Solidarity requires both to pay legitimate taxes and to protest when taxes are abusive. This is a lesson we can all learn from Tai Ji Men.
by Massimo Introvigne*
*Conclusions of the webinar “Learning Solidarity from Tai Ji Men,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on December 20, 2023, United Nations Human Solidarity Day.
An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 27th, 2023.
As Marco Respinti reminded us in this webinar, Catholic social teaching, which has exerted a considerable influence on European politics and is a subject I have studied for several years, is based on two complementary principles: solidarity and subsidiarity. These two principles also govern what Catholic social teaching has to say about taxes.
The principle of solidarity requires that all citizens contribute to the common good. They can do it in different ways, but one unavoidable means is by contributing to the expenses of the state, i.e., by paying taxes. Catholic social teaching insists that paying taxes is a duty of solidarity, and tax evasion is a sin.
While this part of the Catholic teaching on taxes, based on the principle of solidarity, is often repeated today, there is a risk that the other part, based on the principle of subsidiarity, is forgotten. The principle of subsidiarity asks the states to limit their activities to what only states are able to do. As far as possible, the states should not invade the domains of local institutions, civil society, families, and individuals. Modern states have the tendency to expand continuously and to violate the principle of subsidiarity. This expansion requires enormous sums of money, thus leading states to constantly increase taxes.
Catholic social teaching has noted that state violations of the principle of subsidiarity have two immediate consequences: corruption and abusive taxes. The boundless flow of money that comes with state expansionism leads bureaucrats into temptation. Systemic corruption is both favored by excessive taxation and can be maintained and fed only by continuing to increase taxes.
I just came back from a trip though three countries in Southern Africa. This is one of the most beautiful areas of our planet and is also blessed with a richness of natural resources. Yet, the majority of the population is poor. We heard everywhere unbelievable stories of how high the level of corruption in these countries is, from national chiefs of the police who were arrested for personally organizing drug trafficking to bureaucrats who caused the death of thousands by pocketing the money intended for running hospitals.
In 2009, the Catholic Church organized for the second time in the Vatican a Special Assembly for Africa of its Synod of Bishops. The working paper (Instrumentum Laboris) for the Assembly correctly identified corruption as the main problem of Africa. It also included a statement that is of course also valid outside Africa. When corruption prevails, the document stated, “taxes are extreme and sometimes abusive” (no. 25).
Here we have the second part of the Catholic social teachings’ doctrine on taxes. The principle of solidarity mandates that taxes should be paid. The principle of subsidiarity alerts against the possibility that some taxes may be “abusive.” When something is “abusive,” protest and resistance are justified and do not violate the principle of solidarity.
It is a fact known to scholars of economics that the “extreme and abusive” taxes the Catholic document mentioned result in more tax evasion. While it may make tax increases backfire—because they also increase evasion, in the end the state receives less money—, the individual attempts to escape the taxes do not solve the problem. States can always justify their failures by blaming tax evasion rather than corruption. The most effective way of combating the breaches of the principle of subsidiarity is not individual evasion but collective protest for tax reform. If “extreme and abusive” taxes create a new form of persecution, i.e., fiscal persecution, organizing citizens for tax reform is a new and necessary form of affirming solidarity.
Our webinar has as a title “Learning Solidarity from Tai Ji Men.” And here is what we can all learn from them on the matter of “extreme and abusive” taxes. Tai Ji Men created a peaceful, non-violent, and effective means of combating tax abuse through its work with the Tax and Legal Reform League. Individual taxpayers cannot resist corruption and abuse. It is only by joining forces in networks of human and civil solidarity that they can achieve results. Although they have not yet obtained the solution of their own Tai Ji Men case, Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) have achieved admirable results in making citizens of Taiwan aware that their tax system is dysfunctional and needs reform. They have also made many outside their island aware that Taiwan has a severe problem with taxes.
Because of its deep understanding of the role of conscience in guiding all our actions. Tai Ji Men is a school of human solidarity. While we study and admire the principles Tai Ji Men dizi learn from their Shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, our way of learning from them is also to support them in their struggle for tax reform and justice.