Saturday, October 27, 2012

Render Unto Caesar and the Offshore Initiative (10/27/12)

Tax Notes Today has an article summarizing comments made by a government attorney and by practitioners at a recent annual conference sponsored by University of San Diego School of Law and the Procopio International Tax Institute.  See Stephanie Soong Johnston, IRS Advancing in Battle Against Offshore Tax Noncompliance, McDougal Says, 2012 TNT 209-8 (10/29/12)  Readers of this blog will already know the substantive content of the article, but I write just to note the concluding paragraph:
Overall, McDougal [an IRS attorney prominently involved in the offshore initiatives] was confident that good progress has been made in battling offshore tax compliance issues, both in the United States and abroad. "Consciousness is being raised about this problem," he said. "And let's face it, when you've got the Pope coming out and writing a letter talking about how harmful it is for wealthy people to be evading their taxes when the needs of the poor are going unmet, that really adds fuel to the fire. So there is a change in consciousness and the situation is gradually improving."
This, of course, is a variation in this context of Jesus' famous "Render Into Caesar" comment.  See Wikipedia entry here.  The full quote is:  "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  Matthew 22:21 (the King James Version of the quote is here; please note on the link that you can use the features on the page to see the entire context of the quote).)

Wikipedia also has this excerpt on Tax "Resistance" (footnotes omitted):
Tax resistance in Judaea 
The taxes imposed on Judaea by Rome had led to riots. New Testament scholar Willard Swartley writes: 
The tax denoted in the text was a specific tax… It was a poll tax, a tax instituted in A.D. 6. A census taken at that time (cf. Lk. 2:2) to determine the resources of the Jews provoked the wrath of the country. Judas of Galilee led a revolt (Acts 5:37), which was suppressed only with some difficulty. Many scholars date the origin of the Zealot party and movement to this incident.
The Jewish Encyclopedia says, of the Zealots: 
When, in the year 5, Judas of Gamala in Galilee started his organized opposition to Rome, he was joined by one of the leaders of the Pharisees, R. Zadok, a disciple of Shammai and one of the fiery patriots and popular heroes who lived to witness the tragic end of Jerusalem… The taking of the census by Quirinus, the Roman procurator, for the purpose of taxation was regarded as a sign of Roman enslavement; and the Zealots' call for stubborn resistance to the oppressor was responded to enthusiastically. 
At his trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus was accused of promoting resistance to Caesar's tax.
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ/Messiah, a king." (Luke 23:1-4)
[End of Wikipedia Quote]

Of course, the "Render Unto Caesar" quote hardly sounds like Jesus is a protestor, at least literally interpreting Jesus' statement and, I think, considering it in context as well.  Thus, other excerpts from Wikipedia state:
Doctrinal context 
Jesus was asked the question about paying taxes in hope that he would answer "yes" or "no". Answering "yes" would have left him open to the accusation that he was in opposition to Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation and therefore (given the assumption by the Jews that they still held privileged nation status with God at this time) against God, too. Answering "no" would have given those present an opportunity to report him to the Roman authorities as someone who was trying to incite a revolt. His questioners had assumed that there was an inevitable (and hazardous) dichotomy between discharging one's obligations to the state and discharging one's obligations to God, but Jesus refused to confront the dichotomy as framed by his hostile questioners and instead pointed to the assumptions behind it. 
The episode illustrates Jesus' skill in holding his ground in doctrinal debates and rhetorics against the orthodox Jewish scholars of the time 
* * * * 
Justification for obeying authority, paying taxes 
Some read the phrase "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" as unambiguous at least to the extent that it commands people to respect state authority and to pay the taxes it demands of them. Paul the Apostle also states in Romans 13 that Christians are obliged to obey all earthly authorities, stating that as they were introduced by God, disobedience to them equates to disobedience to God, however many scholars and theologians have often noted the drastic difference in teachings between Paul and Jesus. 
In this interpretation, Jesus asked his interrogators to produce a coin in order to demonstrate to them that by using his coinage they had already admitted the de facto rule of the emperor, and that therefore they should submit to that rule. 
For example, one Mennonite explained why he was not a war tax resister this way: 
We are against war and do not wish to aid the war effort by conscription or by paying war taxes to the government. Doing so only helps to strengthen and perpetuate the war machine. Matthew 22:21 Jesus said "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." Romans 13:1 "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God." If the law of the land is that everyone must pay war taxes then that is what we must do. It is the law! We should however, work and pray extremely hard to change the law. The ideal situation would be to have the law abolished. The alternative would be to have a choice of designating our portion of the war tax towards efforts of peacemaking. This route would be a more lawful, constructive, and positive effort.
 [End of Wikipedia Quote]

Of course, back in those days, offshore accounts were not a major tax problem at least in terms of the base for taxation.  I am told that the bases for Roman taxation were:

  • Land tax, apparently geared to production (so might be some type of income related tax) but In cities and towns it was a house tax.
  • Head tax, usually per capita (at least for males) 
  • Customs tax  which were collected on goods passing through city gates, and at ports on goods and produce coming ashore.

All of these are observable tax bases, not offering analogous opportunities for anonymity offered by our modern monetary system and complex economy, including offshore accounts.


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