Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

If you care about the poor, must you vote for bigger government?

Here’s an article on the Daily Signal that traces the history of big government “solutions” to poverty, and argues that big government has not been able to solve the poverty problem no matter how much money they’ve taken from taxpayers.

Excerpt:

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau will release its annual report on poverty. This report is noteworthy because this year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty. Liberals claim that the War on Poverty has failed because we didn’t spend enough money. Their answer is just to spend more. But the facts show otherwise.

[…]Over 100 million people, about one third of the U.S. population, received aid from at least one welfare program at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient in 2013. If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S.

But today the Census will almost certainly proclaim that around 14 percent of Americans are still poor. The present poverty rate is almost exactly the same as it was in 1967 a few years after the War on Poverty started. Census data actually shows that poverty has gotten worse over the last 40 years.

How is this possible? How can the taxpayers spend $22 trillion on welfare while poverty gets worse?

The answer is it isn’t possible.  Census counts a family as poor if its income falls below specified thresholds. But in counting family “income,” Census ignores nearly the entire $943 billion welfare state.

For most Americans, the word “poverty” means significant material deprivation, an inability to provide a family with adequate nutritious food, reasonable shelter and clothing. But only a small portion of the more than 40 million people labelled as poor by Census fit that description.

[…]According to government surveys, the typical family that Census identifies as poor has air conditioning, cable or satellite TV, and a computer in his home. Forty percent have a wide screen HDTV and another 40 percent have internet access. Three quarters of the poor own a car and roughly a third have two or more cars. (These numbers are not the result of the current bad economy pushing middle class families into poverty; instead, they reflect a steady improvement in living conditions among the poor for many decades.)

The intake of protein, vitamins and minerals by poor children is virtually identical with upper middle class kids. According to surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the overwhelming majority of poor people report they were not hungry even for a single day during the prior year.

The article goes on t make the point that if the purpose of government social programs is to make people more independent so they can get off the welfare, then the government has failed to achieve that goal. In fact, they’ve made even more people dependent on government since they started to try to make them independent of government.

According to a Congressional Research Service study, we spend more on welfare per year (1.03 trillion) than we do on Social Security (725 billion) or Medicare (480 billion) or non-war defense (540 billion). And what do we get? More dependency on government, not less.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

Wayne Grudem debates Richard Glover on the Bible, poverty and foreign aid

A great episode of the Unbelievable podcast. This is a great debate. I really enjoyed it. All three speakers were excellent putting forward their points. It’s nice to hear an American voice, a British voice and an Australian voice debating an important issue. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Details:

Wayne Grudem is a theologian known for his conservative approach to both doctrine and economics. His new book “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution” (co-authored with economist Barry Asmus) makes the case that pouring aid into developing countries is a failed strategy. Grudem debates whether the Bible supports free market, capitalist economics with Australian economist and theologian Richard Glover who wrote a critique of the book for the Australian Bible Society.

 The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

Grudem:

  • The Bible speaks to all of life, including economics, stewardship, government
  • The study of economics helps us to understand how to take care of the poor
  • My job is to apply the teachings of the Bible to all of life

Brierley:

  • What’s your thesis in the book?

Grudem:

  • A good system is one where the poor have the opportunity to earn and save from their labor
  • Book is a response to a Kenyan couple Grudem met at a London conference on business and Christianity
  • Book is not concerned with how individuals and groups can do charity to help the poor
  • Our church already does that and we support individuals and groups doing charity
  • The book is concerned with how should nations be transformed in order to grow economically
  • What should the laws, policies and cultural beliefs of a nation be in order for it to not be poor?
  • The book lists factors that have moved nations from poverty to prosperity in different times and places
  • The thesis of the book is this: government should set their people free to be able to produce more
  • We advocate freedom in economics: freedom to work, freedom to save, freedom to start businesses
  • We believe that this free enterprise view is consistent with the Bible in a number of places
  • E.g. – private property is good for prosperity (thou shall not steal) but forbidden by communism

Brierley:

  • What about the church sharing in communities in Acts 2 and Acts 4?

Grudem:

  • That is not redistribution of wealth among individuals and businesses by a secular government
  • Those passages showed that there was voluntary sharing among Christians, which is not communism

Brierley:

  • What’s wrong with Grudem’s book?

Glover:

  • The book emphasizes the Bible and the goal is to help the poor in poor countries
  • Criticism 1: the book doesn’t engage with non-free-market perspectives on economics
  • Criticism 2: the book doesn’t survey all that the Bible says about economics

Brierly:

  • For 1) what is one of the views that is not considered?

Glover:

  • Jeffrey Sachs says that nations need a leg up before they can grow economically
  • Ha-Joon Chang says that free enterprise was not how the wealthy nations became wealthy

Grudem:

  • We do engage with other points of view, especially Jeffrey Sachs in the book
  • The trouble with leftist views on economic development is that it does not work in practice
  • NO COUNTRY has even been lifted out of poverty by foreign aid
  • He says we don’t cite enough from the wisdom literature: we have 64 citations in the index
  • He says we don’t cite enough from the gospels: we have 42 citations in the index
  • He says we don’t cite enough from the epistles: we cite 22 of 27 epistles in the index
  • Some economists won’t criticize cultural and moral values that hurt prosperity
  • As Christians, we think that moral and cultural values are part of the problem that needs solving

Brierley:

  • What about foreign aid?

Grudem:

  • Foreign aid doesn’t help: a lot of the money goes into government and rulers can be corrupt
  • Instead of encouraging people to start businesses, it tells people to go into government to get aid money
  • Economists (lists 3) are saying that foreign aid entrenches corrupt government in power, does no good

Brierley:

  • If it’s not working, should we keep doing it?

Glover:

  • When there is an immediate need, we should do it, even if it is not a long-term solution: we need both

Brierley:

  • Should we stop foreign aid completely?

Grudem:

  • Voluntary charitable giving from individuals and churches to help poor countries is good
  • Me and my co-author are both active on our church board that helps poor countries with urgent needs
  • Food and doctors are urgent needs, and we should help, but it doesn’t lift countries out of poverty
  • We need a long-term solution that helps poor countries produce their own food and doctors
  • We are criticizing 1) government to government aid and 2) IMF/World bank to government aid
  • We have had pushback because 500,000 people make a living from this foreign aid industry
  • No country has ever been lifted out of poverty into sustainable prosperity
  • That’s the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing that has never worked

Brierley:

  • Does the Bible support free enterprise as a way of creating sustainable prosperity?

Glover:

  • When I said the Bible was absent from his book, absent was a bad choice of words
  • But the hundreds of references he listed were not dealth with *in depth*
  • In the Scriptures, God is the one who provides (e.g. – in Ephesians, Sermon on the Mount)
  • The Bible is less focused on his people making money, and more focus on sharing basics, like food
  • Secular governments should just take it from people who have food and give it to hungry people
  • In 2 Cor 8-9, Paul talks about voluntary sharing so everyone will be equal

Brierley:

  • Does 2 Cor 8-9 undermine the free enterprise system you champion in the book?

Grudem:

  • The sharing in the Bible solves cases of urgent need, it does not lift countries from poverty to sustainable prosperity
  • Some older translations say “equality” in 2 Cor 8:13-14, but newer translations (e.g. – ESV) say “fairness”
  • The Greek word is translated as “fairly” the only other place it appears in the NT (Col 4:1), in every translation
  • God uses the means of human work and productivity to provide (daily bread is baked, doesn’t just fall from Heaven)
  • In general, there’s no provision in Scripture for a person to be dependent on donations for their entire lives
  • God promises Israel fields and mountains to tend and mine, but prosperity is from work, not depending on others

Brierley:

  • Does the Bible support this focus on work?

Grudem:

  • Working is highly praised in Scripture, (lists Bible passages that favor work over dependency)
  • Countries that were exposed to this notion of work and productivity have been more prosperous

Glover:

  • Jeffrey Sachs and other development economists don’t say you can be prosperous through dependence
  • They say that it is a necessary part of leading to nations out of poverty into poverty

Grudem:

  • It’s never worked. What nation has become prosperous through foreign aid?

Glover:

  • There are lots of nations, especially in Africa, where foreign aid has helped lift them out of poverty

Grudem:

  • Name one country in Africa where foreign aud has lifted them out of poverty into sustainable prosperity

Glover:

  • I can’t think of one right now.

Grudem:

  • Our book contains a map of Africa and we looked at every nation’s per capita income
  • No nation has been able to rise out of poverty through dependence on foreign aid
  • The only close one is Botswana, but they have abundant freedoms, Christian morals, less corrupt government
  • So Botswana is the best case and they became prosperous through becoming productive, not foreign aid

Brierley:

  • Is he right to say that charity is a short-term solution, but that it’s not good long-term for prosperity?

Glover:

  • Yes, and work is a very important focus in the Scriptures as he says.
  • But since the Fall work has been much harder, and may not have the outcomes that we would like

Grudem:

  • I also believe in emergency aid for when catastrophies happen, like floods and famines
  • But dependence on foreign aid enriches corrupt rulers and does not create the productivity that leads to sustained prosperity

Brierley:

  • Can foreign aid be used to give poor nations a leg up on becoming prosperous?

Grudem:

  • Dambisa Moyo, Oxford-educated economist from Zambia, says stop the aid, it’s doing more harm than good
  • Jeffrey Sachs’ view is that foreign aid hasn’t worked yet, but just keep trying a bit more
  • What works: limited government, rule of law, fair courts, documented property rights, low taxes, stable currency
  • People are creative and want to work, we just have to get government out of the way and let people work, earn and save

Brierley:

  • Is this free enterprise system supported by the Bible?

Glover:

  • The wealthy nations of the world did not become wealthy through productive work and free enterprise policies
  • Ha-Joon Chang: free enterprise policies have never brought a country from poverty to wealth
  • E.g. – wealth is created through tariffs (not by innovating and by economic freedom?)

Grudem:

  • I’ve read Ha-Joon Chang’s book, and his examples are very selective and limited
  • Index of Economic Freedom: the freest countries are the most prosperous, the least free countries are the most poor
  • When you look at macro data, instead of very selective examples, the free enterprise system is best for prosperity

Glover:

  • The book doesn’t do enough to engage with leftist economists (he doesn’t say which ones)
  • Just because nations who are free are rich, doesn’t mean freedom causes productivity
  • There are parts of the Bible that doesn’t support the free enterprise system (he names none)

Grudem:

  • The Bible is focused on work not dependency, and charity not government redistribution
  • The best way to help the poor in other countries is by encouraging work and productivity

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

Does the free market work to reduce poverty?

Economist Walter Williams

Economist Walter Williams

From Investors Business Daily.

Excerpt:

There has never been a purely free market economic system, just as there has never been a purely communist system. However, we can rank economies and see whether ones that are closer to the free market end of the economic spectrum are better than ones that are closer to the communist end.

Let’s try it.

First, list countries according to whether they are closer to the free market or the communist end of the economic spectrum. Then rank countries according to per capita gross domestic product. Finally, rank countries according to Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World” report.

People who live in countries closer to the free market end of the economic spectrum have far greater income than people who live in countries toward the communist end — and enjoy far greater human rights protection.

According to the 2012 “Economic Freedom of the World” report by James Gwartney, Robert Lawson and Joshua Hall, nations ranking in the top quartile with regard to economic freedom had average per capita GDP of $37,691 in 2010 compared with $5,188 for those in the bottom quartile.

In the freest nations, the average income of the poorest 10% of their populations was $11,382. In the least free nations, it was $1,209.

Remarkably, the average income of the poorest 10% in the economically freer nations is more than twice the average of those in the least free nations.

Free market benefits aren’t only measured in dollars and cents.

Life expectancy is 79.5 years in the freest nations and 61.6 years in the least free.

Political and civil liberties are considerably greater in the economically free nations than in unfree nations.

Leftists might argue that the free market doesn’t help the poor. That argument can’t even pass the smell test.

Imagine that you are an unborn spirit and God condemned you to a life of poverty but gave you a choice of the country in which to be poor. Which country would you choose?

To help with your choice, here are facts provided by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield in their report “Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America’s Poor.”

  • Eighty percent of American poor households have air conditioning.
  • Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31% have two or more.
  • Almost two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Half have one or more computers.
  • Forty-two percent own their homes.
  • The average poor American has more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France and the U.K. Ninety-six percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry; in other words, they could afford food.

The bottom line is that there is little or no material poverty in the U.S.

At the time of our nation’s birth, we were poor, but we established an institutional structure of free markets and limited government and became rich.

This might be a good article send along to people who want to bash our free-market system. It’s easy for them to make assertions that we have to do this or that policy to redistribute wealth. But the real solution to helping the poor is not to take from one and give to another, it’s to put into place a system that causes wealth to be created for all. That’s what happened in the United States, and you can see how it happened in other capitalist economies like Chile, Hong Kong and Singapore. Capitalism turns poor nations into rich nations.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

Dennis Prager: why the left doesn’t care about bad economic news

This was posted last night on Investors Business Daily.

Excerpt:

Almost everywhere the left is in control — in California, for example — the economic news is awful. But this has no effect on the ruling Democrats, the Los Angeles Times editorial page, New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman or others on the left.

There is one overriding philosophical reason and one political reason for this.

He lists a number of the economic problems in California – a state that is controlled top to bottom by Democrats.

Why doesn’t it bother Democrats that economies decline when they are in control?

He writes:

Why do these state-crushing economic statistics — nearly every one of which is the result of left-wing policies — have no effect on California’s Democrats, the Los Angeles Times editorial page, New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman or almost anyone else on the left?

The answer is that they don’t care.

Yes, of course, as individuals with a heart, most people, right and left, care about people losing their jobs.

But in terms of what matters to the left and the policies they pursue, they don’t care. The left and the political party it controls do not care if their policies force companies to leave the state (or the country).

They don’t care about the coming high inflation caused by quantitative easing (printing money) — Krugman calls it the inflation obsession — or the job-depressing effects of high taxes or energy prices that hurt the middle class or compelling businesses to leave.

They don’t care because the left is not interested in prosperity; the left is interested in inequality and in the environment.

Furthermore, the worse the economic situation, the more voters are likely to vote Democrat. The worse the economic situation, the greater the number of people receiving government assistance; the greater the number of people receiving government assistance, the greater the number of people who will vote Democrat.

Therefore, both philosophically and politically, the left has no reason to be troubled by bad economic news. And it isn’t. It is troubled by inequality and carbon emissions.

He could have done the same analysis in Detroit, where Democrats govern unopposed by Republicans, and have for years.

The main problem of the left is “inequality”. If they put in place policies that make everyone earn minimum wage, regardless of what they do, that would be a great victory for them. If the price of prosperity is “economic inequality”, then so much the worse for prosperity. If you tax people who produce more value than a minimum wage worker so that they make the same as a minimum wage worker, you can forget about the kinds of businesses that produce cars, computers and appliances. People invent these things and start businesses in order to make a profit. That’s why they spend their savings and take the risk to start a business. But if everything they earn is taxed away, then we will have to do without new products and services. This is understood in the private sector, but not by the government, nor by the low-information voters who vote for bigger government.

We have to stop allowing the Left to pain themselves as saints because they talk about the poor. What they don’t like about the poor is the rich. If everyone were poor, they wouldn’t talk about the poor – because everyone would be equal. That’s their goal.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

My disagreements with a trendy, hip pastor on missions and witnessing

So I am visiting my parents and my pet bird today in the city I grew up in, and I went to church as usual. The church in my hometown just got a new senior pastor who is one of those hip, trendy pastors. So far, my friends and I who attend this church have some concerns about him.

So the pastor two points in this sermon today: 1) we should be concerned with world missions and 2) we should be “witnessing” in non-cognitive ways. You’ll see what he means by these in a minute.

Missions

Now to be fair to the pastor, I don’t really know his full philosophy on missions. He was giving a sermon, and he had time for one example. His example of missions was that “wealthy” Christians in the West should give money to groups like World Vision that provide for the immediate physical needs of poor people in other countries. So his target for evangelism is not a wealthy Western professional who lives next door to him and isn’t impressed with food. His target for evangelism is someone who is starving in another country, who is at a disadvantage when it comes to education and poverty. And his preferred missionary is not someone who has studied to know how to persuade using knowledge, it’s someone nice and kind who is bringing food to starving people and then presenting the gospel to them through an interpreter as they eat the food.

Witnessing

The example the pastor gave for witnessing to non-Christians was to pray with them. He said that there would be less room for “hate” (his actual word) if Christians spent more time praying with non-Christians. The first thing I thought of when he said this was Mormon missionaries establishing the truth of their religion with people by praying for a “burning in the bosom”. Regarding his mention of “hate”, he didn’t mention gay marriage specifically, but I think that is the most reasonable context for the word “hate” in this culture. If we prayed with people and started caring for them and being nice to them (no mention of sin and repentance, note), then our “hate” for them would decrease.

So I want to make some basic points about what was said and what was left out.

Truth

At no point in this sermon or any any other sermon I have seen delivered by this pastor has the issue of how we know truth, or how we demonstrate that something is true, ever been addressed. I have not ever heard this pastor give a sermon on how he knows that God exists, how he knows that the Bible is reliable, and how he knows who Jesus is.

Persuasion

I was very careful today to pay attention to how the pastor was getting the audience on board with what he is saying. And I think I’ve hit on his method of persuading. It’s not to make arguments and to supply evidence, or even to quote the Bible in context. He relied a lot on hipness and emotional resonance with his audience. I think he expects us to accept what he is saying because he is able to 1) share illustrations from his life experiences (farming, this time), or 2) name rock bands like “Cold Play”. So his approach is more like “I’m just like you, so you should believe what I’m telling you”.

Evangelism

His two strategies for evangelism above seemed to be 1) giving money to Christian groups who can then travel to other countries to discuss Christianity with people who are receiving gifts from them and 2) offering to pray with non-Christians. I do not think that merely expressing theological opinions and then handing someone food or clothing is a good strategy for evangelism. I think it is permissible, it’s just not the way I see it being done in the Bible. I realize that there are going to be cases where someone accepts Jesus on the basis of this sort of evangelism, and in the best case, they might even go on to become a great Christian scholar who understands the truth of these matters so well that they can present it to non-Christians with authority. That would be the ideal case. But I think when I read the New Testament, the appeal to non-Christians in evangelism is an appeal to truth, based on the historical event of the resurrection, for example. I asked a friend of mine who knows the Bible well, about whether giving charity to people is ever a method of evangelism, and he said he couldn’t think of any. His preference for this evangelism-by-charity makes me wonder about people who have non-Christians living right next to them in the West, or even in secular Europe, who nevertheless choose to go to places where they can use the leverage of financial goods to get into conversations with people about spiritual things. It’s easy to go to a foreign country and talk to someone uneducated who can’t challenge you because they want the food you brought. It’s harder to evangelize your neighbor who is an atheist and a medical doctor – you would have to read books, and demonstrate the truth of things. Maybe that’s why so many people prefer the former to the latter – it’s easier.

His second method of evangelism (praying with non-Christians) seems to me to be impractical. It seems to me that it would work on people who do not have questions, and who are looking to decide theological / spiritual claims by their emotions. Prayer is not able to establish the historical fact of the resurrection in a debate situation, for example. You should pray before and after making a case for the resurrection, but you should at least know how to make the case for the resurrection to a non-Christian. Again, I am not familiar with a case in the New Testament in which a non-Christian, non-theist was ever approached with prayer alone. I know that Paul reasons from the Scriptures with people (Acts 16-17), and Peter appeals to the resurrection (Acts 2). His approach is more like what Mormons do, because they can’t demonstrate truth using arguments and facts. If this guy can only use Mormon techniques, that’s disturbing – like he has reduced Christianity to a flavor of ice cream that you either like or not, depending on your feelings or whether people are nice to you. Prayer is not used to demonstrate the truth of anything in any other context in real-life. Why is he trying to use it with Christianity? Is Christianity not the same as any other area of knowledge?

Economics

Now, I sense that this pastor has a concern for the poor, and I agree with him that charity is Biblical, and even that we can give money to big organizations like World Vision to help the poor in other countries, (although I don’t like World Vision). But I think where I get annoyed is that this is his only stated method of helping the poor. But I prefer a different method of helping the poor, namely the method that you see in countries like Hong Kong or Chile. That method is free market capitalism. And all you need to do to push that method is to sit with an economics book, learn what policies drive economic growth, and then push them in the public square. I’m being frank here. I think it can be demonstrated that foreign aid, for example, accomplishes little or nothing to help the poor, and often hurts the poor. What we need to do is to trade with these countries, promote economic growth in these countries, in the same sustainable, organic way that growth occurred in countries like Hong Kong and Chile. But what I get from this pastor is a kind of naive “Michael Moore” anti-corporation vibe. I think I can say without being proved wrong that we will never here any presentation from him that addresses the need to learn economics in order to promote the policies that will drive organic, sustainable economic growth in these counties, (e.g. – micro-loans, free trade, etc.). I do think it’s important to give to charity, though.

Advice for this pastor

If he read this post, then my advice to this pastor would be to take a two-pronged approach. If his concern is evangelism, then I recommend that he speak to some non-Christians in this country, and then when he sees that they have questions about God’s existence, gay marriage, the resurrection, abortion, sexual ethics, religious pluralism, miracles, evolution, creation, the reliability of the NT documents, etc., then he can do something different than Mormons do – he can embrace apologetics. Then he will be able to do missionary work right here in the West, with the educated professionals that God providentially placed right next door to him and right next door to his flock, too. Also, instead of worrying about how much we “hate” others, maybe he can offer Christians some advice on how to explain and defend religious liberty, which is under attack from the very groups he implies, in my opinion, that we are “hating” Also, it might be good for him to bash McDonald’s chicken nuggets less, and to defend the unborn more, in his sermons.

Second, if his other concern is to help the poor, then I recommend that he focus on promoting economic growth and individual charity. I think the big problem I have with this guy is that everything he says is so childish and simplistic. I agree we should want to help the poor, and that we should be charitable. But I think that when you are talking about poverty in other countries, then we should do everything possible. And everything possible certainly includes becoming educated about economics and the policies that are known to lift poor nations out of poverty. This is what people who are really interested in solving the problem would focus on. If you’re going to talk about poverty, then talk about it based on knowledge. Don’t leave it at a kindergarten level.

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

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