Biblical vs. Deistic Economics

I’m not sure I’d push this onto deism; but what David Dunn says in response to Dave Ramsey is worth consideration and conversation. Much of what Dunn says here was said years back by Ron Sider. The issue even for a Christian libertarian, as I see it, is two-fold: (1) all that we have is not “mine!” but “God’s” and what God has given us, and (2) the fundamental idea of taxation, which runs right through Israel’s laws, is not theft by the government but support for the people.

I’m for a good solid reading of the Bible, but one has to be careful about thinking levitical laws are for today; one has to see what the law was driving at (care for the marginalized); one has to think these things into the NT teachings and the radical attitude of Jesus and the early church toward possessions and even property; and one has to baptize it all into changing times, including a vastly different economy in our world, and how best to live this out in our world. Yet, even after all those moves have been made … well, there’s too much to say here. Here’s Dunn’s response to Ramsey.

Even though the Christian financial “guru” Dave Ramsey claims not to understand Occupy Wall Street, he does know why protesters (and by extension most Americans) want to raise taxes on the wealthy: We are sinners. “At the core of this demand [to raise taxes],” he says, “is envy.”

This judgment is not just offensive and wrong (see my last post) but sadly ironic: Dave Ramsey tells people to bring the Bible to their personal finances, so he should know that God’s economy is all about (what he scornfully calls) “wealth redistribution.”

Being a theologian, I could talk about how sharing in the life of the Trinity obligates us to share our lives with others, but another excuse to “spiritualize” our wallets is the last thing we need. I am also tempted to “tear apart” Ramsey’s caricature of the “Occupy” movement (it may truly be one of the finest examples of a “straw man fallacy” I have ever seen). But I respect Dave Ramsey as a fellow Christian and a person who has helped free thousands of families from crushing debt. (He does “God’s work.”) Therefore I will focus on the practical, theological root of his economic “heresy.”…

If we are truly the possessions of a loving God (Leviticus 25:23), then rights must be regulated by needs. In contrast to the deistic view Leviticus 25 (the closest thing the Bible offers to a clear economic “policy”) presents a more “open” theology of people and property. That is why this chapter gives more rights to the poor than the rich, saying that a person who falls into poverty, and sells his property to survive, has the right to buy it back at any time (with some exceptions). Or a relative may but it back for him.

This “policy” does not exactly qualify as what Ramsey calls “theft” (yet) but it does not support his deistic concept of exclusionary property, either. If Ramsey says nobody has a right to take his “stuff,” then I assume he believes nobody has a right to make him sellit, either. Though he agrees that everything we have comes from God, which is why he rightly stresses private giving, he sadly fails to let that belief get in the way of his laissez faire economics. Otherwise he might not be so quick to condemn progressive tax reform.

What Ramsey calls “wealth redistribution” the Bible calls “Jubilee.”

Ramsey says, “When someone takes my money and gives me no say in the matter, that’s called theft — whether they’re using a gun or the government.” Though this statement begs the question and shows a desperate need to Google “social contract,” it is most troublesome because of its exclusionary theology of property. Or as toddlers say, “Mine!” This doctrine does not come from Ramsey’s Christian faith.

Exclusionary property rights require Deism.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • T

    I agree with the article, except saying that Ramsey is being a Deist. He’s just making the rather thin argument that God is opposed to using human governments to provide relief to the poor. We have nothing in our bibles that suggests that God is against institutionalized mercy for the poor in various forms. We have lots of examples and teachings to make the opposite conclusion.

    Are some folks motivated by envy, both in shopping and voting and protesting? Sure. And many who give privately are motivated by fear or people-pleasing or guilt. Let’s leave the various motives aside. The bible does not call taxes “theft.” It does give us the example upon which our bankruptcy provisions are based, which is a good thing. And it gives us all kinds of other good examples to make help for the poor part of our institutions.

    The bible is not overly protective of personal property rights or governmental rights to tax. Rather, the bible tells both private persons and kings to be humble in their estimations of their “rights” and remember they will answer to the one God for everything, who graciously gives sight to eyes of rich and poor alike. Citizens in Jesus day who were concerned by “theft” from government officials or family members didn’t get a lot of sympathy from Jesus. He told folks to give even more to those who took from them, and be on guard against every kind of greed. If I had to distill Jesus’ teachings on such matters, it might be, “watch out for any sense of entitlement, attachment, or loyalty to money, whether ‘yours’ or anyone else’s; all money is deceptive. Don’t trust it; don’t hope in it.” This is not exactly a rousing speech for those that want to protest higher taxes to help the poor.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    I does drive me nuts when people call taxes theft. Disagree with rates, give economic reasons why the rate should be set one way or another. But do not call it theft. Theft is something entirely different and it minimizes actual crime (something that the poor have to deal with much more than those that are not poor) to call taxes theft.

    I listened to an article on NPR this morning about a proposal in Georgia to lower corporate energy taxes (that were put in place to encourage energy efficiency and reduce emissions) and in order to balance the budget the Republican legislature is currently proposing a food sales tax as the fairest way to insure that all people pay taxes in Georgia.

    Nothing I have heard recently was as expliciet and clear about reducing taxes on the rich and raising taxes on the poor. And the interview leader of the movement was quite clear in what he was doing.

  • Fish

    Theology like that is basically putting a Jesus mask on Mammon.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Dunn’s view of the occupy folks is a romantic, rose-tinted strawman. They are largely spoiled, middle-class kids who want free everything.

    The biblical model, on the other hand, is of private people helping their neighbors back onto their feet. At no point is any government told to collect or distribute anything. It is all done in, by, and for the local community. It is mandated by God, but no mechanism to ensure it is done is created. Any notion that this prescribes a modern welfare state simpy anachronistic.

  • David

    Taxation is not theft. But the government is responsible before God for how it raises taxes, and how they are used. Belief in personal property is just as Biblical as belief in personal sacrifice.

  • Jerry Sather

    Had a fascinating conversation with a Rabbi today about these very issues. Scot, you are right that we don’t necessarily want to make the Levitical law our national “law” but there are certainly some excellent principles to follow, particularly in our care for the poor and the marginalized. An important point is related to gleaners in Lev 23. Landowners were not allowed to extract all the possible profit from the land–some had to be left for the poor. BUT, the gleaners had to do the work of gleaning.

    We need to recognize that some of the arguments of the occupy movement are correct–the financial industry often has maximized profits at the expense of others–but other aspects of the movement are over the top in their demands.

  • MarkE

    ChrisB,
    What the heck? That seems like an absurd generalization.

    Isn’t the prime impetus for OWS the cheating within the system and the concentration and abuse of power? Who is for that?!

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    ChrisB (4),

    I agree that many of the occupy folks are naive and idealistic. But I am not sure calling them spoiled rich kids is accurate.

    But I disagree with your characterization of the bible. There were taxes, administrated by the temple (in Israel this was roughly equivalent to a governmental function) that were for the poor. The King and rulers were held accountable for lack of care for the poor. So it is not entirely a non-governmental response to poverty in scripture.

    I do however, agree that we should not try to take an Old Testament model and plop it on the US. That does not make sense. But it is a denial of the biblical evidence to claim that scripture does not have any governmental response.

  • Fish

    Sorry, but I am not a spoiled middle class kid who wants free everything nor are many of the Occupy folks. It might help if you went down and met some rather than depend on the talking points the talking box gives you.

    Today Occupy Little Rock is protesting the giveaway, by government, of one of the finest public water supplies in the country to real estate development corporations. It will increase corporate profit while taking money straight out of the pockets of the people in the form of higher water bills to remove pollution.

    If you want to define me having less money in my bank account because of government-enabled theft by corporation as me wanting something for free, go ahead. You will not be alone.

    I prefer to call it exercising our constitutional freedom to protest redistribution of wealth and taxation without representation.

  • http://disorietedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    I wish those who argue, as Dave Ramsey and ChrisB #4 above do, that the Occupy Wall Street movement is nothing more than a group jealous, entitled millennials would take the time to review the words of those who identify with the movement as posted on the We Are the 99 Percent blog. I see very few examples of people feeling entitled to anything, except maybe basic access to affordable health care or food for their families. (You can get a taste of their comments here.)

    Many of the posts on that blog are walking, living, modern-day examples of the Matt. 25 “least of these.” That Christians dismiss them to support their preferred political and economic policies is tragic indeed.

  • MarkE

    What Paul A. said.

  • Fish

    I guess I missed the part in the Bible where God created Adam, Eve and the Corporation, three different types of people but all made in His image.

    That is sarcasm, but in a very real sense anyone who defines a corporation as a person is challenging scripture in defining a man-made institution as a God-created living being. But our nation has went beyond even that in granting corporations special rights, exclusion from justice, financial welfare, and reduced or eliminated taxes.

    The really sad part is that, thanks to the mainstream media, challenging that view defines you as an un-American smelly unemployed hippy.

    We can only hope for the justice of God.

  • T

    ChrisB,

    There is by no means a one-to-one transfer of OT laws for the poor to the modern state. Absolutely right on that. That said, it is a larger leap to use the OT (or certainly the NT) as support for the kind of paradigm that would call limited government redistribution “theft.” Government scholarship programs aren’t theft. Government provision of nursing home care for the indigent from taxes isn’t theft. Even government rehab centers for criminals and/or addicted persons isn’t theft.

    A sense of entitlement, whether in the Occupy movement OR in the libertarian camps, is troubling from a Christian perspective.

  • David Himes

    Certainly, the OT Text provides examples of taxes being a normal function of government. But that’s different from claiming the OT or NT calls for confiscatory redistribution of wealth

    As followers of Jesus, we should certainly be generous to others with our financial resources. That generosity, however, is different from a government taking those resources and redistributing it.

    Government generosity is different from individual generosity.

    The NT Text calls for us to be individually generous to others. It does not speak to what the government does. And in fact, to my reading, the NT text pretty much ignores the government.

  • T

    ChrisB,

    Let me add this: the increasing tendency to refer to taxes as “theft” is anti-Christian. No one in the modern US is dealing with a more unjust tax system than the Jews were facing in NT times. They were even facing the classicly anti-american ‘taxation without representation’ as well as overt corruption in the collection process, let alone the spending of such taxes on pagan practices and idolatrous buildings and institutions. It is in this context that we get Jesus’ refusal to tell the Jews what they wanted to hear (calling it immoral, unjust, etc.). He goes farther and seems to urge willingness to part with every coin with Caesar’s face on it. For Christians to call modern redistributive policies “theft” when Jesus refused to similarly de-legitimize Roman taxes (for all their objectionable grounds) is not only misguided, it is anti-Christian; it is the opposite of what we see in Christ.

  • T

    David,

    Yes, the NT does not often address human governmental agents or policies (though, as I said, it does address people who were against taxes by Rome).

    Further, it takes some substantial ideological glasses to read the OT laws and the OT prophets and argue that Christians should be opposed to modern governmental policies that seek to help the poor, both in the short and long term. That idea doesn’t come from the Bible.

  • DLS

    Excellent post, ChrisB @4.

  • BradK

    Is the statement “taxation is not theft” similar to the statement “war is not murder”?

  • Amos Paul

    @ 16 T,

    “…it takes some substantial ideological glasses to read the OT laws and the OT prophets and argue that Christians should be opposed to modern governmental policies that seek to help the poor, both in the short and long term. That idea doesn’t come from the Bible.”

    I might say exactly the same for the opposite–that Christians should be *for* governmental re-distribution. Namely, it’s easy to ‘care for the poor’ when it comes right out of your taxes, hassle free! But, but, but, but, but–what if the Christian Libertarian response is that we don’t see the government using that money well. What if we see a massively wasteful government that, with overhead alone, wastes money that *I could have helped someone directly with*.

    I don’t think you’re going to find Scriptural backing for asking us to actively *want* the government to enforce wealth re-distribution laws. We live in a secular society that expects us to participate in rationally looking at the data to participate in our own governing. We neither live in a society where citizens have no role in government, nor do we live in the society of God’s nation-people whose religion, government, and property rights were all intimately inter-twined. Indeed, I think it’s clear we shouldn’t even *want* the latter as it disrespects religious freedom and the fact that the church is now God’s primary historical vehicle on Earth.

    Moreover (with no judgement in any way shape or form)–I do think there is Scriptural backing for *society* to expect people to work for their goods and livelihoods. That is, I certainly don’t think it’s rational to expect the government to literally take care of its citizens’ entire livelihoods for them. I know that’s not the extreme you’re dealing in. But, if it’s not, please don’t assume that the extreme others necesssarily deal in is that the government should have no social safety net *at all*. Virtually all Libertarians I know of believe in a safety net of *some* kind.

    Furthermore, I think there’s plenty of Scriptural backing for respecting the rights and choices of other individuals. Defending the cause of the widow, the needy, etc. can, at least in part, be seen as defending their rights. The Catholic Church, for example, has now recognizes religious freedom as a fundamental human right (among others).

    Indeed! While some call out the pejorative of ‘taxes are theft’ as being opposed to Scripture, isn’t that exactly what 1 Samuel 8:11-18 has Samuel claming on behalf of God that such is what a secular government (king) would do to His people? Take from them by force? In effect, steal? Is this not seen as violation of some kind of right the people would otherwise have *not* to have their lands and children go to the service of the king? Jesus may say to render unto God and Caesar, but what exactly does Caesar get? I know we Christians are against slavery these days.

    So if we get to participate in governemnt, doesn’t it follow that we should attempt to limit how much the government takes from individuals as much as possible if we see the government as incompetent, intrustive, or even tyrannical in in control of certain portions of society? Or at the very least, look for the most fair and effective means of taxation/governance?

    But when we look at these sorts of questions, we’re now outside the realm of Scripture. Now we’re in the realm of secular society and human rationality *even if* we Christians hope to inform that rationality with the morality of Christ. And in that realm, I *do see* personal freedom as one of the goods to be protected as much as can be effectively and healthfully done for society.

    *Personal Addenda*: This not a defense of Ramsey’s comments against OWS. I respect (and even support) their protest against the status quo, even if I disagree with some of solutions I hear floating around from the movement.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    BradK,

    No. The statement taxation is not theft is part of the definition. In war, people die. In order for taxation to be theft you would have to take resources away without representation or any benefit. Defining taxes as theft is not more accurate than defining fish as bicycles. You can do it. But it doesn’t make sense because fish are not bicycles.

    Feel free to define taxes as theft. But you have no biblical basis to do so. Jesus said to pay taxes. Paul said to obey authority. Both were operating in a world that had far less regard for the individual and for ‘fair’ government than what ours does.

  • DLS

    “Feel free to define taxes as theft. But you have no biblical basis to do so.”

    - This is incorrect, by the way. Taxes in and of themselves may not be theft, but at a certain point, they certainly become so. If a 99.5% tax rate were placed on your earnings, you’d quickly acknowledge that as theft. Secondly, for one group to impose increasing tax rates on others (as opposed to themselves), this constitutes utilizing others’ money for your own purposes in an involuntary way. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    DLS, ok. I submit. 99.5% taxes would likely be theft.

    That is not what we are talking about. Tax rates are near the lowest they have been, but we are still talking about lowering the.

    Georgia is proposing lowing rates of corporate taxes and giving corporation energy subsidies but then raising rates of grocery taxes to off set. That is the definition of taking away from the rich and adding to the poor.

    So I am all for having a discussion about what the rate should be. But, given our current political system, I stand by my words that the US economic system of taxation is not theft and to call it so, is not biblical or accurate.

  • RobS

    I guess “theft” is the word heard ’round the world…

    Let me flip it around and ask about love. When God asks us to be involved in mercy & compassion, then love is the method we need to use.

    A government program can do so some (& I’m not against them all), but it’s truly a mission without love and mission without the King. I’d much rather see the mission with love & Jesus be the predominant force in reaching people.

    I’ve said it before, but government programs that distribute too much in error go back and claw back the money from the poor person they gave it to. I don’t think Jesus had that method in mind when He asked us, “you give them something to eat.”

    And I know Amos expressed another concern… the “Christian Libertarian” idea is always in my head as government is often not a good steward of the resources they have (by my taxes).

    Finally, Ramsey does teach against greed. Don’t lose sight that he promotes and encourages giving and hopes to change peoples lives so that more giving will naturally happen.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    I am all for churches and non-profits working to solve structural and emergency needs. But in 1900 about 80 percent of the elderly were poor. Now it is around 11%. In 1950 about 50 percent of children were poor. Now it is about 13% overall (but about 30% of minority).

    There is no way that the type of assistance could have occurred solely through non-profit and church assistance. In fact a lot of non-profit and church assistance is funded by government grants.

    Heard an NPR program last week about fraud in tax stamps in Iowa. Iowa is supposed to have one of the largest fraud problems. And it is less than 1 percent. Do you think that the general church or non-profit has only 1 percent fraud problem? So lets be realistic about our complaints. The government is not the source of a lot of fraud. And the church, if suddenly there were no taxes, could not step up and deal with the need of the US let alone the rest of the world.

  • T

    BradK,

    One can be against waste or excessive overhead without being for or against a particular government program, or anti-tax in general. Yes, waste is bad, in private homes, in military spending, in medicare, etc.

    I wasn’t trying to make the case (based on the scope of this post) that Christians ought to pursue gov’t help for the poor. I was making the case in support of the author Scot quoted and contrary to Ramsey’s point re: increased taxes as theft.

    And while God does warn Israel about a human king, he does not call the taxes of that king “theft” but taxes. If they want a king, they will get one, with the additional taxes (and wars) that go with him. We too have chosen a government, republican in our case (not the party, the governmental form), and if the people we elect raise taxes it is not theft, certainly not if they raise them back to a level they were just a decade ago. You and Amos ask “what if” we faced much, much higher taxes? Would that be theft? Would it be slavery? Honestly, the fact that these hot buttons get even mentioned in the current debate (not by you guys, but by the pundits and pols) is part of the problem. It disrespects people who are actually dealing with oppressive regimes. As far as I know, the highest taxes that are being proposed are Clinton-era tax levels. The tendency of some folks to even raise the specter of communist-like “99.5%” tax levels within this debate of our current realistic options is mere emotionalism and politicking. No one is proposing communism, no matter how wonderfully it can fire up voters as a boogeyman. Yet, we have Christians of all people crying “Theft! The government is taking our money!” It’s clearly an election year.

    Again, I’m all for saying government is inefficient or even arguing against this or that tax or expenditure. But it is beneath Christians to get sucked into the attempts by pols and pundits to go attach extreme and inaccurate language to people or actions for political gain. That’s what’s going on here. Pols have found that they hit a nerve with some folks by calling (the other party’s) tax proposals “theft.” It’s a gimmick. It’s being used just like the Pharisees wanted to use Roman taxes to whip up support for their plans against Rome. It’s sad to see Christians be sucked in and even repeating the line. Again, they didn’t get it from scripture, especially not from Jesus.

  • DLS

    “DLS, ok. I submit. 99.5% taxes would likely be theft.

    - Thanks for the response, Adam. I’m happy to see that you admit that at a certain point, taxes can indeed become theft. Given that acknowledgement, it seems silly for a poster above to state that those who refer to it as ‘theft’ are ‘anti-Christian’ or not being Christ-like. What we’re really talking about is perspective, and at what rate people see taxes as becoming confiscatory and thus morally indefensible. You and I have different perspectives on that, obviously, and neither one of us are right or wrong per se. My view is that historically low tax rates or not, the more progressive a tax code becomes that more unfair and morally indefensible it becomes. Taken to its logical conclusion, you agree with me.

    It’s okay if you have a different view, but calling me ‘anti-Christian’ (as the author implies and other posters state) is reprehensible. I’ll put my personal giving rate up against most. Still, I do not believe that advocating ‘social and economic justice’ by arguing for additional taxes on others in order to fund programs that one wants to see bears any resemblance to the commands of Christ. At best, one should undertake that himself or herself. At the very least, one should advocate personal contribution to that effort instead of shirking that duty and making others pay for it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    It is terrible when those who are most vocal about calling this a Christian nation are also those who want us, as a nation, to do the least for the poor. ChrisB, you are using god for your own benefit.

  • http://awaitingawhiterobe.wordpress.com MikeB

    Yes the government has a function and needs taxes to provide them. In general I would agree with the premise that taxes do not equal theft.

    I do think that it can (and should) be debated as to what and how much a government can/should do especially regarding helping the poor. We live in a great country where we can influence this.

    As for tax codes, the “Mosaic tax” was primarily flat and set at 10%. I don’t think this is the reason the US should adopt a flat tax (not sure if we should or not), but just pointing out that it is different system than the progressive tax system we have.

    I have to agree with Amos Paul. The NT is primarily targeting what individuals do with the resources they are given. They are expected to use them wisely and to the benefit of others especially the needy. Taxes are not giving.

    I am most against the idea of a large “welfare state” based on the fact that government is inefficient and wasteful, can support things I don’t (ie) abortion, can prop up some favored institutions/companies over others (ie) public schools over vouchers, and can reward behaviors we don’t want to encourage.

    The biggest reason is that the government is political. Who to help is based as much on re-elections (for both parties) as any other factor. And the govt has no problem with running up debt and postponing dealing with the hard problems again so that they can get re-elected.

    More developed thoughts are here:
    http://awaitingawhiterobe.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/god-the-jobs-bill-and-helping-others/

    MikeB

  • DLS

    “It is terrible when those who are most vocal about calling this a Christian nation are also those who want us, as a nation, to do the least for the poor.

    - And ironically, if nearly every study on the issue is to be believed, those same people are ACTUALLY PERSONALLY doing the most for the poor. Based on that, they certainly appear to be living more a more Christ-like life.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    People receiving so many benefits in this country like infrastructure, defense, good courts, representation in elections, social safety nets, and not paying their fair share for them is theft.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …and to follow on, those who are living on the backs of others and benefiting from their extra load on the world in the form of pollution, use of natural resources, causing health problems in the poor, are stealing from the lower classes and this is theft.

    Taxes are not theft. Stealing the resources and health and welfare from the underclasses to support a rich lifestyle is theft in the most pure form.

  • Job

    My taxes are too low. The bucks I am not paying because of Bush are not near enough to compensate me for the lack of opportunity and lower standard of living my children and grandchildren will have. Greed has killed America.

  • Tom F.

    Amos- 1 Samuel 8 is about the king taking things for…himself, not for society. What of the prophetic passages that criticize kings for the way they fail to take care of the poor (widow, orphan, ect.)?

    Nope, I don’t think there is scriptural mandate for wealth redistribution. But wealth redistribution is not the same as social spending by the government, because the money passes from the individual to the government, who then provides services for individuals. This is simply not the same as taking money from someone and giving it someone else. Non-libertarian conservatives and liberals may disagree about the amount of safety net required, but libertarians, traditionally understood, oppose the social safety net (although they may see room for a non-governmental safety net through private charities).

    Your comment that libertarians support the social safety net is confusing to me. The libertarian party platform suggests: “People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others.” How else do you define a social safety net other than the government saying that everyone has to sacrifice some for the poorest in our society? Further on, they say:
    “The only proper role of
    government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a
    legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. All efforts by government to redistribute
    wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.”
    Doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for a safety net to me.

    It sounds to me like you are just a regular conservative, who believes in a social safety net, but perhaps one that is less extensive than what we have now. I may disagree, but I respect that viewpoint. I would just suggest further that “libertarian” is not the label you actually want. The “taxes is theft” is the radical right position, which is exactly as wrong as the “private property is theft” model you find in radical left like in socialism and communism.

    I would further push back on the “liberal” move of saying that we are out of the realm of scripture when it comes to economic issues. It constantly amazes me that if this same move were pursued on social issues, such as homosexuality, the person would be written off immediately. I’m not saying everyone is consistent on this, and I’m not pointing fingers, but rather just noticing it to hopefully encourage some humility in this discussion and others (such as in the social issue realm).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    ….and while I am on the environmental question, again, it is those saying this is a Christian country and who say they pay too much tax that are causing climate change which has a huge disproportionate effect on the poor! Yet they don’t want to pay for it. This is not Christian.

  • http://www.davidjdunn.com David J. Dunn

    I think Ramsey operates with a child’s definition of fairness. Progressive taxes are only theft if “fair” means “same,” when in fact a more robust understanding of fairness involves creating the conditions for equal *opportunity.* The point is definitely not to legislate the Jubilee; it is for the Christian to allow her life to be transparent to her future hope, not only privately but publicly. Let’s not forget that (at least in theory) the state state is *us.* It is not a fixed thing “out there” but can be reformed (at least when it functions, which it barely does right now). Under a social contract, rights we have in what Locke called a state of nature are suspended in exchange for greater social protections and the opportunities they afford. Thus progressive taxes need only be unjust when they become unfair (i.e. overly restrict the opportunities of those who are taxed). Progressive taxes are not socialism or theft but democracy. All taxes redistribute wealth. The question is: Which way? Up or down?

  • T

    DLS,

    I’m saying that calling taxes theft is the opposite of how Christ acted when pressed on the issue. I’m also saying that the use of the language in the current US debate is a gimmick, a red herring.

    Can you tell me how calling taxes ‘theft’ is Christ-like? That’s what I mean by calling it anti-Christian. It’s the opposite of what Jesus did (under far more unjust taxes).

  • napman

    To DRT:

    Your sweeping, unsupported assertions about the allegedly subChristian commentators and behaviors in this thread seems more than a little “preachy”. Isn’t that what you found problematic with Mr.Tebow in another thread? How do you reconcile these apparently inconsistent stances toward “preachy” behavior?

  • Amos Paul

    Tom F,

    I would describe myself as a conservative libertarian, and most libertarians I know are also at least a little bit conservative (whether or not they’re comfortable using the language). That is, our philosophy is generally libertarian, but we accept certain compromises as rationally acceptable in support of ensuring the liberties we envision for society. In some cases, I suppse my opinion is even quite liberal–but only with the philosophy of libertarianism as a guiding framework as to *why*.

    I don’t even know if I’ve ever read anything by or met a modern day ‘raw libertarian’.

  • DLS

    “Can you tell me how calling taxes ‘theft’ is Christ-like? That’s what I mean by calling it anti-Christian. It’s the opposite of what Jesus did (under far more unjust taxes).

    - Incorrect. Calling taxes “theft” isn’t Christ-like or not Christ-like. Jesus did not opine on whether the taxes were too high, just right or too low. He didn’t opine on the Laffer Curve or the level of progressivity in just tax rates. Sorry. Saying ‘pay what’s due’ is not the same as endorsing any particular system, sorry.

  • http://www.pastormattblog.com Pastor Matt

    But when wealth was re-distributed in Israel it was done in the name of God and had the added bonus of witnessing to who the one true God of the world is. If the state does it then the glory goes to the government or the politicians calling for it. Doesn’t that make a difference?

  • chris myers

    I don’t think Dunn understands free-market economics at all. Neither do I think Ramsey understands the Occupy movements, however. The fact is, there’s no biblical mandate for any sort of economic system; it’s a matter of starting with certain axioms and applying them in the most practical way possible. I disagree with welfarism/social safety nets of any sort simply because they’re impractical. They don’t mitigate the effects of poverty; they create MORE poverty. But what the Occupy people are protesting ISN’T free-market economics; it’s really corporatism, which is different and SHOULD be an object of protest. I think Dunn would do well, though, to discard distorted representations of capitalism before he deals with this topic. You wanna talk about strawmen…

  • T

    DLS,

    I’m not talking about endorsing any system. You’re right in that the issue for Jesus wasn’t whether taxes were too high or too low. Clearly many Jews thought they were oppressive and wrong on other theological and moral grounds as well. Regardless of their reasons, Jesus said pay them and so did Paul. Calling taxes ‘theft’ is a move in the opposite direction, in addition to being a purely political move.

    Surely you don’t have any actual tax proposals in mind as ‘theft.’ Given that, we’re, by definition, in the realm of a political red herring. No one is proposing anything that our courts, or even the scriptures, would call theft. But the game goes on.

  • MarkE

    I think we can all agree that inefficiency in government is unacceptable.

    I am also glad that Christian libertarians are such a generous and giving group. They should be commended.
    H
    owever, let’s not kid ourselves that if the government got out of the safety net business that the church would do a better job of helping. As someone who works with people at the lowest rung of the SES ladder, it ain’t happenin’ now. Why should we expect it to happen if the government did less? That’s just wishful thinking.

    The reality is that the obstacles that the poor and disabled face are very difficult, if not impossible, to surmount without help. This becomes clear only when you have tried in earnest to work with them.

    I would much prefer the help come from a loving Christian than a secular, unloving entity like the government, but the church’s help has proven to be underwhelming and insufficient. That being the reality, love dictates that we support an efficient government sponsored safety net. If you are worried about the government being inefficient, you are in company with OWS.

  • PaulE

    T – You call the taxes in both our own day, but especially Jesus’ day unjust. By your own measure, isn’t that anti-Christian? Maybe I’m failing to grasp the nuance of your point and how a charge of “theft” differs from a charge of being “unjust”.

    Anyway, the question that was posed to Jesus was, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” This is not the form of question that David Ramsey seems to be considering. My guess is that the man does pay his taxes to Uncle Sam. Rather the question he is considering is, “Is it right to raise taxes on such and such a group?”

    I realize that as part of a government ostensibly by the people, we in the US probably are all in some part responsible to answer this question; but truthfully I do not know where I stand. As for Dunn’s argument, though, the most telling weakness is that every part of his rhetoric could be co-opted to support Rehoboam’s policies, which is undoubtedly antithetical to his intent.

  • http://www.davidjdunn.com David J. Dunn

    Dear Chris M,

    You say I “would do well … to discard distorted representations of capitalism.”

    I certainly do not want to bandy about a distorted representation of anything! I would greatly appreciate it if you would explain to me what it is I believe about capitalism that is distorted. Thanks!

    David

  • Fish

    I would bet that 90+% of church giving stays in the church, whether it be for salaries, utilities or buildings. My church’s budget is north of a million bucks and I’d say we’d be hard pressed indeed to identify $100K that goes directly to the poor. Just because we label it “charitable giving” does not mean it goes to the least of these.

    No one has yet mentioned the fact that government in many cases is far more efficient than the private sector. Compare our ‘free market’ approach to amortizing health care risk (ie insurance) with Canada’s approach, which costs 20% less. If private industry ran the postal service, it would cost $4.00 to send a letter rather than $0.43. If Wall Street got their hands on social security, it would have disappeared long ago.

    I have spent far too much time inside corporations to delude myself with the fiction that the quest for profit always produces efficiency. It produces cooked books, it produces dumb mergers, it produces bubbles and bailouts and just about anything needed to get your bonus.

  • Tom F.

    Amos, I was just so surprised about the safety net thing, and that’s why I’ve quoted the official libertarian platform, because apparently those libertarians pretty firmly are opposed to a safety net. I mean, you can call your position whatever you want I suppose, but you can at least see why I’d be surprised. I would be interested to hear why you still want to identify as such, given that the libertarians I know would not take too kindly to your recommendation of keeping any kind of social safety net.

    Pastor Matt- you make a good point about the context of the OT being different (although I still have a problem with that term, redistribution). However, the question becomes why precisely God gets glory when the poor are taken care of in His name. I propose that God gets glory in this because taking care of the poor is the right thing to do. Thus, since taking care of the poor (in our, modern, different context) is still the right thing to do, even if God doesn’t get any direct glory.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Fish, in my eight years as head of finance, trustee, head teller etc I found that the pastor claimed 10% but much of that went to members of his family. Yes, I feel a bit burned.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …as Wendy McCaig as told me, many of these churches are country clubs in disguise.

    Having said that, many do contribute up to 50%. But even that figure would be a low bar for the Feds.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    napman, yes, what I said is unsupported above, but I believe what I am saying is easily supported. What do you question?

    Tebow, is firmly in the realm of opinion, religious or otherwise.

  • chris myers

    Well, I can’t say specifically WHAT you believe about capitalism that’s distorted. I’ve inferred that you must have some distorted notions about capitalism because you support progressive taxation. That IMPLIES a belief that the free market must be failing in some way, and holding that belief is almost certainly the result of a distorted understanding of free-market economics in some way. If capitalism works just fine, then there’s no need to support policy proposals like progressive taxation; if it DOESN’T work just fine, then bringing in something like progressive taxation might make sense. I think if you explain precisely WHY you think it’s necessary to bring progressive taxation into the picture I can probably pinpoint a little better where you’ve been fed false information about free-market economics.

    I don’t want to fight. I just think most stuff like this usually arises from a miscommunication or misconception. That’s been my experience, honestly.

  • T

    PaulE,

    I’m not calling the taxes in our day unjust; I’m saying however unjust some think they are (or are proposed to be), they are nowhere near as unjust (in collections or expenditures) as the Roman taxes that the Jews were experiencing and complaining to Jesus about.

    Calling U.S. taxes, even Clinton-era taxes, “theft” is political propaganda and/or sour grapes about “my” money, nothing more. It’s insulting to people who live in genuinely oppressive regimes for us to even talk about our taxes that way, not to mention contrary to the spirit of the NT’s witness on the subject of taxes specifically and money generally. Where’s the lack of attachment? Where’s the giving to Caesar’s what’s Caesar’s? Where’s giving to those that ask? The hostility to programs for the poorest is also hard to hear from Christians.

    Again, if someone wants to argue for less taxes or spending, great. But let’s not be mouth-pieces for the heat and use the red herring tactics of the pols by calling proposed tax hikes “theft.” Further, the idea that mandatory programs for the poor is somehow clearly contrary to the biblical examples, priorities and history is very hard to make with a straight face. Israel had several (amazing and counter-cultural) mandatory programs for the poor. No, we’re not ancient Israel, but I think the argument that we should use none of that wisdom or have no such concern for our fellow citizens is a harder argument to make than its counterpart. Once we’re talking about degree and kind of mandatory (tax-funded) help (which some here are saying even libertarians favor), labeling current proposed tax hikes as theft is just playing politics and not discussing real issues.

  • Amos Paul

    Tom,

    As far as the U.S. is concerned, I am still opposed to our federal safety nets (don’t like that use of the Constitution, and I think it’s redundant/less effective). More than that, though, my idea of a safety net is very slim but existent because some things are simply necessary for someone to actually grasp their own liberty, such as education or healthcare. I definitely don’t agree with compulsion, but I do think that limited taxes can ensure the government’s role as per the libertarian platform as well as allow them to offer some assistance services in those areas (you know… since they’re not doing anything else). Heck, it can only spur the market more anyway for private healthcare and education.

    Just being practical, I’ve seriously *not met* any other libertarians who wouldn’t argue for retaining some minimal services from the government. But in any case, I claim the term Libertarian since on the vast majority of issues, my stances are *clearly* libertarian as opposed to any establishment positions.

  • http://www.davidjdunn.com David J. Dunn

    Right on, Chris. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t something I said that gave you that impression. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not get into a tit-for-tat with you about this. More heat than light, my friend.

  • T

    Chris,

    That’s a valid point. For my part, I look at the programs set up in ancient Israel such as Jubilee, gleaning, etc. and I ask why God believed they were necessary or helpful to the people of Israel. What did God believe that such programs accomplished that a pure free market would not? Regardless of our answers to such questions, I take it as a given that when God sought to lead a nation, he did not opt for a total free market and that he did so with good reason and with wisdom. Now, I don’t expect nonbelievers to find that line of thought convincing at all. But it should make most Christians think twice about the notion that a totally free market, where the poor can descend as far down as the market will let them, is best for a nation.

  • Tom F.

    Amos, that makes sense, I think we have different understandings of what social safety net means. I guess it makes sense that libertarians would see things like education as part of the safety net, but to me, the safety net refers to things that “catch” people who are in danger from economic privation: thus the “safety” part. Okay, thanks for clarifying.

  • chris myers

    @David: I totally understand. I’m more than willing to continue our discussion in a charitable spirit, but if you’d rather just let the whole thing drop I get that. It’s really an unfortunate thing, though, that we live in such a polarized political climate.

    @T: I get where you’re coming from, but I think there might be a couple of flaws in your thinking. Please keep in mind I’m not trying to be rude or combative; I just want to talk this out.

    Anyway, the first flaw is to assume that the economic system of OT Israel was essentially a free-market capitalist system. I don’t really know what you’d call that system, but it’s not really comparable to anything we’ve got today, whether capitalist or otherwise. Maybe it was something like a subsistence system, but even that’s not totally accurate, I think. Anyway, the success of a free-market system is really dependent on certain factors, like the accumulation of capital and the division of labor, but as I understand it, Israel’s system lacked those things on a widespread scale. Therefore, you can’t really say that the “economic” Levitical laws are an unstated recognition that the free market doesn’t always work. It’s comparing apples and oranges. Do you see what I mean?

    Second, Israel’s provisions for the needy were decentralized. It’s just the opposite with social safety net provisions in the modern state. Things were done on as local a basis as possible, and in that situation it’s easier to keep track of who’s really needy and who’s trying to milk the system. Today, resources are allocated to the needy from the nation’s capital or from state capitals, and there’s a lot more waste and much greater difficulty holding people accountable for mooching off the system. In other words, the Hebrew social safety net applied the principle of subsidiarity, but ours doesn’t, and therein lies the fatal flaw. Let me know if that makes sense.

  • http://www.utmgr.org/blog_index.html Joel Shaffer

    I find it interesting that people on this post believe spending other people’s money who have no contact with the poor is somehow viewed as compassionate. One of my favorite verses on social justice comes from Isaiah 58

    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
    to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
    to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
    7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
    when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
    8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
    then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
    9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

    “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
    10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
    then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.

    Notice that we are to get personally involved by spending ourselves in behalf of the hungry…….

    Unfortunately, good intentions is not enough to help the poor. This can be said about ineffective government programs or even acts of charity from churches. Without no-nonsense loving relationships, government programs, non-profit activities, and even church feel-good projects only hurt the poor rather than help them.

    One of the young men that I mentor had this experience from an organization similar to Toys for Tots when he was a young child. “Every Christmas hurt me because I would get a bunch of presents from some group of Christians and my mother would keep it under the tree until they were gone. Once they left, she would sell each of my brother’s and sister’s as well as my presents to the pawn shop or to our neighbors in order to smoke it up on drugs.” Christmas was the most painful time in the year for this young man because this certain charity showered the family with presents and had no idea what was going on in the family because there were no deep relationships built with the mother and her children. Unfortunately, much more harm was done than good. Yet the people who performed their act of charity made themselves feel really good about something that actually was quite bad.

    I could tell you literally hundreds of similar stories about the government. And if you think churches are immune to this type of mindset, Think again. I’ve seen my share of churches with their used clothes and canned goods type of ministries that treat the poor like an assembly line.

    We could argue about what is more Biblical, taxes going to the poor or our own charitable efforts to help the poor. But if there are no long-term redemptive, trusting relationships built with the poor, than all we have are good intentions, but little effectiveness.

    Way to go Jesus Creed nation, enticing me with this conversation onto one of my soapboxes……..

  • T

    Chris,

    Yes, I get that the economic system of Israel was very different from ours, and even that our current system is very different from what it was just a few hundred years ago. But I find it highly unlikely that a ‘free’ agricultural system such as Israel needed the mandated forms of mercy we see in Mosaic law but a free market system of today wouldn’t need similar counter-measures. The idea is almost laughable if you look at the likely purpose and cause and effect of the Israelite provisions. We need some kind of jubilee, some kind of limit on the hole we can dig for ourselves and our progeny, some kind of limit on how much we can take from our fellows, as much today as ever if not more.

    As for decentralized and local administration, yes, that’s generally good, but the ‘policy’ was national; the same law of Moses governed all of Israel. So, I’m with the wisdom of local implementation and administration.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    DLS, #29, show me those studies with data sources & statistical analysis, and I’ll consider it. However, I have done &/or been engaged with economic & econometric studies of charitable giving, non-profits which benefit more/less according to income brackets (& therefore which charities are greater beneficiaries of taxation policies vis-a-vis charitable deductions), bankruptcies & banking regulations.

    Frankly, I doubt your “studies” based on my experience, so please substantiate your statement that ironically, if nearly every study on the issue is to be believed, those same people are ACTUALLY PERSONALLY doing the most for the poor. Based on that, they certainly appear to be living more a more Christ-like life.

    As for theft by taxes, how ironic it is that the people who market this meme seem to be the very ones who don’t want the government to regulate greater theft and financial fraud by derivatives and other arcane financial instruments which have been decriminalized by legislators at the behest of their lobbying bucks. People “swallow” the theft-by-taxes hook, because they can see it, but they completely miss the theft-by-financial-fraud because plumbing the depths of those risks is impossible even for those who work in the Street.

  • chris myers

    T:

    Before I respond to your latest comment, I’d like to step back and make a few observations.

    1. I think we can both agree that no economic (or political, or social) arrangement will create some manmade Utopia; it’s just not going to happen. That applies both to those on the left (like Marxists) who seem to veer off in that direction, as well as those on the right (like anarcho-capitalists) who also tread a fine line between reality and unreality.

    2. Jesus did say, of course, “the poor will always be with you.” That statement tells me that, no matter what, there are always going to be people in need of a hand. So whether we’re talking capitalism, socialism, third-way economics, or whatever, there will always be a need for compassion and philanthropy, ESPECIALLY on the part of believers.

    3. Jesus also said that we’re to help the needy (feed them, clothe them, visit them when they’re sick and in prison, etc.).

    4. The NT does say, going to the other end of the spectrum now, that “he who does not work shall not eat.” So, I take that to mean that someone who’s able-bodied but chooses to be an idler shouldn’t expect assistance (other than maybe something like counseling to break the habit of being an idler), whether from the government or from individuals, including believers. Sounds harsh, I know, but I think that’s a fair reading of the text. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess is that you’d probably agree, as well.

    5. Everything is to be done according to the glory of God, including stuff like economic and political activity/engagement.

    So, those are the assumptions that are governing my thinking in this discussion. Now for my response:

    It’s not that I believe that there’s NEVER a place for compassion and assistance. And it’s not that I believe free-market economics will work so well everywhere and always that we’ll all be living in total luxury if we’d just let the system do its work. But I think you’re forgetting a couple of very important points.

    #1. Assuming that by “there should be some kind of limit on the hole we can dig for ourselves…” you’re talking about debt forgiveness or something, I disagree. What about individual responsibility? What about personal money management skills? (I’m not saying to be an Ebenezer Scrooge or some materialistic, greedy sort of person, I’m just talking about common sense here.) If you don’t think you’re going to be able to pay your debt back, then don’t go into debt. Think ahead. It’s not like people that are in debt have been COERCED into that situation; they’re in debt because they CHOSE to go that route. Everything comes down, in this instance, to individual choice. And I think that if you make bad choices, you should have to bear the consequences. Then you’ll learn from your mistake and avoid that trap in the future. Whenever the government or some other entity is always there to bail you out, then you develop “spoiled rich kid syndrome.” You waste and waste and waste your resources as if money grows on trees and you never have to take the fall for it. Besides, to borrow money or something and then expect there to be some kind of escape route when you find you can’t pay it back IS stealing; it’s stealing from your creditors. It’s violating your agreement, which is something I doubt God thinks very highly of. But, in short, people need to learn to exercise individual responsibility and sound judgment; if they don’t do that, they shouldn’t expect a hand-out.

    #2. I assume that when you speak of the need for “some kind of limit on how much we can take from our fellows” you’re referring to profits. But here’s the thing: Talking like that betrays a misunderstanding of the fundamental nature of economic exchange in a free-market system. Exchange in a free-market system is VOLUNTARY (if it’s not, then it’s not a free-market system). I’ve heard it said before that it’s not like there’s a fixed pie and parties A and B must decide who’s going to get how much; it’s not like party A will gain at party B’s expense. They BOTH gain, or they wouldn’t enter into agreement. Let me illustrate: If I want to sell my car for $1,000, and you buy it for that price, then we both gain. I gain because I value your $1,000 over my car, and you gain because you value my car over your $1,000. If I wasn’t satisfied with your $1,000, I’d keep my car, and if you weren’t satisfied with my car, you’d keep your $1,000. But we both win: I’m a $1,000 richer, and you’re “one car” richer. I didn’t FORCIBLY take your money; you gave it to me to get what you want. THAT’S how a free-market system works. Now, if coercion enters the picture on one side or the other, we have, as I said, departed from a free-market system. But so long as voluntary exchange is the rule, we’re applying free-market economics, and the beauty of such a system is that both parties can walk away happy. (Maybe not OPTIMALLY happy, but at least happier than they would’ve been otherwise. Also, either or both parties may REGRET the exchange in the future–I might regret selling you my car, or you might regret paying me $1,000 when you see another one just like you could’ve gotten for $500–but AT THE MOMENT THE EXCHANGE IS MADE both parties are satisfied.) Therefore, it’s not necessary to put a limit on how much we can take from each other THROUGH VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE. Now, I’ll agree that if we’re talking about an exchange resulting from coercion of one party by another, yes there needs to be some limit, but that’s a separate discussion, I think.

    I just want to wrap it up by saying this: IF a social safety net is necessary, then it should be done at the lowest possible level of government capable of administering one efficiently, preferably the county or municipal level. As far as a nationwide social safety net, I think that’s unconstitutional. The states may do that if they want (though I still think it’s a bad idea), but the federal government really shouldn’t be involved in that at all.

  • Fish

    There is a flavor here that the free market is inherently good (perhaps even perfect in its efficiency if left alone) and government is inherently bad (or at least to be tolerated at a minimum).

    I don’t agree. If the the free market were perfect, it would essentially be God — and we do have a bad habit of treating it like that when it comes to things like health care. (“Should we have universal health care? The market says no, and that settles that. This is the Word of the Market, thanks be to the Market.”)

    Further, the free market left unchecked is essentially a system that deliberately institutionalizes greed as the driver of society – and therefore the most desirable trait of a citizen in that society.

    Think about the consequences of that paradigm as it relates to Christianity. Should our Youth groups be having activities designed to strengthen their greed?

    Not to mention the unavoidable societal results of an unregulated free market like concentration of wealth, corporate ownership of government, and vast fraud.

    On the other hand, government is an institution created by God, of the people, by the people, and for the people, through which we accomplish together what we cannot do alone. Government is godly.

    We were not created to serve the economy; the economy was created to serve us. The government is people; the free market is money people create. One comes from God; the other from mammon.

  • Amos Paul

    Fish,

    I honestly think the following, while taken from prominent news media figures, is nothing but a phantom:

    “There is a flavor here that the free market is inherently good (perhaps even perfect in its efficiency if left alone) and government is inherently bad (or at least to be tolerated at a minimum).”

    Libertarians I know don’t think this. They think that government is good and useful when used appropriately, and they simply see a much slimmer appropriate reach of the government. For example, I believe I’ve seen you voice your opinion against war before. The ’100 years of war’ in the past American century is fundamentally outside the scope of miliary protection that we see as appropriate.

    Moreover, it’s not that the free market is ‘good’ (or perfect)–but we believe that the free market inherently operates the best in conjunction both with expected human selfishness and human altruism. That is, it provides the most *opportunity* for any citizen to both ‘get ahead’ and ‘help one another’. But that is not to say the government has no role. We certainly would see the government serving a necessary role in prosecuting fraud and other inherently criminal activities in the marketplace.

    Indeed, many libertarians also think the market would naturally develop good minimum standards for works due to the demand from the workforce. However, I personally diverge (a ‘hedge our bets’ conservative approach) in that I think we can have a free market *while still* simply making it criminal to employ any adults in unsafe conditions, with too little (read: un-valuable, not purely amount) comenpensation, etc. My opinion is that I think minimum standards to respect human workers are compatible with a basically free market.

    And, lastly, I do not think that the government is anym ore ‘people’ as opposed to money than the market is. Indeed, the government is, generally speaking, a single institution of people (which collects and uses money)… whereas the *market* is a bunch of institutions of people. It’s all of us. In fact, the market does not simply refer to profit and money. It refers to charities. It refers to the God-given work we do on this Earth. It refers to homes. Basically, it refers to everything connected with our actual, daily lives.

    I don’t want to say that there’s a dichotomy between government and market. In fact, ‘free market’ might even be somewhat of a misnomer due to the fact that some things are and *would be* criminal. But, basically, we’d like to see a *much different* balance between the two. For example, all government and corporate collusion needs to stop. No subsidies. No coporate donations to politicians. No corporate funded lobbyists. No bank bailouts. No private bank operated fed. Etc.

  • DLS

    @60 “DLS, #29, show me those studies with data sources & statistical analysis, and I’ll consider it.”

    - You’re seriously unaware of the multitude of studies showing that political conservative have a greater charitable giving rate than political liberals? I guess I didn’t realize there were people still unaware of this. Not too long ago there was, if I recall correctly, a Syracuse professor who set out to disprove it and in the end decided that it was true.

  • T

    Chris,

    I appreciate the interaction. Thanks for it. No problem with the assumptions you listed. I’m sure there are many more for both of us, but I share those named ones with you.

    Regarding the second of your two points (because my response is shorter), no, I was not referring to profits. Rather, I was talking about scriptural limits on how much we should take from someone who owes us (how many years of slavery, taking a man’s means of warmth as security, etc.). These kinds of exceptions to the general economic freedom God designed for Israel were there for a reason. We do well to think about why and if we might benefit from similar exceptions and what will happen with and without them. What we are owed is rarely the most important issue when dealing with another human being.

    Regarding your first point, you could pose all those same questions to God himself, as to why he instituted regular debt forgiveness in Israel, and further, why family lands (the capital of the day) would return to each family every 49 years, regardless of the stupidity or unfortunate calamity that led to the loss or debt in the first place. The fact is, those policies allowed for plenty of negative consequences for the person who went into debt/slavery for a period, or the family that lost its lands for a generation or two. But they also provided regular and tangible forms of mercy, whether the loss was from illness or sin.

    Put yourself, for a minute, in the position of the 1st generation of Israelites that began to possess the promised land when it was divided among the various families. The foundation of their ownership was not that they had earned the land, even though they fought many battles. Rather, they were given the land as an act of grace. Grace was the branch on which all their wealth would ever be sitting on. It seems that God wanted that foundation of grace to not only be real and tangible for the first generation, but for all Israel, in every generation. Further, even though all their wealth would forever be sitting on a foundation of grace, God knew that it is human nature to forget such things, to begin to think our work or smarts or the other guy’s sin is what ought to be the controlling factor. God seemed to think he wanted some real personal responsibility and consequences, but also a constant renewal of tangible grace, generation after generation–a perennial re-giving of the land by promised grace of God. For what it’s worth, even today the vast majority of people who go into bankruptcy did so because of a mix of reasons, often including a serious illness or injury to the main bread-winner. Life, real life, is much bigger than what we earn or deserve.

    In the respect that all of us are sitting on a branch of grace, even for our economic gains, we are in the same situation as the Israelites. All our “ownership” is a result of the grace of God, whether we acknowledge it or not. I see very little of this foundation or acknowledgment of grace in libertarian thinking and talking. In fact, the entire system is too man-centered, too focused on what this person “deserves” when we are all eating and breathing God’s grace, every minute of every day, rich and poor alike. Too much or too loud of talk of our “rights” to what we own is out of place in our world, especially out of the mouth of a Christian. It’s too often comes off like a child who has been given everything she has shouting “mine!” to another child who has picked up a neglected toy. It is a betrayal of the grace which facilitates the child’s life.

    I appreciate your love of the free market. I majored in economics, specifically focused on monetary policy focused on Milton Freidman’s work, in college. Good stuff. So I argue all that I have with that in my head as well. Personal responsibility is good and necessary. But it’s not the only thing to think about; it’s not the only type of attitude or behavior to encourage in a society.

  • T

    I should add, the ‘rights’ God gives us in property or whatever have always had limits, and those limits stem from God’s ultimate ownership and common grace for us all. No one ever ‘deserves’ all they have. Any talk of property rights vis a vis others ought to be laced with considerable humility, which I see as violated when a Christian calls a proposed tax hike (of a few percentage points) “theft!” (i.e., “Mine!”)

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    I find it ironic, and twisted, how those who plea that “taxation is theft” and oppose any “we the people” acts to provide a safety net for the economically devastated. All the while, never giving a nod or recognizing the massive public, communal investment in the societal edifices and structures that make their affluence possible. Transportation (from basic roads to interstate highways), communication (utilities, internet, etc.…), energy (land grants, subsidies, measures to keep physical grid from devolving into chaos, etc.), courts and justice, etc.…

    These complexes, procured on the public dime, add exponentially to our work effort value. To say that all that is OK but disregarding those left with less than crumbs from the economic pie strikes me as an immoral stance. And to contend that our commonwealth should not be involved in those facets of infrastructure we take for granted is to crusade for a pre-Enlightenment form of government.

    Then, the sad and oxymoronic state of Libertarian Christians — simply put, libertarianism is at complete odds with the message of the Gospel. For me, the red letter words of Jesus make it clear enough, but even the forefathers and champions of Libertarian thought are quite clear that the Gospel is a stark refutation of the tenets of Libertarianism — see Ayn Rand ravings against Christianity and embrace of self-ishness, Ludwig von Mises (Austrian economics, Libertarian economics champion) who states “…all efforts to find support for the institution of private property… in the teachings of Christ are quite vain:.

  • Amos Paul

    Naum,

    That post isn’t much more than ad hominem and guilt by association. I would like to think that you’re above that. If you scroll through the comments, you can clearly see me discussing Libertarian ideals in conjunction with the Christian faith in open dialogue.

    I am a Conservative Liberatarian. Conservative in the sense that, to ensure the Liberatrian ideals, I am OK with limited localized ‘socialist’ services offered by the government alongside competing private endeavors to both have a minimal safety net and yet keep government control as limited as possible.

    I don’t support most of what our government does and I don’t see any ‘Christian’ backing supposing that I must. Respecting the government and supporting every last one of the government’s policies and methods are two very different things.

  • http://awaitingawhiterobe.wordpress.com MikeB

    Amos Paul “For example, all government and corporate collusion needs to stop. No subsidies. No coporate donations to politicians. No corporate funded lobbyists. No bank bailouts. No private bank operated fed. Etc.”

    – What a great world that would be…

    Fish: “We were not created to serve the economy; the economy was created to serve us. The government is people; the free market is money people create. One comes from God; the other from mammon.”

    – the government is not people, it is a social contract between people on how best to govern themselves. And the free market is not money but a system where people exchange goods and services as they generally see fit.

    Naum: “all efforts to find support for the institution of private property… in the teachings of Christ are quite vain”

    Then what is being returned during Jubilee and to whom? And what does coveting and stealing mean if no one has private property? Didn’t Abraham, David, Job, have abundant wealth? Didn’t the various churches Paul founded have various amounts of property – some of which was sold to help others?

    More along lines of T (I like your grace for all generations) God warns in Deut that when we are blessed w/ private property we are prone to forget God who blessed us with it, and Solomon and Paul warns against the pursuit of wealth but that is different than saying there is no basis private property.

    MikeB

  • Fish

    Amos Paul,

    “For example, all government and corporate collusion needs to stop. No subsidies. No coporate donations to politicians. No corporate funded lobbyists.”

    You and I are together on that. I had no idea that libertarians would support restricting corporate influence on government (it seems so un-Ayn-like). It would be refreshing to see both conservatives and liberals in Congress focus on something like that. You had better watch out, or you will be associated with us smelly hippy Occupiers :)

  • Amos Paul

    Fish,

    In one of my comments here I noted that I support Occupy’s protests, even though I don’t necessarily support all of the things that have been asked for in the movement.

    Libertarians and Occupiers (nevermind the fact that these groups overlap in participants already!) are generally very much on the same page when it comes to things like government and coporate collusion. That’s a huge factor of Libertarian critique against the government in that what we have now is *not* a free market–it’s a government run market. We generally believe that the majority of monopolies, unfair practices, and bad laws exist specifically *because* of those two powers being in bed together. Such is anti-thetical to free market ideals.

    Where (some?) Occupiers and Libertarians part ways is what government is supposed to do about it. (Again, some?) Occupiers seem to want government mandating changes in the marketplace, whereas Libertarians simply want to see the two part ways altogether (short of government’s utility in prosecuting fraudulent/criminal activity).

    Moreover, (some?) Occupiers seem to want more socialist change (not implying a pejorative here) in governance. This is a place where we *sort of* part ways depending on the brand of Libertarianism. For example, Ron Paul style Libertarianism is fine with socialist functions *at the state level*, but not the federal. Namely because of the Constitution, efficiency, and effectivity limits of the federal government. I and other Libertarians agree with him on a practical note, even if we’d prefer the states not to have a *heck* of a lot of socialist functioning anyway… at least they could regionally experiment amongst themselves without wasteful, time-consuming compromises drawn arbitrarily across party/corporate influenced lines at the federal level.

    And as far as being associated with hippies, I actually *wish* the Occupy movement had *more* explicit hippie roots with along the lines of anti-war and pro-personal liberty behavior. I wish I could dig it up easily right now, but a Libertarian forum I stop by had a funny political comic awhile back showing a massive structure called the status quo being supported by the two pillars of big government and big corporations. Libertarians were pointing to the government pillar saing, “THIS! is the problem.” while Occupiers were pointing to the coporation pillar saying, “THIS! is the problem.””

  • Fish

    “Where (some?) Occupiers and Libertarians part ways is what government is supposed to do about it. (Again, some?) Occupiers seem to want government mandating changes in the marketplace, whereas Libertarians simply want to see the two part ways altogether (short of government’s utility in prosecuting fraudulent/criminal activity).”

    Yeah, they differ there. For example, here in my state we have a large problem with natural gas drilling. A large problem, probably created by a small minority of companies. Identifiable. Lawsuit-able.

    Yet, an individual landowner whose well has been polluted has little to no chance of recovering damages in court against a corporation easily a million times his size financially. Justice is too often a function of money, unfortunately. It is simply more efficient and effective and (I would argue) consistent with promoting the general welfare to regulate. People cannot fight corporations and be on equal footing. Regulations cost money, yes, but unregulation can cost (the public but not the company) a lot more.

    But I also acknowledge that regulation too often is driven by industry and used as a tool to protect markets (or worse), and that when you open the door to government ‘driving’ industry you open the door to lobbyists. Regulation opens the door to influence which opens the door to money which is the room we’re all in now anyway.

    Re: The two pillars: BP’s oil spill is probably a good example of where regulation and legal action both failed. In an ideal world, someone would go to jail or the firm would have seen sued out of existence. Neither happened.

  • http://jubilee-economics.org Ed Lucas

    Ugh. What a case for greed. I guess if you’re gonna hijack anything for your argument, you might as well go for the Bible. But never mind the greater story is stacked against that line of thought. Never mind the prevailing story is that God’s allocation sensibilities are so vastly different than mankind’s. I wonder what sort of mental gymnastics training it takes to entertain Christianity and Libertarianism in the same mind.

    Right now we at Jubilee Economics see Occupy as a great awakening that is desperately needed. Not really because it provides the answers but because it asks the questions. It’s been a while since this nation had to meet real economic challenges at virtually all levels. This time though, if something more promising than upward wealth transfer doesn’t result, the future doesn’t bode so well. What else but a popular movement could ever change the course? The wealthy and powerful don’t change for the asking. It seems all that’s left is to bypass their structure and get on with a new one that respects the creation and the human image. Economics is inherently spiritual.

    Our most recent podcast (http://goo.gl/uhfnm) deals mainly with a clergy friend of ours trying to show interfaith presence at Occupy San Diego, believing that Occupy is a great moment of theological and spiritual import.

  • Amos Paul

    “BP’s oil spill is probably a good example of where regulation and legal action both failed. In an ideal world, someone would go to jail or the firm would have seen sued out of existence. Neither happened.”

    This is generally my most recent counter-example, as well. If the government and coporations *weren’t* in bed together so much (and I do mean in the courts as well, I think that whole system has run amok)–then BP would have been sued out of existence via property rights.

    Honestly, my complaint with regulation being your primary means of environmental protection is that the charges the company must pay are merely punitive. If it’s based off of the rights of the people whom their actions affect via the courts (and let’s be serious here, the environment rationally affects almost everyone), then the people who most directly suffer from the companies’s actions should be able to receive damages from the court in a massive dogpile of personal and property rights cases. And if the courts feel so led, they can tack on extra punitive damages to the company as well.

    It blows my mind that BP is still in existence today. With all of Obama’s ‘put his foot down’ nonsense talk against BP, he apparently meant help BP post their most profitable quarter yet. My response is ‘wut?’. How is BP not being obliterated from paying for all the homes/businesses/parks/everything they destroyed? They don’t deserve to be in the marketplace anymore. That whole fiasco *should have* destroyed them and opened the gates for a new, more environmentally conscious comepetitor in the industry.

    /end rant. Sorry, I guess that one got away from me there.

    On a side note above, funny you mentioned occupy little rock above. I was just visiting my wife’s family there for a week recently. Didn’t even know there was occupy shenanigans to see.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    DLS #64, now you claim “the multitude of studies showing that political conservative have a greater charitable giving rate than political liberals”, but you still have yet to cite one credible study to back up your generalization that would enable someone with experience to look at the statistics & what they actually reveal.

    To have a “greater charitable giving rate” doesn’t necessarily equate to giving to the poor – the point you tried to make in the unsubstantiated #29 remark. The wealthiest tend to be the most conservative politically because they want to be taxed less. However, those in higher tax brackets are more apt to give money to other charitable organizations and foundations which do not necessarily have anything to do with the poor. Last I’d checked, a donation to an art museum is equated with a donation to the Salvation Army. Obviously, one benefits the poor, directly, and the other – while you could argue a societal benefit – doesn’t feed anyone except museum employees.

    Your point remains unsubstantiated.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Amos, #74, let’s be serious here, the environment rationally affects almost everyone.

    What’s with the “almost”?? :D That must have been where you tried not to get so carried away (frustrated?) with the injustice!


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