Devour widow’s houses

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Luke 20:45-47

Last week we received our house tax appraisal for 2007. The value of our home had been raised well above what we recently paid for it. Perhaps some folks would find it gratifying to know that the state government agrees with their assessment of the potential value of the house. I found it extremely frustrating that my annual “rent” payment to the government (you know, the money I pay Texas so it grants me permission to continue dwelling in my home for another year) was going up so much.

A couple days later I headed downtown to protest the appraisal. Given that we had just bought the house and I had all the paperwork with me, it proved quite straight forward to get the appraisal lowered to the amount we had paid for the house.

While I was sitting in the cubicle talking to the appraiser, I overheard a portion of a conversation in the cubicle next to me. From what I heard, I surmised the woman was 1) quite elderly; 2) likely a widow; and 3) living on social security. And she was basically saying that the new appraisal on her home might force her out of it. And the response from the scribe appraiser was, so sorry, but we don’t make the rules.

How have we come to this, where injustice is such a part of our lives that we have institutionalized the devouring of widow’s homes?

9 Comments

  1. john Horne
    May 8, 2007

    Taxes do not constitute state-sponsored extortion as implied. You have a paved road and an alley; you have a fire station somewhere in the neighborhood; you have 911 in case of an emergency; there is a school very close by, even if you choose not to use it; such things cost money. Become an activist and lobby for property tax reform for elderly retired persons. It was done in Hawaii, with good results.

    Dad

  2. Jay
    May 8, 2007

    My beef isn’t with taxes, but the method used to tax. If I tax someone’s income, then I only tax the increase, whether it is flat or progressive in nature. But if I tax their house, and the house goes up in value significantly over time, they end up with a tax burden that easily outstrips their increase.

    And though I’m fine with incrementalism, I don’t think property taxes should be reformed, I think they should be abolished. I’m not arguing for a reduction in the tax base (though I do believe that is an appropriate area of reform), I’m arguing for a different method to determine who owes what.

    Fundamentally, property taxes undercut private property ownership, and I believe private property is a foundation of much economic and other goods.

    So, yes, in another conversation, we could discuss the school or fire station or whatever, but that wasn’t my point. I believe the particular method (property taxes) of collecting revenues for the state is fraught with peril and leads to all sorts of injustices.

  3. Jay
    May 8, 2007

    One more thought/clarification. I didn’t mean to imply property taxes are extortion. I meant to imply they undermine private property. Do I really own my house (assuming, let’s say, the mortgage is totally paid off) if I have to pay Texas 2.5% a year of its presumed value?

    Thus, I was implying that our version property ownership looks much more like a feudal system where I use land granted to me by the state and owe the state a return on that land. I don’t view that as extortion, but I do view it as detrimental to our society (economically and otherwise).

  4. john Horne
    May 9, 2007

    You must admit that ownership would mean nothing if you had to defend “your” property from anyone who wanted to take it over. The state provides the legal framework whereby private property ownership is validated and defended. It is appropriate that property owners fund the system. Yes, you may think of it as a manifestation of the feudal system, but it is necessary even with its imperfections. Jesus implied that one day we would know true ownership and that’s something to think about.

  5. Jay
    May 9, 2007

    I agree that property owners should fund the system that provides justice via taxes. I think we fully agree on this point. I also agree with your eschatological point.

    I disagree with the method of using property taxes, however, and believe the injustice that potentially (and actually) derives from such a system is nontrivial.

  6. Adrian Gallagher
    May 9, 2007

    In OZ we have Council rates that are based on the unimproved value of the land. This hits people in many ways.

    Way 1. Council used to provide the roads. Now a sub-division developer has to pay the council a one off fee for it to maintain what the developer puts in. (Or something like that.) This wacks up the cost of the land (and with it the initial unimproved “value”) which gets the council more income without yet actually supplying anything (except a bill to the developer).

    Way 2. Inflation. In the early 1980’s we considered $18k too much for a block of land. In about 1990 we bought a block for $73k and now it’s valued at about $200k. Fortunately we don’t get taxed a flat %age.

    Way 3. Re-classifying land. Land that can be used for commercial use pays higher rates. And the key word is “can”, not “is’. So as the commercial area expands lol’s (little old ladies) who have lived in the same house for 80 years suddenly have to pay (a lot) more for the privilege of living there.

    I’m with Jay on this one. God only asked for 10% of our increase once. He didn’t discriminately, repeatedly tax people on the value they got out of the 90% He’d left them with 20 years ago. (By discriminately I mean that if Jay bought a run down one room shack and blew the rest of his money in the stock market he’d pay less tax then he does now for provding his family with a comfortable place to live. He is being financially punished for being a caring father. I’ve yet to find where God says “that’s OK”).

    …adg

    P.S. I would have less aversion to such taxes it they were based on the last selling value. So I’d be taxed calculated on $73k. But the lol above who’s living in what is now a “comercial” area would have her tax caculated on what her dad or granddad paid for the place which would be less than $50. But when she leaves and if it’s sold the next person whould have tax caculated on the then land value etc.

  7. Adrian Gallagher
    May 9, 2007

    Oops, with no preview option I left bold on too long didn’t I!!! Only the word ONCE was meant to be highlighted.

  8. Jay
    May 9, 2007

    I closed the tag for you, Adrian.

    “repeatedly tax people on the value they got out of the 90% He’d left them with 20 years ago”

    I think this is probably the heart of the issue, particularly when the value attributed to the property gets assigned by the state.

    Let’s say the government needs a tax base of X. Okay, we might want to argue they should make do with less, but that’s a separate issue. I feel much more comfortable with taxes coming from increase rather than assets. Or at least deriving from ongoing economic activity. Thus, I’m more comfortable with a sales tax than property tax. A sales tax happens once. You don’t keep paying it year after year for each thing you bought.

  9. David Smith
    Sep 19, 2008

    Property taxes are extortion, it is irrelevant what you may or may not get from them. If a traditional criminal syndicate was demanding protection money, or they would throw you out of your house, at least if you paid them they would control crime. Our government can not even do that. What if this criminal syndicate provided schools and other benefits it would still be extortion. The very fact that the government threatens to throw you out of your house if you don’t pay them makes it extortion and what they use the money for is irrelevant to the definition of extortion. Morons who claim that the benefits of government nullify extortion are making one of the most common mistakes of logic and that is confusing the justification of something with what something is. If we were truly the owners of our homes it would be up to us if we wanted to mortgage our homes for government benefits. The very fact that we have no choice but to pay, even if we have no income, makes the government an organized criminal syndicate collecting extortion. This is a fact, the real debate should be if prohibiting the private ownership of property and denying the people their liberty is justified by the benefits we receive.

    If you want to understand the truth about our society I would recommend you read the book by Tomas Real entitled “If we free the slaves who will pick the cotton”