Liberty vs Law

by Elgin Hushbeck

Democracy coverA recent Global Christian Perspectives focused on the subject of rights and during the discussion the claim was made that liberty is not a biblical concept (@ 35:45). Personally I found this to be surprising. I believe liberty, and the nearly synonymous freedom, goes to the very heart of the Bible’s message. God created us with the ability, not just to react, but to make choices, the most important of which is whether or not we choose to love and serve him.
Then there is the verse that on the Liberty Bell: Leviticus 25:10 “Set aside and consecrate the fiftieth year to declare liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants. It is to be a jubilee for you.” Why bother declaring liberty throughout the land if liberty was not important?
In the New Testament Paul writes in Galatians 5:23 “For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another.” 2 Cor 3:17 says “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom.”
The defining event of the Old Testament is the Exodus, where God brought his people out of slavery, and in fact a state of slavery is pretty much the opposite of liberty. The defining event of the New Testament is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus by which we are set free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:7), and brought into the liberty spoken of in the verses above.
Now perhaps some will counter with Roman 6:18 “And since you have been freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” This is true. The freedom we have in Christ is not a freedom to do whatever we want. As Paul says “Should we go on sinning because we are not under Law but under grace? Of course not!” (Romans 6:15).
But it would seem that many are uncomfortable with liberty. If people are free to make choices, they might make choices that we disagree with. They might choose to do something other than what we think they should.
The history of both Judaism and the Church is full of those who have sought to create a whole range of new rules to limit people’s freedoms. Thus, over the years Judaism, surrounded the 613 laws of the OT with thousands of additional laws. Christians down through the ages have also had a tendency to add new rules that Christians should follow such as prohibitions on drinking, smoking and dancing.
This problem of seeking to limit freedom has afflicted both the right and the left. But in recent years those on the left have begun to push a new form of legalism. Not only do they seek to add a series of religious rules and regulations that we should follow as Christians, now they want to put the power of the government behind their rules and force everyone to follow their new legalism under threat of violence. If any should object to the phrase “threat of violence” here, they are neglecting that this is what government does. If you do not believe this, just say no to the government and see what happens should you resist.
For me, this is a real problem. Galatians 5:1 says “The Messiah has set us free so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom.” Liberalism seeks to put us again under a yoke of a law of their making. They justify this claiming that they are only seeking to legislate biblical principles, such as helping the poor, or that the Bible demands 100% of our money and that justifies a high rate of taxation.
Yet I would argue that there is a significant difference between voluntarily choosing to give to the poor because you seek to follow the teaching of our Lord on the one hand and having the state automatically take money out of my paycheck that I do not see, so they can spend it on programs I am unaware of to help people I do not know.
The studies on giving and happiness are clear. There is a reason conservative tend to give more of their time and money to charity than liberals. In addition they are as a general rule happier. As Christians do we have an obligation to help the poor? Of course we do. But the fact that we, as followers of Jesus, have an obligation does not mean that we should make this a function of the state, funded by taxes, which at least in the United States are paid by an ever decreasing number of the people. In the United States, for example, for the bottom 40% of those filing income tax returns, the income “tax” is actually a source of income rather than something they pay, as they get more money back in refunds and credits than they actually paid in.
Then there is the problem that the government makes what would have been a gift of charity and an expression of the love of Christ working through us, into an entitlement that is demanded. These entitlements often build a dependence that is itself a new form of bondage.
As such I do not believe that our obligations as Christians should be transformed into mandates from the state. To do so makes a mockery of the liberty that God has given us and is often detrimental to all involved.


18 Responses

  • Elgin,
    With the discussion surrounding liberty and freedom, I tend to think we often approach this from the wrong perspective. Often, believers approach these concepts from a perspective of our individual rights. We have the right to be free. We have a right to liberty.
    But, it seems to me that the liberty and freedom discussed in the Scriptures focuses on the liberty and freedom that comes through a relationship with Christ. Paul recognized that this freedom in Christ ultimately made him a slave to Christ and his gospel.
    I do not disagree with our Founding Fathers who said we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But Jesus spoke very clearly in the Sermon on the Mount that our primary concern is not our rights but the spread of the gospel. In fact, he calls us to do as he did, lay down our rights for a greater purpose, namely the spread of the gospel.
    The only time you see Paul emphasizing his rights was when it served to further the spread of the gospel. He had the right to appeal to Caesar, as a Roman citizen, and did so in order that the gospel would be proclaimed in Rome (even though he knew it would cost him his life).
    I think many believers in America, myself included, focus on our rights as an end in themselves. But, I have grown to recognize that there are many times when I need to set aside my rights in order that the gospel may go forth. At other times I need to stand firm on my rights, not so that I will be comfortable, but because that is the way that needs to be leveraged so that the gospel can go forth. Either way the greatest concern is the spread of the gospel, not my rights.

    • Elgin, I like your post very much, and I agree with everything you said. I especially liked this statement:
      “Yet I would argue that there is a significant difference between voluntarily choosing to give to the poor because you seek to follow the teaching of our Lord on the one hand and having the state automatically take money out of my paycheck that I do not see, so they can spend it on programs I am unaware of to help people I do not know.”
      I also like what Michael said. I once attended a Bill Gothard seminar where he pointed out that we don’t have any rights. Our source and our expectation is from God. He will provide our needs as we look to him. This helped me in my attitude toward a family member in a situation where I felt my “rights” were being violated. When I looked to God to vindicate me, it took the pressure off and helped me not to be resentful. I’m not sure how that translates to public life, however.
      But I will say that a welfare state has been created and the entitlements are destroying the recipients! I heard Star Parker speak recently. She was once a “welfare queen,” but after she gave her life to Jesus, she was transformed. Now she is working to help God transform the welfare culture through her ministry, CURE (Center for Urban Renewal and Education) in Washington, D.C. Her testimony and her wonderful ministry are worth looking into for people who want to see our society changed.
      Keep writing that good stuff, Elgin! We need spokesmen like you in America.
      Blessings,
      Nancy

      • Nancy,
        Again thank you for your kind words. As for the comment “we don’t have any rights. Our source and our expectation is from God.” I would say that in relation to God this is very true. We do not have any rights with God, but only grace.
        However, when it comes to government I do believe we have rights in the sense that we have been given gifts by God, and that we do have a right to what God has given us. As such, government cannot legitimately infringe upon those rights without infringing on the sovereignty of God. The exception would be if we have in some fashion forfeited them, for example, by infringing on the rights of our fellow citizen(s).
        I do agree that transforming gifts into a requirement for the “giver” and an entitlement for the recipients frequently does more harm than good. Government is incredibly wasteful and inept.

        • Yes, yes, Elgin! We must be active in the political sphere, not only for our family, our church, and our posterity, but also because we are our “brother’s keeper.” We are involved in the culture war via American Family Association/ American Family Radio. They are on the front lines, along with Family Research Council, the Christian lawyers, and many others. May God bless all your efforts, too, in that regard. At the AFA conference we recently attended, we heard David Barton of the Wall Builders ministry – powerful and eye-opening speech. I am learning much also from the Foundation for Moral Law out of Montgomery, Alabama, and the Sanctity of Marriage Alabama (Facebook page). It is imperative that we support the right political candidates, especially for President, and that Christians unite to vote for the same candidate!!!! God forbid that the evangelical vote is split.
          Keep up the good work.
          Shalom,
          Nancy

    • Michael,
      I pretty much agree with your comments. The background of this post was the comments made on Global Christian Perspectives in relation to political freedom and in the broader context of the left’s propensity not only to create laws binding on likeminded Christians, but to put the power of the State behind them so that they are binding on everyone.
      If God had wanted to mandate what he asks us to do he could have removed our choice in the matter. Yet he gives us the liberty to follow him or not. I also find it instructive that while left says that they are mandating these laws out of compassion, the studies are pretty clear that the those who oppose such government laws actually give more of both their time and money on average than do the liberals who support them.
      I would also point out that the larger government gets, the less room there is for the Church. This is especially true when that government is not only expanding, but also becoming increasingly hostile. Thus the role of Catholic Charties, for example, has been greatly limited in some states, or consider the actions of the Government against the Little Sisters of the Poor. The first right, in the bill of rights is freedom of (not from) religion, and yet that is very much beginning to be threatened.
      So while I would agree with you that our primary duty is to server God, we should not ignore our political rights less we discover one day that the Government is now coming after our church, or even after us for trying to remain faithful to God.

  • I suppose that as it was my comment, I need to respond. In context, I was not arguing that there was no concept of liberty in the Bible, but that it was not a major theme, particularly as compared with communal responsibility (about which a very large amount is said in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament).
    I should, however, have clarified more. There are very clearly some forms of liberty which are massively stressed. Let’s look at the passage you quoted from Leviticus (25:10). In it’s specifics, the Jubilee provision refers to freedom from enslavement and freedom from debt, both of which are extremely prominent; it also requires the return of land which may have been sold in the last 50 years.
    The New Testament also has motifs of freedom – freedom from the power of sin and of death.
    Neither of these is the kind of Libertarian freedom which you are suggesting. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a clear understanding that everyone is subject to the rule of the Law, and the Law has many provisions requiring people to make provision for the poor. I think it unreasonable to separate out this religious demand from the State, as the State, in the concept of the Hebrew Scriptures, is so intermixed with the religion as to be inseparable.
    Indeed, the whole context of the Torah is that people are dealt with in gross, not in particular, as a nation, not as individuals. There is no freedom from the bonds of either family, tribe or nation; a nation is responsible for the acts of single members of that nation. Using the concept of covenantal nomism developed by E.P. Sanders, individual behaviour merely serves to establish, in the extreme case, who can be counted a member of the nation and who can not.
    It’s a valid question to ask whether that paradigm continues into the New Testament; there is perhaps a trajectory in the post-Torah scriptures towards a more individual consideration of merit or blameworthiness (see, for instance, Ezekiel 18). I think, however, that you have covered this in the quotation of Romans “you have become slaves of righteouness” and Galatians “serve each other”. In fact, I do not think that the “New Covenant” abolishes the old in most ways, indeed if you read the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to extend the provisions in several ways.
    Where we part company is in your view of what is at least ostensibly a democratic state (and therefore the communal expression of the people) as being something over and above the people, leaving the people to give expression to their (in my eyes) absolute obligation to care for the sick, the poor and the disadvantaged outside the state. I think this is a mistaken idea.
    I will grant that the way in which our democracies are currently organised does not, as yet, give perfect expression to “the state as the communal expression of the people”, but this does not, to me, excuse trying to take away from it the obligation to care for the people, it militates improving the system so that it better represents the community.
    There was a time when, in the UK, social provision was left to the church – at the time a single national church, via it’s individual parishes. That proved not to work at all well, and we decided to take the matter into the hands of the state. It would work far less well in a nation of Christian and religious pluralism, where there are many competing institutions and some people with membership in none.
    Considering the injunction to the rich young man to sell all he had and give it to the poor, and the injunction to love your neighbour as yourself, I consider that if you have property or income and there are any poor or sick people in your area uncared for (such as the low earners you complain about as not paying tax) then you are sinning (and yes, I am not immune from this charge myself).
    If your community takes a lot less than 100% of what you have and thereby performs the duty to the sick and the poor, I would expect you to rejoice that you have been able to join with others to meet your obligations, not to complain that it costs you money.

    • Chris,
      You are not performing your “duty to the sick and the poor” when you look to the government to use your money to do it. You are contributing to welfare dependency among great numbers of people which leads to widespread immorality and irresponsibility in making choices about their lives. Socialist and liberal governments actually want to keep these groups of needy people dependent on government services, so these people will continue to vote for them and keep them in office. What these people need is holistic ministry which can only be done by true Christians who will not only help to meet their immediate physical needs but will bring them the gospel message of Jesus Christ and all He commands of His disciples. With this spiritual empowerment, they will repent of immorality and will take personal responsibility for their lives.
      Blessings,
      Nancy

      • I utterly reject the concept that the provision of very basic needs for the poor encourages a “culture of dependency”; yes, one can find some examples of people who are comfortable living on charity, but there are in my experience very few who do not want a better standard of living than is ever likely to be provided by the State, and are not prepared to work to achieve that.
        The vast majority also feel impelled to do something useful with their lives, and work can provide that fulfillment, if it is not work which has been denatured to something mechanical (which much work actually has, and the sooner this kind of work has been replaced by machines, the better).
        I know no socialists who wish to keep people dependent in order to foster votes. In any event, that does not, it seems to me, work; the dependent do not tend either to be very grateful or (most cogently) to vote.
        I agree that people need the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provided for, but they are going to be unable to pursue these unless and until the lower levels (food, clothing, housing and security) are provided for. Frankly, those ministries I see which insist on sermonising while they provide for basic needs are just encouraging their own culture of dependency and buying lip-service with their “charity”, which is no longer charity, but payment.
        However, given the mandate from Jesus to care for the poor, the sick and those who are otherwise social outcasts, I do not think that a Christian should be saying “Sorry, Jesus, that would encourage dependency”. We should just be doing it.

    • Chris,
      I am not a Libertarian, and thus would not argue for a Libertarian freedom. Still it is easy to justify laws. Here in the states we even have one liberal mayor passing laws on the size of the soft drinks one can buy. I am sure that if you asked the Rabbis who came up with all the Jewish laws they would have pointed to the demands of scripture as well.
      Still I have both theological and practical problems with turning the injunctions of scripture into government laws. If for nothing else, I do not believe we were set free from one law only so we could be enslaved by another. Nor do I think that my obligation to the poor can be satisfied by voting to take money away from someone else so it can be given to the poor. I do agree that we have obligations to each other, but I do not believe that is a justification for mandates by government. I am accountable to God for my actions.
      Then there are the practical issues. Perhaps England is just much better at this, but government in the US is incredibly bad at doing things and very wasteful. In fact the farther government is removed from the people, i.e. from local to state, to federal, the worst it gets and the more likely it is to operate in its own interests. For example, government workers get much better pay and benefits and for the most part it is impossible to fire them. As for government agencies often poor performance is rewarded with even larger budgets. After decades of problems with our Veteran Health care system, the last time it made the news, Congress rewarded them with a large increase in their budget. The recent reports say not much has changed other than that we wasted even more money. Or look that the report in the article on mental health from last weeks Global Christian Perspectives that there were 200+ programs, none of which are working, one of the problems with passing the reforms, is that this would threaten the existing programs.
      Even when there is agreement among the populace that there should be a government role the left want programs that benefit government and resists alternatives that permit more freedom and choice. Thus for example, there is lots of evidence that allowing parents more choice either by a voucher system or through charter schools improves educational outcomes, particularly for those in inner city schools where problems are the greatest. Yet the left consistently wants to take even more money and pour it into failing schools decade after decade after decade.
      Then there are the questions of what is poor and what is our biblical obligations. Let me say that there are surely people who are poor due to factors beyond their control, and they deserve our help and support. But most of the poor in the US do reasonably well, obesity is a major problem and most having large screen TV, air conditioning, and cell phones. Or look at the recent comments from Bernie Sanders. Is there really a biblical injunction to pay for college educations, much of which are needed today because the public (i.e. government) school system have fails so miserably?
      But there are also also a large number of people who are there because of their own choices. There are also people who are poor because they live in areas that have dysfunctional governments, or whose lives are affected by government programs that make getting off them very difficult. I believe that expanding government for these latter groups only makes things worse, not better.
      You said that the church cannot do this. Perhaps. But I would argue that government cannot either. The current problems are not new and goes back to at least the 1960’s. It is just a fact that from then end of WWII to the 1960s poverty in the US was drastically reduced. Then we launched the war on poverty. Since then we have spent (wasted?) literally trillions of dollars with the net affect that things certainly have not gotten better, and I would argue they have gotten worse. Why should I rejoice when government takes money to fund programs that only make matters worse?
      This is one of the big problems I have with the left at least here in the states. The solution to every problem seems to be more government, but they show very little if any interest in whether the laws they pass or the money they spend actually does any good or will address the problem. As a general rule, the states where the left is the strongest are also the most dysfunctional, have the highest unemployment, and worst poverty most with very large deficits, this also tracks with states as they go from Red to Blue or Blue to Red. Perhaps it is time for a change and a new approach.

      • Elgin, you are saying the same things Star Parker said at the AFA conference – “two witnesses” settles it. True!
        This verse when Solomon wrote it was prophetic of our politics today: “… A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left.”
        Only God can get us out of the mess we are in today! We need to pray! I praise Him that we have some godly Republican candidates for President. Lord, help us not to fumble the ball this time.
        Sincerely,
        Nancy

      • I’m not sure I would say that England does these things vastly better than the States (despite feeling an upwelling of chavinism, which I will suppress!), but I do know that the dismantling by the Thatcher neo-Conservative government and it’s slightly watered down shadow of the Blair government of the network of State-run industries and enterprises has, in general, produced less efficiency and very often a higher cost to the taxpayer. As an example, one of the rail franchises (East Coast) which was let out to tender failed a few years ago, as the company running it could not make a profit and abandoned the franchise; it was taken back into state control for some years and delivered a handsome profit to the taxpayer.
        Also, local government was forced under those regimes to privatise the actual delivery of almost all services; the result has been soaring costs coupled with reduced levels of service and a total lack of democratic responsiveness.
        I do not, therefore, think that there is a fundamental principle that states cannot run enterprises efficiently.
        I also see hugely ineffective use of funds in churches and charitable organisations; most of them don’t deliver support efficiently or effectively, or on a society-wide basis. The only really efficient form of charity is one-to-one, and it is impossible to get anywhere near matching need with willingness to contribute.
        I do see some of the same problems as you do in budgeting procedures; there is a strong tendency for departments to think that they have to spend their entire budget in order not to lose out in the next round of setting budgets. However, I think this is a procedural problem rather than one which is an unavoidable feature of a democratically controlled service provider; I have also seen it operate in exactly the same way in large private enterprises as in government, and there are examples of well-run democratic service provision. These days, they are more in Europe than in England, but they do exist.
        On the whole, in Europe, the best countries in which to live are those with strong social-democratic traditions such as the Scandinavian countries, Benelux and Germany, at least if you exclude weather from your calculations. I would choose to live in almost any European country rather than in the USA, frankly. Many of them also have very strong economies, albeit the Eurozone has had some significant problems recently – but so have all the Western economies which are “fully developed”.
        It seems to me that between WWII and the 1960s, you had in the States a much more Social-Democratic leaning system than you now have. I do not necessarily think that this was the reason for the improvement in economic conditions, however. A lot of the basis of that was the ability massively to expand markets in a world in which most of the developed competition was trying to dig itself out of huge debt and often destruction of industry and infrastructure caused by the War.
        In that climate, the principle that the rising tide lifts all boats does actually work to some extent, but I think you were also aided by a reasonably socially minded administration for much of the period.
        However, neither Europe nor North America is now in a situation where it is possible to expand markets vastly; other countries are now better placed to do that, and are doing it. They are likely to see a general betterment of the conditions of the poor; we are not. For the last 20 years, although we have on average had a slightly rising tide, the bottom 80% have not benefited at all from this, and indeed most of them have become significantly less well off.
        I have some sympathy with your feeling that “the left” just wants to increase government involvement whether or not it benefits the population generally. Certainly, in my time in politics, there were those old-style socialists who, frankly, aimed at a communistic state where there was no private ownership at all, central planning and the whole package. I never supported that kind of approach myself; what I aim at is a sensible balance between the two tendencies. That’s what social democracy is. Social democratic governments in, for example, Sweden have sometimes been able in recent years to take stock, realise that maybe the pendulum had swung too far towards the state and away from private enterprise, and restore a better balance.
        My difficulty in arguing for the position in the States is twofold. Firstly, you don’t really have any social democrats to speak of (Obama and Clinton do not fit that description for me), and secondly there are some unique peculiarities of the way you’ve been running democracy which I confess would make it much more difficult to implement sensible social democratic policies.
        The thing is, I didn’t end up a social gospel Christian because I was liberal politically, I ended up liberal-to-radical politically because I was a Christian who took the Sermon on the Mount seriously. My inclinations are far more toward a meritocratic system, frankly. I think, because I am a Christian, I have to find ways in which the Social Gospel can be delivered, and delivered in and by my whole community. Government is the only legitimate expression of my whole community. If governments are not doing this efficiently, we have the means to try to reform them in a democracy.

        • Chris,
          Concerning state versus private, I do think you raise some valid points, and based on your comments, I would refine my statements. It is not so much that the private sector is inherently better than government, both systems are simply run by people. The people in one area are not inherently better or worse than their counterparts, they just work under different conditions.
          The biggest difference is how connected to market forces are they, or put a different way, what happens if they do not do a good job, or waste too much money. Both government and the private sector can do this. In the private sector if this happens customers will go elsewhere and the company will fail. For the most part when this happens in government either nothing happens, or at times they get rewarded with a bigger budget, as short falls in service are inherently blamed on lack of funds, rather than ineffective or inefficient practices of the organization.
          You are correct that in very large organizations people are often insulated to some extend from market forces. But even large corporations have been forced to reform and streamline. Thus the average number of layers of bureaucracy in large corporations has been cut to about 5. In government it remains over 20 and why not, what forces them to cut out the waste? To make matters worse, government workers are now a very large and significant voting bloc, and in some states like California, they are the dominate one.
          As for charities and churches, while private they are much closer to the government model as they are not governed by market forces in that people pay for a specific good or service (at least since the selling of indulgences was abandoned.)
          As for Europe and US, I would say there is a reason the US is often pictured as the engine that drives the world economy, or in a different way, and borrowing the old reference to France, when the US sneezes the world catch a cold. America has a much more dynamic economy and generates far more wealth and jobs than does the EU, and it does this shouldering a much large burden in terms of defense. I know we disagree on the need for the later, but the point here is that dynamic nature of the US economy. I think one of the problems since 2008, is that we have seen a massive explosion in the US government regulation and that is smothering any recovery.
          As for the US between WWII and the 1960s, I would LOVE to return back to then at least in terms of the size and scope of Government for it was MUCH smaller, particularly at the Federal level. But then economic growth was frequently between 6-11%. Now we see 1% as the norm, and many say 4% is an impossible goal.
          I would say there is still massive room for growth in both US and Europe. Increase wealth creates a desire for more goods and services, and thus a need for someone to provide those services. For example, if I have some money, I would like to have my yard landscaped. Some might consider it extravagant and wasteful, but it would not be to the landscaper I hired and the people he hires or those who supply him what he need to do the job.
          This is why the generation of wealth is so important, and why taxes when they get too high are so destructive. If I do not have the money, because the government took it in taxes, then I cannot hire the landscaper and he cannot hire his employees. While you could argue that government will spend the money just like I would, numerous economic studies argue differently. While, not all, most of government tax and spending has a net negative effect on the economy. This is why economic growth slows as government gets bigger.
          I agree that the 80% have not benefited from the “rising tide” but at least here in the US I believe that correlates very closely with the expansion of government. Thus the rich may still get richer, but what would have gone to employees is gobbled up by increased cost of regulations imposed by government and the increased burden of taxes.
          Finally I would agree the issue is one of a pendulum. There is a legitimate role for government, but I want to see it smaller and more local, not larger and more centralize. To some extend Europe has that in its various countries. But what we have here is that the Federal Government is becoming massive and intrusive in ways that are very difficult for many people to realize unless they either watch it or are directly affected by it. We have untold numbers of unelected regulators generating tens of thousands of new regulations (i.e., laws) controlling virtually every aspect of life. For example, I wondered why the machines that read our credit card are so confusing in that I have to swipe my credit card and then hit cancel in order it process it as credit transaction as opposed to debit. Then I heard that this was mandated by a regulation generated in response to the Dodd Frank banking bill. The initial round of regulations for this bill passed just after the last crisis will not be fully written until 2020. Violate one of these regulations and you can be brought before a court, but not in the regular court system but a one that belongs to the regulators.
          We did at least have a small victory recently when the Supreme Court ruled that as a citizen you do have a right to contest their commands in a regular court of law, but it took 9 years to get that decision and given that there is an established legal doctrine that says the courts should defer to the regulatory agency it is unclear how beneficial that will be.
          Then again how many people can afford to carry on an expensive legal battle against the unlimited resources of the Federal Government? Most just give in, and many regulatory agencies continue to issue mandates that have been ruled illegal, because they know most people cannot afford to fight them.

          • Elgin,
            I grant you that there has historically been a tendency in government to be unresponsive to the concept that they are responsible to the voters for the efficient use of their money. It isn’t, of course, market forces which is the theoretical driver here, it’s the wish of representatives to get re-elected. As matters stand, most of our traditional left party (Labour) are running so scared of the fact that the electorate seem to have taken on board the concept that government has been too expensive, and are unwilling to contemplate anything other than modest tweaks to the neo-Liberal consensus which Thatcher introduced and Blair (Labour, at least notionally) largely continued. What we have at the moment, however, is a Conservative administration which is failing to collect taxes from the rich and large corporations, largely failing to curb government administrative overheads but massively cutting support for the most disadvantaged among us in the name of “austerity” and “balanced budget”.
            In fact, there are signs of some revolt even among Conservative MPs at the moment, and as the majority is small, it may well be that austerity entirely at the expense of the less well off will stop.
            I do not think that market forces are the be-all and end-all of how we should structure society. Actually, I don’t think you do either, you just see them as the most efficient method of expressing the will of the people via their purchasing power, which I concede looks like a marvelous system on paper (and you express the principles very well). The trouble is, I do not see market forces working that way in any real system. What I see is an inevitable move towards monopoly and cartel, and then the use of a dominant position to advantage the monopolists. This is accentuated by marketing, which makes it near impossible for innovators to enter the market in many fields, if the large capital cost of setting up production wasn’t sufficient to do that.
            The huge flaw in market forces as the basic driver of everything economic, however, is the fact that they value people only in terms of how much they can spend or how much surplus profit they can engender for capitalists. In any system based on the value of human beings being the very fact that they are human, market forces act directly against this.
            I don’t any more see the US as the engine which drives the world’s economy; there are several engines, but the one which is most prominently an expanding market now is China, and the woes of China now disproportionately affect the US just as the woes of the US used to disproportionately affect us (and now the woes of Europe do the same). The European economy is actually significantly larger than the US one – http://uk.businessinsider.com/charts-eu-economy-is-bigger-than-the-us-2015-6?r=US&IR=T.
            I can’t speak in detail to the period immediately after the war in the States, except to point out that (for instance) the Eisenhower administration was significantly more social-democratic in flavour than anything in recent years, as indeed were all the administrations prior to Reagan. What I do know is that the history of the UK displays that trickle down economics did actually work during our period of major industrial dominance, but only as a result of an enlightened government (driven, I may say, largely by Christian principles) passing a large number of enactments limiting labour hours, preventing child labour and improving working conditions, providing for the poor, providing free universal education and eventually instituting a National Health Service, plus the impact of organised labour negotiating collectively. Laissez faire liberalism would have produced far more millionaires, but a working class in effective wage slavery. We are now heading inexorably back to that position under the influence of market forces applied to our government.
            I notice that you say that what would have gone to employees has been gobbled up by other costs. I don’t know what truth that has in the States, but it has almost no truth here. The fact is that with a labour surplus (i.e. an unemployment rate), companies and rich proprietors have no motive to pay more wages, and just pocket the proceeds. Indeed, in the case of companies, the fact that wages are just regarded as a cost, and therefore to be minimised as much as possible in the pursuit of profit, shareholders are likely to sack company bosses who increase wages. Somehow the remuneration of the company bosses doesn’t seem to be subject to that principle, but it definitely affects those at the bottom. They’re expendable, easy to replace, and are just units of production; the market says they’re not human.
            I’m on the whole with you in thinking that there’s too much regulation (and some regulation which is not happening), but I actually quite like the effect of some of our unelected regulators, while also considering that some of them go far too far. Happily, out courts have long been willing to inspect the actions of regulators and demand that they are in accordance with natural justice.
            I’m also with you, and completely with you, in considering that if something can be efficiently governed at a smaller scale, it should be. Actually, this is one of the founding principles of the European Union (called “subsidiarity”); the snag is that it doesn’t seem to be adequately adhered to. I think that’s the fault of our representatives, and that in turn is the fault of us as voters and taxpayers for not giving them a hard enough time when they get things wrong.
            Lastly, yes, it’s difficult taking legal action against any organisation with deeper pockets than yours, but that includes corporations and the rich as well as governments. That said, we do still have here a Legal Aid system which will at least occasionally fund action by citizens against governmental excesses. Thatcher, Blair and Cameron haven’t yet managed to cut it into nonexistence…

  • We must be cautious that we do not have our heads so far up our politics (for lack of a better picture) that we can’t see the deficiencies in “our party.” Republicans and Democrats are the problem! The political system as it exists is flawed and in serious need of reform.
    Chris – I do tend to agree with you that the church is not doing enough to help the poor but I also find it interesting that the early church, in the book of Acts, helped those within the church. In fact, I can’t think of a time when they supported non-believers in any type of materialistic way. The deacons served the widows but, again, they were widows in the church (Acts 6). Even in the gospels, there was no comprehensive plan for helping the poor but Jesus and the disciples helped individual people as they went about their lives (we also see this with the good Samaritan). So, I guess the question is does the church, as an institution, have a responsibility to comprehensively deal with this issue or is it the responsibility of individual believers to meet needs as they arise during their ordinary walk of life? Any thoughts on this?
    Elgin – with regards to paying taxes and it being used to fund “entitlement programs,” I’m reminded of Jesus’ admonition to pay both the temple tax and taxes to Caesar. This is interesting because we know that the temple was being exploited for personal gain and the Roman government would use tax dollars to carry out crucifixions. I know Jesus was opposed to both but insisted that his followers obey the government. The privilege we have today, that he did not have, is that we can be a part of the democratic process. Whereas Jesus had no voice, we do have a voice. So my thoughts are that we pay what we are required to pay but work within the democratic process to bring about the changes that we believe need to be made.

    • I have to consider that Jesus was serious in lambasting people who only helped those they liked, or who were like them, and saying that true Christianity lay in loving your enemy; also his definition of “neighbour” clearly included someone of a particularly hated different religion. Maybe the Acts community hadn’t quite yet grasped this bit of the message, given that none of the gospels had yet been written?

    • Michael,
      Concerning “deficiencies in ‘our party’” I would agree. This is why I normally refer to liberal/conservative or left/right instead of Democrat/Republican because that focuses on the ideas rather than the parties. That said, I do not think the right and the left are the same in that manner. The right is more idea focused than party focused and there are numerous examples that can be cited but if nothing else, the current popularity of Trump and Carson I believe, represent the anger of the right against the party establishment. Along these lines you might want to check out my article from August, https://energion.co/discuss/2015/08/14/the-clinton-compromise/ Here, is a key quote, “The opposite of not participating at all is always supporting “your side” no matter what. In the last 45 years, both the Democrat and Republican parties have faced just such a choice.” I go on to detail how the Democrats and Republicans responded differently to that choice. And conclude with,
      “For nearly two decades Democrats have closed their eyes to the long list of scandals that surround the Clintons, and the Clintons’ lawlessness has been spreading through their party. Winning, not character, was what matters. But compromising on issues of character is different than compromising on political positions. Perhaps for the Democrats, the bill is coming due.”
      We saw that again on display yesterday. There is no doubt that Hillary has lied repeatedly, and her story continues to evolve based on the needs of the moment with no regard for either her previous statements or the facts. It is also clear that she broke several laws in terms of mishandling classified material, violations of the kind that would and have led to the prosecution of others. Nor do I expect that to make any difference to the vast majority of Democrats.
      As for paying taxes or following the law in general, let me be clear, I am not encouraging anyone to violate the law. We should be good citizens and abide by the laws unless they bring us into direct conflict with our commitment to God, and I do not think taxes fall into that category, and thus we should pay our taxes as the law requires.
      Instead, I am making two points. 1) We cannot fulfill our obligations to God by forcing others to act in ways we think God would want us to act, and it is wrong to do so. 2) Large centralized government programs are not only inefficient and wasteful, they are often harmful. In response I am arguing that we change the laws so as to make people’s lives better and happier.

      • What does the Bible say about “believing the lie”? Yes, Elgin, so many lies have been told on the political scene, that the liars believe their own lies! They think that if they repeat it often enough it becomes truth. Hillary Clinton ‘s testimony yesterday seemed to be a huge smoke screen, covering up the main facts of Benghazi. The facts are that four Americans were killed, because the military people standing by were not allowed to go to their aid!!!!!! Then the lie about the video that offended Muslims was spread as a cover-up! These should be judged as criminal actions by those who KNEW the situation and did not act, although they had the authority and power to do so! Not only the Secretary of State should be prosecuted but also the Commandef-in-Chief! There! I said it!

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