Acton Institute Senior Editor Joe Carter joined host Darryl Wood’s Run to Win show on WLQV in Detroit this afternoon to discuss the issue of income inequality from a Christian perspective. The interview keyed off of Carter’s article, What Every Christian Should Know About Income Inequality. You can listen to the entire interview using the audio player below.
We’ve almost all seen some of the creepy messianic videos associated with President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. If you’re in need of a refresher there are examples here and here. It isn’t solely a problem of the political left though. Throughout history there has been varying belief in political saviors of different ideologies. There are many on the right who firmly believe that political changes alone will transform our culture and institutions.
However, as government dependency continues to grow to record levels, we are reaching new heights in state worship and adoration. I wrote more about this topic in “As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers,” a commentary I published last year.
Currently, I am reading Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker. The book offers some good insights on the assaults on religious liberty, increased secularism, and political messiahs. Here’s an excerpt from his new book:
Modern political utopianism, as we shall see, is an attempt to discard the necessity of grace (and hence of the church), even while state power replaces grace as the instrument for perfecting man. Liberalism is more than the rejection of Christianity; it is the absorption and transformation of its doctrines. Before the Christian doctrine of grace, no one would have dared think about perfecting the whole human race–a few, select individuals, a small group or clan or class of society, yes, but not the whole human race. With Christianity, God’s grace is indeed open to all, and so all may share in the perfection of holiness, but this offered grace takes full effect only in the Kingdom of God, that is, only in heaven. Liberalism takes the church’s salvific mission and makes it a merely political goal, one to be achieved in this world by human power alone, a heaven brought down by force to earth, where we become the authors of our own salvation.
And finally, here is a look at the somewhat comical yet sad end result of state and leader worship in North Korea:
There is much talk about raising minimum wage, even to the absurd rate of $22 per hour. President Obama has promised an increase to $9 per hour. Some small business owners, feeling the pinch of these raising wages, are turning to technology to solve their economic issues.
Carla Hesseltine, who runs a small bakery, is considering eliminating employees and replacing them with tablets that will take orders:
In order for her Just Cupcakes LLC to remain profitable in the face of higher expected labor costs, Ms. Hesseltine believes the customer-ordering process “would have to be more automated” at the Virginia Beach, Va., chain, which has two strip-mall locations as well as a food van. Thus, she could eliminate the 10 workers who currently ask customers what they would like to eat.
Small business owners can only raise prices so much without damaging sales, in order to cope with increased labor costs. Of course, there are costs involved with the set-up, upkeep and repair of technology, and the intangible cost of the loss of human contact.
Many studies about the effects of higher wages on overall employment tend to be politicized, clashing over whether the benefits of higher paid workers outweigh the costs of having fewer low-wage jobs. To support President Obama’s case for an increase in the minimum wage, the White House cites a 2009 academic study that says any adverse employment effect from such would be of a small and possibly irrelevant magnitude.
The raise in minimum wage to $9 does in fact seem to be minor. However, it is clear from Ms. Hesseltine’s story alone that tinkering with the minimum wage system will have ramifications. One could argue that the loss of minimum wage jobs will be balanced out by sales of technology and the jobs created there. It remains to be seen.
It was William F. Buckley who said “conservatism takes into account reality.” Reality has become the giant political obstacle for conservatives when it comes to governing, campaigning, and political messaging. It seems too many Americans still love their freedoms but eschew many of the responsibilities that come with it. That’s the crisis we face, the lack of responsibility and our collective grasp on reality.
In last night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama predictably fatigued those looking for real cuts, a limiting of the federal government, and the courage to tackle the federal debt and spending crisis. The president set the agenda on the sequester issue by calling decreases in the rate of growth, “cuts.” It’s not even close to the reality we face as a nation when it comes to the need for real cuts to address our federal debt.
Obama even offered new government spending initiatives such as pre-kindergarten, climate change legislation, and more federal “jobs” programs. Obama called for tax reform too, embracing further tax increases for the productive sector and the savers and investors. It’s a far cry from the president’s promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office. Instead, it has increased by $6 trillion under his watch.
Our federal spending is increasing poverty and government dependence. It is making us poorer and crippling future economic opportunities for Americans. The president missed the grand opportunity to address the reality of the crisis we face. He intoned that, “deficit reduction alone is not a spending plan.” True enough, but increased government spending and the inability to deal with spending is the grand failure of Washington and both political parties.
In the GOP response, it may be that Marco Rubio struck a much too partisan tone and appeared just to be reacting out of opposition to the president. I thought Rand Paul, with his tea party response, struck the right chord and spoke the truth about the monumental crisis we face. He cut through the spending problem directly stating, “Every debate in Washington is about how much to increase spending – a little or a lot.” He directly addressed the deeper obligations of government within the constitution and should receive credit for laying out the problem, even if you don’t agree with how he wants to address it.
Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Governor, made a powerful point too after the president’s remarks about the shifting of greed to the government sector. The larger point is that the private sector is dwindling in significance, and being swallowed by government growth and strangulation. Unfortunately, as a nation, right now, there is not enough collective courage and responsibility to deal with the reality in Washington.
President Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.
In his victory speech, the President’s message came back to unity, how “we rise and fall together as one nation and as one people.” This comes, I should note, after a campaign that sought to demonize the rich and downplay the efforts of the entrepreneur. For those who believe prosperity comes from a full-scope appreciation of mankind, from the minimum-wage worker to the business owner, the President’s calls for national unity likely ring hollow. This is an administration that has taken a fracturing zero-sum approach to human engagement. If unity is at all possible, as the President hopes, it will require a fundamental realignment of rhetoric and policy.
Yet I am hopeful that such a realignment is indeed possible. Unlike his victory speech in 2008, the President seemed refreshingly aware of the inevitability of ideological conflict. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs,” said the President. “And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, this stirring of the passions is a positive sign of social and moral engagement—what Madison called democracy’s “relief”. If properly identified and channeled, such sparring can be a boon for authentic unity should we actually recognize our disagreements and move to the dirty work of sorting things out. Ideology is important, and the first step to restoring economic confidence, whether through the investor, the entrepreneur, or the low-level laborer, will be for this administration to recognize that it has thus far led a significant segment of economic producers to feel isolated, insecure, and picked on.
At some point in tonight’s foreign policy debate between the two presidential candidates, Governor Mitt Romney should send his very capable inner wonk on a long coffee break and press a big-picture truth that otherwise will go begging: America’s strength on the international stage requires economic strength, and our economic strength cannot long endure under the weight of a government so swollen in size that it stifles human enterprise.
The connection between economic freedom and economic growth is well-established. The connection between the relative strength of a nation’s economy and its strength on the international stage is also well established.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but it’s maybe easiest to grasp by thinking about technology. Our strength rests partly on our position as a technology leader, which allows our military to do more with less. But we’re unlikely to maintain that position of leadership if our government habitually suffocates our high-tech entrepreneurs under high taxes and hyper-regulation.
Last night, there was a moment at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte that may have alarmed some. The line from a video produced by the host city of Charlotte, declared, “government is the only thing we all belong to.” While some have simply used the line as a reference point for partisan purposes, it needs to be widely discussed. I have to admit I found the words profoundly disturbing. Not because I blame Democrats as a whole but rather whoever penned the script in the video really had no understanding that the line was troubling. I am sure we could say that of too many Americans regardless of political affiliation. In fact, partisans are more apt to embrace this message if their guy or gal is in power. It looks like the Obama political campaign at least felt uncomfortable with the language, as they wasted no time distancing themselves from the quote.
The line omits the whole notion in our Declaration of Independence that, “We our endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” It flips the meaning on its head and posits that our rights and responsibilities flow out of government. The Constitutional message of “We the People” is becoming lost on a large segment of our population. The tentacles of D.C. now vastly stretch across the land acting more in a suffocating fashion rather than a partnering one. Truthfully, the amount of debt Americans now owe and the centralization that is crippling this nation makes the statement in the video accurate not in theory but certainly more so in reality. Many are now serfs in support of profligate spending and the entitlement culture. Sadly, the longer we delay our debt crisis the truth of the line from the convention becomes actualized. An email from Stephen Miller, a spokesmen for U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, noted that the government “awarded a recruitment worker for overcoming the ‘mountain pride’ of people living in rural North Carolina” in order to expand enrollment for food stamps. Our government that is broke is aggressively recruiting more people for handouts.
It’s a sad reduction of the human person, when a worldview creeps in that you find a deeper community and deeper meaning in government.
The disconnect is deeply troubling and needs to be highlighted by deeper discussions and education about our civics. The whole idea of establishing an earthly kingdom is what the Founders rejected. Ownership belongs to the people. The government works for us and receives its direction from us. We are the ones who give the government its consent.
There is a clash of worldviews all around us, and unlike before in American history, they are not competing American worldviews. Language like this seems quite alien to our American experiment and ideals.
John Kennedy, President and CEO of Michigan-based Autocam, responded in an MLive.com editorial to President Obama’s recent remarks regarding business owners and their success. Obama stated, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Kennedy responded:
As a business founder, I particularly object to the claim, “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” I benefited from my dad, who helped instill the entrepreneurial spirit, when I founded Autocam. Our employees’ efforts enable us to offer high quality products. Many people have contributed, directly and indirectly, to our success. But it was my vision and leadership that allowed us to navigate troubled waters and to thrive.
Kennedy also noted a more general attitude about the government’s role in business that underlies the president’s remarks:
The president seems to indicate that the government (“somebody”) creates success through the services it provides for citizens. He fails to acknowledge that the government allocates funds taken from others, primarily from successful businesses and individuals. The government typically redistributes this money such that it only temporarily relieves some misery while creating dependency on government programs. In contrast, I believe that we are each called to contribute from our resources to build a healthy community. We should support those who, through no fault of their own, have suffered setbacks or need assistance to receive the education necessary for success.
Read the entire editorial here.
Pundits and politicians have been having a field day with President Obama’s speech given in Roanoke, Virginia, last Friday. The quote providing the most fodder is the president’s assertion, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” (Here are a couple recent examples from Paul Ryan and Larry Kudlow.)
This has been widely understood to mean that the president is saying that if you have a business, you didn’t build it…and certainly not on your own. Earlier this week I pointed out a way of granting that there is some broader truth in the president’s remarks, even if they betray his own largely statist political assumptions.
But what if the “that” in “you didn’t build that” doesn’t refer to the business directly at all? What if instead it refers to the “roads and bridges” the president had just mentioned? Check out the video and decide for yourself:
Still not sure what the “that” refers to? Watch it again. I think the video conveys something the text on its own doesn’t.
The case may not be airtight, but the most natural (and certainly the most charitable) understanding of the “that” in “you didn’t build that” is in reference to the roads and bridges, not the businesses.
Why does this matter? For starters, as Christians its important that we do justice to our responsibilities as expressed in the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” or more commonly simply, “Do not lie.” As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, one of the positive obligations arising out of this commandment is that I am to “love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it,” as well as to “do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”
I realize that latter duty in particular is often difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill in the context of political campaigning. But if the president didn’t really assert that business people didn’t build their businesses, then it’s wrong to construe his words as if that’s what he meant.
This leads to another reason that it’s important to deal with what the president actually said: many of his own assertions are problematic enough without being turned into something they aren’t. The real problem is that the president simply dichotomizes between market and state, leaving no real room for the institutions of civil society. The real problem is that the president conflates “community” with the “government.”
Charles Krauthammer gets it right: the president’s assertion is about the relationship of infrastructure (and thereby government) to economic growth, not about entrepreneurship as such. The president is attempting to make the case for infrastructure spending, something he’s been keen on for quite some time (remember all those “shovel-ready” jobs?). But as Krauthammer writes:
Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work, and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.
The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.
Conservatives do themselves and their cause a disservice when they react so vociferously to a straw man, or to an assertion that was never really made, and thereby miss engagement of the position that is really held.
President Obama’s speech last week in which he asserted to businesspeople, “You didn’t build that,” has been getting some pretty harsh and some pretty hilarious responses.
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Business,” I caution against responses that play into a simple individualist/collectivist dichotomy that underlays the president’s message:
We all know at some level that we didn’t get where we are on our own, and that we have an ongoing responsibility and dependence on others for our continuing enjoyment of the goods of human existence. Christians realize too that our independence and freedom is ultimately limited and dependent not simply on other people but on the grace of God.
So to President Obama’s problematic construal of the structure of society (essentially consisting of the individual and the helping hand of government), critics shouldn’t respond simply with the vehement assertion of naked individualism. Instead, we need to articulate a more balanced and accurate perspective, one that properly relates “independence and mutuality, individuality and community.”
One such response from Hunter Baker is here, and is worth checking out.