Your Tax Dollars At Work


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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83 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Regarding the collection plate: I know that most parishioners that give to churches now don’t use the plate. Most now have parishioners declare at the beginning of the year how much they plan on giving for the year, and send in regular checks. My wife’s episcopal church is in a fairly upper-middle class part of Portland, and if you go o a service the collection plates are near empty – but the total amount of money most families give each month is really huge.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    I certainly find all of this somewhat chafing as I watch the Catholic Church here in Minnesota leading the charge in their anti-SSM advocacy (including hectoring captive student audiences to deliver their anti-SSM message back to their parents*). Nor am I particularily charmed when the Mormons parachute in as is their wont with big checks to fund their buddies over at NOM.

    But, despite that, on balance I don’t see much merit in tinkering the tax exempt thing. It’d ignite a firestorm, it’s not that much dough on a national level and it strikes me as mostly “not broke” and thus not in need of fixing.

    *The Catholics have been pretty upset over how much blowback they get from the younguns in those assemblies, god(ess?) luv those crazy kids.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I’m not really calling to change tax-exempt status in this post, although it does concern me. What I’m calling for is a greater understanding of how public money moves through the Church and what the Church uses it to do. Doesn’t seem to me that we’re particularly well-informed about that, and if more than half of the operational outlays of the church are tax dollars, as I tentatively conclude, I think we deserve to be. Once we have better information, then we can use it to consider potential policy changes.Report

      • Avatar BradK says:

        Great posting as always, Burt. I regret not having the time read every one.

        As a precursor to any review or reconsideration of how public monies are distributed to the RCC, I would think a more open, transparent reporting structure should be put in place first to quantify the status quo. That even such a resource as The Economist has to largely guess at this is more than a bit disturbing. Government usually micromanages each and every penny it pays out to its contractors, why not the RCC?

        Another consideration is that government really comprises at three different levels: municipal, state, and Federal. Is there ever any reconning or reconciliation between the three levels to determine an actual bottom line to how much recompense the RCC collectively rakes in? As you suggest, it’s likely much much greater than is generally realizedReport

        • Avatar North says:

          The thing to keep in mind BradK is that the lions share of the money we’re discussing is not, as a practical matter, disbursed to the RCC. Rather much of this is money the RCC has that we simply do not collect from them as taxes etc. That makes it very different from other government supported organizations.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          who’s to say they’re guessing? wouldn’t be the first time a hacker got something released, that was just a “good guess”Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

        I know that dioceses and parishes release annual reports showing (albeit in limited detail) how much money came in and where the money was spent, but I haven’t heard whether or not Catholic universities and hospitals do the same.

        What sort of policy changes do you imagine might be appropriate?Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Dunno. I haven’t thought it through to that point yet. North raises a good point above that tinkering with property tax exemptions may do a lot more harm than good. Maybe nothing; the work that these entities do is good. Really, all I’m asking for here is sunshine and maybe a low whistle at the volume of money involved.Report

  3. Avatar Anderson says:

    Loves the way this piece examines the interconnectivity between institutions of society. For alot of folks, they go, “Church=private, Government=public, end of story.” Alas, if only life had such brightly colored lines. Interesting to note, too, how much of public support to the RCC comes via the submerged state of tax breaks and deductions; which make accounting transparency that much harder to ascertain.

    Not that I see a huge problem in any of this support, given that the RCC is one of the biggest institutions in civil society and will inevitably work with the gov as it distributes services and owns property at a large scale. The main way I can see your point tying into contemporary political discourse is how people talk about Catholic Charities being coerced when it comes to social stances like contraception…Well, maybe there is a bit of coercion going on, but, like you argue here, there will be coercion b/c the RCC is more of a quasi-public institution than a truly private one.Report

  4. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “It seems safe to conclude that the bulk of the money moving through the hospitals and other healthcare-dispensing arms of the Church is derived, in some fashion or other, from tax dollars.”

    I go to church. I work at a metal-recycling plant. The metal recycled by the plant is used by a machine shop. The machine shop makes a part that was ordered by a large company. The large company assembles the part into a box which was ordered by a defense contractor. The defense contractor is paid for all this by the government, and that money gets filtered down the chain all the way to me, and I donate some of it to the church.

    Therefore, for the government to not support religion, I can’t have a job.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Ah yes well by your tortured example here DD; there’s no such thing as private enterprise in this country or any country because the government is involved at some degree of seperation or another.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Even apart from the RCC, this is a point not uncommonly made by our friends on the left and quite genuinely at that. No matter who you are, you owe fealty to the crown seeing as how you drive on public roads and live in the economy that the crown provides. Pay up and shut up and all that.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Yeah your center leftists do tend to say stuff like “you couldn’t achieve what you do without contributions from those who came before you and everyone who put something into the societal infrastructure you enjoy so you probably should give back to society in proportion to what you’re getting out of it.” And agreed, there’s your rare winger who says that it all should belong to the state.

          But, I haven’t heard any American lefties refer to the government as the crown before? Most leftists aren’t big on the Monarchy (myself excluded).Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Fealty, crown, shut up….ummm no, not really at all. Its more like the gov does stuff so we need to pay taxes. Some people, given our budget problems, may need to pay more taxes. Oh and some of the stuff the gov does is important, the Common’s , public goods, and other crap like that.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

            Greg, I am much more comfortable with that reasoning. That we simply have a collective welfare and that taxes are the price we pay for that.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

          “The Crown” was my touch, to be sure. I consider the debts we are alleged to acrue to the government to be a little disturbing framing of the issue, even if I don’t disagree that taxes and such are required.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            I can how some people might go overboard with debts to the gov. I can believe it happens, but i see a lot more going too far the other direction. We have an entire party that is somewhere between drown the gov all the way over to privitize it with a stop at GOV IS EVVIIIILLL. And then we have market liberals who want a market with gov safety nets and regs.Report

        • I am probably one of those leftists liberals, although my modification on it is to widen the net and say everyone benefits to some degree from what others have done, with “others” including the government but also non-governmental and semi-governmental actors/institutions have done.

          It’s actually part of how I justify–to myself at least–progressive taxation, redistributive policies, and safety nets. (Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to go overboard and embrace regulation for the sake of embracing regulation. I’m very concerned that the policy preferences I preference actually work.)

          So, in sum, I guess as far as I am representative, you’re right when you say “this is a point not uncommonly made by our friends on the left and quite genuinely at that….”Report

          • “with “others” including the government but also non-governmental and semi-governmental actors/institutions have done.”

            Of course, here’s another example of my mastery of the English language. Don’t read what I write, read what I mean.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            At least one problem I have with this is that if you consider things that the government and society has done for you a debt, you also have to look at the things you were prevented by government and society as a credit. It doesn’t seem right to say “You couldn’t have done this without public schools” and then to say “Well, you took a risk when you went into the e-cigarette business. Just because government action made profits on your investment impossible, doesn’t mean you are owed anything.”

            The government giveth, and the government taketh away. It has to be thus. We should not be indifferent to who the government is giving to and taking away from, but I think an accounting system or the illusion thereof* is highly problematic.

            * – An obvious exception would be something where the terms of the accounting are specified, such as a loan or whatnot.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Has anybody ever said there was a specfic accounting system or way to figure out exactly who owes what to who? I don’t know. If anybody has then i can’t see how it would work. Which i guess is where there is rub. I would say gov giveth through various ways but there is no way to calculate exactly how much someone gained from roads, internet, gov funded research, gps, etc.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                If there were a strict accounting system, that would make things easier! Instead, it’s “Hey, you wouldn’t have accomplished this if not for that” with the implication that you owe back some degree of your success. Given the inability to tap how much is owed for what, the lack of any real accounting system (such is impossible), the vague and open-endedness of the incurred debt is part of what makes me flinch. You could use it to justify any tax amount under that moral tent. I know, I know, nobody is talking about 100%. It’s the logic itself I am criticizing rather than the purported aims. I think tax rates should be higher. Not, however, because of incurred debt (for which there is no way to account).Report

            • I should say I don’t consider it a “debt” so much as I consider it a bulwark against the argument that “the better off don’t owe much simply because they’re better off..” I operate under the assumption/premise that the better off are better off in large part because of the contributions by others, and the fact that these contributions have been made suggests they (the better off) are not exempt from paying more.

              I see it more as a conceptual way to get to get to where Greginak is going when he says “Some people, given our budget problems, may need to pay more taxes. Oh and some of the stuff the gov does is important, the Common’s , public goods, and other crap like that.”

              But your concerns are legitimate. I just draw the line more quickly in favor of government.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                My response to “the better off don’t owe much simply because they’re better off..” is that it’s not about how much we owe, it’s about how we can contribute. It is in everyone’s best interest to have a functioning civil society. If nothing else, it keeps social unrest at a minimum. Beyond that, though, we all need to invest in our society and it’s an unavoidable truth that some have more to invest than others – and, frankly, more of an inherent investment in the continued advancement of society. Which, of course, requires a strong foundation.

                A lot of people won’t buy this, but I think the people that won’t also will not buy the debt argument (even though I know that’s not the word you would prefer use).Report

              • “Beyond that, though, we all need to invest in our society and it’s an unavoidable truth that some have more to invest than others – and, frankly, more of an inherent investment in the continued advancement of society. ”

                I actually think this is very close to where I am. At any rate, thanks for your thoughtful responses.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Understood that title to money transfers at various points while the money circulates in the economy.

      Nevertheless, the Federal government puts strings on how money it pays to (e.g.) Lockheed gets spent. For instance, X percentage of it must be paid out to WBE, MBE, or DVBE subcontractors; materials suppliers must be pre-approved; Lockheed must implement particular kinds of EEO policies above and beyond the minimum standards required by law when working on a government contract. It audits Lockheed, with some frequency and scrutiny, to ensure that Lockheed complies with the government’s instructions for how the money is used — even if title to the money rests with Lockheed and not Uncle Sam.

      Why should the RCC be any less vulnerable to that sort of thing than Lockheed?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Note: the title to money often circulates after the money has been traded…
        (nb. not a lawyer)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Why should the RCC be any less vulnerable to that sort of thing than Lockheed?

        Well, nothing. Where this makes me a bit queasy is the extent to which “The government pays you for X, therefore the government gets a degree of control over operations that do not directly pertain to X.” I resist the notion that a contractor (or church) who does work for the government becomes a more public entity.

        I mean, if my wife accepts Medicaid patients for delivering babies, does that make her practice of medicine a greater degree of public interest? Maybe so, maybe not. If the government is paying her to deliver babies – on a per-delivery basis – then the government can make demands on how she delivers babies for sure, but I don’t think that makes her any more of a “public entity.”Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Oh, and I did like your post, Burt. You bring to attention a lot of things that we ought to be mindful of. You are also very fair in your analysis. I am just wary of “Public funds? Public entity!” logic. Not that you are advocating as such. I will cop to being hyper-sensitive to it.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          But anyone in business has complete authority to decline to offer businesses and services to the government if they do not like the strings that come attached with the payments. So why should this make you queasy?Report

          • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

            Other businesses can’t pass laws giving itself more business with which to throw its weight around. I’m not saying strings can never be attached, but I expect a degree of judiciousness that I don’t expect so much from private businesses. Especially if you want me to get on board with bigger gov’t.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Hmm I don’t follow, sorry. Lockheed doesn’t need to sell to the government; it chooses to because that’s some big contracts. I’m not aware that governments have ever had much need to pass laws to get themselves more companies willing to sell to them. People have always been lined up around the block for the government contract.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

                North, governments create their own budget in a way that businesses don’t. That changes the context in which they influence behavior with their pursestrings. The government can declare tomorrow that everybody gets Medicare and suddenly so much of the healthcare goes through the govt that they have extraordinary leverage. It’s less straightforward for a company to do so (and the government may step in the way if it were successful).

                (This may be more contentious, but I would argue that defense spending has actively soaked up resources that, absent defense spending being what it is, might have created opportunity elsewhere for the engineers we have a shortage. Lockheed may not depend on govt contracts – not sure that’s true, actually – but the scenarios would be much different but for the scenario the govt itself created. Again, making their own business.)Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                “…but I would argue that defense spending has actively soaked up resources that, absent defense spending being what it is, might have created opportunity elsewhere for the engineers we have a shortage.”

                Off on a tangent here…

                Assuming that there’s a missing “of” at the end of that sentence, I would enjoy having you put up a piece explaining why you think we have a shortage of engineers. I know that the politicians love to claim that we have a shortage of STEM students, and that the CEOs at certain large tech companies like to say that they can’t hire engineers, but I know too many unemployed engineers to believe that there’s a real shortage. The CEOs in particular seem to leave a variety of conditions out of their statements, ie: “We can’t hire enough engineers at the wage we want to pay“; or “We don’t want to invest in ongoing development of new skills for our technical staff like we did 30 years ago”; or “We don’t want to provide anything like a guarantee of stable long-term employment for people who spend a lot of time, sweat, and money finishing a difficult major”; or even “We only want to hire engineers where someone else has paid for the industry-specific training, and have therefore quit hiring engineers straight out of school”.

                I’ll shut up now, but think it would create an interesting discussion.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Fair enough. In the current economy, I should be more careful before saying that we have a shortage of just about anything this side of doctors and nuclear engineers.

                However, as far as the job market goes, however suboptimal it is for engineers, it tends to be far better than for most jobs. STEM is a pretty big oversimplification, especially with that S and that M. Even technology and engineering are pretty wide and varied, but largely seem to be doing comparatively well. Add to that the fact that we’re importing a lot of people for these jobs, and I think it’s safe to say that we have a broad need for engineers.

                As far as employers being over-entitled dopes, I agree.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                It’s not that tough as a math major. Just threaten that if you don’t get the programming job, you’ll go to Wall Street and design new trading algorithms.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Yes I agree with all of this. But again strings are acceptable in my mind, if anything they’re desirable. Anything that selling to the government a bigger hassle strikes me as helpful since it should ceteris parabus discourage people from seeking government contracts. This boils down to “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. If you don’t like the strings that come with government work then pack your bag and head out the door. No one is forcing anyone to sell to the government.

                Especially when it comes to things like religious government entanglements I am strongly unsympathetic to the “we don’t like the strings that come with your money” line of arguement. If you don’t like the strings then don’t chase the money. If because the government is paying for what you do you have to do it in ways you don’t like or for people you don’t like well tough. The government isn’t like a normal customer and if you don’t like that they get your snout out of the public’s trough.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:


                If you missed it, see also my comment at 5:57.

                An aggressive adherence to “He who pays the piper calls the tune” is a recipe for increase in government scope being as antithetical to freedom as some say it is. It means that the power of the government grows with every dollar that goes through it. Not just the power to spend, but the power to use that spending to advance wider agenda.

                Want me to sign on to single-payer? Don’t tell me that you’re going to use it to pressure providers into doing what you want or not doing what you don’t want.

                Want me to try to keep government spending to a minimum? Tell me you’re going to hold the spending over the heads of everyone who receives it (even if they provided a good or service in exchange for it).Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I’m sympathetic (in that I think excessive government sprawl can be a problem) but of the reverse opinion. If government money comes with onerous strings that makes government money a less appealing prospect.

                That said I think that the question of strings attached to government money is tinkering at the margins either way. Government spending/size of government issues will be constrained by budgeting discipline or the end of the tolerance of the population to endure the inefficiencies and costs of government spending or size. Whether strings come with any given spending program or not I’m deeply skeptical that it will have a significant or even material impact on the amount of spending or the size of government.

                I will reiterate again that no one in this country (and certainly no businesses or religions) to my knowledge are compelled to take government money.* That means that any strings government wants to imposed are automatically severable and thus of very limited impact on your freedom. Don’t like the rules that come with the dough? Stop taking the dough.

                I don’t want to imply that I’m in favor of all strings; I’m not. They can impose more costs than they yield benefits and I’m sure there’re tons of them that fit that description. But I just don’t like this idea that strings are automatically a problem. Especially when it comes to things that involve religion or discrimination. Government money comes from every person that lives within government jurisdiction regardless of creed, race etc. That means that people should be able to expect that if they’re paying for some service or some amenity and the return on that payment is access to said service or amenity then that service or amenity should be open to everyone who’s paying for it. That means that if the governments paying for your gazebo then you should expect any member of the public to have a right to equal access to your gazebo. If you wanna make sure Muslims or Gays or Catholics can’t get into your Gazebo then you’re gonna have to give up the government dough.

                *though we get close with things like social security but in that case the money is taken and later it’s returned with interest. As strings go that’s pretty much it.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The more reliant we make people on federal funds, the larger the government and the more sectors of the economy it involves itself in, the greater the disadvantage there is to not accepting government funds. And as such, I don’t think it would actually provide that much of a disincentive.

                If Company A takes government contracts and Company B doesn’t, then Company A is actually in better shape for a private-sector bid because they have the money and capital raised from the government contract. Company B is at a competitive disadvantage.

                Likewise, if the government goes with Medicare-for-all, okay a physician doesn’t have to take the money, but the government has sucked a lot of money out of the private health care industry and increased its own leverage considerably. This is seen as a benefit when it comes to cost reductions and is touted as some (I actually think this is greatly exaggerated, but I’ll go with it because it is believed by people generally of the liberal persuasion). The use of this leverage for other means, such as providing abortions or not providing abortions or making sure that they don’t smoke, is very concerning to me. And not particularly fair, since the government created the situation where they need the government to begin with.

                As mentioned below, I am sympathetic to the view that if you want to open a public pool and get funding for it then you can’t discriminate. That’s in large part because a pool that is open to all people is what we want to be funding. I don’t support, however, saying that since you don’t let Muslims use your own church’s pool, we’re going to pull funding for the mammograms you are providing. Yet “He who pays the piper calls the tune” allows for that.

                To take gay adoptions and the RCC, I don’t mind so much saying “If you are going to discriminate against who you adopt kids to you can’t get federal funding” because we are funding adoption agencies and not a straight adoption agencies. From there it’s a question of whether or not we’re better for the help of the discriminating agency or worse for it. If we’re worse for it, by all means: they are not providing a service that is acceptable to us. However, if we find that the service is acceptable to us, then we have provided money and they have provided a service and the transaction is complete and it’s not right to hold it over their heads or use that as an instrument of control in other respects.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                That strikes me as an excellent argument for restricting the amount of government involvement in things there is. It doesn’t, however, strike me as much of an argument against attaching conditions to government funding. This is because I do not see the attachment of strings to government funding to be strongly correlated to the prevalence of government funding being available to involve itself in various stuff.

                If Company A takes government contracts and Company B doesn’t I see no effect from whether Company A is advantaged over Company B. If the government funding has no strings or inconsequential strings attached then Company A is advantaged and Company B probably will try and get in on the government action. If the strings on the government funding are so onerous as to make it undesirable to be providing this service to the government the Company A will jump out and be on even footing with Company B.

                The universal Medicare example is single payer and questions about what is in essence single payer strike me as incidental. Government cannot and will not just toss the money to private contractors and say “go nuts”. Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that single payer systems are a bad idea; maybe single payer systems aren’t. This again strikes me as incidental to the question of strings.

                We’re pretty much in agreement on the public service issue. Where I’m a touch confused is the “I don’t support, however, saying that since you don’t let Muslims use your own church’s pool, we’re going to pull funding for the mammograms you are providing.” part.
                Has this been a common issue? My own reading on the matter has been that the funding that’s typically threatened is the funding associated with the controlled service in question. I’ll add, though, that I have seen it used in reverse. The Catholics for instance have threatened to end all services in DC in the past as a means of influencing policy even though the policy change wouldn’t effect the services in question.

                I’d add that in cases where we’re funding someone to do something, or rather helping someone to do something, where others simply aren’t interested in doing that thing for the same amount of money (much of the general Catholic Charity work for instance) then it is generally a very bad idea to try and attach strings to the funding.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                We’re pretty much in agreement on the public service issue. Where I’m a touch confused is the “I don’t support, however, saying that since you don’t let Muslims use your own church’s pool, we’re going to pull funding for the mammograms you are providing.” part. Has this been a common issue?

                When we look at aggregate spending to an organization, and we are saying that this justifies no longer viewing them as a private entity and that this is grounds to tell them what to do, we are saying that the mammograms should give us leverage over them. That is, at least, how I read it.

                To go back to my original comment:

                Where this makes me a bit queasy is the extent to which “The government pays you for X, therefore the government gets a degree of control over operations that do not directly pertain to X.” I resist the notion that a contractor (or church) who does work for the government becomes a more public entity.

                When we’re talking about attaching strings to X for the provision of X, I have a lot less of a problem with it. Provided that we are doing it for the right reasons. Namely, to get the service that we want and not to use our pursestrings to throw our weight around.

                I guess what I am saying is, if we’re talking about eliminating the tax breaks of the RCC’s health care plans because we deem them insufficient to what we are providing the tax breaks to account for, then the fact that we give the tax breaks to account for something in particular is quite relevant. The fact that we provide loans and Pell Grants for people to attend their university is much less so. When we look at aggregate funding, though, we’re including the Pell Grants. We shouldn’t, because we’re not doing that as a favor to the church or the school. They owe us nothing for that other than what they provide in return for the money.

                I’m not sure how much we actually disagree as it pertains to where we should or should not attach strings (I suspect we do, but not black-and-white contrast). Where I disagree is with the framing.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                North writes:

                “That strikes me as an excellent argument for restricting the amount of government involvement in things there is. It doesn’t, however, strike me as much of an argument against attaching conditions to government funding.”

                My concern, though, is whether “accepting payment from the government for providing services that the government has taken it upon itself to pay for” is, in fact, “government funding”. The government did not choose specifically to fund the Catholic hospital; suggesting that Medicaid payments going to a Catholic provider (which was freely chosen by the Medicaid recipient) is a form of “government funding” is like saying that when the county road crew repaves the county road that goes past a church, that constitutes a government subsidy of religion.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Note also that it encourages providers to turn away Medicaid/Medicare patients, due to the onerous compliance requirements that would be imposed.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                In addition to 5:57 and 8:50, there’s this:

                The government should only be paying people or organizations for one of two reasons: First, because they are providing a good or service. Second, because we want to help them.

                In the second case, there is a greater justification for strings, but only somewhat. I consider it okay to give food stamps for the sake of purchasing food. I don’t like using the fact that we give food stamps for the sake of watching over them and making sure they’re not doing drugs and drug testing them just to make sure. Even if we are paying the piper, and even if it was cost effective, I don’t like holding the assistance we want them to have over their heads.

                In the first case, the extent of our involvement should be limited to whether or not we want to pay X for service Y. If we do, that is more-or-less the limit of our transaction. If we are paying a Catholic Hospital $X per mammogram, it should be because we want women to have Mammograms. We shouldn’t just say we want mammograms to go to clinics that also offer birth control. Or likewise, if we want people to get mammograms, we ought not say that we only want doctors who will make abortion referrals to give them. We should be paying, or not paying, on the basis of the service we are paying them to provide.

                This does leave some room for full-health-sorta-thing. Refusing to pay for childhood wellness exams that don’t include exploring birth control strikes me as somewhat reasonable. Not because we are paying the piper, but because they are not providing the service we want them to provide and we shouldn’t pay for services that we consider insufficient (if we consider a wellness check that doesn’t explore birth control as insufficient, which strikes me as reasonable).

                And lastly, I consider this more important to eye limitations for the government than for Aetna because (a) the government is larger than we would ever allow any single corporation to be, (b) the government inherently has more power than any single corporation, and (c) actually this is along the same lines of advice I would give to any corporation (If we are paying them and they are doing a good job, we don’t need a random drug test or a tobacco screen and we shouldn’t think they “owe” it to us because we sign their paycheck.).Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Refusing to pay for childhood wellness exams that don’t include exploring birth control strikes me as somewhat reasonable. Not because we are paying the piper, but because they are not providing the service we want them to provide and we shouldn’t pay for services that we consider insufficient.”

                I agree with this.Report

            • Will,

              I’m sympathetic to your concern, although I think I just simply place a different value on when and where and how much doing business with the government means one is subject to all the strings all the time in one’s business as long as one works with the government.

              I would prefer some sort of nexus, where the government can tailor its strings to what is required by the actual funds it is using and to the degree that the business would not be in business without the government’s patronage (wrong word? too revealing a word?). For example, one who does, say, only 5% of one’s business with the government pretty much has to observe only the strings attached with with that 5% of his or her business. ON the other hand, one who does, say, about 50% of his or her business with the government would be on the hook for all his or her business following the strings. In this scenario, Lockheed Martin probably would have to observe all the strings (I don’t know what portion of its business is with government and what is not. I’m assuming a lot is “with”) but a contractor who does a few projects is not so subject.

              I realize my nexus–which is probably not what is done now–still doesn’t resolve your overall concern, and is probably too statist for many of the libertarians here. And it is indeed statist, I admit, and the consequences can indeed be perverse. I personally would approve of it, but I do see your objection and other objections you or someone else might raise.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                For what it’s worth, I don’t consider “statist” to be the insult to which it is intended.

                Anyhow, to me, what we should be looking at when it comes to strings is how central it is to what the government is paying for. The centrality of the requirement in the private and charity sectors are hemmed in by the ability to compete and/or solicit donations. The government is not so constrained.

                So, say, requiring that Lockheed only hire such-and-such certified engineers makes total sense. As does an overall wage or union requirement (depending on the terms). What isn’t central is, say, “We only do business with people that refuse to hire smokers.” That’s using the pursestrings – that the government took for itself – to enforce a relatively unrelated policy preference. Which is not to say that the government doesn’t have it within its rights to do just that, just that I don’t think that the government would be right to utilize that right.

                To pick a good sides-inversed example, I don’t think the government should refuse Medicaid for gynecological visits by OBGYN’s that perform abortions. I give Komen wider latitude in this regard because they are responsible to a rather specific set of people (donors), but I don’t want the government doing that. Nor do I want the government refusing Medicaid to OBGYN’s that refuse to perform abortions. The connectedness between abortions and pap smears in tangential, regardless of whether a clinic gets 5% or 95% of its revenue from the government.

                So as I said, I am not opposed to strings being attached ever and always. I do want a clear connection and rationale, though, besides “it’s the government’s money and it can therefore has the same rights as the private sector to require whatever it wants of those that choose to take its money.”

                (An exception to this is if the government grants something exclusivity. In other words, if a government grants AT&T territorial rights, then a lot more is justified in the way of string-attachment.)Report

              • I’ll need to chew this over a bit, but at first glance I find little to disagree with in theory, even though I would probably draw the line in a way that favors government prerogative more than you do. It’s partially a question of what I’m willing to grant as what the government has a “right” to require as opposed opposed to what the government “ought” as a matter of policy to grant.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I do find it amusing that over in another post, there’s a nasty argument about whether it’s a power imbalance for hypothetical employers to require employees to do things Certain Things to get paid; and here, we have people saying that it’s totally okay for the actual government to require that service providers do Certain Things to get paid.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                This thought had crossed my mind. The fact that we’re talking about Certain Things muddies the water a bit, because we’re not talking about something along the lines of Certain Things here. However, that bit about the power imbalance does apply. The larger the government becomes, the larger the power imbalance and the more onerous the restrictions the government can apply. The government is already large enough that this is a pretty big issue. A government as large as liberals would like the government to be makes this an even bigger issue.

                We’re not talking about a big corporation here. We’re talking about an entity exponentially larger than we would ever allow any corporation to be.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Yes, I should point out that this is a philosophical statement regarding the two situations, not an attempt to directly equate funding abortions with “blow me or you’re fired”.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Now I’m having regrets about praising you for understanding the argument on the other thread, DD.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You would find it amusing. When some folks go on a-bitching about how the government money comes with Onerous Strings, the rest of us might well ask what those Onerous Strings might be and what makes them so onerous.

                Totally okay to require that service providers do Certain Things? Nobody’s obliged to perform an abortion. But you knew that, dincha? When these Certain Things and Onerous Strings imply the government ought to treat everyone the same, seems to me we have another problem, to wit, some people who would like to cut off funding for agencies that do things the aforementioned Bitchers don’t like and would very much like to prohibit.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Obliterating distinctions, Brother Blaise? All thises are equal to all thats?

                “Discrimination” should be a term of approbation, not opprobrium.

                Means the dude can tell the difference between x and y. Means the dude can tell the difference between This and That.

                Don’t give up the last thing that makes you even worth reading around here. If you’re going to get up on your high horse, make it really really high. We got groundlings coming out our ass. They should pay for a seat. We make a bigass mistake around here papering the house with them.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Has the government made anyone perform an abortion? Let’s get that straight, first, before we go any farther.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Nobody’s obliged to perform an abortion.”

                This is the part where you explain why the government could not, say, require that anyone who gets paid by Medicaid must offer a certain set of services–call it a Minimum Standard Service Provision–and one of those services is abortion.

                Combine that with EMATLA and oh look, medical providers are now obliged to perform abortions.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Yes, the government could require that particular services be offered by particular kinds of providers. Even abortions. However, to my knowledge it does not actually do so. Do you have a citation to a statute or regulation to the contrary?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Could? Here’s where I say “Pull your head out.” Abortion clinics are being shut down by the American Taliban — and you’re posing a hypothetical.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Whose head? Mine, or DD’s?

                If the answer is “Yours, Burt,” then what would you have me do about this situation, assuming I’m successful at the first task you’ve set for me?Report

              • Avatar Trumwill says:

                The main point I took from Duck’s comment is that once we accept the logic of “Don’t like it, don’t take public funds” something like this becomes possible. One can even justify it, if they try hard enough. I mean, hey, look at the public funds they take.

                This isn’t an attack of the pro-choice movement (which is unlikely to “go there” in the foreseeable future, at least for medically non-indicated abortions). It’s an attack on the logic that the government is justified in attaching whatever strings it should want to because it’s the government’s money and nobody has to take government money. The extremeness of the argument is to point out the extremeness to which the philosophy can go, if we accept it as a self-evident right of the government.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Will T. understand the point of my post.

                So does Burt, in fact, although he tries to downplay it with a “well they haven’t yet” qualifier. Because surely the government would never exercise power in a way that we don’t like.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Your link goes to the Department of Homeland Security, DD. I strongly suspect that a reasonably large number of people, in truth, like the DHS even though it’s fashionable and fun to grumble about it.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                It’s amusing to see the Silent Majority invoked to support a position the speaker disagrees with.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “Why should the RCC be any less vulnerable to [restrictions on the use of government-provided funds, or required activities to be eligible to receive them] than Lockheed?”

        Because Lockheed is not required by law to provide services to anyone who walks in the door and says “Medicaid’s pickin’ up the tab”.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Yeah, there’s this, too. Which is to say, we want Catholic hospitals unless we’re willing to take over the functions that Catholic hospitals perform. There was a meme among the left a while back that we are doing ourselves a disservice by “letting” religious organizations perform these secular enterprises. Which, hey, if you believe that, then by all means we shouldn’t worry about them going out of business. I am very, very skeptical that they are right about it being a disservice. If the Catholic Church left, a lot of them would just close.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic says:

      See also contraception, insurance, and the Catholic Church. Which argument is actually being made.Report

  5. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Presumably they get religious advantages

    $100,000 gets you dinner with an angel. But if you’re going to go that route, you should go all out and pay the $250,000 for an archangel. Regular angels are a dime a dozen.

    At the $100 million mark, you get a direct line to God.Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “The Economist article arrives at a bit more than double my estimate above, but they don’t show their math like I did and they assume the average weekly donation is $10 rather than $5.”

    Your methodology for getting the numbers into that math is unscientific to the extreme.Report

  7. I know Burt’s post (which is excellent, by the way) isn’t really intended as a brief for or against tax exempt status, but of course the issue has been raised above. I think any informed discussion about tax exempt status would answer the following questions (which I don’t have the answer to):

    1. Is tax exempt status 100%? That is, does church that enjoys this status pay absolutely not taxes, in no cases whatsoever? I’m in part asking about whether local governments are as generous as state and federal governments are in how their tax exempt status is manifested. But I’m also asking whether even in a given sphere that grants exemptions (say, state tax exemption), if the Church ever has to pay any taxes whatsoever.

    2. Are other tax exempt statuses (stati?) equally or comparably generous? In other words, does a secular or non-religious tax exempt organization enjoy the same, or very similar, degree of tax exemption as religious institutions do?

    3. (A continuation of question #2): How hard/easy is it for a non-religious organization to get tax exempt status? How hard/easy is it for a religious organization to get tax exempt status, and how can any religion, especially a new one, get such a status?

    I’m sure some people have answers to these questions. I sure don’t. But if we’re going to debate the wisdom of tax exempt status for churches, and especially if we’re going to debate the status’s propriety along lines of separation of church and state, then it’s important to know the answers to these questions, or at least to better worded versions of them.Report

    • Avatar Wardsmith says:

      Tax.exempt means that they don’t pay tax. Any tax exempt organization likewise won’t pay taxes. That could include the Red Cross and PETA or the Sierra Club which run through considerable funds per year. I’m on my phone and can’t google well but there are some great resources about this topic to enhance Burts excellent OPReport

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I’m in part asking about whether local governments are as generous as state and federal governments are in how their tax exempt status is manifested.

      I recall that, on the heels of Kelo, there were concerns that churches sitting on valuable real estate might be vulnerable because the city would prefer that a tax-paying entity be paying property taxes on it. That didn’t come to pass, and it may have been a false concern, but absent someone telling me otherwise it does lead me to believe that they get pretty significant tax breaks.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        As does any 501(c)(3) corp. This exemption is by no means exclusive to churches, although at one time it was.Report

        • If that’s indeed the case, then my principal objection to tax exempt status for churches–that it is an implicit recognition of religion–falls by the wayside to the great extent.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Since I view government as the encroacher on society, tax exemption is the default. To me a nation is its society first, its government secondary. The modern secularist tends to see it the other way, that the government “permits” and “exempts” religion.Report

            • And yet, governments tax people or else they wouldn’t be governments. If exemption is the default, then no one would have to pay taxes ever. Maybe, granting certain assumptions, the latter is an ideal state of affairs.

              But it doesn’t get us any closer to determining how, in our world, to determine how and when a tax that is otherwise required of everyone generally ought not to be required of a few.

              Finally, tax exemption of religious institutions is not the same thing as saying “permit” religion. Tax exemption of religious institutions is saying we’re going to grant special privileges to religious institutions that other people or groups don’t have.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Religious orgs [and non-religious, say the Sierra Club] ARE “society.” It took a constitutional amendment to tax individuals, and that’s OK, but the default of the non-governmental institutions being the basis of our nation and not the government was how the Founders saw it.

                The “little platoons,” as it were, that constitute the larger society.

                Churches, Sierra Clubs, etc., come first—they do not “rob” the government of what is the government’s, they exist prior to government. To tax them is to let the government rob THEM.Report