Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Arthur Brooks: Europe’s core problems are demographic, not economic

AEI President Arthur C. Brooks writes about Europe’s most pressing problem in the far-left New York Times, of all places.

He writes:

According to the United States Census Bureau’s International Database, nearly one in five Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. This is hard enough to endure, given the countries’ early retirement ages and pay-as-you-go pension systems. But by 2030, this will have risen to one in four. If history is any guide, aging electorates will direct larger and larger portions of gross domestic product to retirement benefits — and invest less in opportunity for future generations.

Next, look at fertility. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid-1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That’s up a hair from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That’s where Europe is heading in the coming decades. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer Christmas presents to buy.

There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?

Finally, consider employment. Last September, the United States’ labor force participation rate — the percentage of adults who are either working or looking for work — reached a 36-year low of just 62.7 percent.

Yet as bad as that is, the United States looks decent compared with most of Europe. Our friends across the Atlantic like to say that we live to work, while they work to live. That might be compelling if more of them were actually working. According to the most recent data available from the World Bank, the labor force participation rate in the European Union in 2013 was 57.5 percent. In France it was 55.9 percent. In Italy, just 49.1 percent.

[…]It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.

Either people keep their own money and run their own lives, or bureaucrats take their money and make the decisions about social programs. In America, we used to prefer the former, but Europe has been preferring the latter for decades. Would I get married and have kids in a society run by European bureaucrats? Do I want secular leftist public schools to tell my children what to believe? It doesn’t sound very exciting to me. And I’ll bet it doesn’t sound very exciting to a lot of men in Europe. Men don’t want to be taxed, so that they can be replaced by the state’s social programs. We want to chart our own course, and guide our own families. But that’s not OK with people who want to replace men with government social programs.

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As Christianity declines in Europe, churches are put up for sale

This sad story is from the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.

This is the Arnhem Skate Hall, an uneasy reincarnation of the Church of St. Joseph, which once rang with the prayers of nearly 1,000 worshipers.

It is one of hundreds of churches, closed or threatened by plunging membership, that pose a question for communities, and even governments, across Western Europe: What to do with once-holy, now-empty buildings that increasingly mark the countryside from Britain to Denmark?

[…]The closing of Europe’s churches reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe, a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.

[…]The Church of England closes about 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed nonviable or underused. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has shut about 515 churches in the past decade.

But it is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years.

[…]As communities struggle to reinvent their old churches, some solutions are less dignified than others. In Holland, one ex-church has become a supermarket, another is a florist, a third is a bookstore and a fourth is a gym. In Arnhem, a fashionable store called Humanoid occupies a church building dating to 1889, with racks of stylish women’s clothing arrayed under stained-glass windows.

In Bristol, England, the former St. Paul’s church has become the Circomedia circus training school. Operators say the high ceilings are perfect for aerial equipment like trapezes.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, a Lutheran church has become a Frankenstein-themed bar, featuring bubbling test tubes, lasers and a life-size Frankenstein’s monster descending from the ceiling at midnight.

Jason MacDonald, a supervisor at the pub, says he has never heard complaints about the reuse. “It’s for one simple reason: There are hundreds and hundreds of old churches and no one to go to them,” Mr. MacDonald said. “If they weren’t repurposed, they would just lie empty.”

Many churches, especially smaller ones, are becoming homes, and that has spawned an entire industry to connect would-be buyers with old churches.

The churches of England and Scotland list available properties online, with descriptions worthy of a realty firm. St. John’s church in Bacup, England, for example, is said to feature “a lofty nave as well as basement rooms with stone-vaulted ceilings,” and can be had for about $160,000.

There are many reasons why Christianity has declined in Europe, but surely the widespread embrace of left-wing economic policies – even by evangelical Christians – is one of the largest.

Here’s a fairly recent paper (PDF) that explains it:

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.

I have many friends in the UK who classify themselves as evangelical Christians. They almost all embrace moderate to leftist economics, and they complain to me about why the church is in decline, why there is no interest in apologetics, why they can’t find Christian girlfriends, why they can’t get speaking engagements. The answer is, of course, that by majoring only in theology and apologetics, they have crafted the rope that their secular allies in government are using to hang them. Leftism is embraced by European Christians in part because they don’t want to be like those dastardly Americans with their free enterprise system and their rule of law and their private property and their law-abiding gun ownership.

It just goes to show you why Christianity suffers when we focus on piety at the expense of practicality. Too much A. W. Tozer, not enough F.A. Hayek. I doubt my well-meaning UK Christian friends – who are so proud of their laughable NHS health care – even know who F.A. Hayek is. To think that Lady Thatcher ones brandished “The Constitution of Liberty” by F.A. Hayek and declared “this is what we believe!”. But ordinary UK Christians do not believe what she believes, and now they must reap what they sowed with their knee-jerk rejection of the free enterprise system. Ignorance of economics killed Christianity in Europe, and pious, risk-averse Christians were willing participants in the murder.

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What is the greatest achievement of the Obama administration?

Newsbusters reports on the greatest accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Excerpt: (links removed)

It is clear that a huge amount of growth in SNAP happened under Obama’s watch.

Increases in the size of SNAP were “unprecedented” since 2008, according to a report by the Manhattan Institute, the conservative, New York City-based think tank. The authors of the report, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow, and Claire Rogers, Research Assistant, attributed this expansion to a combination of “the difficult job market” and an “expansion of benefits” starting in October 2008.

Statistics released by USDA also showed the huge expansion of food stamps under Obama. In 2013, 20 percent of American households were enrolled in SNAP. Enrollment had increased from 32.2 million individuals in January 2009, to at least 46 million individuals during the last 35 straight months for available data. This upsurge represented a jump of more than 42 percent.

Meanwhile, spending on SNAP benefits rose by nearly 120 percent, from $34.6 billion to $76.1 billion, between 2008 and 2013. The increase in spending far outpaced enrollment, and could be attributed to greater benefits handed out per person. “SNAP began to pay more generous benefits to people who enrolled” between 2007 and 2011, according to an analysis published on The New York Times’ Economix blog Aug. 29, 2011.

Economist Peter Ferrara agreed with labeling Obama the “food stamp President,” calling out the administration’s “anti-growth, economic policies, which are precisely crippling the poor and the middle class” in a Forbes article Dec. 31, 2013.

While these increases were partly attributed to Obama’s economic policies, they could also be linked to lax enrollment policies implemented by the president. These policies included waivers for healthy individuals with no dependents and who were not actively seeking work.

“The food-stamp work waiver is part of a larger agenda. Poverty advocates have long sought to convert food stamps into a no-strings-attached entitlement,” Heather MacDonald, Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in a New York Post op-ed on May 15, 2014.

Two Heritage Foundation fellows said that while part of the growth in SNAP could be attributed to the country’s poor economic conditions, Obama has also increased the size of the program through his budget proposal.

“Part of that growth is due to the recession, but under Obama’s proposed budget, food stamp spending will not return to pre-recession levels when the economy recovers. Instead, it will remain well above historic norms for the foreseeable future,” Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow, and Katherine Bradley, Research Fellow, at Heritage wrote.

Of course, if you’re a Democrat, this is a feature, not a bug. They like Americans to be dependent on government, because then more of them vote for bigger government – and that means Democrats get to raise taxes and spend even more money they didn’t earn. That’s good news, but it gets even better – because then they give speeches about how generous they are! With your money.

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This year, 70% of all government spending will be direct payments to individuals

Investors Business Daily reports.

Excerpt:

Buried deep in a section of President Obama’s budget, released this week, is an eye-opening fact: This year, 70% of all the money the federal government spends will be in the form of direct payments to individuals, an all-time high.

In effect, the government has become primarily a massive money-transfer machine, taking $2.6 trillion from some and handing it back out to others. These government transfers now account for 15% of GDP, another all-time high. In 1991, direct payments accounted for less than half the budget and 10% of GDP.

What’s more, the cost of these direct payments is exploding. Even after adjusting for inflation, they’ve shot up 29% under Obama.

Where do these checks go? The biggest chunk, 38.6%, goes to pay health bills, either through Medicare, Medicaid or ObamaCare. A third goes out in the form of Social Security checks. Only 21% goes toward poverty programs — or “income security” as it’s labeled in the budget — and a mere 5% ends up in the hands of veterans.

So a lot of the money is not even going for poverty! More:

Instead, a surprisingly large amount of federal money is handed out to wealthy Americans through Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, unemployment benefits, conservation programs, disaster payments and other programs.

An IBD analysis found that the richest 1% of Americans, in fact, receive roughly $10 billion each year in federal checks.

Outgoing Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who exposed these vast payment programs available to the rich, said “this reverse Robin Hood-style of wealth distribution is an intentional effort to get all Americans bought into a system where everyone appears to benefit.”

Why is this bad? It’s because government only spends the money that it collects from other individuals and businesses. They should be spending that money on government responsibilities like roads, the military and foreign policy. Not redistributing wealth to particular people. That just makes a certain segment of the population dependent on government and makes them more likely to vote for bigger government. Government is notoriously terrible at knowing who is really in need of help. Plus, private charities are more likely to push poor people in the direction of independence and responsibility. Government basically says, “here’s the money, and keep doing whatever you’re doing because we don’t have a plan for you to get out of poverty”.

We don’t want to be the kind of country that punishes people for working or for starting businesses, but it seems like that is the direction we are heading in.

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The Democrat agenda – reducing self-sufficiency and increasing dependency

Two articles, both from Investors Business Daily.

The first explains how Obamacare encourages people to stop working or reduce their work hours in order to get more benefits from the government.

Charles Krauthammer explains:

First, the Congressional Budget Office triples its estimate of the drop in the workforce resulting from the disincentive introduced by ObamaCare’s insurance subsidies: 2 million by 2017, 2.3 million by 2021.

Democratic talking points gamely defend this as a good thing because these jobs are being given up voluntarily. Nancy Pelosi spoke lyrically about how ObamaCare subsidies will allow people to leave unfulfilling jobs to pursue their passions:

“Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.”

[…]Pelosi’s vision is equally idyllic except for one thing: The taxes of the American factory worker — grinding away dutifully at his repetitive mind-numbing job — will be subsidizing the voluntary unemployment of the artiste in search of his muse. A rather paradoxical position for the party that poses as tribune of the working man.

[…]In the reductio ad absurdum of entitlement liberalism, Jay Carney was similarly enthusiastic about this ObamaCare-induced job loss. Why, ObamaCare creates the “opportunity” that “allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, and if they will work.”

If they will work? Pre-Obama, people always had the right to quit work to tend full time to the study of butterflies. It’s a free country. The twist in the new liberal dispensation is that the butterfly guy is to be subsidized by the taxes of people who actually work.

In the traditional opportunity society, government provides the tools — education, training and various incentives — to achieve the dignity of work and its promise of self-improvement and social mobility.

In the new opportunity society, you are given the opportunity for idleness while living parasitically off everyone else. Why those everyone elses should remain at their jobs — hey! I wanna dance, too! — is a puzzle Carney has yet to explain.

So, if you are working, you are going to be taxed more to pay for the leisure (or laziness) of your fellow citizens. And why must the Democrats do this? In order to continue to win elections by getting the votes of people who want you to work harder and longer so that they don’t have to work.

So how much are we paying people to not work or to work less? 

Major welfare programs as of 2012

Major welfare programs as of 2012

Again, Investors Business Daily explains.

Excerpt:

In 2011, the latest year for which we have complete spending data, federal outlays on all means-tested welfare programs targeted for the poor hit $746 billion, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

But this doesn’t include two of the fastest-growing taxpayer-funded cash subsidies: unemployment insurance and disability, which are not based on one’s income level, so are not considered anti-poverty programs. That’s another $250 billion a year. All told, federal income transfer programs (not including Social Security and Medicare) have hit $1 trillion.

Adding state spending, the Senate Budget Committee found another $257 billion spent each year. The welfare state is now larger than the GDP of 175 of the 190 wealthiest countries.

Astoundingly, if all this spending were simply sent in the form of a check to every household in America living below the poverty level, we could raise each of these family’s incomes not just above the poverty line, but double that level, according to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. Every poor family of four could have a cash income of $44,000 a year — which in most countries would be princely.

Most Americans probably have no idea how expansive the welfare state is. That’s because the cost is disguised by more than 80 separate means-tested programs counted by the CRS, including cash benefits, health care, social services, food, child care, training, and housing and utility subsidies. They often have overlapping and uncoordinated missions. This explains the vast duplication of effort, with at least 12 programs offering food and nutrition, 18 offering housing assistance, nine offering vocational training, and so on.

In all, just over 100 million Americans now get some form of welfare-based government benefit. This does not include Medicare or Social Security. Obama’s economics team thinks the more the better, because these are programs that “stimulate” the economy.

Oh, and by the way: These numbers do not include the ObamaCare expansion of Medicaid, which could add 20 million to the rolls over time. Obama boasts of 5 million more Americans now being eligible for Medicaid under ObamaCare, as if that’s an applause line.

That only leaves the question of who is paying for all this vote-buying today. Well, the money is being borrowed and added to the national debt. And who is going to pay for that? Your children. Especially if you bothered to get married before having children, because those are the children most likely to get the high-paying jobs that our slavemasters in government love to redistribute.

 

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