A FINE IS A TAX FOR DOING WRONG.
A TAX IS A FINE FOR DOING WELL.
The saying is one of those juxtapositions of ideas that clash and at first sight seem to make a valid point. The thing about them is that at second blush, it becomes clear that the two ideas cancel one another out because they are mutually exclusive. In this case, the humor seems to be quite catchy, but when the reader gets past the humor, the fallout seems to indicate that the sense of it is, that taxes are bad. That is the part with which I disagree. It is also not a correct attitude to harbor. Taxes are not bad. In practice there are several reasons why we develop resentment about having to pay them, but in concept, taxes are not a bad thing.
If taxes were so bad, it would be normal that the Bible would have something to say about the evil of charging taxes and/or the evil of paying them. It happens that the Bible does not condemn taxes themselves, the governments who impose them nor those who pay them. The Bible does not even have anything against honest tax collectors. It is also clear that those who were paying them in the old days had the same acrimony about having to pay them that we do. Interestingly enough, every time that the subject comes up in the Bible, God comes down on the good side of taxes. It is therefore clear that in order to be a righteous person, it is morally obligatory to pay taxes.
My father gave me this lesson when I was fourteen years old. I got my first "official" paycheck in life in July of 1951. I got it for working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut. I think it was for something like $18.00. It also had deductions for Social Security and Income Tax. That didn't make me too happy. My father stepped in and explained the facts of life to me. You know, the "birds and the bees" stuff about "life in the real world." I remember that he had a very positive attitude about taxes. I also remember that he was a staunch Republican. A staunch Catholic Republican who practiced the rythm system. There are about as many jokes about that reality as there are about taxes. Actually, my mother and father were lucky, they only had five children. See, it worked.
Meanwhile, back to taxes. Let me start with the attitude that the Bible has about them. I like the teaching of John the Baptist to the Publicans: "...And he said unto them, exact no more than that which is appointed you. (Luke 3;13) This, of course was before the invention of the withholding tax and the IRS. This was also during the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine. People were paying the half shekel tax according to the Law of Moses: "A bekah for every man, [that is], half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty [men]. (Exodus 38;26)
Of course, they were also paying the Roman Emperor for his comfort and for him to maintaing the occupying force in Palestine. Sweet deal, right?
Yet we we all know what Jesus had to say about that arrangement.
This does not recount the oldest tax law about which we know. The Egyptians paid taxes. We do get a glimpse into the Egyptian tax law when we hear the story of Joseph and the reform that he instituted in the Egyptian tax law. " And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, [that] Pharaoh should have the fifth [part]; except the land of the priests only, [which] became not Pharaoh's. (Genesis 47;26) Joseph exempted the priests, somewhat like we do these days. We don't know much about China in the pre-history times, but it is safe to think that they had taxes too. Where else would they have found the resources to build beautiful bridges, nice roads, maintain an efficient courier system, build temples and the like?
To the old saw that says that death and taxes are the two surest things to befall humans in life, I add that they are also "what makes the world go round." Without taxes the human community would have nothing to sustain the social nature of life which is natural to us. We are gregarious animals. We need common assets to survive and to thrive. Like other life forms, we look to the alpha types of our kind to help us thrive. We know, by our very nature, that there are some things that we cannot dominate by standing alone. Taxes are part of an economic system that allows us to maintain independent freedom from constant presence in the flock, while being assured that there is an element of singularity that binds us together. Taxes are a tangible link to one another because they set up an economic relationship of indebtedness between all the individuals in the community.
Yes, taxes are an external sign of an internal need to be united. Taxes are an extension of the spiritual element in all of us. Taxes are what make community life take on a quality of security and peace. There are many communities of humans who maintain their stability by putting all that they own and earn into common ownership. These communities are generally religious in nature and are composed of a group that maintains a very highly focused spiritual unity of purpose. They are living proof that civil societies cannot generally achieve this high level of communitarian focus because the individuals who belong to such highly specialized communities do so voluntarily and constantly strive to channel much of their drive for self-determination into the defined purpose of the religious group. The success of such communities provides us with living proof that Spiritual Communism works, but Civil, Secular Communism does not.
It is therefore my conviction that taxes are not evil. What bedevils most citizens of any given country is the misuse of the tribute that is collected. That misuse of the trust funds that taxes are is what causes civil wars to break out. That misuse is a violation of the human bond of trust and security that taxes are meant to construct. That misuse, sad to say, is perhaps the true "oldest profession" known to humans. That doesn't make taxes evil. It makes those who govern fall into evil ways. Sadly, even God has not found a way to cure the propensity that His people have of taking advantage of one another, rather than providing one another with the peace and security that taxes are supposed to help create.
That, my brothers and sisters is a topic for brighter humans than I to confront. The fact that I have come to that realization should keep you from crying at my funeral.