Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Should Christians be committed to small government conservatism?

I found a paper (PDF) on the University of Washington web site that makes the case for why Christians ought to care about more than just social issues.

Here’s the abstract:

What accounts for cross-national variation in religiosity as measured by church attendance and non-religious rates? Examining answers from both secularization theory and the religious economy perspective, we assert that cross-national variation in religious participation is a function of government welfare spending and provide a theory that links macro-sociological outcomes with individual rationality. Churches historically have provided social welfare. As governments gradually assume many of these welfare functions, individuals with elastic preferences for spiritual goods will reduce their level of participation since the desired welfare goods can be obtained from secular sources. Cross-national data on welfare spending and religious participation show a strong negative relationship between these two variables after controlling for other aspects of modernization.

Here’s the conclusion:

It is quite apparent that there is a strong statistical relationship between state social welfare spending and religious participation and religiosity. Countries with higher levels of per capita welfare have a proclivity for less religious participation and tend to have higher percentages of non-religious individuals. People living in countries with high social welfare spending per capita even have less of a tendency to take comfort in religion, perhaps knowing that the state is there to help them in times of crisis.34 As laid out in the theory above, there is likely a substitution effect for some individuals between state-provided services and religious services. Religion will still be there to serve the spiritual needs of people seeking answers to the philosophic mysteries of life, but those who value those spiritual goods less than the tangible welfare benefits churches provide will be less likely to participate in religious services once secular substitutes become available. Given that religious practice and values are often passed down from generation to generation, the weakening of practice in one generation will likely translate into weaker practice in subsequent generations. Does this mean that secularization theory is correct in its prediction that religion will gradually fade away? Doubtful. Realizing that there is still a yearning among many people to understand the mysteries of life, religion is not likely to dissipate at any time soon. Government simply cannot offer credible substitutes for these less tangible, supernatural goods. The explosion in spirituality once religion was made legal in former Soviet bloc countries lends credence to this assertion (Greeley 1994). As religious markets become more deregulated in various parts of the world, it is likely that new religious movements will take advantage of increased liberty and discover ways to expand.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons from the findings above is that the religiosity of a society is not simply determined by sociological factors. Government policy can play an important role in shaping the religiosity of a nation. Policies aimed at regulating the activities of religious organizations — from tax laws to zoning regulations — have important effects on the firms that supply religious goods and services. Many of these policies are designed consciously to promote or inhibit religious practice. Alternatively, welfare policy has been shown here to unintentionally affect the demand for religious services, likely over the course of generations. And, finally, since an extensive welfare state is considered by many to be a hallmark of modernized societies, the microfoundational analysis presented above provides a way of incorporating a component part of the secularization thesis (which relies heavily on notions of modernization) into the religious economy perspective.

Have you ever heard a sermon that addresses the size of government and individual liberty and prosperity? I haven’t. You’d have to be reading Wayne Grudem or Jay Richards to find that. The typical church you attend either praises big government or says nothing about it. After all, we can keep making withdrawals on the liberties we have right now without ever worrying about having to make any deposits, right? Everything will be fine, and it’s easier not to have to think about what’s down the road to serfdom, so long as the scenery is nice for us right now. Religion is primarily about comfort, not truth. Right?

The funny thing is that when I talk to most Christians about this, especially non-Americans, they simply don’t have the knowledge of economics to understand how big government affects liberty, prosperity and security. There is no one reading F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell in Europe, and there are not that many people reading them here at home either.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , ,

Good news: Venezuelan President complains that fracking is “flooding” oil markets

Gas prices vs domestic oil production

Gas prices vs domestic oil production

(Click for larger image. Source)

Why are gas prices so low all of a sudden?

Well, let’s ask the communist President of Venezuela:

The broadcast networks may not want to give credit to hydraulic fracturing for increasing U.S. oil production and lowering global oil prices, but at least one angry world leader did just that.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained that fracking in the U.S. has “flooded” the world market and contributed to lower oil prices, a connection that broadcast networks’ evening news reports barely made recently.

“The oil they’re taking from (shale deposits) and the gas. They’ve flooded the international market to batter the Russian economy …, Iran and to hurt us, Venezuela,” Maduro said in a broadcast on VTV, a state-run TV channel in Venezuela, according to Fox News Latino.

Fracking has been one cause of increased oil production in the U.S. That increased production helped lower oil prices by more than 30 percent since September 29. The decline in oil prices since June has severely impacted Venezuela, since oil exports were a major source of government income. “Some estimates put the break-even price for Venezuela to balance its budget at around $121 a barrel,” CNBC reported on December 7. That’s more than double current oil prices. Oil closed at $59.15-per-barrel on December 11.

As of January 2014, Venezuela’s state-run oil company brought in 96 percent of foreign earnings, according to The Economist. Maduro announced on December 2 that the government would cut spending by 20 percent.

[…]Venezuela was experiencing particular difficulties. That economy was on the verge of collapsing, CNBC said on Dec. 1. If low oil prices continued, Venezuela may face a “game over” situation and “barbarity and people looting.”

Do you know who else is hurt by this? Russia. I sure hope they don’t do anything aggressive to their neighbors while their economy feels the pinch of lower gas prices.

It’s a good thing when villains shake their fists at us, but it’s a better thing when consumers pay less for gas:

Thanks in part to the widespread use of technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, global oil prices plummeted in 2014. Energy experts even predicted the U.S. could be the top oil producer in the next several years.

[…]Fracking and other advanced technologies helped the U.S. nearly double its average daily output of oil, from 5 million barrels in 2008 to an expected 9.42 million barrels in 2015. The huge supply increase was one factor sending crude oil prices down. Crude fell by more than 32 percent, from $93 to $63 just since Sept. 29. This already drove gas prices down to a national average of $2.66 for regular on Dec. 9, according to AAA.

This is great news for consumers and businesses which could save as much as $1.3 trillion worldwide because of lower oil prices, according to Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics in London. Here in the U.S., Americans could save $230 billion if prices remain low for the next year, The Washington Post said on Dec. 1.

The only bad side to this story is that fracking is an expensive way of drilling, so as the price of oil drops, energy companies will be scaling back fracking until it becomes profitable again.

I think this story is important, because it helps to explain what the people who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline are concerned about. They know that there are two results to allowing that pipeline to be built. First, a hell of a lot of jobs will be created, reducing dependency on government. Second, the price of gas at the pump will go down further. That’s what the environmentalists (and their Democrat allies in Washington) are seeking to avoid. They want more government dependency, and higher gas prices.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jay Richards: eight common myths about wealth, poverty and the free market

Have you read Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed and God?” Because if you haven’t, he’s written a series of articles that summarize the main points of the book.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

On this view, what you really need to fear as a consumer is government intervention that restricts your choices in the marketplace.

Economists agree on the benefits of free trade

Who could possibly disagree with free trade? Well, many people on the left do. They favor imposing restrictions on free trade. For example, people on the left favor making those who import goods pay tariffs, which makes it harder to trade with other nations. People on the left want to pass rent control laws to block landlords and tenants from trading more freely. People on the left want to pass minimum wage laws that block employers and workers from trading wages for labor more freely. But economists generally don’t agree with any of restrictions on free trade. In fact, even across the ideological spectrum, the majority of economists view free trade as a wealth creating policy, and restrictions on free trade as a wealth destroying policy.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw explains what most professional economists agree on.

Excerpt:

Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

Now when you are talking to a Democrat, you are talking to someone who disagrees with most or all of those common sense economic policies. For example, Obama’s backers in the labor movement inevitably endorse higher import tariffs, which discourage free trade between countries. No economist supports these tariffs on imports, because history has shown (e.g. – Smoot-Hawley Act) that tariffs destroy economic growth and reduce wealth creation. And that’s what I mean when I talk about economic illiteracy – I mean ignoring what we know from economics and our past experience with bad policies.

Democrat economic policies don’t work because they are making policies that are based on economic myths. We know that these myths are myths because of economics is a mathematical science, and because we have tried good and bad policies in different times and places. We have calculations and we have experience to know what works and what doesn’t work. If you want to help the poor, you have to respect what economists know about how wealth is created. The solution is not to “spread the wealth around”, it’s to encourage people to create more wealth by inventing things that people freely choose to buy.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lydia McGrew: we need an army of tentmaking Christians

Lydia McGrew has a post up at What’s Wrong With the World blog that is just excellent.

Excerpt:

Apologetics is wonderful and incredibly important. It’s a wonderful thing that a revival of specifically evidentialist apologetics is happening in the United States and even, to some extent, in the Anglophone world at large.

Unfortunately, this revival of interest in apologetics and in being Christian philosophers is coming at a very bad time, economically. Even if you are a genius, your chances in 2013 and following of getting a stable job by the route of going to graduate school in philosophy (or almost any area of the humanities) are pretty darned slim. If you’re not a genius, fuhgetaboutit. Nor were there ever all that many jobs in philosophy. It was always an iffy proposition, but it’s much worse now than it was even twenty years ago.

As for starting ministries, a poor economy makes it extremely hard to do that, too, because people don’t have as much disposable income to donate. Moreover, even in a more robust economy, if all the eager young apologists were to flock to start apologetics and/or campus ministries, they would be competing among themselves for a finite number of available dollars from donors. So that’s not the best idea either.

Let me speak very bluntly here: In my opinion, God doesn’t need a whole raft of impractical idealists out there getting themselves into debt or half starving (or really starving) with no idea of how in the world they are ever going to support even themselves, much less a family, out at the other end of their education. That just burdens the church with a large number of able-bodied but needy Christians who are in a seemingly unending stage of transition, “getting an education for the kingdom” or “hoping to do work for the kingdom” without a viable plan in mind or any fiscal light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead, I believe that we need an army of tentmakers. If you have a job or a marketable skill, for heaven’s sake (literally), don’t quit that job and join the ranks of starving students. Keep your day job, but enrich your mind and prepare yourself to answer people’s questions about Christianity by studying on your own time. If you have entrepreneurial abilities and the capital, start a business. That will support not only yourself but others you employ, and if successful, you will have more money to give to Christian ministries.

But even if you aren’t the entrepreneurial type or don’t have that opportunity, at least make sure (to the extent that one can in today’s world) that you can pay the rent and put food on your own table as well as supporting whatever number of additional people you plan to take on. (In other words, if you are a guy who would like to get married and have children, bear that in mind.) This will inevitably mean spending time at all that distasteful stuff like networking and making a resume. Bookish types don’t enjoy that stuff, because it seems bogus, but it can’t be helped. It will undoubtedly mean, for most people, not being full-time students beyond the undergraduate level, especially not in the humanities, not trying to become full-time academics as a life work, and not going into full-time ministry, even if you would ideally like to do one or more of those three things.

In the end, if we can have this army of tentmakers, there will be (Lord willing) money to allow some people to work in full-time ministry. But it’s going to be quite a small proportion of those who are interested or would ideally like to do so.

[…]Inevitably, the course of action I am suggesting will mean a bifurcation for many between their day job and what they are most passionately interested in. So be it. Indeed, so it has ever been in the world. What proportion of people at any moment in human history have been blessed enough to spend most of their time working on what they are most passionately interested in? The question answers itself. So I think that bifurcation has to be accepted by a great many people and that doing so will lead to what I might call a healthier “Christian economy” among committed Christians than what we could otherwise end up with.

So let’s see her advice in bullet-point form:

  • The job market for philosophers is very bad
  • A bad economy means less support money is available
  • It’s important to have a plan to fund your  ministry
  • Leverage your full-time job to fund your ministry

I often find that when I talk to Christians, there is this sort of hyper-spiritualized way of deciding what to do, and I’ve written about this in one of my favorite posts. Hyper-spiritual Christians read the Bible, which is good, but then they don’t tend to also look at practical things like economics, science and public policy when making their decisions. The Bible doesn’t say much about what to study or what job to get, but there is an example of Paul working at tent-making in order to fund his ministry. So there is precedent for the idea of learning a trade and working to earn enough money to support our families, our ministry and even other people’s ministries. I think we have an obligation to take the Bible seriously when it tells us what we can do to please God, but coming up with a plan to please God most effectively is our job. We have to make the plans to serve God. Our plans must be within the bounds of Biblical morality, but they should also reflect our knowledge of how the world really works, too. We’ll be more successful with a good plan and some hard work.

Be sure and listen to the podcast by J. Warner Wallace on this issue, and read my comments too (same post).

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jennifer Roback Morse lectures on sex and sexuality at Harvard University

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Morse delivers a talk based on her book “Smart Sex” at Harvard University.

The MP3 file is here. (21 Mb)

Topics:

  • the hook-up culture and its effects on men and women
  • cohabitation and its effect on marriage stability
  • balancing marriage, family and career
  • single motherhood by choice and IVF
  • donor-conceived children
  • modern sex: a sterile, recreation activity
  • the real purposes of sex: procreation and spousal unity
  • the hormone oxytocin: when it is secreted and what it does
  • the hormone vassopressin: when it is secreted and what it does
  • the sexual revolution and the commoditization of sex
  • the consumer view of sex vs the organic view of sex
  • fatherlessness and multi-partner fertility
  • how the “sex-without-relationship” view harms children

52 minutes of lecture, 33 minutes of Q&A from the Harvard students. The Q&A is worth listening to – the first question is from a gay student, and Dr. Morse pulls a William Lane Craig to defeat her objection. It was awesome! I never get tired of listening to her talk, and especially on the topics of marriage and family.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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