What was Job's tax bill?

By Steve Martinovich
web posted May 1999

I'm told reliably that the United Church of Canada is the most liberal of Canada's churches. As an example, the Right Reverand Bill Phipps, capo of the organization, questioned a few years ago whether Jesus Christ was divine. In most Christian organizations, questioning the divinity of Christ would spell the end of your job, but Phipps has gone on to survive and thrive.

The latest example of this came several weeks ago when he issued one of the most astounding press releases in Canadian history. In the statement, Phipps stated that Canadians should not only pay their taxes, they should pay them joyfully. Enough, he said, with the "misguided worship of the market as God."

Phipps says that in an era where tax cuts are the carrot that many citizens demand, he believes that taxes are in fact one of the best ways we have of caring for one another collectively.

"As Canadians we must remember that our taxes are what pay for services like Medicare, the social programs that our parents and grandparents fought so hard to establish," he said. "So yes, as you fill out your tax return, you should be joyful, you are contributing to a proud tradition that is worth preserving and protecting."

Phipps also argued that Canada, amazingly one of the few countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development without one, should institute a wealth tax. On a roll, he urged Canadians to "promote international tax agreements to ensure that the income of multinational corporations is taxed fairly." What fair is, of course, is never answered.

Of course, it doesn't take Jonathan Maynard Keynes to figure out what was going on here. As Walter Robinson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation correctly pointed out, all Phipps was doing was replacing the market with government in the role of God, a statement which defines how Canada has been governed for the past several decades.

Thanks to successive governments joyfully contributing to a tradition of raising taxes indiscriminately, Canadians pay over half of what they earn to the tax man. Phipps' best way of caring for each other collectively has allowed Canada to accumulate a $580 billion national debt and $1.6 trillion in unfunded Medicare and pension liabilities. Jesus may have fed the multitudes with nothing but a fish and loaf of bread, but devotees of socialism cannot answer the question of what will be done to cover those enormous bills.

Tax the corporations? It doesn't take an economist to know that tax hikes kill jobs and thereby reduce tax revenues. Tax international transactions? Canada's financial markets are a dot on the world's economic scene and it wouldn't be difficult for the movers and shakers to take their business elsewhere. How about wealth taxes? Pay tax on money that tax has already been paid on all the while destroying established ventures so that another cheque can be sent to someone who should be working?

Despite his more unorthodox religious beliefs, Phipps is actually more of a Christian than most and is upholding a tradition of his own. It was Christian denominations which demanded a tithe on everything that a starving peasant earned or grew so that buildings could be put up, art purchased or clerics could eat well. Not only should a person suffer for the faith and the souls of their fellow Christians, said the churches for millennia, they should enjoy it too.

It was, after all, one of the founding stories of pre-Christianity which set the example. God and Satan wager to find out if Job can handle the pressure of an all-out assault by the forces of darkness to see whether he renounces God. After his family is wiped out, he's given sores, forced out on the street, his friends stop calling and he's given no reason for any of this, Job maintains his faith. Suffering is noble and not to be questioned.

Modern government follows this profile all to well. Nearly unlimited power and a monopoly on the use of force allows a government to do incredible damage to a person, take everything they have under some circumstances, destroy them, and yet still demand the obedience of the populace. The Access to Information Act (Canada's version of the Freedom of Information Act) may allow us to find out why, but it doesn't prevent it.

Taxes are a form of violence. If you don't believe me, don't send in your forms next April. Phipps' praise of taxation is praise of violence at the hands of an omnipotent power. Whether God or government, it's the same thing. I'm told, however, that God is capable of mercy.

On the cusp of an anti-capitalist reaction in the western world, I'll bravely state that the market should be worshiped -- or at least appreciated -- for what it is. It is the freest form of exchange between human beings, a relationship devoid of force. It is the engine of job creation and growth for our world. It has created untold wealth not only for wealthy, but us poorer folk as well. It has done more to improve the lot of the average person than the trillions of dollars dumped into a deep dark hole by government.

I don't hold this to be a battle of Christianity versus capitalism since I wouldn't make the mistake of holding Bill Phipps to be the representative example of Christianity in the late 20th century, but I do hold him up as the example of people who believe that one should live for one's brother or sister and enjoy it as well. It's called socialism.

Despite all their protestations about how they want more health care spending over tax cuts, many Canadians are making the ultimate argument about taxation and whether they should suffer for someone else. They aren't paying them or they are getting around the system. A recent government study found over $10 billion in taxes going unpaid and an increasingly burgeoning underground market.

Tens of thousands of Canadians are making the most eloquent rebuttal to Phipps' assertions. They aren't paying taxes and they're probably doing it joyfully.

Steve Martinovich is the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right and he managed to render unto Caesar earlier than usual this year. He can be reached at editor@enterstageright.com.

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