Hillel and the Tax Man

Hillel the Elder’s fame rests on his use of logic for deriving Talmudic law and this talent also relates to his three questions about Jewish moral behavior (see: “Avot” or “Ethics of the Fathers”, Chapter 1 verse 14). These questions are presented below. They are applicable to many attitudes and responses that individuals take and also pertain to the community at large. Amongst the public and social money matters, this includes the nations’ methods for taxation.

Although in practice it is not normal to base financial decision-making on Hillel’s three criteria, these aspects of our social status are significant when broadly considering the formation of our national income. In the following discussion, each of Hillel’s questions is examined and an answer provided, regarding our experiences and feelings when we are taxed. These responses help to explain the significance of this social obligation, so that the nature of the tax burden and the discharge of its responsibility on our community can be better appreciated and understood how to write a cause and effect essay.

The First Question: “If I am Not for Myself, Who is for Me?”

Mostly, people comply with their nation’s tax demands, without making it a subject for public outcry. This apathy boarders on hypocrisy, since as individuals these citizens do not readily accept the right of government to penalize each for his or her personal achievement. Indeed, it is only by coercion that tax payments are extracted from the employees’ hard-won wages, the family-purchasers’ goods and services, the businesses’ excesses of income-over-expenditure, the investment-companies’ yields, etc. This general remittance to the public purse results in the tax-payer having less purchasing-power or investment-ability. Then the tax burden seems to retard what otherwise would be a more viable, active and satisfying home life or business; whilst freedom from its duress would allow the tax-payers to enjoy a raised living standard.

This attitude is a natural reaction to the imposition of the tax and it is no surprise that many would-be tax-evaders search for ways where a reduction in or elimination of the tax payment may be possible. Both economically and emotionally we reluctantly accept our inability to resist this impersonal process of confiscating some of our wages or effective purchases. If we appear too willing to remit part of them, then we are seen as being weak and spineless. So Hillel’s first more-general and significant question is about who else will support a person or firm that fails to take full economic advantage of a business situation, if the originator is too bashful or incapable of standing-up for his or her opportunity-rights.

Such an approach falls within the limited subject of microeconomics of the family or company, where the competitive nature of the activity inhibits the expression of any human or social feelings outside of this small clan. Every businessman knows that he should aim to maximize the so-called profits. Economists and industrial psychologists alike, accept this simple egoistic ethic. In big companies, the cost of employing an effective legal team to by-pass the tax laws and avoid some of the payments can be considerably less than the sums that they would otherwise be obliged to render. Consequently, in industry, in politics and in nature too, the ability to compete results in the production of the most effective kind of output, the highest social standing or the finest quality of offspring. Except for family dues, any help given to weaker members of the human, animal or botanical community, reduces the security of the giver and dilutes the quality of the emerging produce, governing-power, species or genus.

However, this mercenary behavior carries with it a degree of short-sightedness. The planning of long-term changes is set aside from the more urgent competitive and instinctive needs of the day; indeed, the participants usually are unable to abandon their compulsion to succeed. As well as promoting their own product or activity, the temptation to harm a competitor cannot be ruled out. Until their struggles have managed to dominate a particular part of the market or business opportunity, these intending monopolists cannot relax nor look further ahead. But after the monopoly is established, this fierce competitive behavior is no longer needed.

Instead the monopolists may take advantage of the situation, since now they can concentrate on improving the product without having to strictly control its price. At this stage, how much the customer pays for the product is of less significance to the monopolists, because the consumer’s only alternative is to not purchase the goods item. Then the resulting price rise is generally accepted, provided that there is no chance for the product to be re-introduced by an entrepreneur, whose challenge of a lower price again would have to be contested.

Monopolies are in strong positions to avoid the taxes as compared to what smaller competing firms otherwise must pay. The monopolists can lobby or bribe politicians or even threaten regional collapse, when their organizations carry with them a sufficiently important sector of the economy. Instead of being burdened with the tax, they can claim subsidies from the governing power or purchase the patent rights to an improved technique or process, so as to suppress progress elsewhere and to protect their existing methods. The history of industrial growth and decline is full of such cases. Thus a variegated and prejudicial system for taxation of labor,produce, investment or gain and their material constraints, are closely related to the competitive element of business, which has the maximum exploitation of the market as it’s most basic and inherent goal.

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