I was watching an episode of The West Wing and was reminded of the tensions between non-Christian economics and almost-Christian morality. Whether it was intended or not, the internal tension was written into an episode and mused about on-screen. It is a critical issue of our day.
The premise of The West Wing is that a liberal president has been elected, and he staffs his White House full of ivy-league liberal elites. The show is great because the writing is so witty and intelligent, and the acting compliments it well. I can overlook the politics and get lost in the fantasy of such a devoted and idealistic bunch of people trying to change the country.
Of course, in reality national politics is a sham. The president doesn’t run the show, his staff does (though you can get a sense of this truth in the show). In reality, his staff is always staffed by the same people, regardless of the “party” elected. Many of the same people work for the executive branch even after new presidents have been elected. Even if some rotate in or out, they are all trained by the same school (the Council on Foreign Relations, or CFR). This ensures continuity of agenda for the executive branch policy makers.
THE FALL’S GONNA KILL YOU
In this particular episode (titled “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You,” Season 2, Episode 20), there is a small side plot about a predicted government surplus by the CBO. As it turns out, the surplus won’t be as big as they were all expecting. This is where the tension comes in.
All of modern government economics is driven by Keynesian economic theory: liberals, democrats, republicans believe in it. Everyone, just about, except Ron Paul, who was a representative of the Austrian school. Keynesian theory says this: government spending (deficits) overcomes recessions.
Simply put, the economy is kind of broken on its own. It needs government intervention to keep it running on the right track. A key intervention tool is government spending. The more money the federal government spends into the economy, the more stimulated the economy will become and the more jobs it will produce. This is especially important to overcoming a recession (theoretically).
So, if the government is spending more, the economy should, in theory, be producing more jobs. But, if the government is spending less, the economy will be slower. One of the show’s main characters, Sam Seaborn, highlights in just a couple sentences across two scenes the tension between economic theory and morality.
In the first scene, when talking to a fellow senior staffer about the news of the budget surplus, he says “This is really the first administration in history that believes in slower economic growth.”
In a follow-up scene with a congressional caucus, he repeats the news to them: “Well you’ve already heard the good news. The CBO, when they project eight years out, has the budget surplus coming in $200 billion lower than we thought.”
To that, the people in the room cheer, and one lady says “That’s great!”
Sam responds: “Yea, okay, there’s something wrong with all of us, but that’s for a different time.”
WHY THERE’S TENSION
The tension is this: we all know rationally that saving money is better than going into debt. It’s good for individuals, it’s good for families, it’s good for businesses. I’m not saying that we should never be in debt, just that, in general, it’s better to have a stockpile of savings rather than a stockpile of debt.
But in Keynesian economics, the reverse is true: Government surpluses are bad, but government debt is good.
Wikipedia succinctly states the Keynesian position on surpluses: “running a government surplus or reducing its deficit reduces consumer and business spending and raises unemployment.”
So what’s good for everyone else is somehow bad for government, and vice versa? It makes no sense; how do they get from A to B? There is an arbitrary theoretical leap from the individual level (microeconomics) to the corporate level (macroeconomics). There is no continuity between them.
This is especially at odds with Scripture, which speaks of the corporate benefits and outcomes, on the national level, of instituting moral policy:
The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. (Deut. 28:12)
This is indicting of our nation today (and Western culture in general) when you consider our enormous levels of debt, estimated to be $200 trillion dollars in America alone. Scripture tells us how God will curse nations if they stray from his laws:
He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail. (Deut. 28:44)
We are borrowing from the world. The world is borrowing from each other.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL ECONOMIC THEORY
The problem, generally speaking, is that modern economics pretends that they are not allowed to make “value judgments” or “moral judgments.” They simply formulate unbiased, neutral policies that are good for the economy, they say.
As a result, individuals have one moral standard, and governments operate under a different moral standard. Theft is not good between individuals, but it is good when the government institutes it on a national level.
But this is not true in Christian economics. All institutions at all levels — individual, family, church, and state — all operate under the same moral code. When theft is immoral on the individual level, it’s much more so at the larger, corporate level. Theft is not allowed, not even by majority vote.
There is no tension between individual morality and government morality. There will be no nervous laughter about how crazy we all are because we’re happy that we have less money saved up than we expected.
The implications of Christian economic policy are tremendous: no social security, no medicare, no medicaid, no federal food stamps, no federal unemployment benefits. That’s because they are immoral: taking other peoples’ money by threat of violence, probably against their will, to give to someone else.
The government has no legitimate authority to do this because they are making charity compulsory. Charity is to be implemented by the individual, the family, and the Church. Civil government should provide no positive sanctions (benefits), only negative ones (punishments for violating the law).
God apportions talents and wealth, not the government. God gives us talents based on our skills as he sees fit (Matthew 25:14-30). The government is not allowed to step in and take this authority away from him.
So, in a nutshell, modern economic theory concocts irrational theories and uses silly math to obscure the facts in order to justify immoral policies. They do this because voters and politicians alike love the policies. Voters get free goodies from the government. They want to legalize theft in their hearts. They don’t put up a fight against it by rejecting the benefits based on moral beliefs or organizing resistance against such social programs. In fact, they vote in favor of more free benefits.
Politicians love bigger budgets because it means they can hire more people to administer the new programs. More people working underneath you means that you are more likely to be promoted, which earns you a bigger salary. It solidifies their power. They can be lazy and make a lot of money for doing so.
Both sides think there will be no reckoning. They try to suppress this truth in their hearts: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The chickens will come home to roost.
The absurdity of the modern position — saving is good for everyone except politicians and bureaucrats — is even highlighted in the writing of television shows, which are written, produced, and acted in by liberal elites pushing the liberal agenda.
Even they can’t help but mock the absurdity of it from time to time.