Monday, December 27, 2010

Not Exactly Rising to the Challenge II

Three Lessons for Liberal Christians:

1 ) The economic world is not a zero sum game. People in, for example, Haiti or Zimbabweare not poor because your neighbor bought a giant HD TV. They are poor because they have corrupt, gangster governments that have kept their countries from participating in the human institutions that are known to improve standards of living and bring societies out of poverty. This is just as true and terrible as if those same governments outlawed antibiotics or modern sanitation.

2 ) It is true that markets do not operate perfectly in all situations. Noxious externalities (pollution) are an example. However, the opposite of a flawed market is not some perfectly functioning, ivory-tower model of a perfect government. Government is a human institution and it falls within the bounds of “the total depravity of mankind” --- which doesn’t mean that everything we do is sinful, but rather that there is nothing that we can do without God that isn’t, in some way, infected by sin. There is no such thing as a government of angels, and nobody --- not a reformer, not a do-gooder, not a liberal, not a conservative, not an idealist --- sheds his sinful nature at the door of City Hall. This means that we can’t compare the flawed market with a perfect government. Furthermore, at its basis government action (unless everything proceeds only with unanimous consent) requires giving some people coercive power over other people. If this doesn’t make Christians nervous, it should.

3 ) Human beings are not switches in a microprocessor or valves in a machine. People change their behavior according to the incentives they face. And, centrally planned government programs are full of changes in incentives that can and do produce “unexpected” outcomes. Tax collections often fall short of expectations when tax rates are raised, because people can change their economic decisions to account for the taxes. When ethanol is subsidized in the name of “the environment,” people will start wastefully growing corn where there is no other good reason for them to do so, with the result that the environment is actually harmed.

Corollary: Christianity is not Socialism, and Karl Marx is not a prophet of the Church.

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