The following is my contribution to the Patheos Book Club for Fixing the Moral Deficit.
I recently read, Ron Sider’s newest book. This is a book that is timely. In an age when poverty is rampant and spending is through the roof, Sider cuts through political agendas and gets to the heart of a biblical approach to budgeting and caring for the poor. To begin let me simply say that I highly recommend the book, Fixing the Moral Deficit: a balanced way to balance the budget.
Many Christians are asking questions about the recent debates about our deficit and how best to balance the US budget. Many of us lean a little more to the right and hold that cutting programs is the only way to ensure the balancing of our budget and the stimulus of our economy. Others of us to lean towards the left and recognize that we need to cut areas like military spending but also need to ensure that the poor are taken care of and that we do not perpetuate systems of injustice. Of course, there are extremes in both directions. If we move too far to the right we end up with an Ayn Rand sort of libertarianism that essentially functions for the good of the individual and no one else. If we move too far to the left we end up with a Marxist philosophy that believe that everyone should have an equal amount of income and property. Certainly this is an oversimplification of the extremes, but simply to point out that both extremes get things terribly wrong. This is why Ron Sider’s book is so important as it tries to present a balanced way to balance the budget.
Sider effectively gives an overview of the history of the US budget. He also helps us to understand the way in which political philosophy plays into how many people approach politics and budgeting issues. If you feel like you don’t understand national economics as well as you would like, this book helps to cut through the jargon and get down to the facts of how the system works and how it affects rich and poor alike.
Rather than give the conclusion of the book away to you all, I think it will be helpful to lay out some biblical principles that he uses to guide conversations about government spending. No matter how political philosophy we ought to cling to these seven principles more than any governmental ideology.
1. Persons are made both for personal freedom and responsibility, and for communal interdependence.
2. Christians have a responsibility to our neighbors.
3. God and God’s faithful people have a special concern for the poor. God measures societies by such a standard.
4. Justice does not demand equal income and wealth, but it does require that everyone has access to the productive resources (land, capital, education) so that, when they act responsibly, they will be able to earn an adequate living and be respected members of society.
5. Economic equality is not a biblical norm. But economic inequality that harms the poorer members of society and prevents them from gaining access to productive resources is wrong.
6. Government is only one of many crucial institutions and society, and its power must be limited but in biblical teaching, there is a significant, legitimate role for government and caring for the poor and promoting economic opportunity. It is simply unbiblical to claim that carry for the poor is only a responsibility of individuals and private organizations…
7. Intergenerational justice is important. One generation should not benefit or suffer unfairly at the cost of another.
After giving the seven biblical principles he then goes on to offer seven more concrete prudential norms:
1. We must keep and strengthen effective programs that serve and empower poor people.
2. We should cut ineffective, duplicative and wasteful programs.
3. Everyone should contribute, but those with the most resources should contribute the most.
4. We must include the defense budget as we cut federal expenditure.
5. We should continue to invest in education, infrastructure and research.
6. We should adopt roughly equal (50-50) mix between increased revenue and cuts in spending.
7. We should move decisively (but not instantly) to substantially reduce and then largely and budget deficits.
Based on the seven biblical principles and seven prudential norms, Ron Sider then goes on to integrate these ideas into a proposal for reducing the national debt.
In my opinion, this is a book that both moderate conservatives and moderate liberals can get behind. I think that if we would read proposals like this and have honest discussion, we might find that we have a lot more in common than we have that separates us as Christians involved in American politics.