Published April 18, 2023
Tax Day. Few placeholders on the national calendar are so apt to provoke heartburn among most Americans, even though that most workers are more likely to receive a refund check than a bill when April comes around. Grumbling about taxes has been an American pastime since at least 1765, but this is nothing new: A remarkable proportion of Jesus’ ministry was spent talking about taxes or the despised tax collectors. Today, popular hostility toward the Internal Revenue Service seems almost as widespread as the Jews’ hatred of Roman taxmen. But is this a rational posture?
If anything, calls to “defund the IRS” on the right look suspiciously like the angry scapegoating of the move to “defund the police” on the left. Both prefer to sidestep the hard work of reforming inequitable laws in favor of the easy demagoguery of denouncing law enforcement. After the new Republican House majority finally succeeded in electing a speaker after a historic struggle in January, its first order of business was to pass a bill rescinding more than $70 billion in funding for the IRS that the Democratic-led Congress had voted for just last year. Although this naturally got nowhere in the Democratic-majority Senate, it raises important questions about how conservatives should think about our much-maligned IRS.
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Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.