Perhaps you’ve heard socialistic types refer to tax breaks for large corporations, like oil companies, etc., as “subsidies.” That’s bad enough, but this particular deviance is apparently enough of a staple in some leftist thinking that it applies across the board—to the little man, too.
I overheard this interview on NPR (so prepare for what you would expect from the source!) this weekend and was shocked, even having considering the source, just how transparently left it got. It’s one thing to spin a humanitarian issue into a political issue; it’s quite another to apply one’s political bent to more extreme expressions and be taken seriously on national news.
The substance of this discussion was about the broad problem of eviction nationwide, and how it not only is an effect of poverty, but quite frequently compounds the problem and is thus also a cause of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, etc.
Late in the interview, the show’s host, Terry Gross, brought up the issue of tax deductions for mortgage interest, as if homebuyers get an unfair advantage from the government: “Homeowners get this great advantage right now that renters don’t get, which is that you can deduct your interest.” She suggested that while most people are led to believe this law is to incentivize home ownership and lend stability to the homeowner and community, this is not really true. The law goes back to 1913, and was originally not for homeowners but for businesses. When the guest, author Matthew Desmond, picked up and started explaining the mortgage interest deduction, he used that certain word that popped out to me: “subsidy.” He said,
The mortgage interest deduction is something that homeowners can take . . . now it’s capped at 750,000 dollars. . . . That is one of the sweetest deals in the tax code. . . .
Just to give you a perspective of how huge that benefit is, so, the year that Arlene [a case study] was evicted from the apartment that I studied with her, we as a nation spent about 41 billion dollars on direct housing assistance to the needy—things like public housing, housing vouchers—41 billion. But that same year, we spent 171 billion dollars on homeowner tax subsidies, with things like the mortgage interest deduction making up the biggest share of the pie. . . .
And the thing is, most of that benefit goes to families with six-figure incomes. . . . We give most of our housing benefits to families that need it the least, and we give nothing to families that desperately need it the most. [Emphases added.]
The central annoyance here is an assumption that liberals/leftists routinely make: tax deductions are “subsidies.” But this is pure nonsense. Words matter; definitions matter. A “subsidy” is a prop for the needy; it is a gift. It is a donation. It is something given that was not earned or previously owned in any way. A subsidy is an increase in what was not earned.
A tax is by definition a taking of property from someone who in fact did earn it and owns it already. A tax exemption or tax deduction is a form of a reduction in how much tax is taken or demanded. A tax deduction is merely a decrease in taking, not an increase in receiving what was not earned.
Now it takes a classic case of “liberal logic” to state, with a straight face, that an increase is the same as a decrease, or that taking is the same as giving. It even takes this level of insanity to argue that a decrease in taking is the same as an increase in giving.
My what a generous government! Maybe we should replace “In God We Trust” with “Thank you Uncle Sam for the gift of only taking 30 percent instead of 32 percent!”
Beneath this assumption lies a deeper one: the government owns your income, and what you get to keep is a “benefit.” Imagine the warped thinking required to tolerate the idea that keeping what was yours to begin with is a gift given to you. Yet this is exactly what is assumed in calling a tax deduction a “benefit,” and seeing the decreased revenue on the government’s side as an expenditure.
But beneath the tolerance of all of this—and let’s be clear, this is why liberals get away with this nonsense—is the fact that Christians and conservatives practice the same thing in other areas. Whereas we may see through the scheme and object when it comes to housing for the poor and mortgage tax deductions, or food stamps, etc., we absolutely tolerate and often demand the same thing when it comes to public schools and many other things.
We are fearful to speak otherwise, especially in the area of education, social security, or Medicare and Medicaid. These must not be privatized. This is the baseline assumption in American politics. I know of a local homeschool group so affected by this type of thinking that when presented with the idea of tax exemptions for homeschooling or private schooling families, most of them recoiled. Absolutely not! We would not want to be thought of as poor citizens who don’t pay our taxes!
Have we bought into the mindset that government should be involved in these areas of life? That it owns our incomes and property to this extent? That we must submit to double payment for education in these cases? That we are bad citizens if we demand freedom?
My personal view is that taxation is theft in general, and that it is only to be suffered as an imposition of tyranny until we prevail in creating a voluntary society. Toward that goal, care of the poor and needy will be taken care of through voluntary charitable means. That means we need to be active in organizing to do so. This means we need a society of high integrity, mercy, and faith.
These values require, however, that we have enough honesty to say when we’re trying to use government power to take things from people and give to others. It means at the very least we have enough integrity not to call government taking government “giving.” Taking less hardly means giving a subsidy.
I say we should not only not believe such nonsense when we hear it, we should actively and openly reject every instance of it we hear. Don’t buy it, don’t even tolerate it. And leftists should learn that the problems they proclaim to solve by it will only be worsened as a result of further coercion imposed through government guns. Christian and conservatives ought not let that even have a voice in the discussion.