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Jim Wallis debates Jay Richards on Christianity and economics

In this post, I have the video of a debate on the topic of what Christians should think about economics and economic policies. In addition to the video, I summarized the two opening speeches and the two rebuttals, for those who prefer to read rather than watch. We’ll start with a short biography about each of the debaters.

The video recording:

The debaters

Jay Richards:

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

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

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

Jim Wallis:

Jim Wallis (born June 4, 1948) is a Christian writer and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and as the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. Wallis is well known for his advocacy on issues of peace and social justice. […]He works as a spiritual advisor to President Barack Obama.

[…]In 2010, Wallis admitted to accepting money for Sojourners from philanthropist George Soros after initially denying having done so. […]In 2011, Wallis acknowledged that Sojourners had received another $150,000.00 from Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

Wallis just came out this month in favor of gay marriage. He is also a strong supporter of Barack Obama, who is radically pro-abortion. Some pro-lifers have argued that Barack Obama has the same views on abortion as Kermit Gosnell, because Obama voted twice to allow abortions on babies who were already born alive.

The format of the debate

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

SUMMARY

I use italics below to denote my own observations.

Jim Wallis’ opening speech:

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

A story about my son who plays baseball.

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

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

The “common good” is “human flourishing”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does he think that Christianity means giving 20-30 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, while skilled engineers cannot even get green cards, even though there is a shortage of them? Does he think that the other people in society who earn more than they receive from the government ought to be taxed more in order to provide more services and benefits to those who earn less than they take from the government?

Jay Richards’ opening speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should Christians promote the common good in politics?

Question: when is coercion warranted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Richards' main point in the debate
Jay Richards’ main point in the debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have to distinguish aspirations from principles and prudential judgment.

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

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

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

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

Jim Wallis’ first rebuttal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a terrific story about Bill Bright.

I love Catholic social teaching.

Quote: “All are responsible for all”.

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

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

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

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

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

I talk about the Good Samaritan parable.

Quote: “Do you love your undocumented neighbor?”

Quote: “Do you love your Muslim neighbor?”

Jay Richards’ first rebuttal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greed is a contributing factor in all areas of business.

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

There were specific policies that caused the mortgage lending crisis.

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

The policy ended up degrading the underwriting standards on loans.

Government intruded into the market and undermined the normal ways of

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

The federal government created a market for risk loans by guaranteeing

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

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

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

New study: Biden’s tax hikes hit 80% of Americans, $6,500 less median household income

These people are all voting for Joe Biden - are you?
These people are all voting for Joe Biden – are you?

This study actually appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but since they have a paywall, I am linking to The Federalist instead. This new study comes from the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. The Biden campaign is claiming that middle-class households won’t feel any effects from these tax increases. But the study is clear. Not only will 80% of Americans pay more, but many jobs will also be lost.

The Federalist reports on the study, which has some very prestigious authors:

A new study shows that Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden’s proposed economic plan would significantly hurt the long-term American economy if implemented.

While many mainstream media outlets claim Biden’s plan will target the wealthy and save the middle-class money, the 50-page study released by the Hoover Institution shows different results.

“Economists have paid too little attention to the economic effects of the Biden plan,” said Casey B. Mulligan, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. “Our report, which focuses on taxation, health insurance, regulation, and energy policy, suggests that these effects are potentially very large indeed.”

The study conducted by a group of financial and economic experts including Mulligan, former Chief Economist of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Kevin Hassett, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers since 2017, demonstrates how Biden’s plan will hurt everyone.

This is the bottom line: higher unemployment, lower household income for the average household:

“We conclude that, in the long run, Vice President Biden’s full agenda reduces full-time equivalent employment per person by about 3 percent, the capital stock per person by about 15 percent, real GDP per capita by more than 8 percent, and real consumption per household by about 7 percent,” the report stated.

If Biden’s proposed changes are implemented, the economists warn that, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s projections, 2030 may yield “4.9 million fewer employed individuals, $2.6 trillion less GDP, and $1.5 trillion less consumption in that year alone.” The economists also note that the median household income in 2030 would fall by $6,500 despite Biden’s promises to prioritize the middle class.

You’re not going to be immune to this, even if you’re poor:

While Biden and his VP Nominee Kamala Harris previously promised that they will not “raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000,” they have also promised to repeal the tax cuts made by President Trump, which gave 80.4 percent of all taxpayers a cut and 91 percent of the middle quintile a cut.

I don’t like numbers like this. It’s not just that I have to work the same amount for less take-home pay, which reduces my freedom. It’s also that the pressure on “the rich”, i.e. – MY EMPLOYER, causes companies to ship jobs overseas where labor costs are lower. Did you know that higher taxes causes outsourcing of jobs? The more that business owners have to pay, the more likely they are to pick up and move somewhere else – taking their jobs with them.

I don’t like this. It’s hard enough for me to make a living without the government taking more of what I earn. I’ll have to work longer in order to make up the difference – assuming I can even keep my job.

Are feminists right to think that gender-neutral marriage makes women happier?

Male And Female Happiness After Feminism And Socialism
Male and female happiness throughout America’s adoption of radical feminism

I was reading this article by a feminist fiction writer on Vox, where she explains that although feminists have gotten what they wanted (careers, contraceptives, promiscuity, abortion, no-fault-divorce, daycare, etc. it hasn’t made them happier. So, what does this feminist fiction writer think would make feminists happier?

She gives two reasons why women women are still unhappy after feminism has been adopted by our society:

  • men don’t do enough housework
  • women are not as successful as men because they are discriminated against, the so-called “glass ceiling”

I think those complaints are pretty popular among feminists. Let’s take a look at some studies to see if her opinions are supported by peer-reviewed studies.

First study:

COUPLES who share housework duties run a higher risk of divorce than couples where the woman does most of the chores, a study has found.

The divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

“The more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate,” Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled Equality in the Home, said.

Second study:

Researchers at the University of Illinois examined data on nearly 1,500 men and 1,800 women, aged between 52 and 60. Their well-being was evaluated through surveys.

The researchers first found that men’s well-being decreased once they had exited the workforce to become home-makers.

Meanwhile, the inverse was not so for women: Women’s psychological well-being was not affected by leaving their jobs to become stay-at-home mothers.

Third study:

A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.

Regarding the pay gap, that is entirely caused by women’s own choices. E.g. – the choice to study creative writing instead of petroleum engineering, the choice to work 35 hour weeks instead of 70 hour weeks, etc.

Fourth study:  (summarized by AEI economist)

When the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] reports that women working full-time in 2018 earned 81.4% of what men earned working full-time, that is very much different from saying that women earned 81.4% of what men earned for doing exactly the same work while working the exact same number of hours in the same occupation, with exactly the same educational background and exactly the same years of continuous, uninterrupted work experience, and with exactly the same marital and family (e.g., number of children) status. As shown above, once we start controlling individually for the many relevant factors that affect earnings, e.g., hours worked, age, marital status, and having children, most of the raw earnings differential disappears.

Fifth study:

This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.

I think that women are entitled to make their own decisions, but they aren’t allowed to force the rest of us to subsidize their failures and celebrate their destructive outcomes.

I could go on, but I think enough has been said to show that research is very much at odds with feminist rhetoric. They feel they know what will make them happy and we gave them everything they asked for. They eliminated shaming of promiscuity with sex education. They get preferential treatment in the schools in a female-dominated education system.They are hired because of affirmative action quotas. They get expensive daycare, government schools, welfare and other programs. Taxes are raised to equalize outcomes for divorced women who choose men for feelings, and then nuke their own marriage enterprise. We have been on a long experiment of giving feminists everything they felt they wanted, at the expense of men’s rights and children’s rights, and it hasn’t even produced the results that feminists felt it would.

The social costs of feelings-based decision-making

Let’s look at two examples of policies that feminists asked for in the past, which didn’t work out the way they wanted.

I can understand why feminists would introduce sex education. They felt that “if everyone is having sex, then I won’t be the only one chasing attention from hot no-commitment bad boys by giving them recreational sex before marriage”.  They wanted to eliminate the standards of chastity and marriage-focused dating and normalize fun-focused drunken promiscuity. And they got that. But since they didn’t consult any research and evidence about how that would affect their future marriage stability and marriage happiness, they are even more unhappy than before.

How about no-fault divorce? No-fault divorce was brought in by a coalition of feminists, Marxists and trial lawyers. The Marxists want to destroy the family in order to increase dependence on the state. The trial lawyers wanted to make money. And the feminists thought that the standard approach to courting and marriage was just too much work. They didn’t want to be chaste. They didn’t want to be sober. They didn’t want to evaluate a man for traditional husband and father roles. The no-fault divorce laws gave them an escape from the messes caused by their own feelings-driven choices. But divorce just makes makes men and women much poorer, and passes the costs of supporting single mothers onto taxpayers.

And the costs of the failures of feminism are passed onto taxpayers.

Consider this study:

This paper examines the growth of government during this century as a result of giving women the right to vote. Using cross-sectional time-series data for 1870–1940, we examine state government expenditures and revenue as well as voting by U.S. House and Senate state delegations and the passage of a wide range of different state laws. Suffrage coincided with immediate increases in state government expenditures and revenue and more liberal voting patterns for federal representatives, and these effects continued growing over time as more women took advantage of the franchise. Contrary to many recent suggestions, the gender gap is not something that has arisen since the 1970s, and it helps explain why American government started growing when it did.

We are already $22 trillion in debt, partly because of feminism’s replacement of husbands and families with higher taxes and big government. Every time we transfer money from tax-paying men to feminists to fix their mistakes, it leaves less money in the hands of the men who actually want to get married. The declining value of marriage after feminism for men explains why marriage is being delayed, and why marriage rates are plunging.

The Christian view of marriage

In other places, I have written about the evidence for a Christian worldview:

If Christianity is true, then we have inherited a design for marriage and family which includes male and female roles.

Here is what Jesus says about marriage and divorce in Matthew 19:4:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus does not approve of no-fault divorce.

And here’s what Jesus said about premarital sex (“fornication”) in Mark 7:20-23:

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.

Jesus does not approve of premarital sex.

Christians should not show even a hint of sexual immorality, (premarital sex and no-fault divorce), nor should they partner with those who approve of sexual immorality and no-fault divorce, according to Ephesians 5:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Christians should not partner with feminists.

And this is one of the most famous passages on male and female roles in the Bible, also from Ephesians 5:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Christians do not approve of egalitarian marriage which erases sex differences in husband and wife roles.

Most women in the church, and most of their “conservative” pastors, don’t believe that Jesus is an authority about chastity, marriage and male headship. They agree with feminists about premarital sex and no-fault divorce and egalitarian marriage. But the feminist design for women isn’t working out for women – that’s undeniable. Should we really be surprised that feminist’s feelings were not better for women than the Creator’s own design?