Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obama, “the Lord’s Work”, and the Real Goliath

Commenting on President Obama’s pledge to go after offshore tax shelters, the New Jersey Star-Ledger hailed this move as David taking on Goliath. In a May 6, 2009, lead editorial entitled “Fighting Goliath: Cracking down on wealthy Americans who go offshore to avoid taxes”, they wrote:

In proposing a crackdown on multinational corporations and wealthy Americans who've beaten the tax man by sheltering income offshore, President Obama is surely doing the Lord's work.

The Obama plan is a shot across the bow of a U.S. tax regime 30 years in the making that helped American multinational corporations create, expand and dominate the largely unregulated phenomenon called globalization. In the process, the U.S. tax base has been steadily eroded as rates on corporations and the wealthy have dropped and tax loopholes have expanded.

At first blush, Obama would seem to have the political numbers in his favor. Democrats enjoy healthy majorities in both the Senate and House. But with this kind of wealth on the block, party allegiance is often easily shredded.

Big money is a fearsome force in both parties in Washington. It usually gets its way. Maybe this time will be different. There's a populist fever in the country against the corporate Goliaths who have brought the economy low. It's Obama's best bet in what shapes up as the biggest congressional brawl of the year.

I posted the following rebuttal to the editorial:

Posted by Zemack on 05/07/09 at 8:39PM

What institution has the power to legally confiscate the wealth of private, productive citizens by force? (Taxes)

What institution has the legal power to issue edicts that force its citizens to act against or contrary to their own judgement, on the premise of the presumption of guilt, where no wrongdoing (violations of other people's rights) has occurred? (Regulations)

What institution has the legal power to compel private citizens to act or not act in certain ways it deems desirable? (Laws)

In short, what institution has a legal monopoly on the use of physical force?

There is a Goliath loose in America, but it is not the "corporate Goliaths who have [allegedly] brought the economy low". No private individual or private company (which is only a number of individuals) can legally compel anyone. While private corporations can, just like any other private entity, form lobbies to attempt to influence lawmakers (a First Amendment right), only government can legally carry out, by force, the wishes of any particular special interest group. The "Goliaths" of industry can only grow by virtue of the voluntary consent of the millions of people who purchase their products and services, or who choose to fill the jobs they create.

So we have a government armed with the power of legalized force, and we have private corporations possessing no such coercive power. Yet we have the perverse spectacle of the leader of the institution of physical compulsion, President Obama, expressing moral outrage at America's greatest industrial enterprises and most successful individuals "who've beaten the tax man"...cheered on by his ideological foot soldiers like the Star-Ledger Editorial Board. The armed adversary...the posing as David! The "corporate Goliaths", who are subject to rules imposed upon them by government, are presented as the thugs. What was their sin? They used fully legal means to reduce their tax liability!

The dangerous territory America is penetrating ever deeper into was identified by its leading defender of individual rights, some decades ago;

"We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force."

Philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand's warning is coming ever closer to becoming reality. The corporate income tax is an abomination which distorts economic decision-making, and should be abolished. But this is about much more than mere tax policy. The actions taken by the targets of Obama's angst were and are completely legal. Yet, the president and the editorial board treat these American corporations and individuals as if they are betraying the country, rather than exercising their unalienable (though dwindling) rights to pursue their own happiness and self-interest, by seeking to avoid some of the onerous American taxes and regulations. Indeed, the management of a public corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to maximize company profits and wealth by whatever legal means are open to it.

Those "multinational corporations and wealthy Americans" which Obama demands a "crackdown" against are taking actions that are both legal and moral. They are acting in their own best interests and are violating no one's rights in protecting from a predatory state their property and that which they have earned.

But notice the implicit premise in the tone and nature of the Star-Ledger's and the president's rhetoric. That premise is the collectivist idea that the nation's wealth, which is produced by private individuals, belongs to "society", in whose name the state speaks. That premise is the altruist notion that those who did not earn it have first claim on it. By legally avoiding taxes, they are depriving the state of whatever it deems to be its rightful "tax base". Mh44 states that "For Obama it's not about economic growth or US jobs, but a money grab to pay for his BIG and GROWING Gov't." Yes, but above all, it's about power.

The hallmark of a free country is a government limited by constitutional law, governing a people who are free to do whatever is not legally forbidden. Yet here we have legal activities being termed loopholes. Loopholes in what? In government's controlling power. The real Goliath we must fear is our government, which is systematically breaking free of its constitutional constraints. When freedom becomes not an unalienable right but a mere "loophole" in the government's power, it is a sign that we are closing in upon Rand's "ultimate inversion".

One particular aspect of this editorial that should not be brushed off as mere rhetoric is the Editors’ reference to Obama’s “surely doing the Lord’s work”. This is a clear reference to the Christian doctrine that the moral purpose of wealth must be to give it to others.

"Time and time again Jesus reminds us of our obligations toward the poor and that it is no excuse to say we didn't notice them. We are not deliberately cruel. We don't kick them in the teeth. We don't do anything. And that was the sin condemned by Christ.

In more modern times the Church has continued Christ's warnings. In the encyclical Development of Peoples, 1967, quoting St. Ambrose, she reminds us that when we give to the poor "we are not making a gift of our possessions. We are only handing over to him what is his. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich." The Fourth Beatitude

The St. Ambrose doctrine is what I had in mind in my post of 4/2/09, and is what is behind the Obama plan for remaking America. The Star-Ledger is an ideological foot soldier for the Obama administration. As is becoming ever more clear and for which I have been arguing, President Obama has made a conscious choice to reach out to the Christian Right, a traditionally Republican electoral sector, based upon common moral grounds. The “Lord’s work” comment is consistent with that approach.

Many politically conservative Christians would point out that Jesus’ admonition to give away possessions was meant as a voluntary, not forced, act. This is probably true, and that phrase drew the ire of one correspondent. But the key premise is the morality of altruism…to selflessly put others above self. There is no doubt that redistributive taxation and the general collectivist tenet that wealth is ultimately the property of society that must be put to work for the “common good” is morally consistent with Christian doctrine. Indeed, there are plenty of influential Christians who would support the Star-Ledger’s editorial statement, and an attempt is underway to isolate pro-capitalist Christians as “the extreme right”.. The line between altruism and force blurs toward invisibility under the Orwellian doctrine of “Social Justice”…the statist calling card of both the collectivist Left and the growing Christian Left...including the long-time enemy of capitalism, the Catholic Church.

Moral consistency is not on the side of the pro-capitalist Christian faction. The philosophically astute Obama understands the common moral bond between Christianity and socialism, and seeks to capitalize politically on that bond. The honorary degree conferred on him by Notre Dame, as well as the invitation by that premier U.S. Catholic university to deliver the commencement address in which he sought to neutralize the abortion issue, is another sign that he is making significant progress in that direction. Hitching his collectivist agenda to the rising influence of the Christian religion is a philosophical masterstroke. To the extent that Obama is successful in his efforts to forge this new political alliance is the extent to which the already serious danger to freedom in America only escalates.

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