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Cove⁠t⁠, Tax, & Red⁠i⁠s⁠t⁠r⁠i⁠bu⁠t⁠e

By: The James Madison Institute / May 6, 2010

The James Madison Institute

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May 6, 2010

By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
Recently, I was reading through the Book of Exodus, which is celebrated as one of the most fundamental books of all of the Judeo-Christian religions. Three of the Ten Commandments stood out to me that relate to today’s public policy debates:
“You shall not steal,”
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,” and
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…nor anything else that belongs to him.”
(Exodus 20: 15-17)
You shall not covet. In other words, you shall not desire the property of one another in an envious way. I thought to myself, right here, spelled out in the ancient text, understood to be God’s commandments to His people, is a strong word of caution against holding strong resentment for another’s property. In today’s public policy context, statists often find contempt of those who engage in the ownership society. “Tax the rich” is a common turn of phrase.When someone earns what is rightfully theirs, why do some people “covet” that property to such a degree that they want to tax and redistribute it to others? This violates the previous commandment I cited, “You shall not steal.” In The Law¸ Frederic Bastiat discusses the immorality of socialism because it allows government to do something that is illegal (and immoral) for individuals to engage in. Socialism legalizes theft, which is the act of forcefully taking from one and giving to another.Today, we have a moral problem in both our government and in our culture. The two realms are not mutually exclusive. It just amazed me to see that thousands of years ago in ancient texts we were warned of these two injustices (to steal and to covet) and commanded not to partake in them.