what is a valid church and what is not (to determine who qualifies for the exemption), something which it is not qualified to do, and which is downright dangerous for it to do.  Better to treat churches like any other business, including for purposes of taxation, and get rid of all the Byzantine rules limiting their ability to engage in politics, especially since those rules are pretty much ignored anyway.

It's hard to tell how much revenue could be raised by taxing churches, but looking at the ostentatious wealth of the institutional Catholic Church (even if somewhat depleted by the endless lawsuits over child abuse) and of so many Protestant megachurches and pastors, it would clearly be considerable.  Combined with a return to reasonable tax rates on the obscene wealth accumulated by the richest 1% after decades of targeted tax cuts, this would probably do more to close the deficit than any other available option -- without undermining defense or eroding our country's already-threadbare social safety net.

Certainly the present membership of Congress won't seriously consider taxing churches.  But as religion in the US continues its inexorable decline (64% of Americans identified as Christian in 2020, compared to 92% in 1972), and with respect for organized religion at an all-time low, eventually we'll elect leaders willing to consider the obvious.

16 Comments:

Anonymous spirilis said...

An opportunity for the rectification of names. Whatever they are they are not businesses. They sell intangibles without input costs and immeasurable profits. Property ownership is dispersed and the Pope is a pauper. I would support an audit and a wealth tax on the Catholic Church immediately after one on Exxon. There was a time in this country when business taxes paid all the freight without individual or civic institutions having to participate in the shakedown.

28 January, 2023 06:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Churches provide services (weddings, baptisms, funerals, sermons, etc) rather than tangible products, but that's not unusual in the business world. Accountants, lawyers, sex workers, and many others provide services rather than tangible products, and the input costs for something like a baptism are about as calculable as the input costs for a tax preparation or a blowjob. The main input cost is the qualifications or skills of the person providing the service, not anything material. Churches are unusual in that they are paid mostly via donations rather than charging a fixed amount per service, but it's still basically revenue for services performed, which doesn't create a meaningful difference between them and other businesses for tax purposes. Some media like broadcast TV networks don't charge viewers for the services they provide, but make their money indirectly via advertising. There are a lot of business models. It's still revenue for goods or services, one way or another.

There are certainly a lot of big corporations dodging taxes they legally owe, and that should be pursued as well, but that's a different issue than a certain category of businesses being legally exempted from taxation.

28 January, 2023 07:43  
Blogger NickM said...

Your point about the tax exemption potentially violating the first ammendment is duly noted. It is a good point especially as defining a religious organisation is very difficult. My wife is a Buddhist. By many definitions this is a philosophical rather than theological position. Of course whilst Buddhism is clearly at the generally rather more respectable end of the spectrum of belief than the likes of Scientology. My understanding is L Ron Hubbard changed the name of his cult/con/whatever from "The Science of Dianetics" to "The Church of Scientology" for the very reason of avoiding tax. And quite possibly not just for the somewhat understandable reason of paying fewer bucks but to avoid public scrutiny of his organisation.

So, persoanlly, I think making religious organisations operate under the same rules as everything else is probably more important in terms of accountability and the principles of the US Constitution than the relatively small sums it would send to the treasury.

OK, that's the principle of it. The practicalities... Infidel, your suggestion would set the God-botherers utterly mental. They would seriously go nuts and claim discrimination and a war on belief orchestrated by commies or Satanists or fuck knows! Is that a bad thing? Yes, it is. Does that mean it shouldn't be done? That's another question. The likes of Kennedy and Lincoln did things that unleashed utter Hell but they were, well, right. That they were right doesn't mean there were not consequences. The Civil War cost more US lives than every other war the US has ever been in combined.

So, whilst, effectively (rather than just in principle) making the USA a truly secular state is a noble goal is the game worth the candle? And is now the right time to do it? Also, seeing as religious authority in the USA is dwindling anyway is the risk of a civil war really needed. Is it worth poking the dying tiger when you consider what final aggression could ensue? Religion as understood by the "religious-right" is dying out anyway. Why provoke it to go nuclear on it's death-bed?


*

28 January, 2023 07:44  
Blogger NickM said...

I dunno why infidel brought-up sex-workers in terms of tangibles. I'm a web-designer. How much does an e-commerce site weigh? I charge for my time and skills. I don't even charge by the MB.

Anyway, a good blow-job is worth it's weight in gold...

However that is defined.

spirilis,
The Pope is a pauper? He lives in a fucking palace! He is waited on hand and foot. He travels on private planes. He has an art collection that most national galleries would kill for. Not only does he have a pot to piss in and a window to throw it out off he has an emerald encrusted platinum chalice and a renaissance stained glass window.

See:

https://www.theonion.com/heaven-less-opulent-than-vatican-reports-disappointed-1819567798

28 January, 2023 07:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: The sums it would bring in would be far from "relatively small". Many religious institutions and leaders in this country are wallowing in wealth.

The worst of the God-botherers are mental most of the time already. Religion has been "going nuclear on its death-bed" since the 1960s, when the Moral Majority took the fundies into the political arena to attack gays, the sexual revolution, abortion, and whatever else has come up since. It's never appropriate to refrain from doing the right thing just because some people wouldn't like it. They certainly couldn't claim discrimination when for the first time they're being treated the same as everyone else.

I don't care if it's a Christian church, a Buddhist temple, or a philosophers' think tank -- if it's bringing in substantial revenues, it should be treated like any business that brings in comparable revenues, and be taxed the same. That way nobody has to worry about defining a religion.

I don't know how much personal wealth the Pope has, but he's effectively the unaccountable and absolute CEO of an enormously wealthy multinational corporation. As you point out, he controls a huge amount of wealth, whether he technically owns it or not.

28 January, 2023 08:17  
Blogger NickM said...

OK, Infidel. I must confess to not being up to speed on how big the religion game is in the USA. I guess I'm thinking with my Brit hat on. So how much do the likes of televangelists such as the late Oral Roberts rake in? Mainly from the poor. When I was first in the US I briefly flicked through cable and came across evangelical TV and they were all in their $5000 suits calling for cash all the time like some TV fundraiser but 24/7/365. I mean I kinda knew it but I sort of had to see it via NTSC so to speak. One of them wanted a huge ammount for a "Divil-bustin' satellite for Africa". God knows what came of that but I can't imagine anything good. If it was healthcare or potable water or modern elecrtric grid or... but, it was essentially to spread the word and reap the cash from the likes of Tanzanians who probs could afford that even less than the Alabamans they usually prey on.

28 January, 2023 08:55  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Taxing churches will never happen, even if it makes perfect sense.

28 January, 2023 09:20  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Well, as one example, Kenneth Copeland personally owns three private jets. I don't know how much other stuff he owns, but I think he's a billionaire. Certainly he's not some outlier. Many televangelists are staggeringly wealthy, and the Catholic Church's assets dwarf even that.

Ricko: I acknowledged that it won't happen in the foreseeable future. This post is about the logic of the proposal. Enough with the negativity.

28 January, 2023 09:51  
Blogger NickM said...

Three private jets. He's a multi-billionaire. I can kinda understand one (Elvis only had one) but unless he believes he's the Trinity himself then ;-) I've never even heard of Copeland so... that does give me a certain perspective. I'd like a jet myself. Some old warbird for giggles but unless my financial situation changes a lot I'll stick to playing MiG Alley in my shed! I suppose, apart from anything else if I try something daft and it all goes Pete Tong then only my pride is hurt.

28 January, 2023 10:41  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

One of my favorite YouTubers made a video about Copeland early during the pandemic. He's mostly on-screen starting from about 3:47. This is the kind of guy that about 30% of Americans venerate. He became super-wealthy doing this stuff -- and as I say, there are plenty of others like him.

28 January, 2023 12:13  
Anonymous spirilis said...

What are you going to tax? Wealth? Income? Property? Accountants, lawyers, sex workers, and many other denizens of Golgafrincham Ark Fleet Ship B. Towards the riches you plan on plundering from the hard working con men wallowing in riches. There is a billionaire on the list but he pays his taxes in Brazil. The richest American grafter is Pat Robinson with net $500 mil. Your multi-billionaire Copland tops out at $300 mil. Do some of you people think DJT is a billionaire? Churches have money because people give it to them, thieves have been reaching into the poors basket since the beginning.

28 January, 2023 17:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

What are you going to tax? Wealth? Income? Property?

Just tax them the same as any other person or company with the same income and/or wealth.

29 January, 2023 00:09  
Anonymous spirilis said...

Churches and religious organizations may be subject to a general sales and use tax so check you jurisdiction and feel free to lobby for the imposition of same on all local institutions. You might be interested to know that there are 29 classifications under 501(C) (3) of which churches are one. Religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes, for testing for public safety, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals. 501(c)(3) exemption applies also for any non-incorporated community chest, fund, cooperating association or foundation organized and operated exclusively for those purposes, make them equal tax them all.
Again rectification of names! A "church tax" historically is a levy on the general population to support the official religion. This does not occur in the USA.
There is no profit to tax and sales, wealth taxes are paid or not upon local ordinance. Clean up your own backyard before you sic the government goons on the rest of us.
Church's not paying taxes is false and misleading. Fox News tells me the "poors" don't pay taxes either. Is this the standard?

29 January, 2023 05:38  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Whatever. I've said what I had to say about this.

29 January, 2023 07:55  
Blogger Jack said...

The subject of taxing churches is an interesting one, and I'd like to see it examined along with the many other reforms we need to make to our tax code. I'm sure there are churches that do lots of charity work, and I'm equally sure there are some that don't. It seems that the burden should be on the church to show how it is benefiting the community outside of paying taxes. If it can't, maybe it should contribute through taxes.

31 January, 2023 04:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Indeed, those churches that are doing charity work should get some tax benefit from it -- to the same extent and in the same way as other businesses which do similar charity work.

01 February, 2023 12:49  

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