Taxpayers’ Alliance Report Marshals Religious Arguments for Lower Tax

As has been widely noted, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which lobbies for lower taxes in the UK, has produced a 400-page report entitled The Single Income Tax. Somewhat unexpectedly, there are two sub-sections on religion, as part of a larger section entitled “Under a range of philosophical perspectives, taxes become unethical beyond a certain level”. Graeme Leach, Chief Economist and Director of Policy at the Institute of Directors and the author of a foreword to the whole report, gives us his interpretation of the Biblical view:

…Scripture clearly teaches God’s heart for the poor, but it does not teach a large redistributionist welfare state…

In the Biblical model the welfare state is internalised to the family, extended family and church. Also, the architecture of the economic system (ownership structure and property rights), most notably in the restoration of land under Jubilee, included an in-built resistance to extreme poverty or wealth.

In the Biblical model welfare policy is handled through individual responsibility – an individual responsibility for the poor to work and an individual responsibility for the wealthy to give. A wide range of poverty alleviation mechanisms existed (interest free loans, bonded service, debt cancellation, gleaning laws and the role of kinsman redeemer) and they all required personal effort (the grain must be gleaned, the loan repaid etc.)

…The concept of the tithe is also equitable in that it is proportional, requiring the same percentage contribution regardless of rich or poor. From a Biblical perspective progressive taxation is not equitable.

This being the UK, the presence of such material in a report about tax reform has occasioned some bemused derision.

In the USA, there is a whole school of thought which links Biblical law to economic libertarianism, represented by organisations such as the Chalcedon Foundation and the Acton Institute. Some of these groups are socially authoritarian, although this does not appear to apply in Leach’s case:

The idealised Biblical model faces significant challenges. The 21st Century UK is not an Old Testament theocracy. Moreover there are significant transitional issues that arise even if one did attempt to apply Biblical principles to current fiscal policy. The most obvious being the risk that in a secular society, after a century of state provided welfare, any withdrawal of government provision might not trigger an expansion of philanthropy and personal giving.

Leach’s religious views have been noted by the media previously; in May 2001 the Telegraph reported:

Graeme Leach will argue in a speech tonight that for Britain to adopt the euro would be against the “Biblical model of government” and against God’s wishes. As the general election nears, Mr Leach has decided to speak about his personal fears for Britain’s future in an address to the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship in London.

“We really do need to seek the Lord’s guidance on the euro since it is likely to be the single most important economic and geo-political question facing the UK in the 21st century,” he said. He said Biblical government was “minimalist, decentralised and supportive of a Christian world view,” while EU governance is “expansive, decentralised and supportive of a humanist world view”…

“After much prayer over many years I am convinced God is opposed to the UK’s participation in the euro,” said Mr Leach, 36, who is a member of an evangelical church in Reading, Berks. 

CNS News added the detail that

He is also concerned it may weaken the UK’s links with the United States, a country whose Christians still have an impact on public policy.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship was formerly represented by Andrea Minichiello Williams, who today heads the Christian right lobby-group Christian Concern; last year, Leach took part in a Christian Concern/World Congress of Families “Future of the Family in Coalition Britain”, alongside speakers who included Nadine Dorries, Benjamin Bull of the Alliance Defense Fund, and Peter Hitchens (more on the WCF and CC here).

Leach’s contribution to the TPA report is followed by a section from Bilal Sambur on “Islam and the immorality of high taxation”:

…There is neither the concept of state, nor a theory of taxation in the Qur’an. The Qur’an does not say anything about paying taxes to the state. There is no such thing as Islamic tax. There is no Islamic foundation for sales taxes on goods and services. Instead, Islam encourages people to help others voluntarily and work very hard. There is no way to mystify or sanctify taxation, because there is nothing sacred about taxation. It is only a policy of the state, which can be immoral, oppressive and inhuman. Imposing taxes on an individual’s property without his or her consent is haram (forbidden) in Islam.

…People must know how to help. Islam does not show the state how to help, but commands the wealthy to help others through zakat and charity. Islam encourages personal responsibility; it rejects collective responsibility. People must help the needy people in a personal way, rather than simply remaining passive and allowing the state to take their money and give it to the needy in an impersonal way.

Sambur is with the Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey, and based at Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara. The association’s head, Atilla Yayla, was given a suspended prison sentence in 2008 for having suggested “in academic discussion that the early Turkish republic was not as progressive as portrayed in official books”.