What exactly constitutes the common good and general welfare of the people of the community, or civic betterment and social improvements? The IRS will let you know. What does “primarily” mean and how does it relate to the seemingly contradictory exclusivity requirement? This is subject to a “facts and circumstances” test — that is, the IRS will decide. Approved activities are generally regarded as educational, but how broadly or narrowly that term is interpreted is left to the IRS and, if challenged, to the courts. Lobbying for “legislation germane to the organization’s programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.” However, direct or indirect participation in political campaigns is not regarded as promotion of social welfare — although an organization “may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax.”

As this demonstrates, once government undertakes to tax income, it acquires even more power through its authority to define “income,” “taxable income,” subsidiary terms, and the rules of exemption. There is no escape from arbitrariness and caprice.

One might propose to remove the government’s arbitrary power by ending tax exemption. But that would make the tax burden worse. And besides, politicians aren’t likely to agree, because they would be giving up the power to dispense favors that manipulation of today’s tax code affords.

There’s a better way to go that’s demanded by liberty and justice.