Purpose and Prosperity

“Government is a very blunt instrument and can be easily perverted to do things it shouldn’t be doing.”
-Andrew G. Biggs, resident scholar at AEI

This past weekend, I attended the American Enterprise Institute’s Purpose and Prosperity Conference. It was an excellent experience, teaching me a great deal about how to combine faith, economics, and public policy. I have often heard, “If Jesus was here today, he would be a Marxist.” This conference, in fact, proved the opposite. There were three major takeaways from this conference that I would like to discuss in further detail…

1. We need a more limited government.

The above quote by Dr. Andrew G. Biggs illustrates this perfectly.

Dr. Michael Greve, the John G. Serale Scholar at AEI, described how the New Deal not only expanded the federal government, but local and state governments as well. This, he explains, contradicts the ideal of competition between the states (the original intent of federalism). His advice? “Either let the feds run something or state and local governments run something, but don’t let them do it together and at the same time!”

Dr. Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at AEI, explains how nuclear and coal energy’s efficiency ratings are higher than wind (90%, 80%, and 20% respectively). Despite these well-known facts, the government continues to throw billions of dollars into “clean-energy” sources.

All three of these speakers help me to realize that just because the government can do something, it does not mean it should, nor that it is the best possible solution.

2. Faith and politics need not be mutually exclusive.

Dr. Arthur C. Brooks, the president of AEI, articulates this most clearly: “Morality and capitalism, like morality and democracy, are intimately connected and mutually complementary. They reinforce one another; the need one another; and they are terribly diminished without one another. They are links in a golden chain.” In his book The Road to Freedom, Brooks uses countless examples to create a moral argument for capitalism.

Free-market advocates are often criticized for being cold and uncaring, and that is something that must be changed. I am a free-market advocate because I truly want to help the poor. If I supported any other system, I would be deliberately choosing to go against my conscience as well as my Christian values. No system embodies these values more than a free-market system.

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas gave the most inspiring speech of the conference. Detailing his battle with cancer and his struggle with priorities in his own life, he advocated making Christ the center of everything. Politics and religion should not be mutually exclusive, especially if we are trying to reflect God in our everyday lives. Governor Brownback also discussed the importance of love. Judging someone, he argues, ruins any chance of getting to know them: “They can have a completely different worldview, and we can still do extraordinary things together.”

3. There is hope for our country.

In my experience at AEI, I did not just learn from the lectures. I also learned from my interactions with people. I had the pleasure of meeting intelligent students and professors from across the country that were truly striving to serve the Lord in the best way they possibly can. The staff members at AEI were inspirations to my future.

I had a special chance to meet Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD). At 86 years old, he is serving his 10th term in Congress. Congressman Bartlett has spent his entire life fighting for the principles of the Constitution and his faith, setting an excellent example for his ten children, seventeen grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. This past week, he has woken up at 6 and often been working until midnight every day. Congressman Bartlett accepts the difficult job and long hours because he truly wants to serve his country.

Perhaps the most impacting moment of the entire weekend was during a break, while I was outside the Supreme Court. A Catholic protest against ObamaCare’s contraception mandate came down the street, marching peacefully to the steps outside the building. The police not only protected their right to assemble, they helped them cross the street to avoid any injuries! We live in a special country. Not only are we allowed to express our political and religious opinions, we are encouraged. My time at AEI helped me to realize that we can often express both types of opinions at the same time.

35 responses to “Purpose and Prosperity

  1. …I was reading the Wall Street Journal this morning. The CEO of Aetna Insurance was interviewed. Many people instantly dislike “big oil”, “big insurance”, etc. And they assume profits in a free market system are somehow evil or greedy. Aetna earned only a 5.7% profit this last quarter from their revenues. (The same was true a year ago…so this is not an outlier figure.) They are a big insurance company…one of the largest of all. I do not know anyone that would accuse a small company of making only 5.7% profit (5.7 cents out of every dollar sold) a greedy company or individual. The same is true of large companies. They really are not inherently evil, and are not real reasons to switch economic models. They are, however, scape-goats a lot. They also (thankfully) employ a lot of people, who support their families and pay taxes.

    Justice John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, put it like this: “If someone asked me if I would support the little guy if he sued a big company, would I do that? …And I answered, …well obviously framing it that way makes you want to do that. But the real question is who does the Constitution say should win in court? If the Constitution says the little guy should win, then he should win. If the Constitution says the big company should win, then they will win in my court, however.”

    It is a great quote…to think constitutionally and use it as the baseline for decision-making, including but not limited to free-market intrusions by the government.

    • Excellent! I like that quote a lot. I believe one of my biggest comebacks against the whole “greed” thing is to say: “I can be the greediest person in the world, but in a true free market system, I won’t make any money unless someone willingly gives it to me.”

        • Of course not. God will justly judge the greedy for sinning, just as he will judge all others for their sins.

          The point of that quote is to say: “Greed doesn’t make you rich.” It really doesn’t. Rich people are not rich because they’re greedy, they’re rich because they took a risk, provided something useful to someone, whether it be good company management, a new invention, financial advice, or Facebook, and the risk paid off.

          Greed can be committed by anyone, rich or poor. The problem lies in assuming that wealthiness somehow translates into bad character.

      • You have a good point consideragain, and I’d like to add a slightly different angle on the “greed” thing.

        A while back I got something valuable from reading Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions. He talked about “fidelity to task.” Civilization is marked by division of labor. Each worker, whether cop, lawyer, baker, or insurer has a job to focus on, a task to execute faithfully. If we ask the insurer to start taking externalities into consideration, he will lose focus from doing the job the best he can, and his customers will receive a shoddy service. This is why it never makes sense to ask a business to stop being “greedy.” This is the concern of legislators, activists, pastors, judges, and so on. The business should focus on providing the best service it can within the confines of the law.

        • I’ve read Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies, Intellectuals and Society, and part of Black Rednecks and White Liberals. I guess I’ll have to grab that book too.

          I’m curious about this “fidelity to task” thing – it sounds intriguing. Basically he’s saying that if I want to buy something, it shouldn’t be my role or concern to determine how “greedy” the business is? Because all I truly want is a quality product at an agreeable price.

          • I guess I could give a clearer example of how I understand it; it’s been a few years!

            Say that you don’t like that Company X is exploiting workers in a certain way. Then you should not boycott or write the company, making a direct appeal to their conscience. That will invoke all sorts of machinations that can detract from their mission. Neither does it solve the problem that what you don’t like is not illegal.

            Instead, get to the root problem: work to change the law so that what you don’t like is illegal. Society works better when the rules are spelled out, and each actor does only and precisely what is expected of them.

          • Ah, I see. Very interesting point. Makes sense, but it can’t really be a universal rule. There are times when boycotts or letters may be appropriate.

            And I don’t quite like the analogy of each person only doing what’s expected of them… I like people to go “above and beyond”.

            Guess I’ll have to read the book!

  2. I loved the opening quote. I believe in a limited government and a capitalist system that promotes fair competition. I think energy is a joke (and those turbines are killing our fair feathered friends!). I’m a big proponent of Nucleur energy, but from what I’ve found solar is very efficient. Do I think that the government should ‘nudge’ us with subsidies and tax incentives towards ANYTHING: No. Changes in society should be made by the intelligence and decisions of society at large, composed of millions of different choices. It’ll be slower, but more just.

    I too love this country and our ability to gather peacefully to address our grievances with the government.

    I am a man of faith, but I have major contentions with the “religious right” in the fact that it is one thing to live out your own faith, but our government is, and should always remain, secular. I don’t want big government even formed in the image of Christ.

    How do you find a balance between your beliefs and the imposition of government on our personal lives?

    • I think that is definitely one of the challenges, finding a balance. I don’t want a society or government that completely eradicates all presence of religion. (Obviously because I am religious, but in addition because of the inherent societal benefits and moral values religion can offer)

      Am I against abortion? Yes. However, not because “The Bible says abortion is wrong.” It’s because deep in my moral being, I truly believe that killing another person is wrong. I think it’s completely wrong to allow people to decide whether their baby is “worth it”. Now we’re running into problems with gender discrimination, similar to what happens in China. I think the Bible supports my argument, but I also am not trying to institute a theocracy.

      As for gay marriage (another issue often associated with the churches), I am against it. I think it’s wrong and destructive to society. And I honestly do think the Bible speaks out against it. However, I also would not support the DoMA – because marriage isn’t in the Constitution, I don’t think the federal government can regulate it. I think it should be up to the states. That’s the whole point of federalism. If you don’t like your state’s laws, move.

      I also don’t want a big government justified by “the image of Christ”. Because people often use that phrase to garner support for whatever policy, no matter how destructive.

      However, it is important to remember that our original government was founded on Christian principles. Jefferson understood that we shouldn’t have a theocracy or “forced religion”. But I think all this insanity about nativity scenes and such misses the point. He said, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

      It’s obvious that he doesn’t believe we should force people to be religious. (I don’t think he wanted the government to force people for anything anyways) But it doesn’t mean that we need to completely erase all notions of God from our minds.

      What do you think?

      • This has been a great thread thus far. I don’t buy the idea of a theocratic threat from the religious right. Who is a credible proponent? If anything, folks from the secular or religious Left can be even more vehement in insisting on their morality. It’s this stealth irreligion that the state needs a protective separation from.

        To answer Disaffected Youth’s inquiry “How do you find a balance between your beliefs and the imposition of government on our personal lives?” one ought ask: where do rights come from? Our founders tended to say something like Nature’s laws or the Creator, but these have lost traction in our pluralistic, immediate gratification society.

        Christians are right to say objective morals flow from God’s nature. But rights are not necessarily moral in nature. A government is not omnipotent, and so cannot guarantee justice perfectly like God can; it must adapt a functional basis for rights. Welfare states try to deliver positive rights, like “freedom from want,” but with dismal results. A basic understanding of scarcity precludes the possibility of many positive rights, such as a right to free health care.

        I do agree with consideragain on things like abortion and gay marriage. There is a legitimate public interest that sometimes calls for things like raising armies or outlawing drugs. These are not just based on the Bible or rote tradition, but reflection upon human nature and the context of reality that people actually inhabit.

        So in crafting laws, I’d we should guard against positive rights, while discerning the public interest. Often reason will deliver us to a position not dissimilar to America’s Judeo-Christian roots.

        • I’m glad you stopped by! I enjoy your comments as well as your blog. You do have an excellent point with the larger threat from the religious left.

          Immediately jumping to mind is Rauschenbusch and the “social gospel”, or Croly and Ely (heads of progressivism). Ely said, “God works through the State in carrying out His purposes more universally than through any other institution…” He says it “is religious in its essence” and “a mighty force in furthering God’s kingdom.”

          This carried over to Wilson’s philosophy, when he argued about the “mighty task before us… It is to make the United States a mighty Christian nation, and to Christianize the world.”

          Those quotes are more revealing of the progressive/left showing a movement towards theocracy than any quotes I’ve heard from the religious right.

          Certainly, when I say that capitalism is in line with my biblical values, the outcry I receive should not be near as dramatic as it should be to these quotes.

      • I’m completely against killing another person. I feel the abortion debate is one much overdone, here is my solution:

        It is illegal to kill a person, therefore the whole abortion thing is solved in the definition of personhood. If we claim that you have the right to kill a baby until it reaches personhood, then by Freudian accounts this is not achieved until the child is about 2 years old (during the “I” stage, or mirror stage).

        In the laws eyes you are not a full person with all of your rights until you are 21.

        So if it’s about personhood, we should be able to have late, late term abortions.

        I, however, will never kill.

        As far as gay marriage I’ll have to disagree with you completely.

        Marriage is a human construct. There’s no reason to prevent two individuals from getting married. Male, female, black, white, yellow, short, tall, we are all individuals nonetheless, and the government should not prevent us from doing anything that doesn’t infringe upon another individual’s natural rights (life, liberty, property).

        Gay marriage has never hurt me, or anybody else for that matter.

        As for gay marriage being destructive to society, I think that is unfounded.

        The Jersey Shore is more destructive to society than gay marriage ever will be.

        Obesity is more destructive to society than gay marriage ever will be.

        I guess I just hardly see justification for the government interfering in our love lives.

        • And that’s where we differ. Because I think that the person is a person MUCH earlier than 2 years old. And I do think that is a natural, moral law. That may not be defined in the government’s law, but it was absolutely understood back in 1776 and it’s understood by many today.

          The thing is, government isn’t preventing homosexuals from being homosexual. It’s preventing them from drawing monetary benefits from being married. Marriage isn’t a natural right, therefore it is given by the government. It is also withheld, not just from homosexuals, but from close relatives who want to get married, polygamists, and (in some states) restricts it against those with certain STDs. There is no compelling interest or benefit for the state to authorize these monetary benefits.

          Jersey Shore is destructive to society. But at least I’m allowed to say my thoughts against it without being called a “Jersey-phobe” by many people.

          • We the people do appear to say to those who are gay (but have no desire to be polygamist or who are not closely related), “your sexual orientation makes you the kind of person who should not have the privilege of adult personhood, namely marriage.” We the people are doing much more than merely preventing monetary benefit. We are preventing all the benefits, personal and societal, of covenantal marriage. I believe there is a strong compelling moral and social interest for we the people to legalize gay marriage. Monetary benefits are important, but in comparison to personal and societal benefits, they are secondary. Close genetic relationships and polygamy have clear harms we may choose to prevent. However we still allow such persons to make other marriage choices. Those who are gay are allowed no marriage choices, no covenantal choices, and in many cases no domestic partnership choices. They are dehumanized in a way that may indeed be unconstitutional.

            To seek agreement on clearly defining when we become persons will be an endless endeavor. I suspect science will not bring us to a ‘bright line’ definition. The Bible tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit by God Himself in our mother’s womb, but biblical revelation is not likely to help us much in terms of a ‘bright line’ definition either. From the beginning in the womb, God is knitting a person. This is enough to make, what others may call fetuses, sacred. At the very very least, from the beginning a fetus is potentially human, on the way to becoming a person, or becoming more and more fully human. Whatever one may say is the most accurate expression here, that is enough to be uniquely protected by law.

          • “Monetary benefits are important, but in comparison to personal and societal benefits, they are secondary. ” I completely agree! Wholeheartedly, in every area of my life. That’s why I plan to serve God and spend more time with my family than try to work 80 hours a week to bump up my career.

            I just disagree on whether these homosexuals have really created a “compelling moral and social interest” for a state to legalize it. I have absolutely nothing against them trying to prove it. But so far, only 6 states (and the DoC) have agreed. And the other 44 are completely in their rights to feel differently. The only reason government gets involved in marriage is because of children. The government sees no reason to regulate friends or business partnerships. But because how children are raised is a crucial element in the public structure, it is in the social interest of the state to assure that this is happening in the best way possible – i.e. marriage.

            It seems that the real question is, can homosexuals prove to these state governments that their marriage will be a benefit to society in some other way?

    • Wow! This is a such a good debate that I can’t leave it alone. There are lots of good thoughts and a great amount of information that I truly can’t read it all, but wanted to atleast leave some insight from my perspective so I apologize if I repeat something that has already been said.

      The integration of religion into the political scene appears to be the major issue at hand and I want to address Disaffected Youth’s comments that government “…should always remain, secular.” To this I disagree because it is abundantly clear that our nation was founded upon the values and principles of the Christian faith and these have been integrated into our laws, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, our buildings, our currency, our pledge, our monuments, our gatherings (i.e. “God Bless America” sang at baseball games), and more. Our government is and has always been formed in the image of Christ. The caveat however, is our government has made the decision that it will not officially endorse a particular religion, that is where the balance lies. Even during the founding of our country, there will people of multiple faiths or no faith at all, but our founders knew that without a Biblical foundation, there would be literal chaos. John Adams said once, “There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation.”

      Kirk Cameron’s documentary “Monumental,” is a stunning piece of evidence confirming the depths to which our nation is based on Christianity, but yet we still deny it and we are still trying to change it. Nobody – including myself – wants a theocracy, but I don’t want an atheistic secularist country either.

      So whether we approve of Christianity or not, it is the precepts of the faith embedded without our nation that allow everyone to worship or not worship as they please. The government has never, nor should it ever impose any form of religion on another person. However, as soon as you take away the Biblical principles and values out of the foundation of our government and nation, you will take away freedom; you will take away liberty. Death will come to our nation if God is removed.

      • Yes our government was founded upon the values and principles of the Christian faith, there is a very palpable presence of Christianity throughout our country and our foundations (which makes sense seeing how the first settlers were basically puritan refugees).

        But our government was also founded as a secular one, and so it should remain (especially if we want to stick to our core values right?).

        But I take issue with the notion that our government was created in the image of Christ. These may be the underlying principles that guided a lot of our founder’s thoughts and ideals, but there is nothing in the Constitution that suggests the government that was created at the Constitutional Convention was in any way, shape or form, anything but a secularist government.

        And we should not be focused on whether we have a “Christian” or “Secular atheistic” country, we should be focused on encouraging the freedom of the individual to decide for himself.

        Our Puritan founders fled to the continent specifically to flee religious persecution (by other CHRISTIANS mind you). I hardly think they would approve of enacting any laws that would put any sort of restraint upon the opinions and beliefs of the individual.

        I don’t see anybody trying to eliminate the precepts of faith embedded within our nation or the biblical principles and values in the foundation of our government and nation.

        To do so would be improbable.

        I say this as a devoted Christian who recognizes that we should not have Christianity as an established part of our government any more than Islam. It should be the individual consciousness who decides his/her faith.

        • “I don’t see anybody trying to eliminate the precepts of faith embedded within our nation or the biblical principles and values in the foundation of our government and nation.”

          “Under God” in the pledge? Praying before football games? Prayer in schools? Nativity scenes on public property that somehow “oppress” others? Marriage?

          When you say secular, do you mean completely eradicating any mention of any sort of religion or higher being?

          • To be fair “Under God” wasn’t in the original pledge but was added in the 1950’s ish (don’t quote me on that). But I don’t think—if the consensus were to change on what religion our nation favors—that I should be then subjected to prayers to Allah

            • Good point. The point still is that we won’t and can’t change what religion we “favor”, because it’s not some popular or official decision for us to favor a certain religion.

              The reason Christianity is so present is because that’s how our nation was founded- not because some people decided to suddenly impose their views one day.

  3. Don Huizinga:

    Dr. Greve- Assumption: Competition is better than cooperation. Is that true? What would Jesus prefer?
    Dr. Green- response: Should efficiency weigh more heavily in our energy crisis than effects on our environment? Do we have a moral responsibility (respect for God’s creation) to pursue clean energy even it is more expensive?
    Dr. Brooks- response: Given that capitalism is/can be intimately connected with morality, is it mutually exclusively so? Can socialist democracy be intimately connected with Christian morality as well?
    Your thoughts- “Any other system…would…be going against my Christian values. No system embodies these values more than a free market system.” Whoa! Are western European socialist democracies by definition/by necessity less able to honor Christian values?
    Sen. Brownback- I love his comments, especially””They can have completely different worldviews, and we can still do extraordinary things together.” I wish our Congressmen and women of both parties would have that sentiment at their core. Good politics in a democracy is all about compromise. Say that today in an election campaign and one may well preclude any hope of being elected.

    Consider again……

    • It is easy to buttress (and try to disarm opposing views) by interjecting Christ as the standard. For Christians, of course, he is the standard. (And I am one.) But many wrong views simplistically use Jesus’ name even if harm occurs. Competition and cooperation are not mutually exclusive ideas. Many businesses both compete with, and cooperate with, other businesses. But the free market is extremely ethical, because it is the only economic system in which masses of people have been lifted out of poverty. Truly masses – millions and millions. Many, many Federal Reserve studies have shown this, both in the United States, and comparing free markets with more centrally planned ones (from socialism to communism). Economic growth brings jobs, higher standards of living, greater health, longer lives, and on and on. All of those benefit children, old persons, families, etc. It is an exciting thing.

      In regards to Dr. Green’s info, all of us want a cleaner environment. We also want
      Mom, Baseball and Apple Pie. The central point of “green energy” is that most of it
      does not work. Many “green” projects are not scalable, or efficient enough, or deliver peak power when it is most needed (such as wind turbines). And the good news is that our environment continues to become cleaner each decade. Each
      decade there are advances in efficiency, and new discoveries that clean up existing pollution. Just this last month, a process of using bacteria to “eat” oil from spills in the ocean has been discovered. But energy production has been demonized…and it too is essential for growth and health of people. The free market will most efficiently dictate the appropriate price of goods, services, energy, etc. But dictating more expensive energy sources and prices by fiat actually hurts the poor the most. A basic amount of energy use is needed by most people that are productive in the United States, to drive to work, heat their dwellings, etc. Once again, the free market is the most ethical and ultimately kindest system to help people.

      In regards to Arthur Brooks, I encourage you to read his latest book, The Road to Freedom. Over and over again, he makes the case, with data, that the free market system should be the one most supported by Christians, because it helps the most people. It also allows more people to give to charity, since they have more to give, and are less heavily regulated in their lives.

      …And yes, European Social Democracies are a failure. Look at any of them right now: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland…they are all heading for economic disaster – and soon. That process, which has been in slow motion for three years, is in the process right now, of speeding up. No one, including me, knows exactly what will happen. But the downside is huge, and the upside right now is not. And these more centrally controlled and high-tax economies, are in the process of harming not only their millions and millions of citizens with high unemployment and failing banks, but harming the entire world economy. None of that is ethical. It is not ethical to spend more than you take in, or to require bailouts without changing behavior.

      One thing Governor Brownback (former governor of Kansas) said is that he does not compromise his core biblical beliefs. His policies are founded on those beliefs. Of course, everyone’s policies are informed by their beliefs, whatever those may be, and he said that as well. But sometimes compromise is necessary…and sometimes it is OK to refuse to compromise. His speech was compelling.

    • 1. Competition between the states is better than cooperation with the federal government. Certainly not in all cases. But we can see in Medicaid, education, etc. the states have an incentive to waste money in order to get more money from the federal government. Solving the problem would only amount to a decrease in the amount of money received from the government. Therefore, state and local politicians consistently use federal money to strengthen their campaigns and help special interests, rather than fixing the problem in a cost-efficient way. It’s a stronger version of how budgets work within various departments of a business or university. If a department economizes and saves money, the executive branch will respond by decreasing the amount of money given to them in next year’s budget. As a result, a department tries to spend at LEAST the amount of their previous budget (regardless of the waste) in order to continue receiving that money.

      Of course there is no point in saying “Jesus would support _____ system.” That is attempting to read way to much into the Bible. However, capitalism has done far better than any other system in lifting people out of poverty. Compare the United States to any communist country, and you can see the results. Therefore, I do believe capitalism embodies biblical values better than any other system.

      2. Efficiency and the effect on the environment should BOTH play a role in our decisions. However, as stewards of God’s environment and of the people around us, we should also be watchful about the mindless pursuits of “helping the environment” without realizing the costs. For example – wind energy sounds nice and clean. But it turns out, due to the inconsistency of the wind, that generators are needed to keep the windmills at a stable level. The pollution caused by stabilizing these windmills (as well as the destruction of the immense amount of ground they cover) can often be vastly more than the pollution present before the windmills were built. In addition, the blackouts caused by unreliable energy (such as wind) cost millions of dollars in lost information, increase vulnerability to crime, and cause the deaths of many people.

      Second, by assuming we have a moral responsibility to pursue more expensive energy, we completely forsake our moral responsibility to helping the poor. As energy prices are a significant part of every household’s budget, they are a significantly larger percentage of each poor household’s budget. Increasing energy costs in order to make us feel better without actually helping the environment will actually hurt the people the Bible commands us to care for.

      Finally, it stands to reason that in the US, where we continue to use more and more energy, our air and water pollution continue to consistently go down.

      3. Can socialist democracy be intimately connected with morality? No. Not when these socialist systems lead to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, suppression of free will, and this notion that everyone must be “equal” economically. The Parable of the Talents comes to mind. We should treat everyone equally, but we should not force some “Robin Hood” approach to steal money in order to help those with less. The Bible calls us to be generous. It does not call us to force our neighbors to be generous.

      Finally, socialism and social democracies are historically anti-religious.

      Appreciated your thoughts! I would love to continue this discussion. Thanks for visiting my blog!

      • Don Huizinga to Consider Again:
        1. Regulated capitalism has done well in doing the most good for the most people; however, there are other people than ‘most.’ I suspect far too many poor in America suffer more than any socialist democracy would tolerate.
        While regulated capitalism does well, unregulated capitalism tends toward greed and oppression. A point of disagreement may be how much regulation is too little and how much is too much?
        2A. Some of these cause/effect claims related to wind energy feel forced. Other sources of clean energy exist besides wind. I suppose one could also list the thousands or more of lost lives over conflicts related to oil. Does capitalism sometimes need a nudge (tax incentives, etc.) toward pursuing clean energy?
        B. One ought not limit evaluation of cost to $ and cents. Who ends up dying in the wars to protect oil sources. From which economic class is the greatest number of lost lives?
        C. What has been the cause(s) of the downward trend in pollution? An increase in production? regulation?
        3. Is socialism’s goal economic equality? May it be more fair to say that the goal is social/economic security that includes all?
        4. This the first complaint I have heard that socialist democracies are anti-religious. It may be true that many western European countries have low religiosity (However one measure these things) but to establish a cause/effect relationship may be difficult.

        I’ve attempted to number my thoughts in relation to your ‘numbering.’

        Don Huizinga

        • I appreciate the numbering system. It makes discussions flow very easily!

          1. I think you don’t quite understand my point. By saying “most people”, I mean that capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any socialist system has ever done. Obviously the biggest point of disagreement is “how much regulation in regulated capitalism.” Which is something that has to be covered on a case-by-case basis, not a general argument. However, the biggest point to remember is that economic decisions in this capitalistic system depends on freedom. I can be as greedy as I want, but I won’t get the money I desire so much unless people willingly give it to me. Greed doesn’t cause wealth. Good service, good management, good work, and good skills do. Greed in and of itself doesn’t actually create any wealth. And in order to protect ourselves from the greedy, we have a free system. So that if one person charges exorbitant prices, another company is free to step in and charge lower prices, thereby competing with the first company, keeping prices low. Therefore open competition actually creates a disincentive for greed.

          2. A. I think the central point of clean energy is that a) it definitely costs more and is considerably less efficient. And I still have not seen any concrete proof that there is some impending danger from our oil.
          B. Who ends up dying in the wars to protect oil sources? The same people who will end up dying to protect wind sources, or solar sources, or whatever source becomes the “new” type of energy.
          C. I’m sure many people have different opinions about the cause, but consider this. We produce VASTLY more than third-world countries (even after regulations), and yet they have considerably worse pollution. One could at least reasonably argue that there should not be cause for stricter regulations, even if our current regulations are the full and complete cause for our lower pollution.

          3. No matter how you phrase it, it’s the same principle. Economic security, everyone having “just enough money to cover their needs”. The problem is, you need someone to decide who deserves to get “higher needs” than others. And it becomes a power struggle for who gets to decide. And if they’re all equal needs, then it’s economic equality after all. Which erases any incentive for hard work, innovation, or improvements in efficiency.

          “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

          4. As for whether SD is anti-religious, that of course does not mean all social democrats hate religion. Nor does it mean the entire philosophy is anti-God. But the history of social democracy is obviously based mostly on socialism, so we turn to Karl Marx:
          “Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

          The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their conditions is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

          Lenin’s socialist society was also explicitly anti-religious, and we can see this in both quotes and that both the Soviet Union and China implemented “state atheism”.

          • I think I’m berginning to understand why social democracies have such negative connotations for you. If you associate a German party such as the Christian Social Democrats with Karl Marx and Lenin, democratic socialism has no chance whatsoever of being considered an economic system that can be as much in line as capitalism with biblical values.

          • Sorry, that is completely my mistake about the anti-religious part. You are correct – social democracy flipped the religious stance of socialism, while retaining many of the same ideas. Social democracies (perhaps more commonly known here as progressivism) are not only not anti-religious, they are often PRO-religion (yes, I did say this wrong before – my apologies). We can see this through the “social gospel” of Rauschenbusch especially in the 1920s and 30s.

            It seems we’re now switching sides. Because here is where I think progressives go WAY too far with promoting God as a follower of policies. Rauschenbusch said that the state “must become the medium through which the people shall co-operate in their search for the kingdom of God and its righteousness.”

            Richard Ely, a leading progressive intellectual, saw the state as “religious in its essence” and “a mighty force in furthering God’s kingdom.”

            These progressives weren’t actually as far from Lenin as one might think however – at the time, waves of journalists were writing about how great the Bolsheviks were doing in Russia. We saw E.A. Ross and other reporters flocking to Russia to see “the great experiment.” Jane Addams believed the Bolshevik revolution and ideas the “greatest social experiment in history.” Much of FDR’s Brain Trust and leading New Deal economists traveled to Russia to see the “new life” and “heroism” of the Bolsheviks.

            The SDP in Germany is also part of the Party of European Socialists and the Socialist International. It’s a tough argument to say that SDs are not associated with socialism at all….

            The bottom line comes down to… if you consider yourself a social democrat as opposed to a socialist, why? What about a “national socialist”? I understand there are differences, but there is also a strong historical and ideological connection. I’m curious which views make that determination.

    • I agree with Don Huizinga’s comments. Clearly Jesus would prefer cooperation. The fact that cooperation is so difficult is because the fatal human tendency to put self first. Unbridled captialism leads to unbridled selfishness, and led to excesses in the Industrial Age. Labor unions came into being to counter-balance the power of the owners, and federal legislation, like antirust laws, were needed to prevent the few from profitting unfairly. Civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960’s to force integration, because left to their own preferences, those with an advantage want to protect their advantage.

      One sociologist put it thus,”Stateways are needed to overcome folkways”.

      A current example of the need for regulation is the huge amount of profit insurance companies make by limiting benefits and even denying benefits when people most need them.

      An example of the value of social democracy is Denmark, which consistently is rated as the happiest country in the world. All health care, education and recreation is paid for by the government, but taxes are very high. I believe the government even supports the church. People apparently do not mind high taxes when all their needs are taken care of and they are happy.

      The free market is a great system for ensuring fairness and justice, IF, AND ONLY IF, all participants are equal to start with. But. of course, the inherent inequality of resources, ability, and opportunity, is why the free market is not really free and why government must put limits on people’s actions.

      • …I think Consider Again’s comment that reading way too much in the Bible in terms of economic systems is correct. I think a Communist, a Socialist, and a Capitalist, could all cite scripture and/or biblical themes to support their economic preferences. (And now that almost sounds like a joke: A communist, a socialist and a capitalist all walk into a bar…)

        I will say that I believe in empirical data over unsubstantiated opinions, however. Empirical data clearly shows higher levels of both satisfaction and economic growth for the majority of the population in free market systems over time. Also, Americans are not Europeans. We have different tendencies and ideas about both government and economics. In the last 20 years, GDP doubled in the United States (though it was flat this last decade) while it was stagnant in Europe over the same period, and is in fact, now falling there. Adopting European-style Socialism across a 300 million population country (the United States) based on one small country (Denmark – population of 5.7 million people – smaller than the metropolitan population of Houston, Texas) is misleading at best. Most other European countries are in economic distress…see my prior post. Cherry-picking one small country and saying it should be the basis of our entire economic system is full of logical holes.

        Denmark also disastrously bought into the whole “wind power is green power” theory, and now they are paying for it…both financially and in terms of increased pollution…the one thing wind power was supposed to reduce. See the link below:

        Insurance companies sometimes make good profits, and sometimes they do not. In 2005 Property and Casualty insurance companies took enormous losses due to the high number of claims from hurricanes. They are heavily regulated, and yet still operate in a quasi-free market basis. The competition between insurance companies is what allows all of us to choose policies based on benefits, features, price of premiums, etc. Certainly I do agree that in the arena of health insurance, there is a great deal that could be done to improve that system…that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog…

        In terms of the last paragraph regarding ‘equality’ it depends on the definition of ‘equal’. No two persons are, in fact, equal. They have different abilities, different talents, different outlooks, different work ethics, different tolerances for overcoming adversity, etc. If ‘equal’ means equal outcomes, mandated by government, that is in effect communism, which has harmed hundreds of millions of people. Look at the past fifty years, and see which countries were best off…those that are free-market based, or those that are Socialist or Communist based. If, however, the definition of ‘equal’ means equal opportunity, as opposed to equal outcomes, then that system is fair. Government should not insulate us from failure or adversity. Many of us learn from such failures. Incredibly valuable lessons. Our economy is vastly more dynamic than most people think…just this week, the Survey of Consumer Finances was released by the Federal Reserve. In just a short three year period, over 30% of the families in the lowest 1/5th of income earners moved up at least on quintile between 2007 and 2010. In that same study,
        25% of those at the top moved down at least one quintile. The myth that the poor get poorer while the rich get richer is a damaging lie. Most of the time (but not from 2007-2010) the rich get richer, but the poor also get richer in our economy. Unfortunately, all income groups lost substantial wealth between 2007 and 2010. It is this dynamic quality to free markets that makes them most efficient. It is the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith referred to in his writings.

        One last observation: In the United States, we have fifty states that are, in essence, laboratories that other states can copy or from which they can learn. Isn’t it interesting that California, New York, and Illinois are the three states that are in the most dire economic distress right now – they all are high regulation, high tax states that are losing tax revenue, losing population, losing quality of life, etc. I don’t think I want to follow that model…if government control is best, then by definition, we should give everything to the government and see what happens, as those three states are incrementally doing, both by regulation and taxes…Texas, a low tax, low regulation state, in comparison, has lower unemployment, higher job creation, and tremendous population growth. Freer markets tend to work well! We should choose those things that work well, and have been proven to be successful, and reject those things that have been shown through time to not work so well. Just like we do with goods and services…cars, plumbers, doctors, electronic devices, etc.

      • I think we’re confusing words and definitions here. Cooperation is truly a life skill. I think it’s extremely valuable in the workplace to be able to compromise and work out difficult problems – even with people who disagree with you. Competition, on the other hand, carries a stigma of viciousness, “winners and losers”, and an uncaring atmosphere. Of course cooperation is better in many instances. For example, I should cooperate with my friends to finish a group project. I should cooperate with my brothers, not “compete for attention”.

        However, should oil companies “cooperate” with each other to set prices? As of now, that’s illegal. Should all of our state, local, and federal governments “cooperate” with each other, even if it means rampant corruption and wasted money? Should our politicians “cooperate” and blend their views so that they don’t have to campaign against each other? Of course not.

        The point is, cooperation would be great. It’d be awesome if we lived in a nice, harmonious, beautiful society where everyone took care of each other and looked out for each other. That’s what I think it will be like in heaven, and I can’t wait. The catch is that we are all sinful, like you said. Many of us still look out for our family, friends, and colleagues. We sacrifice time, money, and effort to help the poor. However, there are people that don’t. There are people that don’t cooperate. We will never be able to achieve this perfect cooperative utopia, because people won’t do it. There will always be people who mess it up, who lazily try to take advantage of the system without putting anything into it. And the only way to preserve order and continue to ensure these people aren’t mooching off the benefits is to force them to work for it. Which is why we see a history of these beautiful cooperative ideals turning into communist regimes where millions of people must be killed in order to scare the rest into doing what they’re told. There is no way to achieve this cooperative society where everyone agrees without completely eradicating freedom and eliminating opposing opinions.

        It comes down to this. Both systems are trying to motivate people into contributing to their society and bettering themselves so that their families can have a better life. On one hand, we have competition in which we leave people with individual freedom to decide their own futures. They can go to high school, or they can drop out. They can make good decisions for their future, or they can slack off. Jesus describes what will happen to those who slack off, when he describes what happens to the lazy servant in the Parable of the Talents.

        As for the insurance argument, that’s a debate that needs many facts to back up your argument of “denying benefits for excessive profit”. Should there be some regulation to prevent some of these abuses? Yes! Should there also be limits to this regulation? Yes! For example – let’s say I decide I don’t want to get health insurance because I’m not sick. However, as soon as I get sick, I decide to “buy health insurance” (essentially knowing I will instantly receive far more money than I ever will put in). If this is forced to be legal, than there are suddenly no more healthy people paying premiums. And the entire system collapses. That’s why ObamaCare needs the individual mandate. Because the only way you can force companies to pay to everyone is if you force everyone to pay the companies. And that crosses a huge boundary of freedom, especially when the costs skyrocket for everyone, both the poor and rich. However, rising costs will of course disproportionately hurt the poor.

        I completely agree about civil rights legislation. Again, I’m not arguing against no government intervention whatsoever. I don’t know of any credible person who has ever argued to dissolve the government completely. I want to note that civil rights and competition between the states are two very different types of issues involving government regulation, so there is a vast difference in using one to automatically support the other.

        As for Denmark, there are a few key things to note. It is obviously smaller and much easier to manage than the United States. For example, Denmark has slightly less people than the state of Wisconsin. In a country that has 60x the people, it is impossible to manage a welfare system that equally benefits everyone without destroying the country. In addition, Denmark is actually rated as a “freer” economic environment than the US by the Heritage Foundation, saying, “The overall regulatory environment, transparent and efficient, encourages entrepreneurial activity. ” I don’t know about you, but “transparent” and “efficient” are the last words I would use to describe the United States’ regulatory environment. If you don’t agree, then take a look at ObamaCare, three times the size of the King James Bible, where nobody can even agree on what the law includes, let alone how it will affect healthcare.

        Actually, there is no system anywhere that completely ensures fairness and justice. We live in an imperfect world, and only in heaven will we truly experience fairness and justice. But, because we are inherently unequal (as you said), we should stop and realize that even a social democracy will never make people equal. There will always be someone that doesn’t have to work as much to receive the same amount of benefits. Social democracies rely on leaders who are above the people, deciding for them what is best for the “general good”, as opposed to letting individuals decide for themselves. And personally, I’d rather have freedom.

      • One more note. I believe the quote you were referring to is by William Graham Sumner, the first professor of sociology at Yale.

        He actually said, “Stateways cannot change folkways.” Which is contradictory to your point, as Sumner was a strong advocate of free markets and laissez-faire economics.

        I’m not saying I completely agree with his quote (that’d be a debate for another time), just pointing out the correction.

  4. Wow, these are great comments from our four days in D.C. Another great quote from the Boom and Bust Cycles presentation was: “Risk is the price you never thought you would have to pay. And it is a far, far higher price than you can ever imagine.” It was given with examples such as Greece, the housing bubble, the stock dot-com bubble in 1999, and others. The experience at the American Enterprise Institute was priceless. So were the friendships that were deepened and the new ones that were formed.

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