“We talk about what caused the financial crisis, whether ‘greed is good,’ and if ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ It’s John J. Miller describing his podcast interview with Jay Richards here at NRO. They discuss Jay’s excellent new book, Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem.
The argument from federalism: One of the great benefits of federalism is that the states can act as the laboratories of democracy. If a new public policy is tried in the states and works (as happened with welfare reform in Michigan and Wisconsin), then a similar program has a good chance of succeeding at the national level. The welfare reform went national and proved to be one of the most successful public policy initiatives of the last half century. On the other hand, major governmental healthcare initiatives have been tried in Tennessee and Massachusetts. Neither of those have panned out. That should be a cautionary sign to avoid rushing ahead to just get a bill done!
The argument from misery: I cannot think of any encounter with my government that I willingly seek out. I hate going to the DMV. I hate going to the post office. I hate getting my car inspected. I hate getting a passport renewed. All of these things eat up productive time in my day and are filled with useless, inefficient waiting. This basic situation also applies to people who rely on the government for their healthcare. When my wife did indigent care in Houston, her clients did not pay for her services. They paid with their time. LOTS OF WAITING. I don’t need more waiting in my life. And because government employees are typically unionized, I don’t need to be at the mercy of a bunch of unionized employees any more than I already am.
The argument from incentivization: If the government provides the care too cheaply, then there will be a glut of clients who overwhelm the system and create the nightmare of waiting as the price to pay. If the government offers the care too expensively, people will opt out which is exactly what they wanted to avoid. If the government tries to control utilization by deciding what services you can and can’t have, then you are up against a far worse foe than the worst HMO you ever faced. And the government will go where the insurance companies fear to tread. They will decide who should live or die.
The argument from missing the verdammten point: It is exceedingly clear that a huge reason for the skyrocketing costs of medicine is the problem of predatory litigation driven by lawyers looking for 30-40% of a bloody fortune from an industry thought to be able to afford it. Between the cost of malpractice insurance, the payouts, and the defensive medicine that must be practiced to ward off lawsuits, it is easy to see why healthcare is outrageously expensive. Yet, the president very clearly said he would not seek to deal with that problem in the legislation. WHAT? WHY? Because the trial lawyers are very good political donors? Not a compelling reason for the formation of a particular public policy.
The argument from economic theory: Look at two sectors of the healthcare market that are typically paid out of pocket without the influence of insurance providers or the government. I am thinking of plastic surgery and lasik procedures for improving eyesight. Both of those services are becoming less expensive in real dollars rather than skyrocketing out of control. This happens to be the portion of the healthcare industry where actual market conditions apply. Customers pay for and receive value at a price that is becoming more reasonable all the time.
Everybody realizes that the current healthcare system in the United States has problems. Unfortunately, much of the discussion about what to do rests on a false premise. The argument goes something like this: Our current free market system is not working: health care costs are astronomically high, and close to 50 million people aren’t insured. Maybe it’s time to let the government try its hand.
But we don’t have a free market health system; we have a highly managed, bureaucratic system that lowers the level of health care and increases costs.
As Acton’s Michael Miller argues in a new video short, the government is already involved in healthcare, and this is part of the problem. Getting the government more involved will only make the situation worse.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that “the world needs a new moral architecture.” He also has a clear idea of what that morality ought to look like. Speaking at a conference on socialism in May of this year, he said that “every factory must… produce not only briquettes, steel, and aluminum, but also, above all, the new man and woman, the new society, the socialist society.” If Chavez manages to convince enough people that socialists are a new breed of humanity, a breed that has evolved beyond the old ideas of liberal democracy and individualism, then there is no compelling reason to acknowledge the rights of anyone else. Rights in the “new society” are not based on humanity, because the socialists are part of a new humanity. Rights are based on conformity.
Henrique Capriles is not a conformer.
Capriles is the Governor of Miranda, a state in northern Venezuela. He won election on the ticket of the only party to field a presidential candidate against Chavez in 2006. He knows firsthand what happens when democracy falls to socialist ideals: he served jail time in 2004 on trumped up charges of conspiring to overthrow Chavez, and his parents arrived in Venezuela as Jewish refugees seeking to get out from the threat of Nazi tyranny.
Unfortunately, socialism did not die with Nazi Germany. Owing to their allegiance with Iran, President Chavez and his supporters, the chavistas, have made no secret of their intense hatred for Israel. In early 2009, Chavez supporter and political columnist Emilio Silva posted a piece on Aporrea, a pro-government website, calling on his comrades to “publicly challenge every Jew that you find in the street, shopping center or park, shouting slogans in favor of Palestine and against that abortion: Israel.” To the chavistas, Venezuelan Jews are targets because Venezuelan Jews do not conform to the new society’s ideas about Israel. The men and women who dissent in the new society do not enjoy old human rights.
Governor Capriles learned that the hard way last month when mobs of angry Chavez supporters attacked his house in an orchestrated political demonstration by the Mayor of Miranda’s capital city, Alirio Mendoza. The mobs sprayed swastikas and climbed the walls of the home, terrorizing Capriles and his family (pictured above). Speaking that day, Mendoza justified his actions: “We are showing Capriles that… people are opposed to his continuous attacks against the initiatives and socialist projects of president Chávez.”
By the Venezuelan state’s morality, Capriles is outdated. He does not conform to socialism. He refuses to embrace Iran. He opposes political tyranny. In short, he is not a new man.
The moment that rights and even humanity itself are granted only on the basis of conformity is the moment that real morality ends. Chavez’s “new moral architecture” for the world, if adopted, will only end with a socialist swastika for whoever stands in his way.
(Thanks to Tim Mak at New Majority for the article that inspired this one.)
In “The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism,” Arthur C. Brooks argues in the Wall Street Journal that the “major cultural schism” in America today divides those who support capitalism and, on the other side, those who favor socialism. He makes a strong case for the moral foundations of free enterprise and entrepreneurship and points to the recent “tea parties” as evidence that Americans still favor the market economy. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, says Americans are revolting against “absurdities” like the bailout of General Motors that will be financed with ballooning budget deficits and trillions in new federal debt. He writes:
… the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an “ethical populism.” The protesters are homeowners who didn’t walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don’t want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don’t need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right — and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.
Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement — maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off “in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.” Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.
He also points out that the government has been increasingly “exempting” Americans from paying taxes, an intentional strategy to create a larger class of government-dependent citizens.
My colleague Adam Lerrick showed in [the Wall Street Journal] last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49% from 40% under Mr. Obama’s tax plan. Another 11% will pay less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.
To put a modern twist on the old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 either has no head, or pays no taxes. Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the “sharing economy.” They are fighting a culture war of attrition with economic tools. Defenders of capitalism risk getting caught flat-footed with increasingly antiquated arguments that free enterprise is a Main Street pocketbook issue. Progressives are working relentlessly to see that it is not.
Read the “The Culture of Charity,” the Spring 2007 interview with Brooks in Acton’s Religion & Liberty. Watch a 16-minute video interview with Brooks recorded at the Acton Grand Rapids office in May 2008
In my Winter 2007 article on economic globalization for AGAIN Magazine, I quoted economist Wilhelm Roepke. (AGAIN is published by Conciliar Media Ministries, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America). Roepke:
Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism. Ethics and economics are two equally difficult subjects, and while the former needs discerning and expert reason, the latter cannot do without humane values.
In light of all that has happened with the U.S. economic meltdown in the last few months, I continue to subscribe to the following statement from the same article:
… there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else — poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance.
I remain a convinced believer in the market economy, which is a different thing than saying that I believe in the “free market” (a misnomer for industrialized economies that have always been subject to heavy regulation) or laissez faire economics (not a good idea and, again, a term that refers to something that doesn’t exist).
The climate of fear and panic that has been raised first by the Bush administration and now President Obama (we’re in a “crisis that could become a catastrophe” he claims) should have us all screaming not “help!” but “stop!” The alarm we raise should be about the fantastic expansion of government control — in some cases outright nationalization — over what was one of the freer markets in the world. And let’s recall that most Orthodox Christian immigrants came to this country for economic opportunity — in many cases a chance to put their entrepreneurial gifts to work in a growing and prosperous country. How much opportunity will be left once Washington gets finished with its top down central planning project? If this current crisis has taught us anything, it is the importance of economic growth and sustaining that growth in a humane way over the long haul.
So, I go back to Roepke for guidance on what’s being proposed in Washington. In particular, I turn to his 1957 book, “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of a Free Market” (ISI, 1998). Page numbers in brackets:
On the necessity for economic liberty : “Since liberty was indivisible, we could not have political and spiritual liberty without also choosing liberty in the economic field and rejecting the necessarily unfree collectivist economic order; conversely, we had to be clear in our minds that a collectivist economic order meant the destruction of political and spiritual liberty. Therefore, the economy was the front line of the defense of liberty and of all its consequences for the moral and humane pattern of our civilization.” (more…)
We’ve posted Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s Oct. 30 speech delivered at the Acton Institute annual dinner in Grand Rapids, Mich. The dinner also featured a keynote address from Rev. John Nunes, president and chief executive officer of Lutheran World Relief, and remarks from Kate O’Beirne, National Review’s Washington Editor, who accepted the Acton Institute Faith & Freedom Award in honor of the late William F. Buckley, Jr.
Excerpt from Rev. Sirico’s speech:
Today we find institution after institution “in the tank” for unrestrained government intervention. One is reminded of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s call for the left to begin a long march through the institutions of Western Civilization. The left, it seems, got the memo. How will we respond to this disheartening situation? Now is no time to retreat in disarray. Now is no time to stumble. There remains a remnant … a potent remnant who has not bowed the knee to big government. My call to you tonight is a transparent one: strengthen the soldiers of that remnant. In particular—strengthen that band of brothers gathered with you tonight, the Acton Institute.
Never in Acton’s nearly 20 year history has our message been more essential than right now. As an institution that cherishes the free and virtuous society, we are living through this thing with all of you, and we need your help to continue. Our history of integrity; the quality of our products and programs; the responsible tone with which we approach the questions at hand, all speak to the fact that this work is worthy of your investment. I humbly ask for it with the promise that we will use it well and prudently.
The fact of the matter is that too many of us have become much too comfortable and yielded to a perennial temptation, the temptation to take our liberty for granted. Those of you who have invested in the work of the Acton Institute over the years know—and especially those of you who have had a chance to see our latest media effort “The Birth of Freedom” know—we believe the time has come for a renewal of those principles that form the very foundation of civilization, the same principles that make prosperity possible and accessible to those on the margins.
Liberty is indeed, as Lord Acton said, “the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.” As such it is in need of a nutritious soil in which to flourish. In this sense you and I are tillers of the soil, if you will.
Liberty is a delicate fruit. It is also an uncommon one. When one surveys human history it becomes evident how unusual, how precious is authentic liberty, as is the economic progress that is its result. These past few weeks are a vivid and sad testimony to this fact. As a delicate fruit, human liberty as well as economic stability must be tended to, lest it disintegrate. It requires constant attention, new appreciation and understanding, renewal, moral defense and integration into the whole fabric of society.
Read the entire speech here.
Is Senator Obama a closet socialist waiting for inauguration day, at which time he and a Democratic Congress will immediately pursue a massive increase in the size and power of government in our lives, accompanied by massive tax increases and massive redistribution of wealth? Or is he really a moderate pragmatist, a canny politician who when he was getting started in politics used his radical contacts from his ultra-leftwing Hyde Park community, but now is in a position to use more moderate figures to build a centrist working coalition? Which is the real Obama?
Stanley Kurtz of National Review has been investigating Obama’s political past for months now, and in a recent piece on Obama’s ties to such far left groups as Acorn and The New Party, Kurtz suggests a third alternative that I find both more nuanced and more cogent than either Obama-as-Clintonesque-pragmatist or Obama-as-Manchurian-Candidate. (more…)
A 2001 radio interview of Barack Obama surfaced yesterday in which he said that “one of the tragedies of the Civil Rights movement,” and one of the limitations of the Warren Supreme Court, was that although they won such formal rights as the right to vote and “sit at the lunch counter and order,” they “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.”
A caller to the station, WBEZ Chicago 91.5 FM, then asks if the courts are “the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place.” Obama responds that “you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally,” but a more effective approach is “the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributed change.”
Does the radio interview demonstrate that Obama harbors radical views? Does it suggest that the black liberation theology of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, plays a bigger role in Obama’s thinking than he claims? Should black Americans get substantial monetary payments from other Americans as repayment for slavery and racism? If these are the primary questions swirling around this radio interview in the coming days, an important question may go begging: Would reparations specifically, and wealth redistribution generally, actually help poor black Americans?
In a new Acton video short, “How not to Help the Poor,” experts on poverty fighting argue that government wealth redistribution has devastated poor communities.
One of the experts interviewed is Robert Woodson, a former Civil Rights activist and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. “We in Washington today lead the nation in 21 separate categories of poverty expenditures,” he notes. “Explain to me why a child born in Washington D.C. has a life expectancy that’s lower than a child born anywhere in the western hemisphere second only to Haiti. We have the highest per capita expenditure on education and we’re 48th in outcomes for kids.”
Woodson does not find the answer in the history of blacks under slavery but in U.S. social policy after 1960. “The black marriage rate in 1930 to 1940 was higher than in the white community. Eighty-two percent of all black families had a man and a woman raising children. But what happened in 1960 when government intervened with the poverty programs, a major paradigm shift occurred and contributed to the decimation of the family.”
Why do such well-intended programs have such devastating consequences? And what has proven to help lift up the poor? The video short also explores these questions.
An early transcript of the Obama radio interview is available here.