| March 14, 2011

Oklahoma policymakers out of bounds

Many people assume that Oklahoma cannot eliminate its personal income tax without raising other taxes. Many people, but not all people.

Economist Stephen Moore, an editorial board member of The Wall Street Journal, once suggested that Oklahoma phase out its income tax over 10 years, devoting growth revenue to these tax cuts rather than to the customary spending increases. Good idea. In addition, state Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) recently said he doesn’t believe the income tax must be replaced with a new tax on consumption. Why? He says increased economic activity will generate other tax revenues (and indeed, there’s some evidence for that in Oklahoma). But much more important is this nugget from Rep. Newell: “If government stayed within the bounds of its God-ordained role, even in these down economic times, we would not be scrambling for money.”

Precisely. Politicians are always scrambling for money because they’re trying to do too much. They’ve lost sight of the core functions of government. They’ve exceeded the bounds of their God-ordained role. As I wrote a dozen years ago in The Oklahoman:

Three thousand years ago, the Israeli political leader Samuel, describing what a tyrannical government would look like, solemnly forewarned the people it would seize—brace yourself—a whopping 10 percent of their income!

Today, of course, governments in the land of the free think nothing of commandeering much more than that. According to the Tax Foundation, the average Oklahoman's total tax rate in 1998 is 32.3 percent (of which state and local taxes account for 10.7 percent).

A tax bite this severe should give us pause for one simple reason: human governors are presuming to set themselves in a place of honor far above the governor of the universe. After all, Joseph Sobran reminds us, "the good Lord asks only 10 percent, lacking as he does liberalism's ambition."

Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. If $7,152—per capita total taxes in Oklahoma this year—of my treasure goes to the state, the state can tend to become a false god. Instead of looking to our Father to give us our daily bread, we begin to look to the state. ("After all, I paid my taxes!")

"The paternal state not only feeds its children," writes scholar Herbert Schlossberg, "but nurtures, educates, comforts and disciplines them, providing all they need for their security. This appears to be a mildly insulting way to treat adults, but is really a great crime because it transforms the state from being a gift of God, given to protect us against violence, into an idol."

The state (like the family and the church) is an important, God-ordained institution. But it must curb its paternal and messianic impulses, and concentrate on securing our rights to life, liberty, and property. Only then can our tax rate be brought down to earth.

Loading Next