Build a Just Economy: Make Our Tax System Fair

Date Published: 
July 18, 2012

Leviticus 19:9-10, G-d says to us “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”

This is but one of the many sources in Jewish texts which call on us to both care for the poor among us, and share our resources equitably.  Rabbinic tradition is very clear that confronting the challenges of poverty is not a personal, but rather a communal obligation. In describing how taxes are assessed on city residents, the third century Mishnah (Peah 8:7) makes explicit the standards expected of the community in combatting poverty. Support for communal kitchens, burial societies and infrastructure were all included. This is not an isolated commentary, but rather a thread which is carried through in the Talmuds (Baba Bathra 7b-8b) and codified in the medieval law codes (Maimonides, Laws of the Obligations to the Poor, Chapter 9).

As the United States continues to struggle toward economic recovery, one of the most significant questions we face, both morally and fiscally, is how our government will address the temporary tax cuts for our nation's wealthiest two percent. Currently scheduled to sunset, or expire, on December 31st 2012, the decisions made on this issue will have a tremendous impact on individuals and families across the nation, as well as on our federal budget.

Bend the Arc believes in the broad political consensus that the tax rates on the middle class should not, at this moment, be raised. But we do face tremendous economic challenges and we must be willing to address them in order for our economy and our country to be vibrant and just.

We believe that we must sunset the temporary tax cuts for those who make over $250,000 annually. Doing so is both right and just and would save our nation eight hundred and twenty nine billion dollars over the next decade. This money should be used to protect our social safety net, invest in education and job growth, and return our economy and our country to a more equitable path. In other words, it can be used to fulfill the obligation of Deuteronomy 15:4,"There shall be no needy among you”.

It is crucial that we sunset these cuts for all those making over $250,000 not, as some have suggested, limiting it to those who earn over $1,000,000 per year. Setting the limit at $1,000,000 would forgo nearly two thirds of the revenue that would otherwise be generated, and would once again let the most fortunate American’s shrink from paying their fair share.

We believe that building a just America requires that all those who have been blessed to share in the opportunities of our nation have a responsibility to share in its burdens. Allowing the temporary tax cuts to sunset, for all those making over $250,000 per year, is an important step in assuring that both the opportunities and responsibilities of America are shared by all.


Learn more: Bend the Arc Jewish Action