A Biblical Approach to Government Debt

us_capitol_buildingIn God’s covenant with Israel, he commanded the ancient nation to abstain from incurring debt. “For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you” (Deuteronomy 15:6, NKJV). If Israel obeyed the law of God, they would be blessed. Conversely, if they diverged from the path revealed to them, they would face judgments, among which included the loss of sovereignty that results from the burden and obligations of indebtedness: “The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail” (Deuteronomy 28:43-44, NKJV).

Over 3,400 years after the covenant renewal recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy, the United States of America faces one of the greatest threats to its future. America’s national debt currently exceeds $19,000,000,000,000. Since President Obama assumed office in 2009, the national debt has nearly doubled. Not counting state and local debts, interest payments, and the estimated $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities – namely, Social Security, Medicare, and federal employee and veterans’ benefits – every American family of four owes approximately $250,000 to America’s creditors.

Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant [other translations use ‘slave’] to the lender” (KJV). Writing about this verse, the renowned seventeenth century biblical commentator Matthew Henry astutely observed, “Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.” Creditors, using their liberality as leverage, often place onerous demands on their debtors. Additionally, those who are laden with debt must repay their loans before they can provide for their own needs. Nations that become burdened with debt lose their financial freedom and self-determination.

Our nation’s founding fathers held a deep understanding of this biblical truth. Thomas Jefferson, believing that “the laws of the Creator” prohibited every generation from leaving its debt to be repaid by the next, wrote to his friend John Taylor, “[T]he principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

We are, in effect, borrowing money on behalf of future generations, thereby robbing them of their future earnings. No loving, reasonable parents would open a credit card in their son or daughter’s name, spend until they hit the credit limit, and then stick their child with the bill. Yet that is precisely the generational theft that Americans are perpetrating against their posterity. To finance their unprecedented appetite for government services, the American public is stealing from the prosperity of future generations.

Every American child is born into this world already owing $60,000 to our nation’s creditors. These children never consented to the bill we are leaving them. Nevertheless, they will be metaphorical slaves, laboring not for their own needs, but rather to repay the debts of their ancestors.

Instead of raising taxes when the people’s appetite for government services exceeds tax revenue, governments incur debt.  At some point in the future, taxpayers must repay the debt plus interest. There are only two means of reducing debt: raise taxes or significantly cut spending and use the savings to pay down the debt.

Which of these is the most effective method of reducing debt? The Laffer Curve, which refers to an economic phenomenon popularized by economist Arthur Laffer, explains the relationship between tax rates and tax revenues. Most people falsely assume that governments raise more tax revenue by increasing tax rates. However, the opposite is often true. Governments often obtain higher tax revenues by lowering tax rates. When taxes are high, there is less incentive to work and invest; people either decide to work less, or they engage in tax avoidance or evasion, to avoid paying confiscatory tax rates. The Laffer Curve explains why tax revenues soared following each of the Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush tax cuts. Increasing taxes will not bring about the desired result. Therefore, it is clear that we must make considerable cuts to the national budget, implement meaningful reforms to reduce unfunded liabilities, and get serious about paying off the national debt.

Experience shows us that we embark on the road to poverty and ruin when we disregard the biblical principles of economics. Worse yet, we doom our children to a lower standard of living than we enjoyed. It is time for us to elect leaders that will begin to reverse our country’s decades-long unbiblical practice of incurring increasingly more debt.

This column was originally published in the June/July 2016 issue of the Baptists for Liberty Newsletter: http://baptistsforliberty.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/9/8/11989443/bfl-june_and_july_2016.pdf.

Me Before You, Disabilities, and Suicide

21deffa3036682dc425a1e7d830d7fedMe Before You, a recently released film adaptation of a book by the same name, is garnering attention for promoting the notion that disabilities so greatly encumber life that physician-assisted suicide is a brave and reasonable solution to be celebrated.

The fictional book from which the film takes its story was written by English author Jojo Moyes.  The movie, which was released to theaters on June 3, is produced and distributed by Hollywood production giants MGM and Warner Brothers.

The story centers around Will, a young man from a wealthy family who had been injured in a motorcycle accident, and his caregiver Louisa, whose lack of ambition and humble lifestyle prevented her from experiencing all that life had to offer.

Though the two eventually fell in love, Will, who had attempted suicide months before, decides that life as a quadriplegic is not worth living. He receives a lethal dose of medication from a Swedish suicide clinic and leaves Louisa an inheritance to pursue her dreams.

Disability rights advocates believe that the movie’s ending, which celebrates the death of Will so that Lou might boldly live life with the inheritance he had left for her, implies that caring for Will would have been too great a burden on Louisa to make her life worthwhile.

“We are not ‘burdens’ whose best option is to commit suicide,” said John Kelly, regional director of Not Dead Yet, a national organization that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia. “No one’s suicide should be treated as noble and inspirational. Our suicides should be viewed as tragedies like anyone else’s.”

Responding to criticism, Thea Sharrock, the film’s director, said, “This is a brave ending. It’s too easy to do it the other way. But this way… this is the more interesting way.” The movie, according to Sharrock, is “about how important the right to choose is.”

Thankfully, under Washington law, Will would have been unable to pursue the doctor-assisted suicide that he received in the film. Though Washington voters decided in favor of the Washington Death with Dignity Act (Initiative 1000) in 2008, the law requires that those seeking to end their life must be terminally ill patients with less than six months to live.

That a major Hollywood film is celebrating the suicide of a disabled man speaks loudly about the deteriorating moral condition of American culture. Generations ago, political philosophers like John Locke and William Blackstone, both of whom greatly influenced the philosophical ideas of the American founding, argued that suicide violated natural law and should therefore be illegal.

In his Second Treatise on Government, John Locke wrote,

“We are all the property of him who made us, and he made us to last as long as he chooses, not as long as we choose.”

Regarding the unnatural and illegal nature of suicide, William Blackstone wrote in his legal Commentaries,

“[N]o man has a power to destroy life, but by commission from God, the author of it: and, as the suicide is guilty of a double offense; one spiritual, in invading the prerogative of the Almighty, and rushing into his immediate presence uncalled for; the other temporal, against the king, who has an interest in the preservation of all his subjects; the law has therefore ranked this among the highest, crimes, making it a peculiar species of felony, a felony committed on oneself.”

Until the last few decades, most states, influenced by the philosophy of Locke and Blackstone, classified the act of suicide as a felony.

How have things changed since then. By the end of this year, five states (Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, and Vermont) will allow some form of doctor-assisted suicide. According to Washington state records, in 2014 there were 176 “participants” who received medication from doctors to end their lives under the authority of the Washington Death with Dignity Act.

Contrary to what the Me Before You director says, suicide is anything but “brave.” Every single person, regardless of the disabilities and challenges they face, has inherent value and is created in the image of their Creator. Suicide, even when assisted by doctors, robs society of the incredible potential for good offered by each of its victims.

This post was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington: http://www.fpiw.org/blog/2016/06/06/new-movie-celebrates-suicide-insults-disabled/

A Biblical Approach to the Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard and Liberty of Contract

strike_and_a_protest_march_for_a_15_minimum_wage_in_dinkytownWe have watched the scene repeatedly shown on our favorite cable news shows. Across the country, fast food employees are engaging in strikes, protests, and other forms of civil disobedience, demanding that the federal minimum wage be raised to $15 per hour. Cities like Seattle and Los Angeles, and states like California and New York, have capitulated to the protestors’ demands, enacting legislation that requires drastic increases to the minimum wage.

Basic economics teaches us that far from reducing poverty or helping the plight of the working poor, in reality, raising the minimum wage actually makes it more difficult for poor people to find sustainable employment. Raising the minimum wage increases the supply of labor and reduces its demand, creating a surplus of individuals looking for work and a shortage of businesses looking to hire. Low skilled workers are disproportionately harmed by a high minimum wage because they lack the marketable skills and work experience that justify higher wages. Their jobs may be transferred to salaried employees, replaced by automation, done by the business owners themselves, or left undone. Additionally, poor individuals must pay the higher prices for goods and services necessitated by increased labor costs.

Economists are now able to utilize complex econometric computer models to quantify the economic effects of changes in public policies. One such study, published by the Heritage Foundation, found that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would reduce fast food profits by 77%, reduce fast food sales by 36%, and would force fast food restaurants to raise prices by 38% and cut employee hours by 36%. Another study, published by the American Enterprise Institute, used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to demonstrate that unemployment in Seattle increased 1.2% during the nine months that followed the city-wide minimum wage increase from $9.32 to $10 an hour in 2015. Imagine the effect on Seattle’s unemployment rate when the minimum wage is raised to $15 per hour for larger businesses in 2017 as mandated by the law recently passed by the city council.

As Christians, we bear the responsibility of faithfully applying biblical principles to all areas of life, including economics. Through a combination of carefully studying the Scriptures and prudently observing economic phenomena, we can derive economic principles rooted in biblical truth and the reality of economic science.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, found in Matthew 20:1-16, records a parable told by Jesus to his disciples. Proper exegesis requires that we first determine what Jesus’s purpose was in telling the parable. It is from this parable that we glean the spiritual principle of “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). No matter how long we individually labor for the Kingdom of God, God’s grace is such that we will all enjoy blessings of Heaven and eternal life with Him.

Behind every parable is both a spiritual and earthly principle. Parables use earthly stories that contain self-evident truisms to communicate spiritual truths. The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), for example, uses the self-evident truism that we search after lost things that are valuable, and rejoice when we find what we have lost, to elucidate why Jesus seeks His lost sheep and angels rejoice in Heaven when sinners repent. Just like the woman seeks after her lost coin, Jesus pursues lost sinners, and all of Heaven rejoices when they are found.

What is the self-evident and earthly truism utilized by Jesus in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard? In the parable, a group of laborers confront the vineyard owner at the end of their workday, claiming that it is unfair that they would make the same wages as those who worked for less time. The owner replies, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree to work for me for a denarius [a Roman silver coin]? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? (Matthew 20:13-15, NKJV).

By using this example, it is clear that Jesus assumed that employers were free to offer whatever wages they wished. Similarly, employees are free to agree to certain wages; if they don’t feel that the wages being offered are reasonable, they can reject the employer’s offer. This is called liberty of contract, which allows for employers and employees to voluntarily assent to the terms of the exchange of labor and wages. As humans created in the image of God, we are endowed with the ability to decide with whom we contract and the terms of that contract, much as God reserves for Himself the agency to decide with whom He covenants.

Minimum wage laws violate this biblical principle by interfering in the employee/employer relationship. Employees and employers are stripped of their constitutionally protected liberty of contract when the federal government suspends the laws of economics by instituting a wage floor. The employer and employee cannot contract to exchange labor for wages under the minimum wage, even if both parties find the exchange mutually beneficial according to their own self-interest.

Employers are accountable to God in that they pay their employees fair wages in a timely fashion. “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath” (James 5:4).  We can safely assume that government does have a legitimate obligation to penalize fraud in the workplace when wages are withheld from employees.

Like their employers, employees are equally accountable to God in that they abstain from laziness, dishonesty, and theft of time. John the Baptist also told the Roman soldiers to “be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). When both parties faithfully uphold their moral responsibilities, God is glorified.

Minimum wage laws strip us of our liberty of contract, which was given to us by our Creator and allows us to glorify Him. These laws also hurt the poor, which are the very people that minimum wage advocates claim they want to help. Next time someone recommends increasing the minimum wage as a way to help the working poor, share with them the economic consequences of doing so, as well as the biblical principle of liberty of contract.

 

This post was originally published in Issue #35 of the Baptists for Liberty newsletter: http://baptistsforliberty.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/9/8/11989443/issue35-aprilmay2016.pdf.