The Common Good

Oh Lord, Won't You Make Me Rich So I Can Pay More Taxes!

The gospel according to the movie True Grit (2010) is as follows: "You must pay for everything in this world one way or another. There is nothing free except the grace of God." This is true for individuals and it is true for nations. If we want to reduce the budget deficit and strengthen the social safety net, we are going to have to pay for it. All of us.

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In his speech on reducing the budget deficit, President Obama was right to call for higher taxes on the rich. Most of the nation's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very few people. Income inequality is a dangerous thing that threatens our social fabric. So, since most of the wealth is concentrated at the top, it is only justice for the rich to pay more.

President Obama said: "As a country that values fairness, wealthier individual have traditionally born a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. This is not because we begrudge those who've done well -- we rightly celebrate their success. Rather, it is a basic reflection of our belief that those who have benefited most from our way of life can afford to give a bit more back."

This is a moral position consistent with the teachings of Jesus who said: "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." (Luke 12:48)

President Obama called paying one's fair share of taxes a patriotic duty. He is correct. It is also a moral and a religious duty.

Representative Paul Ryan says that his budget plan reduces taxes on the rich because they are the job creators. His logic becomes somewhat muddled when he speaks of small business people who file income taxes as individuals, and says in the same breath that taxes have to remain low so the jobs will not go to other countries. These are two separate problems. Very wealthy people who make their money in the United States are not likely to move their businesses to Europe or to China. (See Charlie Rose.)

President Obama stood firmly in support of Medicare and Medicaid as programs that ought to continue as entitlement programs. Again, I agree with him. Ryan's plan would save money by moving to what he calls a premium support system where people on Medicare would be given a lump sum by government to help them buy insurance on the open market.

The problem with this is that we are looking at a situation where people will not be able to contribute to their health-care costs because it will take all the money they have simply to live. Because of the current economic recession, many people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are either unemployed or under employed. They work jobs that do not provide benefits. If they do have benefits, they probably have a 401K rather than a pension plan. Their 401K along with social security will not be enough for them to live decently. This is a reality that no one is speaking about.

Rather than cut Medicare, this country needs a Medicare for all single payer health-care system that will allow people to live healthier lives for their entire lives, thus bringing down the cost of health care. This is a system that I would be willing to pay higher taxes to support, whether God makes me rich or not.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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