3.28.2009

More Feedback


Anonymous asked me to post his most recent comments, which I have done below, as well as my response. Enjoy the exchange, and please join in as well.

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Urban Christian, Why didn't you post my most recent comments? You commented that more people should rent, that there are too many owners etc. I observed that your attitude was noblesse oblige. I want to know your Christian justification for forcing me out of my home of many years because i DO NOT HAVE enough money to pay three times more tax. You have it. I don't. If I am forced to sell because of unreasonable taxes a high paid lawyer, doctor or other professional (like you) will come along and take over my home. Please tell me how there is a faith based justification for this.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : 6:42 AM




Dear Anonymous, thanks again for your feedback, and I’m sorry that you feel I haven’t properly responded to your thoughts. Let me try to do so below.



“I observed that your attitude was noblesse oblige.” I was not previously familiar with this term so I had to look it up. Apparently, it can mean, neutrally, the notion that the richer you are, the more of a sense of debt you owe to society and to help others; and it can also connote, more pejoratively, a condescending attitude of the rich towards the poor.

I’m not sure in what context you mean the phrase. But I do concur that, within the context of Philadelphia as well as the rest of the world, I would consider myself materially rich; and that with that should come some sense of obligation to give back, and that I should do so in a way that is not demeaning or snobby.

I must confess I far too often fall short in both ways: both in not being as generous as I should be, as well as in being generous in ways that are more about uplifting myself than others. But I would consider myself, albeit with much need for improvement, at least aware of how to properly and faithfully conduct myself as a person who has been blessed with resources. And I would hope that my blog posts reflect that, that when I explore an issue I am not looking to advance causes that necessarily enrich myself but rather try to consider what is best for others and particularly the most marginalized and impoverished among us.



“I want to know your Christian justification for forcing me out of my home of many years because i DO NOT HAVE enough money to pay three times more tax.” Let’s be clear here. I wasn’t advocating that you pay three times more tax; I was noting that if actual value assessment, which I support, was to be enacted, then per Philadelphia Forward’s property tax calculator, I might have to pay three times more in property tax. This reflects the fact that I was lucky enough to buy a house at a time and in a location that subsequently appreciated rapidly. Your change in tax bill if actual value assessment is implemented would depend on when and for how much you bought it for, and how much it has appreciated or depreciated since then. In fact, if you are “underwater,” it is quite possible your tax bill would actually go down.

But remember what we were originally talking about: not actual value assessment but shifting tax burdens from sales/wage/business to property. So, depending on how much you make and buy, even if the City were to raise property tax rates, the reduction in the other tax rates might mean you end up with about the same overall bill if not lower. The “Christian justification” for recommending such a revenue-neutral shift between tax revenue sources is to move away from less equitable and more distortive taxes to more equitable and less distortive ones, for the overall benefit of society and commerce.

Does this mean there are none who would be adversely impacted from such a shift? Of course not: everyone will have to adjust, and some may bear a heavier burden, although hopefully those that do are in the best position to do so. The goal of representative government, even for an idealistic Christian like me, isn’t to please everyone or give them exactly what they want, but to manage all of the trade-offs in a way that is fairest to the most people, has the least amount of inequity and distortion, and allows for healthy growth that can provide opportunities for everyone. My take on how to best reach that sort of equilibrium is to ask more out of property taxes and less out of sales, wage, and business taxes.



“You have it. I don't. If I am forced to sell because of unreasonable taxes a high paid lawyer, doctor or other professional (like you) will come along and take over my home. Please tell me how there is a faith based justification for this.” I’m not sure what to make of this statement. To begin with, I wasn’t proposing that we raise taxes, but rather that we shift the mix around; so it’s not necessarily a given that your overall tax bill or mine would go up. If you are in fact forced to sell your house on account of an overall increase in tax burden, then that is certainly a hardship, especially if your property value has depreciated significantly.

But I’m not sure why selling to someone with lots of money is so infuriating to you. Whoever you’d sell your house to, rich or poor, wouldn’t be “taking it over,” but rather they’d be buying it from you at a mutually agreed upon price. They may have more leverage than you do because of present conditions, but that’s not a matter of injustice as much as it is the fact that because of falling prices, it’s a buyer’s market; so if you decide that at the same time you need to sell your current house, you want to buy another house instead of renting, you’ll have the same leverage in those negotiations.

There is certainly no faith based justification for the rich soaking the poor out of assets; the Bible is resoundingly voluminous and clear on how God feels about that. But I don’t see how that is what is happening or would happen.



I hope this clarifies my position for you. Thanks again for your comments.
# posted by Blogger LH : 5:39 AM
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