Posts tagged with: national debt

schoolchoicesignWhy do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the third in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here. Part 2 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

7. The best way to compensate for structural injustice is to increase order and individual freedom.

As it relates to economics, structural injustice could be defined as occurring when outside forces unjustly limit some person’s opportunities to enact their morally legitimate plans. Almost all evangelicals – whether liberal or conservative — agree that structural injustices still exist and that they must be opposed. Where we disagree is about what forms of structural injustice are most pervasive in 2014 and how they should be corrected.

We tend to think of structural injustices as macro-level phenomena (such as racism) that affect the actions, practices, beliefs, and laws of a large region (such as the Jim Crow laws that that codified racial segregation and discrimination). That has historically been the case in America. But today, structural injustices are usually created on the micro-level and affect a smaller area. Take, for example, the issue of poverty. In 2014, the two factors that are most likely to create structural boundaries that keep a child in poverty are their parents and their local community.

America’s debt is creating not servants of higher things but slaves to government, says Ray Nothstine in this week’s Acton Commentary.

As our nation’s $17 trillion debt spirals out of control, and spiritual disciplines decline in the West, we need to face the reality of America’s inability to collectively sacrifice. Even the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg seemed to pass this year with scant attention, as if such extreme sacrifice is alien and distant to our way of life today.

Washington’s brokenness is cheered by a majority of the political class, declaring a “crisis averted.” The “crisis” for a majority of the leaders in Washington, however, is not our debt or insatiable appetite to spend, but the notion that it might possibly involve limitations or must end in belt-tightening.

The full text of his essay is here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Coolidge cover copyToday, career politicians are out of fashion. In light of Washington’s dysfunction and a hyper partisan culture, the words of politicians offer little reassurances. Their deeds even less. One career public servant is finding his popularity on an upswing exactly eighty years after his death. I asked my grandfather, who turns 97 in July, to rank America’s great presidents? He immediately answered Ronald Reagan, almost reflexively. And then paused for a few moments and declared, “That Calvin Coolidge fellow was good too.”

To remember Coolidge is to remember an altogether different America. One that was rapidly modernizing but still deeply connected to rural life and its foundations. But even for his era, John Calvin Coolidge was a throw back, a man who emerged deep from within Vermont’s rugged hills. The symbols of his humble origins were magnified after the unexpected death of President Warren G. Harding in 1923. Coolidge, awakened in Vermont, was immediately sworn in to the greatest office in the world by kerosene lamp by his father, a public notary.

Oft forgotten or lampooned as a “simpleton,” there are no grand monuments for America’s 30th president. He certainly wouldn’t have sought such recognition. But in Coolidge by Amity Shlaes, she offers a kind of monument not just to Coolidge’s economic heroism, but his character.

Coolidge governed and taught from the deep well of America’s Founding and eschewed the material for the spiritual, declaring, “The things of the Spirit come first.” He was leery of progressive schemes saying, “Men do not make laws. They do but discover them.” He added, “If we wish to erect new structures, we must have a definite knowledge of the old foundations.”

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Calvin Coolidge is ripe for national recognition and his wisdom is being sought out perhaps now more than ever. If you’re a voracious reader of commentary and columns you’ve noticed his common sense adages are being unearthed at a rapid pace. Most of the credit and recognition for the Coolidge revival goes to Amity Shlaes. Her newly released and splendid biography Coolidge can’t be recommended enough. (Full review on the PowerBlog forthcoming)

Coolidge was the last president to oversee federal budget surpluses for every year in office. He cut taxes and government while preaching the wisdom of the American Founders. He was dismissed by many intellectual contemporaries and most historians ignored him or discounted him as some sort of throwback that came to power by luck. A mere placeholder in between the more important Progressive and New Deal eras. But as our spending and debt crisis continues to spiral out of control, America is starving for economic heroes. There is so little courage in Washington to make the tough choices and address the crisis directly. The spending binge has become a mockery of America’s foundations and ideals.

However, This fiscal insanity, debt, and rapid centralization of power is magnifying Coolidge’s heroics. His words and deeds are really timeless though, and deeply rooted in America’s Founding. The principles and lessons only need to be put into practice. Below is a great excerpt from the introduction of Shlaes’s biography:

Our great presidential heroes have often been war leaders, generals, and commanders. That seems natural to us. The big personalities of some presidents have drawn attention, hostile or friendly: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt. There are plenty of personal events in Coolidge’s life, many of them sad, but he was principally a man of work. Indeed, Coolidge was a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.

It makes little, or really no sense for Americans to fork over more taxes without a balanced federal budget and seeing some fiscal responsibility out of Washington. The fact that the United States Senate hasn’t passed a budget in well over three years doesn’t mean we aren’t spending money, we are spending more than ever. The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution was April of 2009.

We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that “taxing the rich” at an even greater rate will somehow dig us out of this mess. That’s delusional of course but the line works well in focus groups and polls. Here is a great common sense post from Frank Hill on the problems with that line of reasoning. Hill directs The Institute for the Public Trust and has a solid understanding of the economic and budget challenges facing the nation. His blog is a must to follow and as always Acton’s Principles for Budget Reform are worth reading.

There has been a lot of news coverage and debate about Republicans who signed a tax pledge. Now some of them feel boxed in and want flexibility to cut a deal. The criticism from some is that they want to cave without demanding any real concessions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) is leading the charge of criticizing Republicans who want to raise taxes. His argument is that budgets need to be balanced and taxes cut to spur economic growth.

At any rate, it’s obvious we have a spending crisis in Washington not a crisis stemming from a lack of revenue. More revenue won’t cure the ailment that plagues Washington.

At this hour, it seems that the number of leaders who are making the moral argument on the rights of Americans to keep more of their property is rapidly dwindling. Strong economic conservatives like Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan made impressive moral arguments about the importance of low taxes in a free society. It not only makes economic sense but it makes sense morally. And for the record, if a politician signed his name to a pledge he or she should show some backbone and principle by honoring his word. Property and taxes are important issues, but today there is little leadership on the issue, especially the kind of moral leadership this nation desperately needs.

I just read the introduction to Amity Shlaes’s forthcoming biography, Coolidge: Debt, Perseverance and the American Ideal. She has been very gracious in taking an interest in the work I have been doing on Coolidge and my recent Acton commentary on the 30th president.

Shlaes was interviewed in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty about her book The Forgotten Man. I quickly realized in my own research there is no biography that captures Coolidge’s deep relevancy for today given the mammoth federal debt and the centralization of federal power. Coolidge took limiting federal power and its reach seriously.

Without naming names or titles, many of the Coolidge biographies in print are simply sub par. That will change with the release of her biography and this is a book that needs to be out now. There is no release date set in stone to my knowledge or I would offer it up to readers of the PowerBlog.

In the introduction, it is clear just how well Shlaes understands Coolidge’s leadership on economic issues and his emphasis on thrift. I love that she played off her title The Forgotten Man by calling Coolidge “The Forgotten President.” I’ve certainly noticed in my own talks when I go out and discuss Coolidge that so little is known about him.

In her introduction, Shlaes brilliantly draws out comparisons of Coolidge with George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, John F. kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Some of her insightful comparisons I would never have highlighted on my own. Shlaes is a gifted writer and I foresee this book being very influential with the ability to transform contemporary thinking about our national government.

One of the things that draws me to Coolidge is his appreciation for the past. He was a very modern president who oversaw great technological advances and an America that was modernizing at a rapid pace but he always reminded the people of who they were and the great heritage that gave birth to the American ideal. “If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it,” declared Coolidge.

One of my favorite books is The Word of Life by Thomas C. Oden. In the introduction to that book Oden quotes Henry Vaughan’s “Retreat:”

O How I long to travel back,
and tread against that ancient track! . . .
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move.

If Coolidge had heard those words, which is quite possible, I feel he would have loved them.

Virgil's Aeneas fleeing the sack of Troy with his father on his shoulders and leading his son by the hand.

“Even the conventional everyday morality,” writes Vladimir Solovyov,

demands that a man should hand down to his children not only the goods he has acquired, but also the capacity to work for the further maintenance of their lives. The supreme and unconditional morality also requires that the present generation should leave a two-fold legacy to the next,—in the first place, all the positive acquisitions of the past, all the savings of history; and, secondly, the capacity and the readiness to use this capital for the common good, for a nearer approach to the supreme goal. This is the essential purpose of true education….

According to Solovyov, there is a basic, commonsense morality by which most parents feel an obligation to leave an inheritance to their children and give them the opportunity and know-how to use it. He goes on to argue that this principle ought to be expanded generationally: “the present generation should leave a two-fold legacy to the next,” passing on what it has received and instilling in the next generation the ability and desire to use the heritage of human history for the common good. This, he believes, is the “essential purpose of true education.” As commencement ceremonies are celebrated throughout the country this month, how well, I wonder, do we match up to this standard in the United States today? (more…)