Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Questions for proponents of government-controlled redistribution of wealth

George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux wrote a couple of articles asking people who complain about income inequality whether their solution of letting government redistribute wealth from some people to others makes sense. After he is done asking his questions, I am going to complain a little about what it is like to study hard things and do hard work

In the first article, he asked a series of questions to the wealth redistributers.

Here were a few that caught my eye:

Do you teach your children to envy what other children have? Do you encourage your children to form gangs with their playmates to “redistribute” toys away from richer kids on the schoolyard toward kids not so rich? If not, what reason have you to suppose that envy and “redistribution” become acceptable when carried out on a large scale by government?

Suppose that Jones chooses a career as a poet. Jones treasures the time he spends walking in the woods and strolling city streets in leisurely reflection; his reflections lead him to write poetry critical of capitalist materialism. Working as a poet, Jones earns $20,000 annually. Smith chooses a career as an emergency-room physician. She works an average of 60 hours weekly and seldom takes a vacation. Her annual salary is $400,000. Is this “distribution” of income unfair? Is Smith responsible for Jones’ relatively low salary? Does Smith owe Jones money? If so, how much? And what is the formula you use to determine Smith’s debt to Jones?

While Dr. Smith earns more money than does poet Jones, poet Jones earns more leisure than does Dr. Smith. Do you believe leisure has value to those who possess it? If so, are you disturbed by the inequality of leisure that separates leisure-rich Jones from leisure-poor Smith? Do you advocate policies to “redistribute” leisure from Jones to Smith — say, by forcing Jones to wash Smith’s dinner dishes or to chauffeur Smith to and from work? If not, why not?

In the second article, he had even more questions for the wealth redistributers.

Here are the two that I liked best:

When you describe growing income inequality in the United States, you typically look only at the incomes of the rich before they pay taxes and at the incomes of the poor before they receive noncash transfers from government such as food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid. You also ignore noncash transfers that the poor receive from private charities. Why? If you’re trying to determine whether or not more income redistribution is warranted, doesn’t it make more sense to look at income differences after the rich have paid their taxes and after the poor have received all of their benefits from government and private sources?

Do you not share Thomas Sowell’s concern that efforts to “de-concentrate” incomes among the people require concentrating power among the politicians? Asked differently, if you worry that abuses of power are encouraged by concentrations of income, shouldn’t you worry even more that abuses of power are encouraged by concentrations of power?

Mark Perry of AEI saw this column, and he had two more questions.

Many extremely wealthy people (movie stars, celebrities like Oprah, businessmen like Warren Buffet, filmmaker Michael Moore, and Robert Reich for example) who are in America’s “top 1%” by income (some are easily in the top 1/0 of 1%), often complain about income and wealth inequality in America. And yet these wealthy individuals rarely take any direct actions themselves that could reduce income inequality immediately, e.g. giving away a majority of their multi-million dollar annual salaries and unburdening themselves of millions of dollars of their wealth (stocks, real estate, cars, airplanes, etc.) and living on a modest, but still very comfortable incomes of say, $200,000 per year. Isn’t it inconsistent that most of these individuals hoard a majority of their income and wealth to live lavishly without taking immediate steps to redistribute their largess to those less fortunate and reduce the income/wealth inequality they complain about?  If not, why?

Many Americans express great concern about income inequality in the United States, but seem relatively unconcerned about global income inequality. For example, nearly half of the world’s richest 1% of people live in the U.S., and the threshold required to make it into that elite group is only $34,000 per person, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic.  Is it inconsistent for an American making $34,000 to complain about the incomes and wealth of the top 1% in the United States and yet show no concern for the fact that he himself is in the top 1% of the world’s population based on income? Many Americans making $34,000 and above support income redistribution schemes (e.g. raising taxes on the top 1%) to reduce income inequality in America. Because they are themselves in the top 1% of the world’s population by income, shouldn’t these Americans also support redistribution of income and wealth from themselves (the world’s top 1%) to dirt-poor countries like Zimbabwe? If not, why not?

One quick point about who pays taxes in this country as it is now.

CNS News reports on a study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Excerpt:

The top 40 percent of households by before-tax income actually paid 106.2 percent of the nation’s net income taxes in 2010, according to a new study by the Congressional Budget Office.

At the same time, households in the bottom 40 percent took in an average of $18,950 in what the CBO called “government transfers” in 2010.

Taxpayers in the top 40 percent of households were able to pay more than 100 percent of net federal income taxes in 2010 because Americans in the bottom 40 percent actually paid negative income taxes, according to the CBO study entitled, “The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010.”

This is where the money comes from for all our lavish social programs, which I do not even use.

My choices

I remember growing up as the son of poor immigrants and having to struggle to do well in school. When I was growing up, I didn’t learn to ride  bicycle until very late. We didn’t have a car to drive anywhere. We had a black and white TV. We took public transportation to go anywhere. I remember that we used to eat macaroni and cheese with sliced hot dogs quite a lot. We went to a sit-down restaurant for dinner less than five times as a family. I always took school very seriously from the beginning, and I remember having conflicts with the popular students, who were having more fun than me because they had more wealth and more friends and they did more expensive things for fun. I chose not to drop math, even though I struggled with it more than English and computer science. I remember my friends buying Apple IIe and Commodore 64 computers, and I didn’t have any video game system much less a computer. I would go over to their houses and play games at their houses. I never had a summer off. I was always in summer school or working, and that working summers continued through my undergraduate degree.

When the time came to go to college, I chose computer science. Some of the courses I took during that time were so hard that I cried. I had not been well-prepared for college in high school, it was a big stretch for me. I remember failing a test in second year calculus, the first test I ever failed. I can remember doing calculus problems and crying about how hard it was, and my Dad looking on wondering if he had made the right decision when he snudged me toward computer science, when I wanted to do something easy like English. But I graduated with a 3.4 GPA, and went on to graduate school, where I finished with a 3.9 GPA. I chose to do both of my degrees locally, and lived at home. I never went out drinking or to a club or anything like that. The school I chose was not the best, but I saved money, and graduating with a few thousand dollars in the bank was important to me. I didn’t want to go into debt in order to learn how to program a computer.

When I graduated, I started working in a different city, and I remember that my apartment had firebrats, which is a kind of insect infestation. I chose a modest apartment because I wanted to save money. I saved most of what I earned because I anticipated that I would soon be married and starting a family. During my career to this day, I have seen politicians express their desire to take what I earn and give it to people who were born in this country, but who made different decisions from me. Some of them dropped out of high school. Some of them had sex before marriage. Some of them drank alcohol. Some of them smoked. Some of them dropped math. Some of them chased women. Some of them drank and smoked and did drugs. Some of them went on expensive trips. Some of them went to movie theaters and bought popcorn. But I never saw these people in the computer lab at 3 AM trying to help me with my assignments. I never saw these people show up to work weekends when I was working 70-hour weeks in a startup company trying to build sweat equity.

Somehow, people in government, at all levels, have decided that I don’t deserve to keep what I earn. They have decided that other people can get subsidies, but I have to pay full price. I walk into the grocery store and see people buying better food than me, and paying with food stamps. I am paying for my groceries and paying for theirs, too. Somehow, a significant number of people in our society have decided that I should not be allowed to keep what I earn, buy the things I want, and live my life the way that I planned to live it. My earned income is my freedom to express myself, and the politicians have decided that I am allowed to get up and go to work to earn the money, but that I am not allowed to express myself using my earned income. They get to take the money I earned and express their views, instead.

To learn more about why income inequality is not something for government to solve, read this article from the American Enterprise Institute.

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

The importance of the traditional family for income mobility

Michael Barone writes about a new report on the family by Nick Schultz of the American Enterprise Institute.

Excerpt:

[I]t is an uncomfortable truth that children of divorce and children with unmarried parents tend to do much worse in life than children of two-parent families.

(I’ll leave aside the sensitive issue of children of same-sex marriages, since these haven’t existed in a non-stigmatized atmosphere long enough to produce measurable results.)

As Schulz points out, that uncomfortable truth is not controversial among social scientists. It is affirmed by undoubted liberals such as Harvard’s David Ellwood and Christopher Jencks.

Growing up outside a two-parent family means not just lower incomes and less social mobility, Schulz argues.

It also reduces human capital — “the knowledge, education, habits, will power — all the internal stuff that is largely intangible a person has that helps produce an income.”

While children are born with certain innate capacities, those capacities can be broadened or narrowed by their upbringing.

The numbers indicate that single or divorced parents — however caring and dedicated — are unable, on average, to broaden those capacities as much as married parents can.

These differences have sharp implications for upward mobility.

Schulz points to an Economic Mobility Project analysis showing that, among children who start off in the bottom third of the income distribution, only 26% with divorced parents move up, compared to 42% born to unmarried mothers (who may marry later, of course) and 50% who grow up with two married parents.

All this matters more than it used to because two-parent families are much more uncommon than they used to be. In 1960 about three-fourths of Americans 18 and over were married. In 2011, less than half were.

Now, you might say to yourself “what exactly have the secular left down to improve the income mobility of the poor by promoting marriage?” And the answer would be that the left promotes premarital sex for people who are not even ready for marriage, made contraceptives taxpayer-funded, subsidized the largest provider of abortions with hundreds of millions of dollars, promoted the first redefinition of marriage through their feminism and trial lawyer lobbying groups, and now redefined marriage to mean either no biological father or no biological mother. Barack Obama himself has praised every other kind of non-traditional family arrangement as being equal to the traditional family. That’s the sort of nonsense that passes for wisdom on the morally relativistic left. They just don’t like the idea that there are moral rules that apply to sexual activity.

The left isn’t really interested in income mobility. They talk about it as if it’s a problem, but their “solutions” to the problem actually make the problem worse.

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

New CBO study: top 40% of earners paid 106.2% of net income taxes collected

CNS News reports on a new study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Excerpt:

The top 40 percent of households by before-tax income actually paid 106.2 percent of the nation’s net income taxes in 2010, according to a new study by the Congressional Budget Office.

At the same time, households in the bottom 40 percent took in an average of $18,950 in what the CBO called “government transfers” in 2010.

Taxpayers in the top 40 percent of households were able to pay more than 100 percent of net federal income taxes in 2010 because Americans in the bottom 40 percent actually paid negative income taxes, according to the CBO study entitled, “The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010.

[...]When the the negative 9.1 percent in federal income taxes paid by those in the bottom 40 percent is subtracted from the 109.1 percent paid by those in the top 60 percent, federal tax revenues net out to an even 100 percent.

[...]The households in the bottom 40 percent of income—which on average paid negative federal income taxes—were on average receiving many thousands of dollars in what the report calls “government transfers.” These transfers included, among other things, benefits from unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security, as well as from means-tested programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), and Medicaid.

“Government transfers increase income in all groups, but those increases, both in dollars and as a percentage of market income, are larger for groups with lower market income,” says the report.

According to the CBO, households in the bottom quintile received an average of $22,700 in government transfers in 2010 (including $14,300 in payments from Medicare and Social Security and $8,500 in payments from other government programs); and households in the second quintile received an average of $15,200 in government transfers (including $10,300 in payments from Medicare and Social Security and $4,900 from other government programs).

Now I have been reading articles like this one in National Review by James Pethokoukis, which talk about Obama’s rhetoric about “income inequality”. And I think that when the President goes on a rant about how much he wants to fix “income inequality”, you have to keep in mind what he is actually fixing. He thinks the people who earn the most need to be taxed more and he thinks that the people who earn the least need to be given more benefits. That’s what he is trying to fix.

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

Video, audio and summary: Jim Wallis debates Jay Richards on Christianity and economics

I had to re-post this post again because Facebook decided to mark it as SPAM. This is the same post I put out 4 hours ago.

The video recording:

  • The organizers of the debate tell me that the video will be posted shortly after the debate, and I will link to it in this very post.

The audio recording:

The debaters

Jay Richards:

Jay Richards, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute where he directs the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality, and is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Most recently he is the co-author with James Robison of the best-selling Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late”.

In addition to writing many academic articles, books, and popular essays on a wide variety of subjects, he recently edited the new award winning anthology, God & Evolution: Protestants, Catholics and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith . His previous book was Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, May 2009), for which he received a Templeton Enterprise Award in 2010.

[...]In recent years, he has been a Contributing Editor of The American at the American Enterprise Institute, a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and a Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute. Richards has a B.A. with majors in Political Science and Religion, an M.Div. (Master of Divinity) and a Th.M. (Master of Theology), and a Ph.D. (with honors) in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Jim Wallis:

Jim Wallis (born June 4, 1948) is a Christian writer and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and as the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. Wallis is well known for his advocacy on issues of peace and social justice. Although Wallis actively eschews political labels, he describes himself as an evangelical and is often associated with the evangelical left and the wider Christian left. He works as a spiritual advisor to President Barack Obama. He is married to the Rev. Joy Carroll, who was one of the first female priests in the Church of England. He is also a leader in the Red-Letter Christian movement.

[...]In 2010, Wallis admitted to accepting money for Sojourners from philanthropist George Soros after initially denying having done so. When conservative writer Marvin Olasky pointed this out, and that Soros also financed groups supporting abortion, atheism, and same-sex marriage, in a WORLD magazine column, Wallis said Olasky “lies for a living”; he subsequently apologized to Olasky for the comments. In 2011, Wallis acknowledged that Sojourners had received another $150,000.00 from Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

[...]In regard to the 2011 United States budget proposal, Wallis described Congressman Paul Ryan and his congressional allies as “bullies” and “hypocrites.”

Wallis just came out this month in favor of gay marriage. He is also a strong supporter of Barack Obama, who is radically pro-abortion. Some pro-lifers have argued that Barack Obama has the same views on abortion as Kermit Gosnell.

The format of the debate

  • 20 minute opening speeches
  • 10 minute rebuttals
  • 10 minutes of discussion
  • Q&A for the remainder

SUMMARY

I use italics below to denote my own observations.

Jim Wallis’ opening speech:

My goal is to spark a national conversation on the “common good”.

A story about my son who plays baseball.

The central goal of Christianity is to promote the “common good”.

Quotes “Catholic social teaching” which values “human flourishing”.

The “common good” is “human flourishing”.

Is the purpose of Christianity is to make sure that everyone has enough material stuff or to preach the gospel?

When Christians go on mission trips, it’s good that they focus on things like human trafficking.

Democrat John Lewis is the “conscience of the U.S. Congress”.

John Lewis gets a 0% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2012.

John Lewis gets a 8% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2011.

John Lewis gets a 2.29% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.

Nothing is going well in Washington right now except comprehensive immigration reform.

Does he think that Christianity means giving 12-20 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, while skilled engineers cannot even get green cards, even though there is a shortage of them? Does he think that the other people in society who earn more than they receive from the government ought to be taxed more in order to provide more services and benefits to those who earn less than they take from the government?

Jay Richards’ opening speech:

Two topics: 1) what is the common good? 2) what should Christians do to promote the common good?

Catholicism defines the “common good” as “Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.”

We have natural ends that we are supposed to be achieving and some places, like South Korea, are better for allowing that to happen.

The common good is broader and prior to any sort of political specification.

It’s not the political good or what the state is supposed to do.

It’s not about the communal good, as in Soviet Russia, where the communal good was above individual and familial good.

The common good is the social conditions that promote the things that we humans have in common as individuals and members of family.

The common good takes account of who we are as individuals and in associations with other individuals, e.g. – families.

Christians don’t have to be doing the same things to promote the common good, e.g. – pastors, entrepreneurs, etc.

The church, as the church, has as its primary goal making disciples of all nations.

But even in that capacity, the church should be interested in more than just conversions and saving souls.

We also have to care about God’s created reality including things like physics, education, etc.

How should Christians promote the common good in politics?

Question: when is coercion warranted?

In Romans 13, Paul says that the state does have power to coerce to achieve certain ends, like justice.

Most Christians think that there are some things where the state can use coercion, for example, to prevent/punish murder.

It is OK for the police to use coercive force to maintain public order and the rule of law.

But we need to ask whether other things are legitimate areas for the state to use coercive force.

We should only give the state power to coerce when there is no other way to achieve a goal.

We need to leverage the science of economics in order to know how to achieve the common good.

Jay Richards' main point in the debate

Jay Richards’ main point in the debate

Henry Hazlitt: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

For example, what happens if we raise the federal minimum wage to $50. What happens next for all groups? That’s what we need to ask in order to know which policies achieve the common good.

When it comes to economics a lot of things have been tried in other places and times.

We can know what works and doesn’t work by studying what was tried before and in other places.

Many things are counter-intuitive – things that sound good don’t work, things that sound bad do work.

Principle: “We are our brother’s keeper”. Christians have an obligation to care for their neighbors.

We all agree on the goal. But how do we do things that will achieve that goal?

We have to distinguish aspirations from principles and prudential judgment.

Principle: We should provide for the material needs of the poor.

Prudence: Seeing the world as it is, and acting accordingly.

Example policies: which minimum wage is best? None? $10? $20?

We decide based on seeing how different economic policies achieve the goal of helping the poor.

Jim Wallis’ first rebuttal:

Jesus commanded us to “care for the poor and help to end poverty”.

Actually, Jesus thought that acknowledging him and giving him sacrificial worship was more important than giving money to the poor, see Matthew 26:6-13:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 

a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 

“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 

11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 

12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 

13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

It’s not clear to me whether Jim Wallis thinks that preaching is more important than redistributing wealth to address material inequality.

I like what Jesus said in a TV series, even though it’s not in the Bible when an actor playing Jesus said to “change the world”.

Jesus never said to “change the world” in the Bible. Should we be concerned that he is quoting a TV actor playing Jesus instead of Jesus.

Here is a terrific story about Bill Bright.

I love Catholic social teaching.

Quote: “All are responsible for all”.

I go to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland every year. I spoke once at 7 AM on the 4th floor.

It’s a funny place for a Christian to be if they care about the poor – rubbing shoulders with leftist elites. He must have named a dozen high-profile people that he spoke with during the debate, as if he could win the debate by some sort of argument from name-dropping. He mentioned the Davos thing several times!

The greatest beneficiary of government actions to deal with the economic crisis was Wall Street banks.

I’m going to tell you a story about what a Washington lawyer says to Jesus.

I’ve had conversations with business leaders where I tell them to integrate moral truths.

I talk about the Good Samaritan parable.

Quote: “Do you love your undocumented neighbor?”

Quote: “Do you love your Muslim neighbor?”

Jay Richards’ first rebuttal:

Who is responsible for your own children? Who knows the most about them?

Parents should have more discretion over their children because they have more knowledge about their child and what’s best for them.

The Good Samaritan doesn’t show that government should confiscate wealth through taxation and redistribute it.

The Good Samaritan emphasizes voluntarily charity to help people who are not necessarily your immediate neighbor.

Some of the things we do should be for the good of other people in other countries.

But then we are back to leveraging economics to know what policies are good for those other people in other countries.

The principle of subsidiarity: if a problem can be addressed by a lower level of society (family) then we shouldn’t make higher levels (government) address it.

The best place to take care of children is within the family.

Only if the family fails should wider and wider spheres get involved.

Although we want to think of the common good in a global sense, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact

The financial crisis: we need to integrate moral truths, but also economic truths.

We don’t want to assume policies based on intuitions, we want to check our intuitions using economic principles.

Why did we have a financial crisis in mortgages, but not in commodities futures or technology, etc.?

Greed is a contributing factor in all areas of business.

Something more was going on in the mortgage markets than just greed.

There were specific policies that caused the mortgage lending crisis.

The root cause of the problem were “affordable housing policies” that lowered lending restrictions on low income people.

The policy ended up degrading the underwriting standards on loans.

Government intruded into the market and undermined the normal ways of

People were getting massive loans with no income, no jobs, no assets and no down payment.

The federal government created a market for risk loans by guaranteeing

There was a government imposed quota on mortgage lenders such that 50% of their loans had to be given to high-risk borrowers.

That is what led to the financial crisis. Not the free market, but intrusions into the free market.

These policies were well-meaning and implemented by people from both parties. But they had bad effects.

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

Video, audio and summary: Jim Wallis debates Jay Richards on Christianity and the common good

I had to re-post this post again because Facebook decided to mark it as SPAM. This is the same post I put out 4 hours ago.

The video recording:

  • The organizers of the debate tell me that the video will be posted shortly after the debate, and I will link to it in this very post.

The audio recording:

The debaters

Jay Richards:

Jay Richards, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute where he directs the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality, and is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Most recently he is the co-author with James Robison of the best-selling Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late”.

In addition to writing many academic articles, books, and popular essays on a wide variety of subjects, he recently edited the new award winning anthology, God & Evolution: Protestants, Catholics and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith . His previous book was Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, May 2009), for which he received a Templeton Enterprise Award in 2010.

[...]In recent years, he has been a Contributing Editor of The American at the American Enterprise Institute, a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and a Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute. Richards has a B.A. with majors in Political Science and Religion, an M.Div. (Master of Divinity) and a Th.M. (Master of Theology), and a Ph.D. (with honors) in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Jim Wallis:

Jim Wallis (born June 4, 1948) is a Christian writer and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and as the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. Wallis is well known for his advocacy on issues of peace and social justice. Although Wallis actively eschews political labels, he describes himself as an evangelical and is often associated with the evangelical left and the wider Christian left. He works as a spiritual advisor to President Barack Obama. He is married to the Rev. Joy Carroll, who was one of the first female priests in the Church of England. He is also a leader in the Red-Letter Christian movement.

[...]In 2010, Wallis admitted to accepting money for Sojourners from philanthropist George Soros after initially denying having done so. When conservative writer Marvin Olasky pointed this out, and that Soros also financed groups supporting abortion, atheism, and same-sex marriage, in a WORLD magazine column, Wallis said Olasky “lies for a living”; he subsequently apologized to Olasky for the comments. In 2011, Wallis acknowledged that Sojourners had received another $150,000.00 from Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

[...]In regard to the 2011 United States budget proposal, Wallis described Congressman Paul Ryan and his congressional allies as “bullies” and “hypocrites.”

Wallis just came out this month in favor of gay marriage. He is also a strong supporter of Barack Obama, who is radically pro-abortion. Some pro-lifers have argued that Barack Obama has the same views on abortion as Kermit Gosnell.

The format of the debate

  • 20 minute opening speeches
  • 10 minute rebuttals
  • 10 minutes of discussion
  • Q&A for the remainder

SUMMARY

I use italics below to denote my own observations.

Jim Wallis’ opening speech:

My goal is to spark a national conversation on the “common good”.

A story about my son who plays baseball.

The central goal of Christianity is to promote the “common good”.

Quotes “Catholic social teaching” which values “human flourishing”.

The “common good” is “human flourishing”.

Is the purpose of Christianity is to make sure that everyone has enough material stuff or to preach the gospel?

When Christians go on mission trips, it’s good that they focus on things like human trafficking.

Democrat John Lewis is the “conscience of the U.S. Congress”.

John Lewis gets a 0% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2012.

John Lewis gets a 8% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2011.

John Lewis gets a 2.29% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.

Nothing is going well in Washington right now except comprehensive immigration reform.

Does he think that Christianity means giving 12-20 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, while skilled engineers cannot even get green cards, even though there is a shortage of them? Does he think that the other people in society who earn more than they receive from the government ought to be taxed more in order to provide more services and benefits to those who earn less than they take from the government?

Jay Richards’ opening speech:

Two topics: 1) what is the common good? 2) what should Christians do to promote the common good?

Catholicism defines the “common good” as “Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.”

We have natural ends that we are supposed to be achieving and some places, like South Korea, are better for allowing that to happen.

The common good is broader and prior to any sort of political specification.

It’s not the political good or what the state is supposed to do.

It’s not about the communal good, as in Soviet Russia, where the communal good was above individual and familial good.

The common good is the social conditions that promote the things that we humans have in common as individuals and members of family.

The common good takes account of who we are as individuals and in associations with other individuals, e.g. – families.

Christians don’t have to be doing the same things to promote the common good, e.g. – pastors, entrepreneurs, etc.

The church, as the church, has as its primary goal making disciples of all nations.

But even in that capacity, the church should be interested in more than just conversions and saving souls.

We also have to care about God’s created reality including things like physics, education, etc.

How should Christians promote the common good in politics?

Question: when is coercion warranted?

In Romans 13, Paul says that the state does have power to coerce to achieve certain ends, like justice.

Most Christians think that there are some things where the state can use coercion, for example, to prevent/punish murder.

It is OK for the police to use coercive force to maintain public order and the rule of law.

But we need to ask whether other things are legitimate areas for the state to use coercive force.

We should only give the state power to coerce when there is no other way to achieve a goal.

We need to leverage the science of economics in order to know how to achieve the common good.

Jay Richards' main point in the debate

Jay Richards’ main point in the debate

Henry Hazlitt: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

For example, what happens if we raise the federal minimum wage to $50. What happens next for all groups? That’s what we need to ask in order to know which policies achieve the common good.

When it comes to economics a lot of things have been tried in other places and times.

We can know what works and doesn’t work by studying what was tried before and in other places.

Many things are counter-intuitive – things that sound good don’t work, things that sound bad do work.

Principle: “We are our brother’s keeper”. Christians have an obligation to care for their neighbors.

We all agree on the goal. But how do we do things that will achieve that goal?

We have to distinguish aspirations from principles and prudential judgment.

Principle: We should provide for the material needs of the poor.

Prudence: Seeing the world as it is, and acting accordingly.

Example policies: which minimum wage is best? None? $10? $20?

We decide based on seeing how different economic policies achieve the goal of helping the poor.

Jim Wallis’ first rebuttal:

Jesus commanded us to “care for the poor and help to end poverty”.

Actually, Jesus thought that acknowledging him and giving him sacrificial worship was more important than giving money to the poor, see Matthew 26:6-13:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 

a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 

“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 

11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 

12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 

13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

It’s not clear to me whether Jim Wallis thinks that preaching is more important than redistributing wealth to address material inequality.

I like what Jesus said in a TV series, even though it’s not in the Bible when an actor playing Jesus said to “change the world”.

Jesus never said to “change the world” in the Bible. Should we be concerned that he is quoting a TV actor playing Jesus instead of Jesus.

Here is a terrific story about Bill Bright.

I love Catholic social teaching.

Quote: “All are responsible for all”.

I go to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland every year. I spoke once at 7 AM on the 4th floor.

It’s a funny place for a Christian to be if they care about the poor – rubbing shoulders with leftist elites. He must have named a dozen high-profile people that he spoke with during the debate, as if he could win the debate by some sort of argument from name-dropping. He mentioned the Davos thing several times!

The greatest beneficiary of government actions to deal with the economic crisis was Wall Street banks.

I’m going to tell you a story about what a Washington lawyer says to Jesus.

I’ve had conversations with business leaders where I tell them to integrate moral truths.

I talk about the Good Samaritan parable.

Quote: “Do you love your undocumented neighbor?”

Quote: “Do you love your Muslim neighbor?”

Jay Richards’ first rebuttal:

Who is responsible for your own children? Who knows the most about them?

Parents should have more discretion over their children because they have more knowledge about their child and what’s best for them.

The Good Samaritan doesn’t show that government should confiscate wealth through taxation and redistribute it.

The Good Samaritan emphasizes voluntarily charity to help people who are not necessarily your immediate neighbor.

Some of the things we do should be for the good of other people in other countries.

But then we are back to leveraging economics to know what policies are good for those other people in other countries.

The principle of subsidiarity: if a problem can be addressed by a lower level of society (family) then we shouldn’t make higher levels (government) address it.

The best place to take care of children is within the family.

Only if the family fails should wider and wider spheres get involved.

Although we want to think of the common good in a global sense, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact

The financial crisis: we need to integrate moral truths, but also economic truths.

We don’t want to assume policies based on intuitions, we want to check our intuitions using economic principles.

Why did we have a financial crisis in mortgages, but not in commodities futures or technology, etc.?

Greed is a contributing factor in all areas of business.

Something more was going on in the mortgage markets than just greed.

There were specific policies that caused the mortgage lending crisis.

The root cause of the problem were “affordable housing policies” that lowered lending restrictions on low income people.

The policy ended up degrading the underwriting standards on loans.

Government intruded into the market and undermined the normal ways of

People were getting massive loans with no income, no jobs, no assets and no down payment.

The federal government created a market for risk loans by guaranteeing

There was a government imposed quota on mortgage lenders such that 50% of their loans had to be given to high-risk borrowers.

That is what led to the financial crisis. Not the free market, but intrusions into the free market.

These policies were well-meaning and implemented by people from both parties. But they had bad effects.

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