Last week’s issuance of “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis” has occasioned a good bit of discussion on the topic, both here at the PowerBlog and around various other blogs and social media sites.

It has been interesting to see the reaction that my comments about the Call have generated. Many have said that I simply misunderstood or misread the document. I have taken the time to reread the document and do some reassessment of the entire debate. Unfortunately this has raised more questions than answers for me thus far.

Gideon Strauss, CEO of the Center for Public Justice, has kindly offered to help us sort out some of these concerns. He’s in Grand Rapids later this week and has generously agreed to a public discussion in an open mic, informal setting we’re calling, “Opposing Views: America’s Debt Crisis and ‘A Call for Intergenerational Justice.'”

Details are below and at the Facebook event page. We plan to record the event and make it available for those who aren’t able to join us. But if you are, come along and bring your questions.

Opposing Views: America’s Debt Crisis and ‘A Call for Intergenerational Justice’

Open Mic Night @ Derby Station, an evening with Gideon Strauss, Center for Public Justice, and Jordan J. Ballor, Acton Institute

Last week the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) and Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) issued “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis,” which argues for responsible government action to address the country’s pressing fiscal problems. The Call emphasizes the need to cut spending without touching “effective” social programs: “To reduce our federal debt at the expense of our poorest fellow citizens would be a violation of the biblical teaching that God has a special concern for the poor.” Acton Institute research fellow Jordan Ballor has criticized the Call as demonstrating “very little principle” and consisting mostly of “leaps in logic largely based on unstated assumptions about the role that government should have” in providing social assistance. Join us for a night of vigorous discussion about government debt, federal spending, and how faith communities should understand the responsibility of social institutions in addressing the problem of poverty.

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Derby Station
2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506

6:00 pm Grab a seat & drink
6:30 pm Discussion begins

SEATING IS LIMITED! ARRIVE EARLY!

You can view “A Call for Intergenerational Justice” here.

Responses from Jordan Ballor here and here.


  • Roger McKinney

    There are no misunderstandings to clear up. The CPJ wants to obscure their intentions from their opponents while stirring up their members with codes words. It’s an old ploy.

    “To reduce our federal debt at the expense of our poorest fellow citizens would be a violation of the biblical teaching that God has a special concern for the poor.”

    Since most federal spending goes to social programs to help the poor, it’s impossible not to cut spending for the poor.

    As I teach my intro econ students, there is a trade off between consumption and investment. I draw a typical production possibility frontier graph for them. Increasing help to the poor means increasing consumption at the expense of investment. There is no other way to look at it. That is true of private charity as well as government charity.

    That doesn’t mean we should eliminate charity. Charity is essential. But who should determine how much investment we should give up in order to help the poor? Should we trust people like the CPJ who don’t even acknowledge the problem of scarcity, let alone care anything about economics? Should the majority force its will on the minority?

  • M. Harper

    Roger, you are a greater mind than I, but I don’t think I’m nitpicking when I, myself, would be careful using the word charity coupled with government. Although many are fine to see tax dollars go toward social programs and put forth a common good argument, many are not fine with that position. When we are compelled to give, particularly to programs that do not align with values of morality and economics and political philosophy, then it seems to cease being charity. I’m completely in agreement with the remainder of your thoughts here.

  • http://www.cpjustice.org/intergenerationaljustice Gideon Strauss

    Messrs. Harper and McKinney, I would completely agree that government does not offer charity. That is not its ordained task in God’s world. Before addressing the substance of what you say in response to the conversation between Jordan and me, though, I must take issue, Mr. McKinney, with your introductory sentences. The claim that “The CPJ wants to obscure their intentions from their opponents while stirring up their members with codes word” is spurious, and at best rooted in ignorance. I’d be happy to clarify the intentions of the Center for Public Justice over coffee, but a good start may be to simply read the editorial I co-authored on the Call in Capital Commentary: http://www.capitalcommentary.org/deficit/citizens-and-government-share-responsibility-intergenerational-justice.

  • http://www.cpjustice.org/intergenerationaljustice Gideon Strauss

    Now on to the substance, with some questions.

    “Since most federal spending goes to social programs to help the poor, it’s impossible not to cut spending for the poor.” Really? I mean, as a fact?

    “There is a trade off between consumption and investment.” Yes. But in terms of the federal budget the “consumption” items are far broader than spending on the poor. While a trade off between consumption and investment is indeed necessary (and in terms of the federal budget the first order of the day en route to investment is reducing the debt), there are secondary sets of trade offs: Which areas of “consumption” do we prioritize (for example, entitlements over the empowerment of the poor)? And which forms of investment do we prioritize (for example, gold reserves or spending on higher education)? The issues are much, much more complex than the “guns vs. butter” arguments of our critics on the left, or this “the debt vs. the poor” argument of our critics on the right.

    And, then, “Should we trust people like the CPJ who don’t even acknowledge the problem of scarcity, let alone care anything about economics?” I can only shake my head. We at the Center for Public Justice acknowledge the problem of scarcity, and care about economics. Quite a bit, actually.

  • Roger McKinney

    Gideon, If your design isn’t to hide intentions, then why the vague terminology? Why not spell out specific policy proposals? I think Jordan does a good job of highlighting the CPJ’s foggy speech. It’s typical of people on the left. Using terms like “social justice” obscures intentions and demolishes debate. When you try to pin down the social justice crowd on just exactly what social justice means, it’s nearly impossible. They’ll tell you what it isn’t quicker than they’ll tell you what it is.

    Anyway, Hayek did a great job demolishing the concept of social justice as anything meaningful.

    Actually, most federal spending isn’t on the poor; it’s on the middle class. Most SS and Medicare go to the middle class. But when anyone proposes cutting them, the left screams that you’re killing the poor. (There doesn’t seem to be any ground between helping the poor and killing them from the left’s perspective).

    A very simple solution to federal spending would be to means test SS and Medicare. That would cut spending at least in half if not more.

    “which forms of investment do we prioritize (for example, gold reserves or spending on higher education)?”

    I have no idea what you mean by spending on gold reserves. Could you clarify? The feds aren’t doing that and no one is proposing it. As for spending on higher education, that is not investment; it is more consumption. Anyway, 80% of all private US charity (equal to about 2/3 the federal budget) goes to higher education. The feds don’t need to duplicate that.

    Nothing the Feds do could be considered investment, other than road building, and they waste too much on roads to nowhere.

    “We at the Center for Public Justice acknowledge the problem of scarcity, and care about economics. ”

    I apologize. I was thinking of Jim Wallis at that point. I can’t speak for the CPJ on that issue, but I know for a fact that is Wallis’ attitude because he has made it very plain.

  • http://collectingmythoughts.blogspot.com Norma

    How many poor people do you know who had married parents (social values), who are hard working and intelligent (gene pool), who took advantage of the multitude of educational opportunities provided by the government and churches (completed their education at least through h.s.), who have a church (spiritually alive) and didn’t ruin their lives with drugs, alcohol, smoking, over eating, or sexual promiscuity (health choices)? Whether 21 or 80, life has consequences. We have been throwing billions at “poverty” since the 1964 War on Poverty began, and mostly we’ve enriched the middle class and gov’t bureaucrats through programs that never end and only expand. The federal gov’t has created much of the poverty this panel is now addressing.