Friday, April 30, 2010

Arizona Roundup

Interesting remarks on the Arizona law dealing with their illegal alien problem.

President Obama speaking in Ottumwa, Iowa, April 27, 2010:

One of the things that the law says is local officials are allowed to ask somebody who they have a suspicion might be an illegal immigrant for their papers.  But you can imagine, if you are a Hispanic American in Arizona -- your great-grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state. But now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed.  That’s something that could potentially happen.

Ralph Peters, "Border Disorder," New York Post, April 29, 2010:

More people now die violently on our southern border than in Somalia, Yemen or even Afghanistan. But Washington doesn't know what to do about Mexico. So Washington does nothing much. Our ruling class simply doesn't feel the pain. So the DC elite demonizes Arizona's desperate effort to shove the narco-revolution's disorder back across the border. Murdered ranchers, overwhelmed emergency rooms and soaring crime rates in our border states mean less to the White House than a terrorist detainee's claims of abuse. Our governing elite pretends that illegal immigration, torrential crime where illegals cluster, overcrowded prisons, Mexico's narco-insurgency, legal cross-border commerce and the drug trade are separate issues, to be addressed discreetly. ... And Arizona's "discriminatory" new state law empowering police to pursue criminal aliens? Should Phoenix let the rule of law collapse because Washington prefers political correctness to public safety? In DC, it's about politics. In Arizona, it's about survival.

George Will, "A law Arizona can live with," Washington Post, April 28, 2010:

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund attacks Gov. Jan Brewer's character and motives, saying she "caved to the radical fringe." This poses a semantic puzzle: Can the large majority of Arizonans who support the law be a "fringe" of their state?...

The fact that the meaning of "reasonable" will not be obvious in many contexts does not make the law obviously too vague to stand. The Bill of Rights -- the Fourth Amendment -- proscribes "unreasonable searches and seizures." What "reasonable" means in practice is still being refined by case law -- as is that amendment's stipulation that no warrants shall be issued "but upon probable cause." There has also been careful case-by-case refinement of the familiar and indispensable concept of "reasonable suspicion." 

New York Times editorial, "Stopping Arizona," April 30, 2010:

A fight is brewing over Arizona’s new law that turns all of the state’s Latinos, even legal immigrants and citizens, into criminal suspects. ... The statute requires police officers to stop and question anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant. ... Federal law requires noncitizens to carry documents but does not empower police officers to stop anyone they choose and demand to see papers. Arizona’s attempt to get around that by defining the act of standing on its soil without papers as a criminal act is repellent. ... Is our core belief still the welcome and assimilation of newcomers? Arizona has given one answer. It’s time for Mr. Obama to give the other.

NRO Symposium, "Appraising Arizona," April 28, 2010:

Leo Banks (writes for the Tuscon Weekly) says that, in Arizona, "American citizens are living under siege — burglaries, home invasions, intimidation, and recently a cold-blooded murder — from illegal aliens and drug smugglers." Linda Chavez on the other hand, says, "crime in Arizona has gone down consistently from 1990 to the present — at the very time that illegal immigration was going up dramatically — and the violent crime rate in the state is lower than the national average, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Moreover, the flow of illegals into the U.S. generally and into Arizona specifically has also gone down dramatically over the last two years, partly as result of better enforcement and partly because of the weak economy."

James Gimpel -- "[I]f the vast majority of the Arizonans who support this law were racist, something like it would have been passed 30 or 40 years ago, before illegal immigration became associated with rising crime and fiscal and economic problems. Did Arizonans wake up last month and suddenly notice that some Mexicans have a different skin tone? I don’t think so. The fact is that Arizonans have been incredibly gracious and tolerant for a very long time now. It is only with the rising drug trade along the border, mixed with the state’s present economic strain, that they have begun to question the warm welcome they have customarily extended our southern neighbors." (James G. Gimpel is a professor of government at the University of Maryland, College Park.)

Kris Kobach -- "The Arizona immigration bill is a big step in the right direction. As someone who helped Senator Pearce draft it, I am admittedly biased. But I can say with certainty that it was drafted to withstand legal challenge. ... Contrary to misstatements by the critics of Arizona’s law, it is a measured and reasonable law that simply makes a state violation out of what has been a federal crime for 70 years — the failure of an alien to carry required registration documents. It does not conflict with federal law in any way. For that reason, it will withstand a preemption challenge."

"Polls show that 70 percent of Arizonans support the new law. The overwhelming majority of Americans in the other 49 states share Arizonans’ basic point of view: enforce immigration laws more vigorously, protect American workers against illegal competition in the workplace, and don’t even think about amnesty." (Kris Kobach is a professor of law at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) School of Law and former counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.)

Professor Kobach also has an op-ed in the New York Times defending major objections to the law entitled, "Why Arizona Drew the Line," (April 29, 2010) .

Mark Krikorian -- "The explosion of illegal immigration in Arizona — where fully one-third of the uninsured are illegals and the state spends nearly $2 billion a year educating the children of families headed by illegals — demanded a response." (Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies)

Heather Macdonald (City Journal) -- "For years, any hint of immigration enforcement has triggered loud complaints from illegal-alien advocates about the stress that the mere possibility of detection places on illegal aliens’ peace of mind. For the illegal-alien lobby, there is a right not just to be in the country illegally, but also to be free from any nervousness that might be caused by one’s illegal status. ... SB 1070 demonstrates that Americans in states with high rates of illegal entry continue to reel under the health-care, education, and law-enforcement costs imposed by unrestricted entry from Mexico."

Scott Rasmussen -- "[W]hile seven voters out of ten say border enforcement is a higher priority than legalizing undocumented workers, most also favor a welcoming immigration policy. Nearly six out of ten say we should allow anyone in except criminals, national-security threats, and those who want to take advantage of the welfare system. By the way, Republicans are a bit more supportive than Democrats of a welcoming immigration system."

Jonah Goldberg, "Arizona's Ugly but Necessary Immigration Law," NRO, April 28, 2010:

I agree that there’s something ugly about the police, even local police, asking citizens for their “papers” (there’s nothing particularly ugly about asking illegal immigrants for their papers, though). There’s also something ugly about American citizens’ being physically searched at airports. There’s something ugly about IRS agents’ prying into nearly all of your personal financial transactions or, thanks to the passage of Obamacare, serving as health-insurance enforcers. In other words, there are many government functions that are unappealing to one extent or another. That is not in itself an argument against them. The Patriot Act was ugly — and necessary.

Rich Lowry, "Hysterics Against Arizona," NRO, April 27, 2010 (Lots of good stuff; read it all):

The police already have the power to stop illegal aliens, a power the Arizona courts have upheld; they already can ask about someone’s legal status...; and they already can detain illegal aliens. The Arizona law strengthens these existing authorities. Will they be abused? Upon signing the law, Arizona governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order for a training program on how to implement it without racial profiling. No matter what her intentions, of course, it’s unavoidable that Latino citizens will be questioned disproportionally under the law; nationwide, 80 percent of illegal aliens are Latino, and the proportion in Arizona must be higher.

"Mexico's Population: When the Ninos Run Out," The Economist, April 22, 2010:

Mexico’s birth rate, once among the world’s highest, is in free-fall. In the 1960s Mexican mothers had nearly seven children each (whereas women in India then had fewer than six). The average now is just over two—almost the same as in the United States. The UN reckons that from 2040 the birth rate in Mexico will be the lower of the two. ... Mexicans are rapidly aging. This trend, which took a century in Europe, has happened in three decades, Mr Welti points out. In 1980 the average Mexican was 17 years old; he is now 28. At the moment, one in ten Mexicans is aged 60 or over; within three decades, the figure will be almost one in four. (On this subject, also consider the links you find here.)

Where I live, it may not be obvious who all the undocumented aliens are, but it is perfectly obvious who some of them are. Early in the morning, they congregate at the corner waiting for work to come along. As Grover Norquist says in the NRO forum on this subject, "I wish more Americans had that get up and go." They ride bikes. Sometimes they are men in their late twenties on children's bikes. But I respect them for their sacrifice and hard work. They don't bring crime to our town, not that I'm aware. They seem like nice people. I make eye contact and greet them with "good morning" when we cross paths. All the same, if they have come here illegally, and if it's this obvious who they are, regardless of how polite and productive and otherwise law abiding they are, we must consider their apprehension and extradition the right thing to do. Having said that, however, it is equally obvious that their presence here and the demand for their labor indicates that the channels for legal immigration to this country need to be much wider and more easily accessible.

I am an immigrant, now a citizen, though I was always what they called "in status," i.e., legal. But while I was a permanent resident, I was required by federal law to carry my green card with me at all times. I didn't have a problem with that. If massive Canadian illegal immigration, painfully expensive resulting burdens on state government services, and widespread Canadian gang activity meant that law enforcement officers on occasion would pull me over (for whatever reasonable cause I was generating at the time), I would be fine with that too. I would thank them for their work and feel shame on account of the trouble my countrymen were causing my host country.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Biblical Levels of Taxation?

I try never to miss Sunday School in my church, Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Long Island. Our pastors have a way of engaging serious questions while elaborating the teaching of the Bible but in way that ordinary people can grasp. I always learn something of great value. Sometimes it shows up in my classes. Sometimes it shows up on my blog. Last Sunday, as part of a (blissfully) long series on The Westminster Confession of Faith, Pastor Ben Miller took us to I Samuel 8 to consider the relationship between the fifth commandment, pertaining to obeying authority, and the seventh commandment regarding stealing. This got me started. This is where I ended up. (I am to blame for all these thoughts, however.)

If you would like to read my thoughts on "all-volunteer war-funding," i.e., the way we pay for political campaigns, go to the full article at

"The Prophet Speaks for Low Taxes"

We are still in the shadow of Tax Day, perhaps still smarting from it. But even if you did not pay taxes or are getting a big tax refund, you would nonetheless be legitimately concerned about the trillion of dollars the present government is adding to our national debt, and the corresponding expansion of government involvement in the economy and in each of our lives.

Notice what the prophet Samuel says about taxes when—in describing the model of pagan kingship—he warns Israel against their desire to have a king “like all the nations”:
“So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day’” (1 Samuel 8:10-18).
This rapacious king will take a 10th of their grain and flocks. Samuel implies that 10 percent is more than enough for government to finance all its legitimate responsibilities. If it claims to need even that much, then either it is doing what it has no business doing, or government leaders are serving their selfish advantage with public funds as we see in the 1 Samuel passage. While it may be overburdening the passage to see an implicit prohibition from God against an average tax rate of 10 percent or more, it is instructive nonetheless.

One might object that modern life is vastly more complicated than Samuel’s nomadic social and economic state, and so a larger, more expensive administrative state is required. But a more complex economy is also a vastly more productive economy. A flat tax of 10 percent would be a generous sum of money to pay for good government in modern America.

Bear in mind that the presupposition of “the administrative state” is that there is no legitimate limit to its administrative reach. It has inherently totalitarian tendencies. Wherever there is a good to be done, it sees a need for at least government regulation, and perhaps also government service providing the good itself. By contrast, the Apostle Peter tells Christians that the purpose of government is to punish evildoers and praise those who do good:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Unlike the libertarian, Peter sees a moral relationship between government and the people it governs, and amongst the people themselves as a political community. Healthy civil society is a network of consciously benevolent relationships, and government has an important role in encouraging (certainly not hindering, as activist government does) that mutual well-doing. Government is not to grow impatient or cynical regarding private benevolence and substitute government services in its place. But the administrative state attempts to accomplish by public authority what is legitimately and most productively accomplished only by private means.

One might also suspect that restricting taxation levels to below 10 percent does not account for emergency situations such as war. But if a free people who believe in their country have an all-volunteer army precisely because they are free, why not also all-volunteer war funding?...

If government were limited to a flat tax, or an average tax, of no more than 10 percent, we would establish a moral principle concerning limited government and personal responsibility, and we would have serious public debates concerning spending priorities, living within limits, and the legitimate role of government among a free people.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Window Is Closing for Obamaworld

In this column, I survey the major indications of growing public anger which will gush forth with electoral expression in November. I cite the Pew polls and now the New Jersey school budget elections as indications of a coming earthquake the size of which has not been seen since Atlantis went down.


"Signs of the Political End Times"

2008 was an extraordinary election campaign that culminated in the election of an extraordinary candidate. But extraordinary is a difficult beast to manage. Candidate Barack Obama was much better at achieving his historic election victory than President Barack Obama has been at managing his historic governing opportunity.

After only fifteen months in office, the popular rebellions against the president and his governing party have been multiplying. A year after Obama's election, Republican Bob McDonnell won back the previously Democratic held Governor's mansion in Virginia with 59% of the vote. One might say that Virginia goes back and forth. But at the same time, Republican Chris Christie defeated sitting Democratic Governor Jon Corzine in liberal New Jersey by four percentage points, or 100,000 votes. Then in January, the vote heard round the American political world was the election of Republican Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat which was assumed to be safer than safe for any Democratic candidate.

In the meantime, something called the Tea Party movement has been growing in numbers and visible activity. The original Boston Tea Party was a protest against an illegitimate tax by a far away, power usurping British Parliament. The parallel isn't neat, but it's relevant. These people are protesting not just high taxes and even higher taxes to come, but the level of power grabbing, intrusive government activity that requires those taxes. The political significance of this raging grass fire can be measured by the growing number and intensity of attacks on the movement (they're said to be racists and potential terrorists) by panicking Democrats and their friends in the mainstream media.

But popular anger goes far beyond self-identified Tea Partiers. The Pew Research Center has just released the results of polling done in March that indicates a much broader disapproval of this overwhelming Democratic government activism. "Just 22% say they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures in half a century." As The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger put it, "This report isn't bad news for the Democrats. It's Armageddon" ("Democrats at the Edge of a Cliff," April 22, 2010). He calls it "the Pew blowout data."

In 1994 when the Democrats lost over 50 House seats at mid-term, the party's favorable rating was 62%, and for the Congress they controlled it was 53%. They still got killed. Now the party's favorable is 38% and Congress's approval is 25%. The Republicans' numbers are low, too, but they're not in charge. 
This week, we have further rumblings that suggest the earth is about to open up and swallow one of our two major parties in November. On Tuesday, New Jersey voters came out in large numbers to defeat 59% of proposed local school budgets. Turnout was 24% of registered voters. Last year it was only 13.4%. It hasn't exceeded 18.6% in a quarter century. Wow. Ordinarily, 70% of school budgets are approved. That's another wow. These are suburban, liberal New Jerseyites, many of whom work in New York City.

This does not mean the end of the world is coming. It's just the end of Obamaworld as we've known it since January 2009. That's why our current president and his sympathetic Congress are working so hard to remake the world as much as they can before January 2011. It may be a very different world for all of us.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bonhoeffer Biographed and Reviewed

Here is a total King's fest on the pages of The Wall Street Journal.

"Belief in Action: In Hitler's Germany, a Lutheran pastor chooses resistance and pays with his life." It is prof. Joseph Loconte's review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010) by Eric Metaxas.

Joe Loconte has been a senior lecturer at The King's College for the last couple of years and will be an assistant professor next year. He teaches Western Civ and American Foreign Policy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself is tied closely into King's. Our student body is divided into sub-communities called "houses," and one of the men's houses is the House of Bonhoeffer.

Eric Metaxas, the book's author, is a good friend of the college and has taught courses here in persuasive writing.

The review even includes a Bonhoeffer link to New York City: After a 1939 visit to New York's Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the "self-indulgent" and "idolatrous religion" that he saw there. "I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out," he wrote, "if God himself is still anywhere on the scene."

Joseph Loconte is the editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Take It From a Better Man Than I

 Recently, I argued that what is fueling Tea Party anger is fear of tyranny and, thus, a vigilant defense of liberty. ("Political Evil This Way Comes," April 16, 2010.) Well, perhaps it's obvious, but it's not obvious to many who are reporting on the protests.

Michael Barone makes his own argument ("Tea Partiers Fight Culture of Dependence," April 19, 2010), much better of course, that the Tea Partiers are not fundamentally concerned about taxes. They are defending a culture of independence against a culture of dependence that has been rushing in on us with great force this past year.

The Obama Democrats see a society in which ordinary people cannot fend for themselves, where they need to have their incomes supplemented, their health care insurance regulated and guaranteed, their relationships with their employers governed by union leaders. Highly educated mandarins can make better decisions for them than they can make themselves. That is the culture of dependence.
The tea partiers see things differently. They're not looking for lower taxes -- half of tea party supporters, a New York Times survey found, think their taxes are fair. Nor are they financially secure -- half say someone in their household may lose their job in the next year. Two-thirds say the recession has caused some hardship in their lives.

But they recognize, correctly, that the Obama Democrats are trying to permanently enlarge government and increase citizens' dependence on it. And, invoking the language of the Founding Fathers, they believe that this will destroy the culture of independence which has enabled Americans over the past two centuries to make this the most productive and prosperous -- and the most charitably generous -- nation in the world.
This fire doesn't die over night.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Widening Scope of God's Blessing

Since starting my Piety and Humanity blog alongside this one, I fear that a kind of separation of church and state, of thinking about this world and the next, may have emerged in my blogging, or at least may suggest itself by the division of labor.

So on this beautiful Lord's Day afternoon, let me direct your attention from right here at Principalities and Powers to my pastor's worthwhile blog, Relocating to Elfland.

Try this little teaser from a recent post.

Psalm 1 begins with the memorable words, “Blessed is the man.” Psalm 2 ends with the promise, “Blessed are all.” Already a kind of inclusio becomes visible, tying the two Psalms together, as well as a progression from what is basically individual blessedness to something more universal in scope.

Well, if that doesn't draw you in, you've never savored the sweetness of the first two psalms. You can start now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Political Evil This Way Comes

The so-called Tea Party continues to make the news, recently as object of the mainstream media's vilification as just so many white, upper-income racists. Others focus on the vast government spending and corresponding public debt that provoked these ordinary people into active political involvement. I argue today on ("Tyrants Among Us") that while runaway government spending is a big part of what is driving Tea Partiers to revolt, underlying that is a more fundamental fear in the face of runaway government size and power and lawless intrusion. They see tyranny hatching out of Washington like a scaly thing, bigger and more sure footed than ever seen before, and they are fighting for the survival of liberty.

Here is the little more rambling, less politically restrained version of the published article:

***  **  *  **  ***

What angers Americans in the Tea Party movement is tyranny. And well it should. It is spreading in Washington even more than usual.

Our Declaration of Independence still speaks for us where it says:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Lawless government is an unmistakable sign of tyranny, i.e., government that exercises power not under law or according to the authority given to it by consent of the governed, but on an authority it claims to have in itself.
The Democratic Party's health care reform legislation is an example of governing tyrannically. The law requires people to purchase health insurance who, perhaps because they are young and healthy, presently do not carry it. This is not a tax. It is the government just telling you to do something because they believe it to be good for the country. It is not conditional upon any other behavior. It says, "You will do this or we will punish you with a fine."

I have not heard a credible argument from any elected officeholder justifying this provision constitutionally. Even the president, who has taught constitutional law, made only a vague reference to the state requirement that people buy car insurance, which of course is different in that it is a condition of owning a car for use on public roads. If people take the bus or walk, they can decline the purchase. But this is government exercising authority beyond what the Constitution allows, authority the people did not entrust to it. This is power exercised tyrannically, and on a grand scale.

At a constituent meeting, Rep. Phil Hare, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, stated with unguarded candor (as though it were no big deal) his disregard for the constitutional limits of congressional power when it comes to providing for what he thinks is the public good.

When asked to locate in the Constitution where Congress gets the authority to require everyone to buy health insurance, his response was, "I don't worry about the Constitution on this...I care more about the people dying every day who don't have health care." In a half-hearted attempt to find a constitutional hook on which to hang the law after the fact, he cited the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, thinking that he was quoting the Constitution. When someone pointed out that these words are found in the Declaration of Independence, he expressed indifference to the distinction. "Doesn't matter to me. Either one."

In other words, when it comes to doing good, constitutional restraints are irrelevant. They don't apply. The legal constraints of the Constitution are, in the eyes of Democrats like Phil Hare and, apparently, the president, only for bad people. The goodness of the obviously good things that good hearted people do with government power is the ultimate foundation of public authority, transcending even the Constitution. Another way of stating this view is that moral progress is the fundamental law of the land. It is the unwritten constitution behind the written constitution. That is to say, the politically progressive use of power is self-authorizing. Every other exercise of civil authority must be subject to constitutional limitations because that is what a constitution is for.

This lawlessly self-flattering attitude seems to draw, but unfaithfully, from Cicero's maxim in De Legibus (3.3.8) that has echoed loudly through the centuries, Salus populi suprema lex esto, "the welfare of the people is the highest law." By salus, or welfare, he meant the well-being or safety of the people. The sense of the statement is that because the individual depends on the community for the enjoyment of his private goods, and even for his very life, his individual good must yield to the public good in general when the two come into conflict. No law needs to state this. It is in the nature of the political relationship. In that sense it is the supreme law that transcends even the most fundamental written laws.

Francis Bacon reiterated the thought in #56 of the Essays, "Of Judicature." Uttered by Cicero, the words are taken in their natural law context. But Bacon's view of justice is more conventional and mundane. He explicitly cautions his readers against laws that claim divine origin, saying, "laws, except they be in order to that end, are but things captious [misleading], and oracles not well inspired." In other words, judges should pay no attention to divine law and philosophic consideration of natural law. These only distract from civil business. John Locke used it as the epigraph for his Two Treatises of Government. Both of these men used a surface piety and respect for traditional views to direct people to a radically popular foundation of political justice. But they both advocated the rule of law, even of a fundamental law in a liberal, constitutional republic. What we see in Congressman Hare's words, and in the aggressive expansion of government by his party without regard to the enumerated powers of the Constitution is something that is neither Ciceronian nor Lockean, but rather Jacobin. Yes, Jacobin.

Cicero's maxim is one for emergencies. The Democrats in Congress, along with the president, are governing as though it were the ordinary basis for legislative activity, or, to speak more cautiously, as though the fullest and immediate expansion of the welfare state were a matter of national emergency.

But in the face of such tyrannical usurpation of authority, such an obvious design to reduce us under the absolute despotism of benevolent technocracy does not justify violence. It does, however, justify vigilance. Every patriot should exercise that vigilance at the ballot box in November, asking him or herself the question, "Does this candidate govern or promise to govern under the laws, or regardless of the laws as a law himself?" Will this candidate govern as a benevolent despot, or as a public servant under law?

Let me hasten to add in conclusion that Christians are substantially to blame for this state of affairs. The constitution for the Kingdom of God is the Bible. In the late nineteenth century, Christians started debunking and dismissing its authority, and substituting enlightened progressive morality and the latest developments of scientific thinking in its place. Today, even Protestant Evangelicals, who supposedly have a high view of Scripture, treat the details of its teachings with careless disregard, following instead all too often the fashions of Evangelical subculture.

Christians can be salt and light by conforming their convictions more conscientiously to the Word of God, and voting their convictions more faithfully on election days.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Entertaining Hauerwas

Last Thursday night Stanley Hauerwas, the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, addressed the student body of The King's College on the subject of avarice. He was the the keynote speaker for the 2010 Interregnum, the college's annual three day recess from classes when we explore a fruitful theme and a related great book.

Stanley Hauerwas is an odd man, but the sort of oddball that is good to know. He is an Anabaptist Anglican from Texas, now living in North Carolina. He is too conservative to be acceptable to liberals (he believes the Bible and thinks sodomy is sin), but he is too liberal for the comfort of conservatives (he's a pacifist and he's married to a Methodist minister). He is pleasant company, and a stimulating thinker.

Over the course of the day with Prof. Hauerwas, between a morning conversation, a lunch discussion, the evening address, and the question and answer time that followed, I gleaned these nuggets of insight and provocation. (These are either quotations, or, more likely, fairly reliable near-quotations.) For another brief exposure to the man, you can read Marvin Olasky's 2007 interview with him, "A Playful Mind."

Evangelicals know the Bible and they know today...and nothing in between.

Evangelicals are people who have a relationship with God, and attending church worship services is just how they express that. [If you don't see the point, the joke is on you.]

We don't hear sermons on greed (which is odd given that it's such a prominent theme in the New Testament.) We know what lust looks like--but greed?

There was an increase in attention to greed by theologians after the rise of the money economy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

America can never have enough power.

America runs on fear.

We cannot imagine anything but an endlessly growing economy--that says something about our greed.

People have always been greedy, but now we have made it into a moral quality necessary for economic growth.

Whether or not we are possessed by our possessions is measured by our willingness to give it away.

We want to be forgivers, not forgiven, because we want to remain in control. Learn to accept forgiveness without regret.

If in giving alms you think you are giving what's yours, you are possessed by greed.

Greed is a deadly sin because it prevents faith.

What would New York City look like if it were shaped by the virtue of temperance?

Another name for money is loneliness.

You should not have a personal relationship with Christ. You should share him.

No monasticism? No Christianity. The Protestant rejection of it explains why we have no resistance to being bourgeois.

Jesus never worked a day as far as we know. He must have begged. We need to learn how to beg. If you get money, you must always get it as a beggar. (He meant you must view it, even as you are making it, as a gift from God, from outside of your control. But he also spoke highly of actual begging.)

American democracy is a plutocracy. ...The middle class doesn't care who rules as long as they don't lose their stuff.

Every American has a sign around his neck that says, "Notice me!" (but I don't have to notice you). It's a form of greed.

I was impressed by the breadth of his learning, and the fertility of his mind. (Why should I be impressed? He's a prominent theologian of high reputation.) His discussion of the moral management of prosperity, being possessed by our possessions, the ease with which we justify and even sanctify our avarice, and the many forms this sin can take when concealed within other sins as well as within virtues like generosity was a feast for reflection. But I was struck with how injudicious his judgments were in applying his learning.

Professor Hauerwas finds greed in all human business like dust in a rug, but he uses this exposure as a basis for condemning modern life itself. Of course modernity has serious problems. That's why it spawned post-modernity. But a more sober use of his considerable research and original insights would have been to recognize what good there is in modern liberty, and then caution us against the many and subtle forms of greed for which modern life gives such historically unprecedented opportunity. It is one of the blessings of modern political and economic liberty that the sons of bricklayers, people like Hauerwas, can become great theologians. Yet, necessarily alongside that and deceived by what our hands have done, we feel we are masters of our own fortune in the making of it, the spending of it, and the giving of it away. But Hauerwas seems angry that the eschaton has not come more quickly, and he seems to blame us for the delay.

It is true that we are all too comfortable in our wealth and all too blind to our greed and the extent to which we are possessed by our possessions. Hauerwas was good at exposing the finer roots of this sin in our hearts. But he went beyond that. His condemnation of all things modern and middle class was sweeping. It was irresponsible. He tossed an intellectual hand grenade into the crowd of people's thoughts to shatter their way of thinking about work, possessions, prosperity, and giving. But he put nothing in its place. At the end of the lecture, he seemed to prepare us for "an alternative to a world shaped by greed." But then he just said something vague about Jesus. When a student pressed him for a suggestion as to how then we should live, he threw up his hands and complained that we have no idea how to live any other way, and that this itself indicates how possessed by greed we are.

At the end of the question period, he eventually suggested that instead of walking around with a sign around our necks saying "Notice me!", as he said all Americans do and which is a form of greed, in its place we should learn how to live as friends. Lovely! Aside from being a hideously unjust caricature of American life--there is a great deal of friendship and community in America, and even fellow feeling toward strangers, even in New York City!--it is an almost comically unhelpful suggestion, both institutionally and theoretically. A healthy political community will be knit together by ties of affection among people that resemble those of friendship, and the more like friendship they are (remembering that you cannot be literally "friends" with 100,000 people), the healthier the community will be. Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam's fall and New York City in the 1970s and 1980s are notorious examples of political friendship deficits. But to suggest that friendship replace the market economy, perhaps along the lines of universalized monastic life or the separatistic Anabaptist communities of rural Pennsylvania, lies somewhere between philosophical fantasy and over-realized eschatology.

If he is genuinely flummoxed over how we might organize and conduct our life together in a way that is not fundamentally avaricious, he should be much gentler in his rebukes and humbler in his accusations.

People's understanding of property has profound political implications, and gifted thinkers should be cautious in what they say about these things. One is quick to remember the degrading and bitter sting of near universal poverty before what Hauerwas reminds us was the rise of the money economy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But we should also call to mind what politics looked like at that time, i.e., how power was distributed and used. Hauerwas told us that American democracy is plutocracy--the rule of wealth--in which the middle class doesn't care who rules as long as they don't lose their stuff. But a populace of beggars and the materially indifferent would soon be once again under arbitrary government. It would soon return to the government of men in their unrestrained, unmediated greed and glorious domination, rather than the government of laws that is the limited, constitutional government of a commercial republic like ours. Yes, a commercial republic, with all its attendant spiritual pitfalls. Anyone who thinks that poverty under tyranny is the better choice because it is better for our souls should move to North Korea or Zimbabwe. They are still taking applications.

But Prof. Hauerwas was not suggesting that we revert to medieval peasant life under the indifferent hand of hereditary lords because it would free us from such culturally pervasive and institutionalized avarice. Actually, it's not clear that he wasn't. He celebrated begging. As he pointed out, the Franciscans begged. The Franciscans begged and so should we. He even claimed that we have no evidence that Jesus ever worked, so he must have begged. Thus, Christians should follow in his steps. The experience cultivates in us a recognition of our poverty and of our material dependence on God. To round out the judgment, he criticized Adam Smith for redirecting our economy, and with it our hearts, in a way that would clear the beggars from our midst. A rising tide lifts all paupers. But he says we need beggars for our sakes, i.e., to give us occasion to give. The beggars might consider that an overly selfish view, perhaps even greedy, and opt for Adam Smith. Nonetheless, there will always be helpless people among us, the disabled for example, who give us occasion to give.

Hauerwas went far beyond suggesting that Christians pick up the habit of quitting their jobs and adopting the mendicant ways of Franciscan monks. He condemned the very foundations of the modern economy. "We cannot imagine anything but an endlessly growing economy--that says something about our greed." "People have always been greedy, but now we have made it into a moral quality necessary for economic growth." But you cannot separate the modern hope of prosperity, both personal and shared, from modern economic liberty. And you cannot separate economic liberty from property rights. And you cannot separate security in one's property from security against arbitrary government, which is political liberty. To desire one without the other is like saying you want modern life, but without the invention of nuclear weapons. The one entails the other. You cannot maintain a society-wide medieval attitude toward possessions and acquisition in isolation from an otherwise modern attitude toward nature (conquerable), one another (equal politically), and political power (accountable to the people). These attitudes are all part of a civilizational package.

If Hauerwas wants all the benefits that come with widespread begging, he has to take filth, plague, crib death, famine, and oppression along with it. You cannot have the conquest of nature by science (consider penicillin) and the attitudes of personal assertion over fortune that underpin it, without also the ambitious creation of wealth by countless entrepreneurs, great and small. In other words, you cannot have Francis Bacon's New Organon without his essays "Of Riches," "Of Usury," and "Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates."

It's easy to get well meaning Christians stirred up with calls for a purer heart with respect to riches. Following through on the implications of your revolutionary call for a society of friends and an economy of temperance would surely expose, however, both the impossibility and the horror of your brave new world. It would also sober your audience into considering a more temperate critique of modernity and a less monkish view of prosperity.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gold Market Ponzimonium

I am not one for conspiracy theories (John Birch Society, the Illuminati, CFR, etc.), but there is evidence that the price of gold is being artificially suppressed by circles of powerful people who have a substantial stake in covering up just how weak the American dollar has become, i.e., a lot weaker than current trading of both the dollar and an ounce of gold would indicate.

The most public notice of the economy shattering possibility that the lid could come off the price of gold as the deficit spending boomerang comes back to clobber us was in The Huffington Post last week: "It's Ponzimonium in the Gold Market" by Nathan Lewis.

This video may be helpful in explaining the significance of the gold price relative to the purchasing power of the dollar and the strength of the economy, i.e., relative to YOU.

I have found this explanation of what exactly money is very informative. It explains things like fiat money and fractional banking, and other things people really need to understand to live in the adult world.

Also, don't let an 11,000 point Dow and rosy forecasts by sunshine peddlers in Washington delude you. Brace yourselves for the collapse of the commercial real estate market, a huge aftershock of foreclosures in the residential market, aggressive inflation, bond market barrenness, and then rising interest rates to entice people to buy our government bonds of dubious reliability so we can finance Obama's glory spending and his stimulus trillions for satisfying Democratic political constituencies, i.e., unions and left wing Utopian interest groups.

I'm not an economist, and it would not be unlike me to see a darker horizon than there actually is, but it also seems to me that it's wise to keep these plausible-to-virtually certain developments in mind.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character?

Each year in April, The King's College takes a break from regular classes and focuses as an academic community on some fertile topic for exploration and reflection through a common reading, student debates, dramatized great speeches, an art exhibit, student lectures, and a formal address by a prominent academic. This year the theme (in keeping with the times) is "avarice." We had two readings: Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare's Macbeth. Our honored speaker will be Stanley Hauerwas from Duke Divinity School tomorrow night.

I most appreciate the student lectures, however. (Forgive me my weaknesses.) One student from each of the nine "houses" by which we organize the student community at King's delivers a ten minute lecture on a commonly assigned question. Following the avarice theme, and wishing to challenge our liberty oriented Christian community, the student lead Interregnum Committee posed the question, "Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character." I was only able to hear six of the addresses, and, while they were all impressive, sophomore Tim Wainwright's stood out, in my opinion. He graciously consented to allow me to reproduce it here at Principalities and Powers.

"Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character?"
Tim Wainwright
House of C.S. Lewis, The King's College, class of 2013

The question I address today, “Does the free market corrode moral character?”, is not a new one, but it is a complex one, and because of this I feel I should start by defining my terms and my interpretation of the questions. First of all, I define “free market” not as a lawless Wild-West kind of gold nugget anarchy, but as an economic system of capitalism with minimal interference, with rule of law and clear rights of private property, and a system where people can freely exchange goods and services. Secondly, the way I interpret this question posed is “how does the free market impact people’s morality?”, as in, does the free market on average cause individual people to behave in an immoral way? Therefore, I will not be trying to persuade you of the various material benefits of free market policy and economics. Also, minimum wage laws, regulation, dead weight loss and the harm caused by nationalization of industry and other nuances will be left for another discussion. I will be trying to leave out these topics unless they pertain directly to people’s moral character.

I lay this out to you because it’s important. It means that this lecture will be more of a subjective approach than an objective one. And because I have to focus on morality rather than math, and because this is such a deep question and I only have ten minutes with which to talk about it, I will not be able to go into as much detail as I would like. Keeping those challenges in mind, I’ll now talk about some way how best to serve others by providing a superior product or making a process more efficient and seeking to market that. This creativity cannot be mandated by central economic planning. Also, do not let it seem like free-markets use a reductive definition of creativity, as simply a means to turn something of worth into cash. From a Judeo-Christian vantage point, the capacity to create is something, in the words of Austin Hill, “distinctly human, something God-given, and something indicative of the unique nature of the human person, having been “made in the image of God”. Creativity is a gift that separates man from the beasts. Birds and other animals create, but with repetition, not ingenuity. Capitalism is the economic system which allows creativity to thrive most because it provides incentives, more so than any earthly alternative.

Speaking of incentives, that brings me into my third ethical point in favor of free-market capitalism. It is the only economic system that relies upon persuasion rather than coercion. Communism, fascism, and socialism rely upon coercion: trying to get people to do what you want by threatening to reduce their options. And by “reducing options”, I mean state-sponsored murders. 65 million in China, 20 million in the USSR, the list goes on. Free-market capitalism, presupposing the freedom of exchange, that the rule of law prevents anyone from being physically forced to make a purchase, means that no trade will occur without the blessing of all parties involved, which means that by definition it is a win-win situation. That means that in order to get others to do what you want, you have to use persuasion rather than coercion. It is an environment where people have an incentive to serve others in order to serve themselves, thus actually tempering the human desire to conquer and domineer. It takes those in the economy whose motives are pure greed (and they do exist) and forces them to channel that greed into doing something useful for their fellow men, for that is the only way they can sate it. So not only does free-market capitalism sponsor certain virtues, it also channels certain vices and, while not eliminating that vice, at least preventing it, when the rule of law is upheld, from becoming something that harms the rest of society as it would under another system.

I could go on. I could say how capitalism creates responsibility, civility, cooperation, and responsibility. That it furthers knowledge, and that it helped give us modern theology in that it allowed people to take a break from farming and spend some time thinking about God. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to really unpack those topics. Instead, I will use the time I have left to answer common arguments from those who disagree with my view of the market.

I’ll begin with the most common complaint against free-market capitalism: that it is a system that rewards and fundamentally relies upon greed and selfishness. Critics who make this point are foolishly confusing selfish behavior with self interested behavior. A market system does run on self-interested behavior, but that is not necessarily greedy. What I'm doing right now, giving this lecture, is engaging in self-interested behavior. I accepted the chance to speak in front of you because I am interested in the subject matter and how it gets communicated. But it's not selfish. Selfishness can be defined as “exclusively concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others”. I’m certainly not exclusively focused on my own pleasure being here. If I were, I wouldn’t be here; I would be asleep!

And that is why it is important for us to distinguish between selfishness and self-interest. Self-interest, as defined by Paul Heyne, is “individuals in control of property using that property to pursue projects that interest them”. There is nothing inherently wrong with self-interest. Not all desire to better oneself is greed. Indeed, the Book of Proverbs says, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth”. There is clear biblical support for a pursuit of self-interest through hard work, and it is on this that the free market runs, not greed.

And this is where critics of capitalism get it all wrong! They make glaring assumptions about the true motives of people in the business world. What is it that business execs are thinking about in their work? When they devise a campaign or have meetings, are they only thinking about getting more money? Sometimes, but a whole lot less than we are given to think. And I would stress that the greed that does exist is a matter resulting from the human heart, not from the way the economic system is set up.

This point about the human heart is closely related to the second common argument I will refute, so I will expand it in relation to this: that the free market creates a materialistic and spiritually bankrupt consumer culture. You all know the common caricatures: of obese Americans who love nothing more than a McDonald’s and a Starbucks on every corner, who only care about getting the latest Steve Jobs toy. Or, as a Preacher named Jim Wallis put it, “The tree of the American economy is rooted in the toxic soil of unbridled materialism”. Unfortunately, this dramatic stance distorts consumption into gluttony. Gluttony involves our hearts, it is something created by human nature and not from circumstances created by private property.

St. Augustine talks about this problem of material goods, the “beautiful form of material things”. He says that “Sin can gain entrance through these and similar good things when we turn to them with immoderate desire, since they are the lowest kind of goods and we thereby turn away from the better and higher: from you yourself, O Lord our God, and your truth and your law. These lowest goods hold delights for us indeed, but no such delights as does my God, who made all things; for in him the just man finds delight, and for upright souls he himself is joy”. Isn’t that beautiful? If we unpack what Augustine says here, we learn that materialism comes from putting earthly desires before God. Sound familiar? Oh yeah, its that thing humanity has been struggling with for the last few thousand years, way before The Wealth of Nations was written. Materialism can be found in any culture, and it is something that stems from the imperfection of human hearts, not from any imperfection of the free-market. I'll summarize this point by using the words of economist and author Jay Richards, “don’t confuse the free market with the bad choices free people make”.

To sum up, far from being a system that actively corrodes people's moral character, the free-market enterprise system actually encourages virtues. Remember charity and creativity and all the rest? It also uses persuasion over coercion. And as I have shown, most of the moral arguments against capitalism come from misguided people. And this is where we get to the root of the matter, what I think is the one single most harmful false presupposition in this debate. Underpinning anti-capitalist views are, I believe, a Utopian view that society can somehow be perfected. People who criticize capitalism compare it with a perfect universe, a Nirvana. Against a perfect world, against the Kingdom of God, of course free market capitalism looks bad. So does anything else you care to name. But when you hold capitalism up against any other earthly alternative, then it stops looking so bad. As Martin Wolf said, “Those who condemn the immorality of liberal capitalism do so in comparison with a society of saints that has never existed--and never will”. Remember that the free market is only one of several imperfect, earthly ways to run an economy….but hold no doubts that it is by far the most moral, the most humane, and the most efficient of all the imperfect options available to us.


Scott Rae and Austin Hill, The Virtues of Capitalism: The Moral Case for Free Markets (Northfield Publishing, 2010).

Paul Heyne, "Are Economists Basically Immoral?" and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion (Liberty Fund, 2008).

Paul Heyne, The Student's Guide to Economics (ISI, 2000).

Jim Wallis, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street (Howard Books, 2010).

Susan B. Varenne, ed. Late Have I Loved Thee: Selected Writings of St. Augustine on Love (Knopf Doubleday, 2006).

Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Yogi Berra Quotes

I was listening to "Car Talk" on NPR, and for some reason they started off with Yogi Berra quotes, and that got me going. Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra is said to have been the greatest catcher in major league baseball history, and one of the greatest non-pitching players. Some refer to him as one of the greatest American philosophers. American philosophy hasn't a high reputation, but judge for yourself.

"I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early."

"It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much."

Concerning Coney Island: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

At times, there was indeed great wisdom in his nonsense, such as when he said, "You can observe a lot by watching."

Once, Yogi's wife Carmen asked, "Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?" Yogi replied, "Surprise me."

On the subject of funerals, Yogi held that, "You should always go to other people's funerals, otherwise, they won't come to yours."

Asked for the time, he came back with, "Do you mean now?"

His surprising turns and comebacks remind me of Groucho Marx who for example once mused, "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." A little more biting and personal was, "I've had a wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." Berra, who must have grown up under Marx's influence, quipped in the same league. When the wife of New York City mayor, John Lindsey, told him he looked cool, he responded, "Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself."

The Yankees might have had this thought in mind before last night's season opener against the Red Sox. "The other teams could make trouble for us if they win." That one reminds me of something Barney Frank (D-MA) said during a legislative defeat for his party when they were out of power in the nineties: “The Republicans,” he complained, “are just using their votes to win.” But he was serious.

He is perhaps best known for his reflection, "It ain't over till it's over." But some of these sayings may be apocryphal, because Berra himself claimed, "I really didn't say everything I said!"

Yogi Berra still walks among us. He is 84.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Second Look at Sarah Palin

As readers of this blog may recall, though Harold and I agree on a lot, we have not seen eye to eye on the worthiness of Sarah Palin to occupy the White House (though we agree she is more worthy than the Wall Street Journal op-ed by Norman Podhoretz (you see, he plays to win), entitled "In Defense of Sarah Palin." It sent me down this road of reflection that WORLD has graciously published under the title, "A Palin Skeptic Takes a Second Look."

The Obamacare victory has changed the presidential race for 2012. The question for Republicans in choosing a candidate to go up against the sitting president is: Who has the skill, the vision, the mettle, and the integrity to drive this Behemoth back into the churning sea of political evils from whence it came?

Sarah Palin, for all her wide-eyed parochial wonderment when asked about anything outside of Alaska (okay, she's getting better; she's been reading up), may have the undiluted patriotism and single-minded determination needed to roll this thing back successfully. Podhoretz provoked me with this:

Take, for example, foreign policy. True, she seems to know very little about international affairs, but expertise in this area is no guarantee of wise leadership. After all, her rival for the vice presidency, who in some sense knows a great deal, was wrong on almost every major issue that arose in the 30 years he spent in the Senate.

What she does know—and in this respect, she does resemble Reagan—is that the United States has been a force for good in the world, which is more than Barack Obama, whose IQ is no doubt higher than hers, has yet to learn. Jimmy Carter also has a high IQ, which did not prevent him from becoming one of the worst presidents in American history, and so does Bill Clinton, which did not prevent him from befouling the presidential nest.
After other reflections that you really must read, I conclude: "if what the country needs to pull us out of our free fall into European social democracy is someone with a solid center in classical republican principles as well as the skill, vision, mettle, and integrity to pull it off politically, Sarah Palin may be the one to do it."

But all I'm doing is taking a fresh look. I'll try not to forget, however, that she has woefully little experience actually governing, and bailed out of the job she did have.