Tax Scholar: Bush Is An Atheist

george_bush_narrowweb__200x245.jpgMy colleague, Susan Hamill, is never one to shy from a fight. Four years ago she burst onto the scene with her article, An Argument For Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics. This piece, which I’ve noted previously was a driving force behind an ultimately unsuccessful Alabama tax reform proposal, argued that (what she termed) “Judeo-Christian” ethics demanded that true believers support a more progressive tax scheme in the state. Her arguments were the centerpiece of the statewide debate on the referendum and she was targeted by Alabama’s Christian Coalition. (Curiously, she garnered the support of the national group.) I’ll never forget The Economist’s headline about this referendum: What Would Jesus Tax?

Well, my friends, Susan is back.

In her new paper, An Evaluation of Federal Tax Policy Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics, she argues that:

“the moral values driving the Bush Administration’s tax policy decisions reflect objectivist ethics, a form of atheism that exalts individual property rights over all other moral considerations. Given their overwhelming adherence to Christianity and Judaism, I conclude that President Bush, many members of Congress and many Americans are not meeting the moral obligations of their faiths.”

Powerful stuff! Susan joined the Alabama faculty as a tax scholar in the mid-1990’s. About five years ago, on sabbatical, she pursued graduate work at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School – not exactly a hotbed of liberalism. These recent pieces reflect a marriage of scholarship with personal passion. Not surprisingly, people from many perspectives can find ways to disagree with Susan. On the other hand, she exemplifies a professor who believes her scholarship must have practical consequences. I have tremendous admiration for both her work and the way she has chosen to structure her professional life.

Is Bush an atheist? Who’d have thought you’d read the Virginia Tax Review to find out.

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10 Responses

  1. Ginzer says:

    Wow. That’s an interesting take on faith and taxes. I am curious to read more on the idea.

  2. Being a conservative doesn’t mean taking a priestly vow of poverty, and religious charitable organizations would not exist without us.

    When it comes to taxes, President Bush simply has “faith” in the American people that they know how to spend their money more wisely than the government.

    Surely we can agree on that.

  3. Frank says:

    To Cali Conservative: Is that faith justifiable if people in general spend more money on, say, dog food, than, say, charitable giving to the very poor in LDC’s?


    (observing that “The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Inc. estimated that $21.3 billion was spent on pets in 1996, close to one-quarter to one-half of total religious giving estimates.”)

  4. Humble Law Student says:


    Yes, that faith is justifiable. While, individuals allowed to freely chose may not always make the “correct” choice in the minds of their elitist betters, history has shown us that individuals that are free, do a better job of allocating their money than when it is spent on their behalf by the government.

    As well, Frank, your argument is fallacious. It is very unlikely that if the money was not spent on pet food, that it would then be spent on aid to the least developed countries. It is much more probable that if the money spent by Americans on dog food was appropriated by the government, it would be spent on building a “bridge to nowhere” or the like.

  5. In the wake of the recent smackdown of FAIR by the Supreme Court, what if the various instututes of higher learning just stuck to their guns (pun intended) and kept military recruiters off campus. This could be a win-win situation. The professors would be able to remain a principled lot and an excellent set of role models as they communicate to their students that they’d rather take a pay cut than allow some snarky Navy JAG inside the law school. And the government would suddenly have billions (easily exceeding pet product expenditures)to reallocate to causes more worthy than Harvard and Yale.

  6. mulligrub says:

    “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s.” So, you ought to pay your taxes but I don’t suppose Jesus was stumping for tax increases. He did bring a message of God’s love and translated it into earthly action by his devotion to the poor and unwanted. If being Christian means that you should show special solicitude for the poor, that sounds like a call for personal action, not for foisting the job off on non-Christians through tax increases that apply to all.

  7. David in NYC says:

    CaliCon —

    The first use of “conservative” on this page is in your comment. Hamill’s article, and this post, are about Christianity and, by implication, the hypocrisy of the Bush Administration. Unless you are positing conservatism as a “faith”, your comment is irrelevant to both the article and this post.

    As for your observation about “faith” in the wisdom of individual spending choices, are you proposing no government at all (i.e., anarchy)? And in that world, you have “faith” that individuals will direct their spending towards “public goods” (as they are known to economists)? When, exactly, was the last time you spent YOUR discretionary income on something like body armor for the military, Kevlar vests for the police, or repaving that interstate you drive every day?

    HumbleLawStudent —

    The above paragraph is also in response to your comment. In addition, please cite some actual data to back your observation about the “better job” individuals do in allocating their spending. Or are you, too, advocating no government at all?

    And for all of you bleating about the virtue of keeping your money to spend only on yourselves, and the (implied) virtue of conservatives, Republicans, GWB, whatever, I suggest you get out your Bibles and read all of Matthew 25, in particular Matthew 25:40.

  8. David in DC says:

    How would Professor Hamill view an estate tax? It seems to me that there is something less than moral about passing on so much money to an off-spring that the inheritor would never have to work.

    When I raised this question in Property class my first year of law school many years ago, it was greeted by hissing from a lot of my fellow students, whom, I later discovered, stood to inherit such large sums.

    In any event, how does passing along enormous sums of money to people who did nothing to earn it, but just had the good fortune to be born of wealthy parents, comport with Judeo-Christian ethics?

    There may be a utilitarian argument for eliminating the estate tax — that people will be more productive if they know that they can pass it all on to their children — but that argument is rather dubious in my opinion, and does not, as far as I can tell, have anything to do with Judeo-Christian ethics.

  9. Neil' says:

    California Conservative: You are a simpleton with a one-track mind and unable to focus on accurate framing of the issue, as befits a supporter of the Bush administration. Bush’s tax policy is not just a matter of enacting lower taxes overall, in which case one could say that he just wants more left over for the public to spend as you suggest. Rather, his tax policies refer to winners and losers such as setting a lower rate for capital gains (why?) and many breaks for corporations and etc. that aren’t consistent anyway with conservative principles of not using tax incentives to distort the economy. It’s driven by interest group lobbying, not honest conservative principles of limited government as a whole.

  10. David Giesen says:

    A radical, Judaeo-Christian perspective on taxes can be gotten, I believe, by revisiting first principles.

    Experience the entire material universe independent of humanity. Premise a Creator. Presume, then, Creation. Challenge private economic gain in mere ownership of Creation because privatized economic rent of Creation alienates the rest of humanity from an equal enjoyment, as community, from the economic blessings of the gift that is Creation.

    A scenario for resolving the puzzle of private use of Creation without alienating fellow humanity’s economic interest in the Gift of Creation is for community to collect the market rent of land (and other natural resources)as the terms of private tenure.

    David G