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60 Minutes Australia: "Cooking the Book of Mormon"


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4 hours ago, Analytics said:

I'll illustrate the point with a simple example. Say there is a society with two people--religious Rory and secular Steve. Rory and Steve each make $500 a year, so the total income of the society is $1,000.

The government of this society needs $100 a year to operate, or 10% of the total income. The baseline way of sharing the tax burden is everybody pays 10%. Rory pays $50 a year, and Steve pays $50 a year.

Say the government wants to provide a direct cash subsidy to Rory in the amount of $100 a month. To fund that, it would need to increase its total income by $100, so it would need to increase the tax rate to 20%. So in this direct cash subsidy example, Steve would pay $100 a year in taxes, Rory would pay $100 a year in taxes, so the government would receive a total of $200. It would then use $100 for its normal expenses, and would use the remaining $100 to pay Rory's subsidy. The net effect is that Steve pays a net $100 to the government and Rory pays $0 to the government.

The exact same after-tax result could be attained if we just decided Rory didn't have to pay any taxes--if Rory doesn't pay taxes, then Steve's tax bill is increased to cover it. For both Rory, Steve, and the government, the direct cash subsidy is financially equivalent to the tax break.

You just described to a T why Ensign Peak Advisors ought to be subject to those same rules. It makes billions in investment income every year, pays zero in taxes, and pays zero for any charity or religious purposes.

EPA continually asks what the money is to be used for so that they can invest the money appropriately. The Presiding Bishopric and First Presidency never gave them any guidance. That is why Roger Clarke speculated that it is being saved "for the second coming of Christ."

Mormon Church Reportedly Amassed $100 Billion Fund For ‘Second Coming Of Christ’ (forbes.com)

EPA is a separate organization. President Hinckley was getting nervous about how rich the church was getting, so it created EPA so that the Church could donate money to EPA and then look the membership and public in the eye and say the Church itself isn't hoarding money.

 

 

The one thing that the unbelievers will never understand (or in their arrogance and pride don’t want to understand) is if the prophecies concerning the upbuilding of Zion and the latter-day kingdom of God arising out of obscurity to become a new and mighty nation state are going to be fulfilled, it’s going to require a tremendous amount of capital and resources. The mere $100 billion we’re told that has been be accumulated thus far is only a small portion of what’s going to be needed to make possible the great promises of scripture concerning the triumph of the Church of Christ in the last days. If I were told that the Church has actually accumulated a trillion dollars in preparation for the mighty task that the Lord has commanded it to fulfill, I would think it’s not nearly enough.

If they survive the coming great tribulation of the last days, many of the cynical present-day unbelievers (if they’re being honest with themselves) will one day be constrained to have to admit that the Church funds were wisely administered to make possible an infinitely more glorious and  enduring purpose than futilely trying to save a rebellious, dying world that’s rapidly ripening in iniquity and soon to reach the point of no return. 

Edited by teddyaware
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3 hours ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

Can you explain the public utility gained from wealth accumulation?

By staying out of church affairs the government does it's part to make good on it's promise to "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise."

And there's a whole bunch of utility to be gained by living in a country which is able to live up to the promises outlined in its own Constitution.

 

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23 minutes ago, Amulek said:

Right. That's exactly what I was saying before. If I give my money to a charity today and they don't need the money in order to operate this year, their only choice under your preferred regime is to either spend those dollars on something they don't need right away or put those dollars into a coffee can under their bed, Great Depression-style. Because once they put my gift into an interest bearing vehicle, you are going to tax them on that money and deprive me of being able to let the recipient of my gift have the true value of my donation due to the depreciation of the dollar over time.

You do realize that the tax rate isn't 100%, right?

I am in fact describing the way the law already works for private foundations. A typical hedge fund might end up with an effective tax rate of 20%. So if it has $100 billion in assets and generates $10 billion in investment income, the tax would be 20% of $10 billion, or $2 billion. Granted, the hedge fund growing at an after-tax rate of 8% isn't as much as the tax-free rate of 10%, but an after-tax rate of 8% is categorically different than the "coffee can under their bed" that you are imagining.

Lots of people have brokerage accounts and pay taxes on investment income. And they invest anyway.

If a hedge-fund pretends it's a charity but doesn't do any charitable work, then it should be taxed as a hedge-fund, not a charity. If it wants to avoid taxes, just spend some of its money on something charitable. The law currently says 5%. Asking a "charity" with $100,000,000,000 in the bank and that makes $8,000,000,000 a year in income to spend a paltry $5,000,000,000 on doing some good in the world is a small ask in exchange for the tax-preferred status it somehow feels entitled to. 

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12 minutes ago, Amulek said:

By staying out of church affairs the government does it's part to make good on it's promise to "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise."

And there's a whole bunch of utility to be gained by living in a country which is able to live up to the promises outlined in its own Constitution.

 

Exactly. That is why the government should stop subsidizing the organizations that the IRS decides are religions.

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6 hours ago, Analytics said:
Quote

Why do you see EPA as a separate organisation being any different to if it was just fully integrated as part of the main church organisation?

EPA is a separate organization.

Apparently not.  See, e.g., this discussion by Sam Brunson (and others, including Lars Nielsen).

6 hours ago, Analytics said:

President Hinckley was getting nervous about how rich the church was getting, so it created EPA so that the Church could donate money to EPA and then look the membership and public in the eye and say the Church itself isn't hoarding money.

I am reminded of these thoughts by Krister Stendahl:

Quote

Stendahl is credited with creating Stendahl's three rules of religious understanding, which he presented in a 1985 press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in response to vocal opposition to the building of a temple there by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[9] His rules are as follows:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  2. Don't compare your best to their worst.
  3. Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

The "you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies" bit is particularly poignant when critics start to present speculative and hostile mindreading as established fact.

Thanks,

-Smac

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3 hours ago, Stargazer said:

Comparing the Church's "gaming" to those students' "gaming" in the way you did seems to suggest that you feel they are equivalent acts. Or am I missing something? Anyway, the term "gaming" is pejorative. Does this mean that you feel the Church's legal use of tax laws is equivalent to the students' no longer believing as they attend BYU? Which would make them ineligible to continue to attend, as I understand it, so they must "game" the system by not admitting their state of belief. I don't think these two situations are equivalent at all. Though I do feel that a member who loses his or her belief in the Church should not be kicked out of the school because of that.

One point in all this is that the Church pays for BYU as a benefit for members, and non-members are admitted on sufferance. If you're no longer a member, then it is questionable as to whether you should be there by right, or by sufferance. 

It is the case that non-members are welcome to attend BYU, if they agree to adhere to the honor code. They aren't required to believe. There was an interesting thread on Reddit that dealt with the question of attending as a non-Mormon. One person in the thread expressed a degree of concern for his last 7 months there because apparently he stopped believing not long before he graduated, and had to keep this quiet. But one non-member poster who attended BYU was quite enthusiastic about the school and his experience there. If you're interested, the Reddit thread is here.

Do you know what the exact questions are asked to remain at BYU?  I don't.  It might shed some light on this question.  I would like to know all the facts before I answer your question.

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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

Apparently not.  See, e.g., this discussion by Sam Brunson (and others, including Lars Nielsen).

I am reminded of these thoughts by Krister Stendahl:

The "you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies" bit is particularly poignant when critics start to present speculative and hostile mindreading as established fact.

Thanks,

-Smac

Missing first link, I believe. 

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3 hours ago, Analytics said:

You do realize that the tax rate isn't 100%, right?

Any rate other than zero cuts into the recipient's ability to access the full value of the original gift. 

Plus, who's to say what the tax rate will be in the future. Once the government gets involved it can set it to be whatever it likes, whenever it likes. Maybe they set it at around 7-8% to be in line with the corporate income tax rate. And then maybe the looming US deficit problems surface and the rates end up moving closer to what they've got in Australia - something closer to the 25-30% range. Or maybe even more. Quite a difference there.

No, keeping the government out of church affairs still seems like the best policy choice. 

 

3 hours ago, Analytics said:

I am in fact describing the way the law already works for private foundations.

I'm aware of how the law works for private foundations. Churches aren't private foundations though. 

 

Edited by Amulek
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1 hour ago, Amulek said:

Again, it isn't a subsidy to not tax an organization which is not part of the tax base to begin with. 

I'm starting to think you will never get this. Maybe it's time for me to take a break. 

 

It's not that difficult, I think. If the Church doesn't pay a tax, or pays at a lower rate, then it's a "subsidy." If Analytics or anyone else doesn't pay a tax, or pays a lower tax rate, then…. shut up.

 

Edited by smac97
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2 hours ago, california boy said:

Do you know what the exact questions are asked to remain at BYU?  I don't.  It might shed some light on this question.  I would like to know all the facts before I answer your question.

So would I, actually. I tried looking it up, but couldn't find anything. I may not have searched using the correct terms.

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8 hours ago, Analytics said:

Two brief points: First, many highly secular countries (e.g. Norway, Denmark, Netherlands) are much, much nicer in almost every way than many, many highly religious countries (Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria, Ghana); it isn't obvious that the "value" religion adds to society is a net positive.

Second, note that having this conversation in a rational manner concedes that the real foundation of ethics is humanism, not religion. After all, you did not say, "Every time a woman covers her face before going into public, a Sunday School lesson has been put into practice. When a busy mother refuses to drink coffee, the behavior was first learned in a sabbath lesson. When a refugee family is not allowed the rights of citizenship in their own country, the bigotry came from people who believe their god thinks they are superior than their non-Jewish neighbors. (Everything you need to know about human rights in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories - Amnesty International). You didn't refer to uniquely religious morals because by definition, morals that come only from religion are at best arbitrary and at worst are downright evil. The examples of religion teaching people to be better human beings are examples of religion teaching people to embrace the secular ethics of humanism. That's the best thing religion can do, but we don't need religion to do it.

As Steven Weinberg said, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion."

Let's not play the silly game of comparing the worst religious regimes with the best secular regimes. Because that game can be played pretty competitively from either direction. It's a fruitless comparison and does nothing more than to confirm our priors.

And I never claimed exclusivity either for the values instilled by religion or for the ability of relgions to instill those values. In fact, I specifically disavowed that notion. Whether religions have anything to offer beyond humanistic virtues is beyond the scope of the point I'm making; it's a discussion for another day.

My very narrow point in this discussion is simply this: even if a state can instill those values just fine without religous organizations to lend a helping hand, it will cost the state resources that could be spent on other priorities. A religion, though, will do that work at little to no cost to the government. So rather than spend finite resources on developing an ethics curriculum and hiring teachers, the state gets a sweet deal by just letting religions do their thing. Religious organizations that receive tax exempt status are not free loading off of society. 

 

Edited by Stormin' Mormon
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17 hours ago, JustAnAustralian said:

You didn't answer the question. IF the church brought the tasks that EPA performs back into the main church organisation...would you be ok with the church not paying taxes on the invested funds?

EPA is not a service organization that performs tasks for the Church. Rather, it is a charity in its own right (it claims that it is a public charity; I personally dispute that and think it is really a private foundation). Regardless, when the Church donates money to EPA, the money is on EPA's balance sheet, not the Church's. 

That being the case, I don't really understand your question. Are you asking me what would happen if the Church started to manage the money that it has already donated to the third-party charity EPA?

15 hours ago, Amulek said:

Any rate other than zero cuts into the recipient's ability to access the full value of the original gift. 

If I invest my after-tax money in the stock market, I need to pay taxes on my investment earnings. In your book, is that an egregious intrusion by the government that denies me "ability to access the full value" of the money that was already mine and that I already paid taxes on?

This comment really comes across as special pleading.

15 hours ago, Amulek said:

Again, it isn't a subsidy to not tax an organization which is not part of the tax base to begin with. 

The tax base includes:

1- The income people make. When you make part of that income tax deductible because they give the money to a church, the tax base is reduced.

2- Investment income. When church's or other non-profits buy stocks from tax-paying entities, the tax base is reduced.

3- Land. When a property-tax-paying entity sells land to a Church, the tax base is reduced.

15 hours ago, smac97 said:

It's not that difficult, I think. If the Church doesn't pay a tax, or pays at a lower rate, then it's a "subsidy." If Analytics or anyone else doesn't pay a tax, or pays a lower tax rate, then…. shut up.

Your first sentence is correct--it's not that difficult:

"Governments can create the same outcome through selective tax breaks as through cash payments. For example, if a government sends monetary assistance that reimburses 15% of all health expenditures to a group that is paying 15% income tax. Exactly the same subsidy is achieved by giving a health tax deduction. Tax subsidies are also known as tax expenditures.

"Tax breaks are often considered to be a subsidy. Like other subsidies, they distort the economy; but tax breaks are also less transparent, and are difficult to undo."

Subsidy - Wikipedia

If you'd prefer to attack me personally rather than talk about these basic economic principles, then please be specific. When did I ever say or imply anything like, " If Analytics or anyone else doesn't pay a tax, or pays a lower tax rate, then…. shut up."

Of course I haven't said anything the least bit hypocritical here. I'm talking about basic economics. I'm not making stuff up and selectively applying it to attack you. But I understand why you wouldn't want to address those basic economic principles and instead would want to attack me personally. I'd probably do the same thing in your shoes. As the cliche goes, if the facts are on your side pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, then pound the table.

Keep pounding Smac. Keep pounding. 

14 hours ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

Let's not play the silly game of comparing the worst religious regimes with the best secular regimes.

Okay. Then let's not play the silly game of ignoring all of the harm that religion does to the world.

14 hours ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

My very narrow point in this discussion is simply this: even if a state can instill those values just fine without religous organizations to lend a helping hand, it will cost the state resources that could be spent on other priorities. A religion, though, will do that work at little to no cost to the government.

Please remember the context of this. We are talking about religion doing what it does with a massive cost to the government in the form of government subsidizing religion.

13 hours ago, helix said:

What is your evidence for this?  Do you have any journals from Hinckley?  Are you psychic?  Are you simply that good at correctly deducing motives?

We know that on August 4, 1997, Time magazine published the cover story Mormons, Inc.

1101970804_400.jpg

We knew that it was 56 days later (September 29, 1997) when Ensign Peak Advisors was incorporated (see Appendix E for EPA's articles of incorporation). 

We know that more and more people and societies are demanding financial transparency from churches.

And we know the Mormon church is obsessed with being financially opaque.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to infer that EPA was created as a way of getting tens of billions off of the Church's balance sheet so that if it were required to disclose its finances, the Church would appear less wealthy than it really is.

13 hours ago, helix said:

Do you have any evidence that the First Presidency doesn't know what the money is to be used for and likewise told that to EPA?

Yes.

On page 9 of the Letter to an IRS Director, we learn that the whistleblower asked Roger Clarke, EPA's managing director, "'How has EPA never funded a prophetic initiative in the past 13 years, despite telling its employees that its role is firstly to do so?' Mr. Clarke responded by saying that he didn’t know what EPA would be used for and that he didn’t know whether the Lord would ever reveal what it would be used for to the Prophet. In the past couple of years, Mr. Clarke has started saying that this money would be used in the 'Second Coming.'"

Earlier in this conversation, you palpably got enthusiastic while speculating about what the Church could do with the money. If the leaders had a plan to do any of those things, why wouldn't they share the enthusiasm with the membership?

My personal suspicion is that they don't have the vision or the courage to actually do anything. Rather, they continue to live on 85% to 90% of the tithing income, year in and year out. That's it.

Speculations aside, we know that the investment managers need to know the purpose of the funds so they can invest it appropriately. This is what they all learned in excruciating detail at business school, continuing education, and in prior jobs. And we know the First Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric haven't told them the answer to that basic question that they need to do their jobs. So we are forced to ask ourselves which of the following is true: 

  1. Does the Church have a plan for the money, but refuses to share that plan with their own money managers who need to know the answer to that question to do their jobs?
  2. Or does the Church not have a plan, other than continuing the live-off-of-90%-of-tithing-revenue protocol that N. Eldon Tanner devised in the 1960's?

I don't think the Church are fools with their money, so I don't think #1 could be true. Therefore #2 is the only possibility.

Edited by Analytics
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6 hours ago, Analytics said:

 

Please remember the context of this. We are talking about religion doing what it does with a massive cost to the government in the form of government subsidizing religion.

 

According to your own biased source, religions in the U.S. receive a tax subsidy of $71 billion dollars, across all levels of government (federal, state, and local).

According to this neutral source, total government revenues across all levels of government is an estimated $8.22 trillion.

In other words, your "massive cost to the government" amounts to 0.9% of their revenue.  Not 9%.  Just that: 0.9%.  Hardly massive.

Color me unimpressed.  

Edited by Stormin' Mormon
edited: corrected the math from having misread the table in the article
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2 hours ago, Analytics said:
Quote

It's not that difficult, I think. If the Church doesn't pay a tax, or pays at a lower rate, then it's a "subsidy." If Analytics or anyone else doesn't pay a tax, or pays a lower tax rate, then…. shut up.

Your first sentence is correct--it's not that difficult:

And yet, here we are.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

"Governments can create the same outcome through selective tax breaks as through cash payments. For example, if a government sends monetary assistance that reimburses 15% of all health expenditures to a group that is paying 15% income tax. Exactly the same subsidy is achieved by giving a health tax deduction. Tax subsidies are also known as tax expenditures.

"Tax breaks are often considered to be a subsidy. Like other subsidies, they distort the economy; but tax breaks are also less transparent, and are difficult to undo."

Subsidy - Wikipedia

You are criticizing the status quo by characterizing the government as "subsidizing" the Church as a religious organization (because it pays less in taxes).

Everyone with two brain cells to rub together utilizes "tax breaks."  Including, I strongly suspect, yourself.  And yet I don't see you complaining about the government "subsidizing" you, nor have I seen you declare that you do not itemize tax deductions or take any other steps to lower your tax burden.

So, yeah.  Special pleading.  "It's not wrong when I do it because shut up."

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

If you'd prefer to attack me personally

I am critiquing your argument.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

rather than talk about these basic economic principles, then please be specific. When did I ever say or imply anything like, " If Analytics or anyone else doesn't pay a tax, or pays a lower tax rate, then…. shut up."

All.  The.  Time.

Every time you raise this "subsidy" criticism.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

Of course I haven't said anything the least bit hypocritical here.

Sure seems like it.  When the Church uses the tax laws to lessen its tax burden, the government is "subsidizing" it.  When anyone else does the same thing - including yourself - there is nary a peep from you about the government "subsidizing" anything.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

I'm talking about basic economics.

Via the "special pleading" fallacy.  Over and over and over again.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

I'm not making stuff up

I am not saying you are.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

and selectively applying it to attack you.

You are selectively applying to the Church the tax-breaks-are-"subsidies" characterization.  And not to yourself, nor to anyone else that I can see.

2 hours ago, Analytics said:

But I understand why you wouldn't want to address those basic economic principles and instead would want to attack me personally.

Can you bring us up to speed on your side hustle?  The "Skinning Puppies for Fun and Profit" thing?  How have your revenues been?

(This is the part of the discussion where we exchange false accusations through loaded terms, right?)

Thanks,

-Smac

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5 hours ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

According to your own biased source, religions in the U.S. receive a tax subsidy of $7.2 billion dollars, across all levels of government (federal, state, and local).

The research I cited said the following:

"While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion—to the tune of about $71 billion every year."

I don't know where you got $7.2 billion. The number is $71 billion. But you are right, as their article explains, the methods they used were conservative and thus the $71 billion subsidy is biased down.

5 hours ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

According to this neutral source, total government revenues across all levels of government is an estimated $8.22 trillion.

In other words, your "massive cost to the government" amounts to 0.09% of their revenue.  Not 9%.  Not 0.9%.  Just that: 0.09%.  Hardly massive.

Color me unimpressed.  

A $71 billion subsidy spread across a population of 330 million is $215 for every man, woman, and child per year. In your world view, having the government charge the average family of four $860 a year to pay for religions they don't believe and help televangelists purchase multi-million dollar mansions isn't a problem? Wow.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

And yet, here we are.

You are criticizing the status quo by characterizing the government as "subsidizing" the Church as a religious organization (because it pays less in taxes).

You clearly don't understand my argument.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

Everyone with two brain cells to rub together utilizes "tax breaks."  Including, I strongly suspect, yourself.  And yet I don't see you complaining about the government "subsidizing" you, nor have I seen you declare that you do not itemize tax deductions or take any other steps to lower your tax burden.

Since you want to talk about me, let's talk about me. My health insurance premiums are paid by my company with pre-tax dollars. But this isn't the government subsidizing me. It is the government subsidizing the health insurance industry. Saying it is a health insurance subsidy and not Analytics subsidy isn't arbitrary. The reason those expenses are tax deductible is because the government likes health insurance. It isn't because the government likes me and gives me a special break because it thinks I'm special.

Is the government subsidizing health insurance premiums a problem? Yes! The healthcare industry and the health insurance industry that finances it have been utter failures at keeping Americans healthy and keeping costs down. I could probably write a book on this topic, and perhaps I will someday. But that is off topic for here, which is why I won't say anything more about it here

Another big subsidy I get is taxes being deferred on my retirement savings. I don't have a big problem with the government subsidizing retirement savings because the government does have a vested interest in its citizenry having some savings to help fund retirement. But I do think it is misguided to let IRA's and 401(k)'s grow tax-deferred after they are large (e.g. I'd probably cut it off the subsidy on investment income on balances over $1 million). In other words, the government should subsidize people with middle incomes to get a decent nest egg. But it shouldn't be subsidizing the wealthy to save even more.

What else. I'm thinking of installing some solar panels in the spring. The government appropriately subsidizes clean energy production. No shame there.

The government subsidizes the food that is grown around me in a pretty substantial way. Again, I think this is misguided. It shouldn't subsidize the crop that produces corn syrup and feeds the beef that's used for 99-cent hamburgers. Rather, it should be subsidizing fresh vegetables. The government should subsidize healthy food, not the food that makes us sick.

The government subsidizes various charities I donate money to in the form of making the contributions tax deductible. I'd be quite willing to have a grownup conversation about which charities do enough of a public good to deserve being subsidized with tax deductions and which ones do not.

The mortgage on my house is tax deductible. I think subsidizing home loans is bad policy. I'd be okay with subsidizing home ownership, but I do have a big problem with subsidizing home debt.

I took out a pretty big "Plus" loan to finance my daughter going to a private college (I could easily afford to pay for her college; I just had a cash flow issue and needed the loan). The interest on the loan would normally be deductible, but for me it was not because my income crossed an upper threshold. I did not receive that deduction for those interest payments, and I'm not complaining about not receiving that particular subsidization. 

What else. The government subsidizes having children through tax exemptions and credits. I think that is great and would be in favor of increasing these subsidies.

In all these cases, tax breaks are subsidies for engaging in certain activities--growing and buying stuff with corn, borrowing money that is collateralized by a house, buying health insurance, saving for retirement, donating to charity, raising children, etc. Some of the subsidies are bad policy, and some of them are good policy. I'm totally willing to have a grownup discussion about that.

As part of that grownup conversation, subsidizing religion because it is religion is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause. Subsidizing churches necessitates the IRS defining which "churches" are endorsed by the government as being government-approved churches that are thus worthy of government subsidization, and which ones are not. That IRS activity is not constitutional. 

Just as I have no hope of the tax code being fixed to eliminate the subsidization of the mortgage industry, I have no hope of the tax code being fixed to eliminate the subsidization of the religion industry. Some things that are bad for us are popular and are ingrained in our brains as being essential to our way of life. 

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

So, yeah.  Special pleading.  "It's not wrong when I do it because shut up."

You have a cynical imagination. I never said nor implied anything like that.

3 hours ago, smac97 said:

I am critiquing your argument.

You are inventing things out of thin air that have nothing to do with my argument. 

 

Edited by Analytics
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28 minutes ago, Analytics said:

The research I cited said the following:

"While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion—to the tune of about $71 billion every year."

I don't know where you got $7.2 billion. The number is $71 billion. But you are right, as their article explains, the methods they used were conservative and thus the $71 billion subsidy is biased down.

You are correct.  I misread the table.  It is a $71 billion subsidy.  I will edit my response to reflect this correction.  But that just moves the decimal on my response one spot to the left.  That number is equivalent to 0.9% of total government revenues per year.  Still very far from "massive." 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

That IRS activity is not constitutional. 

Uh. . .

Actually, it is.   When every court in the nation agrees something is constitutional then it pretty much is, by definition. 

Maybe someday the courts will change their minds and it will become unconstitutional, but until then, it is. 

 

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1 hour ago, Analytics said:

A $71 billion subsidy spread across a population of 330 million is $215 for every man, woman, and child per year. In your world view, having the government charge the average family of four $860 a year to pay for religions they don't believe and help televangelists purchase multi-million dollar mansions isn't a problem? Wow.

 

 

I think we can both agree that the purchase of multi-million dollar mansions for televangelists should not be subsidized by that hard-working taxpaying family of four.  But surely it's not the case that the entirety, or even the majority, or even any sizeable portion of that supposed $71 billion subsidy is being used for that purpose.  To imply otherwise is a bad faith argument.

Surely, your disdain for religion can allow for the fact that much of that religious subsidy goes towards food banks, employment centers, soup kitchens, hospitals, elderly transport, and so much more.  Yes, it goes towards evangelizing and spreading messages not everyone believes in.  But if the tax-free status of religions in America isn't an unmitigated good, neither is it an unmitigated blight. It's worth debating the cost-benefit of the arrangement. That debate would need to examine what good comes out of the supposed subsidy to churches, and compare that to the cost the government would incur if it tried to replicate those benefits on its own. Our family of four may be freed from subsidizing religions to the tune of $860 per year, but how much more in taxes would they then need to pay in order to receive the services that they no longer receive from those faith-based organs of civil society?  

 

 

 

Edited by Stormin' Mormon
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14 minutes ago, Danzo said:

Uh. . .

Actually, it is.   When every court in the nation agrees something is constitutional then it pretty much is, by definition. 

Maybe someday the courts will change their minds and it will become unconstitutional, but until then, it is. 

That's an uninteresting point and is designed to avoid dealing with my actual arguments.

Edited by Analytics
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5 hours ago, Analytics said:

EPA is not a service organization that performs tasks for the Church. Rather, it is a charity in its own right (it claims that it is a public charity; I personally dispute that and think it is really a private foundation).

Regardless, when the Church donates money to EPA, the money is on EPA's balance sheet, not the Church's. 

Ensign Peak Advisors is a non-profit corporation which is organized as a Supporting Organization and an Integrated Auxiliary of a Church.

That means it is both operated and controlled by its supported organization (i.e., the church). So stop trying to make it sound like it's this whole other thing - it isn't. It's simply a legal fiction which exists to support the organization's desired corporate structuring.

 

5 hours ago, Analytics said:

That being the case, I don't really understand your question. Are you asking me what would happen if the Church started to manage the money that it has already donated to the third-party charity EPA?

I'm not @JustAnAustralian, but I'm pretty sure he means this: If, rather than creating EPA to handle the church's investments, they simply continued to do all of that investing in-house under the organization of the Corporation of the President (just like they used to), would you still have a problem with that? Or, perhaps put another way, do you think all churches ought to pay taxes on their investments?

 

5 hours ago, Analytics said:

If I invest my after-tax money in the stock market, I need to pay taxes on my investment earnings. In your book, is that an egregious intrusion by the government that denies me "ability to access the full value" of the money that was already mine and that I already paid taxes on?

This comment really comes across as special pleading.

Only because you clearly don't understand how income tax works.

When you invest your after tax dollars and purchase, say, a share of Apple Inc. you are now a shareholder / stakeholder / (very) partial owner of Apple Inc. As such, you are entitled to receive any dividends that Apple pays out and, eventually, when you sell that stock you will be able to use the resulting proceeds for your own personal benefit. As such the IRS considers that money to be taxable income.

That's not how it works with churches and other non-profit organizations though. And it's like a category mistake to think otherwise.

To begin with, non-profit organizations aren't allowed to distribute money to individual stakeholders. They have to use all of the money they receive for charitable purposes. And if they ever close down they have to give all of their remaining money away to other NPO's. Also, since charities don't have any net income (the majority of their funding originates from gifts) they never have to pay tax on unearned income regardless of where it originates from (e.g., donations, grants, investment income, etc.).

When you give money to a charity, they ought to be able to use that money to advance the charitable purpose for which they were organized. So, if you give money to your church and they don't need it this year - but they've got a really old HVAC system that they know could go out in the next year or two - they may decide to save some of that money for future use. So they put that money into an interest bearing vehicle for the time being in order to preserve the value of the money they have been given. Taxing that money after it accrues interest robs the church of being able to use the full value of the charitable donation. And that's one of the reasons why churches don't pay tax on investment income.

 

5 hours ago, Analytics said:

The tax base includes:

1- The income people make. When you make part of that income tax deductible because they give the money to a church, the tax base is reduced.

2- Investment income. When church's or other non-profits buy stocks from tax-paying entities, the tax base is reduced.

3- Land. When a property-tax-paying entity sells land to a Church, the tax base is reduced.

1 - Yes, the tax base includes income tax, and churches are excluded from that because they don't have any net income. If you want to complain about the IRS giving deductions to individual taxpayers for donating to churches you are welcome to do so, but it doesn't have anything to do with taxing churches. Also, please be advised that if you plan on changing the tax law to exclude individual deductions for churches and other religious non-profits, be prepared to treat all of those secular non-profits you like so much exactly the same. Is that what you want?

2 - I think you are confusing "tax base" with "tax revenue." Churches are exempt from income tax so they aren't part of the tax base to begin with. And it doesn't matter how much money they make because the government doesn't have a "money tax," it has an income tax. And again, if you want to start taxing investment income on churches, be prepared to start taxing all other secular non-profits the same. Is that what you want? 

3 - Not sure how this one got dragged into the discussion. Property tax is a state / local issue and doesn't have anything to do with the federal tax base at all. That being said, nothing theoretically prevents states from authorizing local taxation of non-profits’ land and buildings. In terms of tax theory, property taxes hew closely to the benefit principle, where tax liability is roughly in proportion to the value of government services received by the property owner. So one could make an argument that some amount of tax ought to be paid even by non-profits. Still, it's probably best to keep in mind that, in most places, the NPO's with the largest real estate footprint are going to be hospitals and universities who (spoiler alert) are just going to pass those taxes on as overhead to (guess who) taxpayers. From a local tax perspective, there very will might be a net benefit - especially, say, in places like SLC where there are significant church holdings or in highly developed urban locations like NYC where churches sometimes sit on some awfully prime land (e.g., downtown Manhattan) - but that's not necessarily guaranteed, and I'm skeptical that it would be universal. It would also be very difficult to gather the political will to get the law to change on the matter seeing as how many states have these exemptions written into their Constitutions.

 

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