An exceedingly honest woman called into an Austin, Texas, radio talk show, KLBJ, to discuss why she chooses not to work. She, her husband and three children rely on tax dollars for shelter, utilities and food. She admits that her parents did not work either, and that free money and programs were offered all the time. And what’s wrong with that?
Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:
According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.
In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”
While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
I was thinking about just this thing after reading an opinion piece in today’s Detroit News from yet another technocrat who thinks he’s got a solution to the city’s deep, decades-old problems. His plan, dressed up with a lot of happy talk about building “vibrant central cities,” defaults to (surprise) convincing Michigan taxpayers that they should fund “local services” for Detroiters. This sort of abstract theorizing, divorced from political and public policy reality, always defaults to more taxes, bigger government and “public-private partnerships” led by corporate execs and teams of technocrats. This has been going on for close to 50 years in Detroit.
The writer of this article, Lou Glazer of the nonprofit Michigan Future, Inc., says the city, and places like Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo (full disclosure: I’m from Pontiac) need new “delivery systems” for services. And light rail and bike paths. “If Michigan will not reinvest in cities, then there needs to be some new system of municipal finance put in place,” he writes. Yes, investment. Nowhere, however, amid all the talk of growing the city with “young, mobile talent” does he suggest that there might be some people in Detroit with new ideas about how to come to grips with the city’s problems. Or do they all lack what it takes to turn Motown into a “talent magnet,” as he puts it. (more…)
While the Christian Left tends to be skeptical of appeals to scripture, one Biblical author they do favor is James. The book of James is often used to justify appeals to social justice. But as David Nilsen realized, James wouldn’t necessarily support their position:
In the course of dialoging with my friend about federal welfare programs, I quoted from James, perhaps to establish my social justice cred, and also to preemptively rebut potential accusations that I don’t think Christians have a duty to care for the poor. When I looked up the passage I had in mind, to quote it accurately, I was a little surprised. James 1:27 reads,
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)
Now, I always hear about the orphans and widows, but rarely hear about remaining unstained by the world, to the point that I forgot it was even part of the verse. This prompted a thought. While I believe it is certainly possible for Christians to support social welfare programs that demand more and more tax revenue and ever increasing government power, what happens when James 1:27a butts heads with James 1:27b? In other words, what happens when our attempt at following the first half of James’ instruction ultimately forces us to compromise on the second half? When Christians place the necessary responsibility of caring for widows and orphans in the hands of an increasingly secular entity whose goals are frequently in opposition to other important Christian beliefs, this dilemma is sure to follow.
With the most recent fiscal cliff approaching this Thursday (February 28), it is worth asking, “How did we get into this mess?” My answer: a little leaven works its way through a whole lump of dough….
Touchstone Magazine (March/April 2013) recently published my article, “The Yeast We Can Do,” in their “Views” section (subscription required). In it, I explore the metaphor of yeast in the Scriptures—how little things eventually work their way through our whole lives and can lead to big consequences. In some cases, I point out, this is a bad thing. For example, I write,
According to Evagrios the Solitary, one of the early Christian hermits of the Egyptian desert, our spiritual struggle can be summarized quite simply: it is because we have first failed to resist little temptations that we eventually fall to greater ones. Following John the Evangelist’s warnings against succumbing to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), Evagrios identifies three “frontline demons” in particular: gluttony, avarice, and seeking the esteem of others.
Little by little, when we give in to small temptations, they eventually work their way through our whole lives, leaving us vulnerable to bigger, related areas of temptation.
Now, how does this relate to our over $16.5 trillion national debt and annual deficits over $1 trillion for the last four years that brought us to a looming sequestration deadline, with little time to come up with some solution to drastically cut spending to get our finances under control, adversely affecting the lives of millions? Well, as I said, a little leaven works its way through the whole lump of dough. (more…)
“You can be for markets without being against redistribution,” says Erik Angner, a philosophy professor at George Mason University. Angner argues that the Nobel-winning economist Friedrich Hayek offers an alternative to contemporary liberals and leftists on the one hand and conservatives and libertarians on the other. As Amanda Winkler notes,
In a controversial Politco op-ed published in 2012, Angner wrote that while Britain’s National Health System and the price-rigging elements of Obamacare violate Hayekian principles, creating an individual mandate and giving poor Americans some amount of money to spend on health care as they see fit does not. To Angner, vouchers for health care would function similarly to vouchers for education, helping to create stronger market forces and spurring the sort of competition that would lead to a more efficient and robust system.
Economist Tyler Cowan is skeptical that Hayek’s approach would work since, he says, “it is hard to have major government involvement in health care without price controls, or should I write ‘price controls,’ in some manner or another.”
Perhaps more interesting than whether a Hayekian could support Obamacare is the question of whether a Christian who favors free markets should be in favor of income redistribution. Personally, for numerous reasons I’m in favor of encouraging individual redistribution and leery of state-mandated redistribution. One reason, as Arthur Brooks explains, is that “[It] just culturally makes it harder for people who believe in income redistribution to give intuitively, to take personal ownership of a problem.” Believing that aiding the poor is the role of the government provides a disincentive for personal engagement with those in need.
What would most Christians consider a strong, compelling argument (assuming any exist) for free markets and government-mandated redistribution?
On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reflects on President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, and flags the “reality-denial” that is expressed by “a few token references to free enterprise and rewarding individual initiative (to reassure us we’re still living in America instead of just another declining European social democracy).” More:
Judging from the president’s remarks, you’d never guess we just had a negative quarter of economic growth; or that the unemployment rate just ticked up again; or that millions of Americans have simply given up looking for work; or that Obamacare is (as predicted) already driving up the health-care costs that the president claimed are falling (just ask those businesses busy shifting thousands of employees into part-time positions in order to cap their exploding health-care costs); or that . . . again, I fear I am belaboring the point.
What’s the plan from the White House?
… we hear the president tell us, yet again, that we need to pump more money into universities and colleges. Never mind the higher-education bubble, which is going to implode sooner than most people think. We’re also told that we need to develop high-speed rail. One wonders if anyone has asked people in the People’s Republic of California how that’s working out. Then there is the apparently endless promise of green energy, which, despite the billions of taxpayer dollars poured into it, hasn’t actually created that many jobs at all. In addition to all this, we are now informed we must raise the minimum wage. Never mind all the evidence underscoring just how much damage minimum-wage laws do to the job prospects of the poor and many young people, not to mention newly arrived immigrants who just want a chance to start working.
Read “Rhetoric versus Reality” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.
And pick up a copy of Gregg’s new book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future here.
Thanks to RealClearPolicy for linking.
Samuel Gregg was recently on WORD-FM: Pittsburgh’s “The Ride Home with John and Kathy” to talk about Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. They discuss many of the main themes of the book, including: Americans’ changing attitude toward liberty and economic freedom, entitlements, and the welfare state.
Listen to their discussion here:
Becoming Europe is available as a hardcover or an eBook. If you want to learn more, read a free sample, or purchase the book, click here.
In the Washington Times, Nile Gardiner praises Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future, the new book by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg. Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation and a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst for The Telegraph, says Becoming Europe “should be on the desk of every member of the House and Senate who cares about the future of America as a prosperous and free nation.” Gardiner recommends the book for its “rich detail describing the economic and social ‘Europeanization’ of America, from the rise of vast welfare systems to growing skepticism of the merits of the free-enterprise system.” Excerpt from the review:
“Becoming Europe” is a meticulously researched and well-argued thesis that lays out what is at stake for the world’s superpower, as it faces a stark choice between European-style decline or a return to the original vision of America’s Founding Fathers, as well as the classical liberal teachings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Friedrich von Hayek and Adam Smith. Mr. Gregg, who is director of research at the Acton Institute, paints a grim picture of the direction America is taking but, nevertheless, conveys a positive message to his readers. Mr. Gregg argues that while America is indeed on the path to the European model, it can still turn back and avoid the fate that Europe looks doomed to suffer. In many respects, this is an optimistic book based upon faith in America’s ability to renew itself through rediscovering the principles of economic liberty.
I agree with Mr. Gregg’s assessment. As Gallup polling consistently shows, America is still at its core a conservative nation, one that cherishes the foundations of individual liberty. The fire of freedom still burns brighter on this side of the Atlantic than it does in the Old World, where the suffocating supranationalism of the European Union marches on, with the EU heading toward ever-greater political and economic centralization. The European nightmare can be avoided here, however, only if America’s leaders, at both a national and state level, are willing to stand up for economic freedom and reject the destructive ideology of big government. Washington is already on the path to Brussels, Paris and Athens, but it still has an opportunity to reverse course and avoid the road to economic ruin.
Read Nile Gardiner’s full review of Becoming Europe in the Washington Times.
Unfortunately there’s a great deal of evidence suggesting America is slouching down the path to Western Europe. In practical terms, that means social-democratic economic policies: the same policies that have turned many Western European nations into a byword for persistently high unemployment, rigid labor markets, low-to-zero economic growth, out-of-control debt and welfare states, absurdly high tax levels, growing numbers of well-paid government workers, a near-obsession with economic equality at any cost and, above all, a stubborn refusal to accept that things simply can’t go on like this.
It’s very hard to deny similar trends are becoming part of America’s economic landscape. States like California are already there — just ask the thousands of Californians and businesses who have fled the land of Nancy Pelosi.
Europeanization is also reflected in the refusal of so many Americans to take our nation’s debt crisis seriously. Likewise, virtually every index of economic freedom and competitiveness shows that, like most Western European nations, America’s position vis-à-vis other countries is in decline.
Is there a way out, even as the “fiscal cliff” negotiations vividly illustrate the inability of Washington’s political elites to take spending and tax problems seriously? Gregg holds out hope: (more…)