Posts tagged with: magistrate

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

Of particular interest to readers of the PowerBlog, I dedicate substantial space to explaining and advocating for free markets:

Jobs are what the poor need, and jobs are created by businesses. People settle for bad jobs only when good ones aren’t available. Thus, eliminating barriers to market entry ought to be of primary concern to the Christian statesman, combatting the unjust inequality created by closed markets. Barriers to entry include onerous occupational licensing and patent laws, high corporate taxes, zoning laws, overregulation, and subsidies. These things close markets to new competitors because, even though it might seem against their interest (except for subsidies), large, established firms are more likely to benefit from them and lobby for them (which is called rent seeking)….

In free markets, properly understood, these barriers are kept to a minimum, increasing competition and wealth creation. The more businesses there are looking for workers, the more demand there is for labor. Thus, not only will there be more jobs, but wages will be higher as well. It should be no surprise that the decline in American entrepreneurship has coincided with wage stagnation. Beyond wages, an additional benefit of increased competition is that it also drives down the price of consumer goods, thus lowering the cost of living for everyone as well. Free markets help the poor—and everyone else—in terms of production (labor), distribution (wages), and consumption (lower cost of living).

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One of the inspirations for my little book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, was the incisive and insightful critique of the ecumenical movement from the Princeton theological ethicist Paul Ramsey.

Ramsey’s book, Who Speaks for the Church? A Critique of the 1966 Geneva Conference on Church and Society, has a wealth of both theoretical and concrete reflections on the nature of ecumenical social witness and the relationship between church and society.

He concludes the book with a section titled, “The Church and the Magistrate,” in which he provides some direct comments on the way in which the church can actively be of service to the political authorities. This task is of great importance for the institutional church, but it must be done in such a way that the unique responsibilities of the church and the state are not conflated, and in a way that respects the conscience and individual responsibility of the Christian in civil service.

Thus, writes Ramsey, “If the churches have any special wisdom to offer here, it is in cultivating the political ethos of a nation and informing the conscience of the statesman. The church’s business is not policy formation. That is the awesome responsibility of magistrates (and of churchmen along with other citizens in their nonecclesiastical capacities).”

The role of the church, therefore, is to inform rather than to prescribe in specific detail. “It is not the church’s business to recommend but only to clarify the grounds upon which the statesman must put forth his own particular decree,” argues Ramsey. “Christian political ethics cannot say what should or must be done but only what may be done. It can only try to make sure that false doctrine does not unnecessarily trammel policy choices or preclude decisions that might better shape and govern events.”

And in a prophetic statement that indicts the contemporary fascination with “social justice” (which so often conflates the concept with love), Ramsey writes, “Christians should be speaking more about order as a terminal political value along with justice, without the naïve assumption that these are bound to go together without weight given to both.” Just how much do you hear about “social order” from those campaigning so vociferously for a particular form of “social justice”?

Ramsey’s book is well worth reading. If you can pick up a used copy somewhere, do so and count yourself as having found a bargain.