Is the Republican Tax Plan on the Wrong Side of History?
Fights over tax reform show us just how much we’re overestimating the role of the state.
Last week, the House passed their plan for tax reform. The Senate will vote on their proposed plan after Thanksgiving.
The plans are not identical, but both seek to boost the economy by lowering the corporate tax rate, increasing the standard deduction and eliminating special tax breaks. A majority of Americans think the current system is broken. Still, most of us don’t want to give up the tax deductions we’ve come to rely on.
For good or ill, American government and the tax code have become larger and more complicated as the nation has matured. Because of this, we have have come to expect certain things from our government. The current struggle over tax reform reveals how much we’ve shifted from depending on each other to depending on an all-powerful state.
Nations Move in Cycles
From the Romans to the British Empire, we can see that societies have lifecycles. Just like a person, the needs and wants of a society are different depending on its stage of life.
A historian named Ibn Khaldun explains this lifecycle brilliantly. If we compared his observations on society to a person’s life, it might look like this:
Childhood: The society is just bonding into a unit. People depend on each other and work together. The society lacks luxury or power, but shares intense unity and common purpose.
Adulthood: The society is establishing itself. The people are still dependent upon each other, but starting to earn wealth. Social cohesion is still strong, but weakens as luxury and wealth increase.
The Twilight Years: The society has traded grit and shared values for luxury and ease. The sense of community is weakened because people no longer need to depend on each other for survival. People look to their leaders to provide and protect because they cannot do it themselves.
Though these observations are centuries old, history shows that this pattern repeats itself. Loosely-governed tribes rise through grit — then fall through decadence.
Government Has Become Our Moral Referee
Like it or not, all Americans have come to accept a huge amount of government intervention in our lives. We have slowly traded the struggles of “childhood” for the luxuries of our “twilight years.” We’re depending on Social Security for retirement. If a natural disaster strikes, we expect the government to provide billions in relief. We expect the state to protect and care for us.
In this brave new world, the IRS has become a strange referee of our societal values. We can’t agree at the community level, so we fight to have our values recognized at the federal level.
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For example, original tax plans eliminated the adoption tax credit, justly causing uproar from Christian leaders like Russell Moore. As a result, both the House and the Senate restored the adoption tax credit to their plans.
Similarly, many have fought against killing the deduction for medical expenses. With the might of AARP in support of the deduction, any bill that doesn’t keep it is likely to fail.
As the government has grown, recognition by the IRS has become essential to success in our economy. At the same time, feelings of shared values among the American people are rare.
Government Is Not the Hero or the Villain
The bottom line is that we’ve lost sight of government’s proper role. The left thinks it can cure all problems. The right thinks it’s the source of all problems. Neither should be the case.
When Americans have enough common ground, the government is a secondary character in our story. Now it has become the all-powerful hero or villain. Fights over tax reform show us just how much we’re overestimating the role of the state.
As believers in a God who intended both community and government to be blessings, we need to be mindful that each has a different role to play. We should respect the authorities God has put over us. However, we should not look to them to solve all our problems. We should expect more from our families and communities — and expect less from government.
What’s more, we should show personal responsibility and generosity towards others. This will let our neighbors know they can depend on followers of Jesus more than an imperfect government. We can remind the world that whatever “luxuries” the state can offer us in this life, they are nothing compared to the treasures of serving an eternal God.