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>The means that God shall give

2009 November 17 2 comments

>George Muller, famous for orphanages in England, set up an institution for the spread of the gospel which he named, “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution For Home And Abroad.” This institution had several principles and objects. What I find inspiring is the refusal to ask men for money. People were aware of this institution, and then subsequent orphanages, which they were welcome to give to. But Muller was at pains to take his requests only to God and not to man.

And while Muller commenced activities he thought the Lord would have him do before all the provision had arrived, he refused to enter into debt for the same.

Further he sort to not use people to raise the profile of the institution if they were not Christian, and he refused the help and the employment of non-Christians in the work.

Here are the principles of the institution (appendix D).

  1. We consider every believer bound, in one way or another, to help the cause of Christ, and we have scriptural warrant for expecting the Lord’s blessing upon our word of faith and labour of love: and although, according to Matt. xiii.24-43, 2 Tim. iii. 1-13, and many other passages, the world will not be converted before the coming of our Lord Jesus, still, while He tarries, all scriptural means ought to be employed for the ingathering of the elect of God.
  2. The Lord helping us, we do not mean to seek the patronage of the world; i.e., we never intend to ask unconverted persons of rank or wealth to countenance the Institution, because this, we consider, would be dishonourable to the Lord. In the name of our God we set up our banners, Ps. xx.5; He alone shall be our Patron, and if He helps us we shall prosper, and if He is not on our side, we shall not succeed.
  3. We do not mean to ask unbelievers for money (2 Cor. vi.14-18); though we do not feel ourselves warranted to refuse their contributions, if they, of their own accord should offer them. (Acts xxviii. 2-10.)
  4. We reject altogether the help of unbelievers in managing or carrying on the affairs of the Institution. (2 Cor. vi.14-18.)
  5. We intend never to enlarge the field of labour by contracting debts (Rom. xiii.8), and afterwards appealing to the church of God for help, because this we consider to be opposed both to the letter and the spirit of the New Testament; but in secret prayer, God helping us, we shall carry the wants of the Institution to the Lord, and act according to the means that God shall give.
  6. We do not mean to reckon the success of the Institution by the amount of money given, or the number of Bibles distributed, etc., but by the Lord’s blessing upon the work (Zech. iv.6); and we expect this, in the proportion in which He shall help us to wait upon Him in prayer.
  7. While we would avoid aiming after needless singularity, we desire to go on simply according to Scripture, without compromising the truth; at the same time thankfully receiving any instruction which experienced believers, after prayer, upon scriptural ground, may have to give us concerning the Institution.

While I am not completely against the requesting of funds for a need, Paul asked the Corinthian church to help the Jerusalem church, the idea of only asking God for one’s needs has some appeal. In the natural it seems daunting, though our God has the resources of the universe at his disposal—how faltering our faith, but it has the advantage that only programs that God is involved in can prosper. Sure, God is involved in many organisations that appeal for money, but men can sustain efforts even when they abandon God’s plans. But when God provides the funds, only his tasks get funded.

Categories: economics, faith, sovereignty

>Random quote

2009 October 5 6 comments

>The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome becomes bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.

Cicero, 106-43 BC

Categories: economics, quotes

>Optimising a health system

2009 August 25 4 comments

> It could be argued that the state has no place involving itself in healthcare. And I have sympathy with that view. Government should focus first on its primary responsibilities such as justice and national defence. But many governments are involved in healthcare; and the promise to deliver health will attract votes in a democracy. So here are my thoughts of how I think government involvement could be useful and deliver good, cost contained (for the government) healthcare. This is based on my ideas in the previous post.

  1. I think that people should be responsible for their own health care including funding.
  2. I think the proportion of people needing reasonable funding at some stage in their life means the concept of sharing risk via insurance for most illness is meaningless.
  3. I think if people do not take care of their health, they will likely still get care and others will advocate for them; but there will be costs that someone has to cover.

The second point means that individuals each need to save roughly the average amount of money spent per person in their lifetime. If most people use a moderate amount of money in health and that is say $200,000 on average, then every person should be encouraged to save, say, $400,000 over their lifetime, much of which will be used in their later years.

The third point is important because the situation occurring as the result of people making bad decisions will be used to argue for socialised government in the name of caring.

I think the Singaporean system, or a model based on it, is worth considering.

Here is some reading on the Singaporean system as it is.

My proposal is essentially: government enforced compulsory health saving. Because under this proposed system the government will remove itself from the funding, there will be a decreased requirement for tax monies; and the savings will be cost neutral for the individual. The basic rules would be:

  1. All workers are to pay 5% of their income into an individual, managed, low-risk health account.
  2. There is a tax cut of the same amount so individuals have the same take home pay.
  3. Employers are not required to give any money toward their employees account, nor can unions force this issue. This prevents people being locked into jobs because of the health benefits.
  4. The money is yours, it cannot be taken by the government, it can be passed on in a will at death to other healthcare accounts, hospitals or medical research; or possibly as cash to the beneficiaries of the will.
  5. Compulsory insurance is paid from the account to cover rare, unexpected, high-cost events (eg. kidney failure requiring life long dialysis).
  6. You can use your account to pay healthcare costs. The potential healthcare and the costs are determined by government; that is, both what you can get medically and the maximum amount you can pay. It would include doctor, nurse, hospital visits, etc. It would include prescription and immunisation costs. It would cover dental care.
  7. You can only cover your own and your dependants healthcare costs.
  8. You can purchase a higher level of care, or medical services outside normal practice, but this is unable to come from your healthcare account.
  9. All provision is by private providers who can charge what they will, though adequate competition should keep costs down.

This solution intends to do several things. It means that people pay for their own medical care which, while being somewhat unpredictable, is able to be planned for. It intends to minimise government actually paying for individual health. It prevents people making poor decisions from becoming an unsustainable financial burden. It doesn’t add to the burden of employers who do not have a responsibility to the personal health of their workers other than the provision of a safe work environment. Of course employers are free to offer benefits as they wish as part of valuing employees, but there is no financial incentive to do so, nor the need to increasingly complicate tax law. It limits other family members from pressuring individuals to pay for their care. It still allows people to purchase any extra healthcare they wish as money allows (unlike the Canadian system).

There are problems. It does not deal to those who are not employed. It does not deal well with congenital conditions. It does not cover visitors to the country such as tourists. And it does not offer a solution as to how a different system can be transitioned to this. But with medical costs increasing rapidly because of new and better diagnostic and treatment modalities, it is impossible for governments to sustain future expenditures. And when individuals see how much an intervention really does cost, then they may consider whether the benefit is worth it.

Categories: economics, government, medicine

>Responsibility and costs for healthcare

2009 August 24 7 comments

> There is much in the news about healthcare due to the current political tinkerings in the US. I have my ideas about structuring a health system, somewhat based on my experience and what I have learnt about the Singaporean system.

There are probably several reasons why costs are so high in the US (and elsewhere). One significant reason is litigation. Until the legislators are willing to cap “compensation” payable then things are unlikely to get cheaper. The argument that someone is entitled to such extreme amounts of money because he suffered harm neglects that these costs will be recovered from future patients. Indemnity insurance in Western, non-US health is significantly less. Consider perhaps $NZ 1000–2000 per annum in New Zealand to > $US 100,000 in the United States.

This aside, if one is to judge healthcare proposals there are several issues around health and economics that need consideration.

Who pays?

I care little if you wish to spend your money on Kopi Luwak? I am content with the brew at the local cafe, or even instant coffee. But I care a lot if you spend my money on such. It doesn’t matter if nationalising health is cost neutral. If that cost is now paid by government and not individuals, then the government obtains that money from individuals via tax. Thus I am forced to cover your health costs, even if I made health choices intended to save me money long term. But the government payment of costs is even more complicated. There is no fixed amount of money. Individual payments to healthcare have different effects on the economy to government payments. Government removal of money from the economy decreases productivity; thus even a cost neutral program will leave the economy poorer in production, thus individuals worse off.

Who gets sick?

It is said that 75% of health expenditure is spent in the last 5 years of people’s lives. Now that is not every person, but it is a lot of them. We don’t know when we are going to die, and the increased medicalisation of our lives means that much is spent as we age and become increasingly infirm and near the end of our life.

This may be money well spent. It may maintain people’s independence. And if it is your own money then do as you will. But as one becomes increasingly unwell he should be assessing his life and making plans for when he dies. And increasing medical possibilities potentially means increased costs. Yes you can spend the last 15 days of your life half conscious hooked up to a respirator in the Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) with metastatic cancer that has failed 3 previous therapies, but I am not certain this is a gain over symptom control at home or in a hospice. Don’t get me wrong, these things can be hard to predict, and ITU is often appropriate, even if ultimately unsuccessful. And these are decisions for individuals, and we all weigh different options differently. But people need to think about their own mortality.

How many people have high costs?

Following on from costs occurring at the end of life, it needs to be remembered that this is a cost that a high proportion of people will face. Rare expensive events can be covered by spreading the risk, that is how insurance works. But if events become common then every person has to cover their own cost. If we are spending $400,000 over the final years of life for say every second person (the other dying in their sleep after a long healthy life incurring minimal costs), that means we need to collect ~$200,000 per person to cover end of life expenses. People in countries with socialised medicine talk of how they have paid their taxes all their life, and this is true (though some goes to education and roading, and some is frivolously wasted), but I think they are unaware of how quickly the tax that they have paid is used up.

Personal responsibility

Our own health should be something we take responsibility for. It is true that many things happen that we have no control over: accidents, infections, diseases, poor genetics. But much is known about healthy lifestyle. Debates around increased risks of the order of 10–100% are difficult to confirm. But it is clear, for example, that smoking tobacco, morbid obesity, and base jumping do not usually improve one’s health. Healthcare provision should take into account personal responsibility. (Though I think this intrinsically, I am aware that it can become politicised with claims that “politically incorrect behaviour” is “unhealthy”).

The problem with this is people often don’t take responsibility. And when they subsequently get unwell it seems unkind to leave them to suffer the consequences of their decision. Mercy is toward the undeserving.

Isn’t health provision caring for those who are suffering?

Yes, and no. It is true that we should think of caring for those who suffer, at least from a Christian perspective. But previously this has been about providing food and shelter, giving clothes, comforting people in pain. This is something that most individuals can give to another. But modern health care is more extensive. We can diagnose and treat many illnesses, often at significant monetary cost. It is not something that most individuals can do, and it is hard for many individuals to cover the cost of doing so for others. I applaud hospital and charity work in the third world. I think these are excellent endeavours, frequently they do much good for minimal cost. But I am cautious when people say that everyone is entitled to healthcare irrespective of cost. Someone does have to pay and there are competing claims to money. The statement that no cost is too great for good health is just not true.

Health insurance?

People need to rethink this. Healthcare costs are somewhat foreseeable. We can budget for routine doctor visits, prescription costs, spectacles, regular dental care. It should be possible to assess approximately how often people and families need to attend to their health, and budget for this, with a moderate margin. Insurance is not about these costs.

You don’t get insurance to cover the cost of your mortgage each month. If you did, the company would pay your mortgage, and your premiums would cover that plus an overhead. It would be more expensive. Health insurance should be insurance. It is to cover that which you do not expect to use it for. Insurance should have a high excess (save up the excess in discounted premiums and keep it in a bank account) and cover rare (and expensive) events that do not happen to most people. That way you have cheap insurance as an insurance, and you don’t pay overheads for costs that you know are going to be regular.

Categories: duty, economics, health

>A Sushi Model of Capital Consumption

>Robert Murphy is an economist of the Austrian school who writes for the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as authoring the blog Free Advice. He wrote this story, a simplified model of the economy, to explain how consumption can increase even during times of malinvestment. It is because of time considerations.

Without further ado, let’s examine a hypothetical island economy composed of 100 people, where the only consumption good is rolls of sushi.

The island starts in an initial equilibrium that is indefinitely sustainable. Every day, 25 people row boats out into the water and use nets to catch fish. Another 25 of the islanders go into the paddies to gather rice. Yet another 25 people take rice and fish (collected during the previous day, of course) and make tantalizing sushi rolls. Finally, the remaining 25 of the islanders devote their days to upkeep of the boats and nets. In this way, every day there are a total of (let us say) 500 sushi rolls produced, allowing each islander to eat 5 sushi rolls per day, day in and day out. Not a bad life, really, especially when you consider the ocean view and the absence of Jim Cramer.

He then introduces a bubble that leads to increased consumption despite several of the islanders becoming involved in fruitless work. But while the bubble may appeal, it will and must burst.

That’s why the boom is unsustainable, but it also explains why consumption increases at the same time. It’s true that this is impossible in the long run, but in the short run it is possible to increase investment in new projects, and to increase consumption at the same time.

Categories: economics, work

>Are we moving toward a global currency?

2009 April 3 2 comments

> There seems to have been a recent spate of articles discussing advocates of a global currency. This concept has been discussed for decades, if not longer.

The president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev recently outlined a proposal for a world currency. His “acme-capital” has been endorsed by Robert Mundell who was behind the euro. There may be some sense to this if the acmetal is actually backed by, or better, made with, a precious metal.

A United Nations advisory committee has recommended international monetary reserves be changed to a system not dependant on US dollars. China had previously made a similar request as has Russia. The proposal is to use something similar to the previous

European currency unit [Ecu], that was a hard-traded, weighted basket.

…The SDR [Special Drawing Right] and the old Ecu are essentially combinations of currencies, weighted to a constituent’s economic clout, which can be valued against other currencies and indeed against those inside the basket.

Russia suggests that at least part of the weighting be gold.

Granted, all these articles are somewhat related to the UN report. There may be some real concerns about the US dollar, though it is likely the UN will use any excuse to internationalise and seek increased control over national sovereignty. This may be especially true if control over money transfer allows opportunities for the UN to increase the size of its own coffers.

Personally I think any commodity should be traded in any currency by agreement on the 2 parties.

I wonder whether there would be less complaints that

the current system contributes to global instability, it contributes to the insufficiency of global aggregate demand

if the reserves were held in commodities rather than promissory notes from people with inadequate integrity.

Categories: currency, economics, globalism

>Health care adherence and responsibility

2009 March 12 Leave a comment

>A recent study published in PLoS Medicine confirms what has previously been thought by those working in African health field. Adherence to antiretroviral (Anti-HIV) medication in Africa is high (> 90%) and higher than the West. After several hundred interviews the reasons were documented. Summarising the responses,

[Medication] adherence through a number of deliberate strategies aimed at prioritizing adherence: borrowing and “begging” transport funds, making “impossible choices” to allocate resources in favor of treatment, and “doing without.” Prioritization of adherence is accomplished through resources and help made available by treatment partners, other family members and friends, and health care providers. Helpers expect adherence and make their expectations known, creating a responsibility on the part of patients to adhere. Patients adhere to promote good will on the part of helpers, thereby ensuring help will be available when future needs arise.

I am not certain how robust this study was, nor whether other factors (age, religion, sex, income, etc.) were adequately addressed, but it is interesting that the high adherence was due to perceived responsibility of action.

Relationships confer responsibility in addition to providing resources. Recipients of help must recognize what they receive and reciprocate. To ignore these responsibilities is to risk resentment on the part of helpers.

It is their sense of duty within the domain of immediate family, supporters and community. There is no disconnect created by involving the government as an intermediary. When others help directly there is a sense of reciprocality. Not necessarily that one has to do the exactly the same as others, rather that one should do his duty in response to others.

I believe that when antiretrovirals have been scarce or expensive, the choice to medicate one patient funded by other patients who were not receiving treatment meant that the survivor would likely care for the non-survivors’ kin. So an expectation is on the treated person to comply so that he will indeed survive.

Interestingly another article in the same edition compared health outcomes in children for user pays medicine and free health care. There was no difference in rate of illness. The authors wrote,

This lack of any effect of being randomised to free health care on health outcomes is unexpected, since there has always been an assumption that increased access as a result of free health care improves health.

Though the free care group used significantly more services!

People are capable of caring for themselves (if they have the resources). They are able to be responsible for their care and respond to reasonable community expectations.

Government intervention is mostly unnecessary—at least in illness; however it is likely the attribute of self care and responsibility extends beyond health behaviour.

(Not to mention the government cash savings by leaving the funding private. And, as usual, private investment is more efficient: in this case same outcome for probable lower cost—I am using attendance as a proxy for cost.)

Categories: economics, health, politics

>Standards versus consumer affairs

2008 December 2 4 comments

>Given the importance of standards it is reasonable to argue there should be a portfolio and minister assigned to this. New Zealand has a Ministry of Consumer Affairs which covers much of this. Unfortunately the structural organisation is such that different issues are at risk of being conflated. The hierarchy is

  1. Ministry of Economic Development
  2. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs
  3. Measurement and Product Safety Service
  4. Trade Measurement

Standards are not an issue of economic development, they are an issue of honesty. That it may lead to economic growth is a side issue. Consumer Affairs covers a variety of related and unrelated issues. Measurement and Product Safety is an umbrella group for both measurement (i.e definitional standards), and safety issues and minimum standards (possibly important but a separate issue). I would favour expanding trade measurement to cover all relevant measures and making it a separate portfolio.

Confusion in this area of ensuring standards is seen in the Briefing to Incoming Ministers.

The practical implications of this structure is that Consumer Affairs has a special identity as the Ministry with a focus on creating an environment in which consumers can transact with confidence, and also works within a broader sustainable economic development framework.

One can attempt to encourage confident transactions without being involved in economic development. One can ensure market transactions are honest without trying to manipulate the market.

One outcome was that the focus of consumer policy should be on creating the conditions in which consumers can “transact with confidence”. In practice this means that consumers should get what they reasonably expect from a purchase and, if not, have access to redress.

Transacting with confidence is not just important for the individual, it is also essential to a thriving, innovative and sustainable economy. When consumers demand higher quality products and services, make effective choices among the offerings of competing suppliers and seek satisfaction when their purchasing expectations are not met, they can stimulate greater economic efficiency and innovation.

The first paragraph is reasonable, so long expectation is in line with what was offered. But we desire this not because it leads to a thriving economy, rather because the alternative is fraudulent transactions. The error is apparent in the further comment.

For example, information barriers are a significant reason why consumers do not get what they expect when making a purchase and this has led to an emphasis on information disclosure as a principal regulatory tool. However, consumers do not always respond as expected when better information is available to them. Behavioural economics may offer new insights into consumer behaviour.

Information is exactly what is needed. But there is not necessarily any state expectation concerning consumers. The government shouldn’t care if the demand is for higher or lower quality, the quality margin may not exceed the monetary margin. I don’t want the government telling me what I should and should not buy. And not recognising that there are different issues here may lead the ministry to focus on economic manipulation and growth rather than honesty. If fraudulent behaviour leads to economic growth, why forbid it?

Categories: economics, justice, politics

>Health outcomes and inequality

>A difficulty I have with socialist interpretation is their ideology is such that good outcomes are made to appear bad if they arise within capitalism. While they may claim their focus is different (equality), I have a hard time believing that socialists would abandon their political philosophy if history showed socialism was more wealth generating than the alternatives. Rather, the better living conditions would be evidenced that socialism is preferable to other systems.

If capitalism cannot be said to decrease wealth, attributing it blame for causing poverty can still be attempted.

An article evaluating the health system in Chile was published in April. It blames government policies for creating inequality in health care, and states that this causes

decreased solidarity between rich and poor.

While I disagree with the article, I will not do full justice to its subtleties here and it is best read to appreciate its point of view. Nevertheless, it apportions blame where there likely is little. It also seems to imply that had Chile not enacted its policies then the (perceived) negatives would have been avoided without having any significant effect on the positive outcomes of reform; a dubious claim.

Chileans have compulsory income contribution to health though they can choose public or private systems. A public system meant that all citizens had access to health care including the poor. The article gives examples of funds transferred from private to public which it views as inappropriate. This may be valid but without more detail I will reserve judgment. Other complaints include:

…access to care is somewhat equitable, but quality of care is not.

[Private] insurance policies for women of childbearing age may cost four times more than men’s policies.

…adjusted mortality for the poorest decile is 6.0 out of 1,000, versus 4.8 for the richest.

[Private health care spends] ten times as much on administration per member and about two times as much on health care per member than [the public], even though [private] members are in better health and need less care.

But is this not to be expected?

In fact it is partially surprising that access to care is equitable. It is good that it is, but it is possible that things could be otherwise.

It is not surprising that quality is higher for a private system. It often times has more funds for this. All systems always have limits based on funding; if a private system has more funds it can do more tests, it can do more operations.

Policies for childbearing women will be more expensive. Men of that age have minimal health costs and therefore minimum premiums. Women have higher health costs due to childbirth. A health policy that excluded childbirth and related costs would be cheaper and possibly similar to men’s. Do not insurance companies charge higher premiums to younger drivers as they have a higher risk? Anyway, if most women are married then the household costs for health care may be similar across families.

Mortality may be related to income even in countries which have predominantly public health, this may not be related at all to the private/ public differences; I will come back to this.

The paper complains about the money spent on administration and health care, yet notes this about the public system:

Access to specialists appeared deficient in the public service: there were waiting lists of up to four years in some specialties, such as ophthalmology.

Yet elsewhere claims the private system is inefficient. It may just be that prompt access requires a little more cash which the private system has. If the private system had waiting lists of 4 years despite more money then it is inefficient, but it doesn’t.

And so enamoured with the state that anything that “sounds” like a private monopoly is bad.

Some [private] companies are in an oligopoly position: the main three firms share close to 80% of the market.

But government monopolies are good and could never be the source of inefficiency.

A logical recommendation for a health system counter-reform in Chile would be to move from a multi-insurer scheme to a single public insurer scheme, as in Costa Rica.

Despite all these claims in the discussion the authors are forced to admit,

Chile’s health indicators are good, compared with countries with a similar gross national product, such as Colombia and Argentina. These results are due in part to Chile’s high economic growth rate and a spectacular reduction in poverty. Further significant factors are the high proportion of the population with access to drinking water and sanitation, and the high adult literacy rate and education level.

They claim this is as the result of public policy:

But relatively equitable access to health care, mainly through public health insurance and public health services, which cover 80% of the population, played a major role in this achievement, as did maternity and child health protection programmes implemented through the public health network.

Presumably the achievement they are talking about is health indicators; not economic growth, reduction in poverty, water, sanitation, literacy. But of what evidence? Health outcomes on a population basis are better correlated to these latter issues than to individual procedures on sick individuals. As important as hospitals are it is unlikely they make nearly the same impact on life expectancy as more basic provisions and decrease in poverty.

And this is where the issue lies. If economic policy is to minimise government expenditure because that leads to economic growth, then this economic growth may be what has made the difference. Who cares how much people spend on private health care? It is a private expenditure. It is less money for the government to outlay which leaves more money in the hands of the producers. If the producers then create wealth, what does it matter that some of it is spent on health? Even if only 25% of the population contribute to the private system, that is still a large number of people the government no longer needs to pay for.

The bigger issues are:

  1. Are the poor worse off than before?
  2. Is the number of poor persons less than previously?

If the poor are no worse off (or even better off) and the middle class has grown as the lower class rises out of poverty then what is not to like? These are good outcomes.

To complain there is more inequality because not everyone has yet escaped poverty and some are excessively rich is a politic of envy. Yes the rich man has an individual responsibility to care for his poor neighbour, but income inequality is not a bad in and of itself. Oppressing the poor to become rich causes inequality but it is the injustice of oppression that is wrong.

It seems to me that socialists want equality of outcome so much that it is better that all live in abject squalor than most have a modest income, if that modest income means an associated variable income.

Categories: economics, health, poverty

>A Christian approach to economics

2008 May 25 8 comments

>This is something I have become increasingly interested in. I do not have an extensive economic background but have read many articles over recent years. I have become increasingly capitalistic in my approach, though there are several issues that I have yet to resolve biblically.

I think a good economic policy can be formulated from the Bible but it needs to start from fundamental principles rather than taking a more pragmatic approach and learning from economies around the world. Not that there is anything wrong from learning from the events we see, the 20th century is pretty damning on communism as an economic solution (and any other solution it proposes), we do well to note it. The problem is that the preferred outcome of economic policies may not coincide with that of God. A reasonable goal of economics is maximising material prosperity for all citizens (though not necessarily equality of outcome) and maximising productivity while minimising labour. However God is more concerned with our response to Christ. And righteousness and justice are more important principles than profit. Of course an industry needs to make some profit (or break even) over time else it will fail; and people debate over the meaning of “justice” as it applies to economics.

I have not found a discussion of biblical economics that reviews all the relevant passages of Scripture and attempts a coherent and Christ honouring view. It may exist, I just don’t know of any. I recently found this paper by an Australian Andrew Kulikovsky whom I am more familiar with as an author of creationist articles. It is titled “A Biblical View of Economics and
Industrial Relations” and it is very much worth a read (I have a slightly different take on some ideas).

Clearly some people are poor because they are oppressed by others (Isa 10:1-2, Zech 7:10), but the Evangelical Alliance and other Christian socialists tend to view poverty as almost entirely a result of oppression, either directly (in the case of workers being oppressed by their employers), or indirectly (in the case of systemic denial of equality). They rarely acknowledge that many people—especially those who live in wealthy western societies—have brought poverty upon themselves through laziness, foolishness, impulsiveness and the like.

This is insightful in that it shows that so called “poverty” in the West is inappropriately labelled and cannot be equated to poverty of third world countries, not just in terms of wealth comparisons but in the causative factors of the lack of wealth. Now self-induced poverty may be due to bad behaviours that have been learned, or due to lack of appropriate behaviour because it has not been taught, but even so, the solution is different. It is the deficit behaviour that needs to be remedied rather than the deficit income.

Another complaint against capitalism is that it leads to inequalities in wealth outcomes. Though there is a range of incomes in a capitalist society it is still likely that wealth is more evenly distributed compared to other systems. For example, although Bill Gates is exceedingly wealthy, his income as a percentage of global wealth (or even US wealth) is much lower than in times past: compare Rockefellar. Kulikovsky gives further insightful analysis to this complaint,

Yet a common objection to capitalism among socialists is that 10% of the population owns 90% percent [sic] of the wealth. But even if this claim is accurate, there would in fact be nothing wrong with such a situation provided that the 10% acquired their wealth through legal, just and fair means. In essence, the situation is indicative of the fact that some people have contributed more to production than others, because they introduced major improvements and innovations. Therefore, the 90% of the wealth that is not only owned but also created and earned by that 10% (or by their parents or grandparents), ends up serving the rest of the population that did not contribute as much to production. Furthermore, if the rest of the population (or the government) attempt to force a transfer of wealth from that 10% to the most disadvantaged—as the Evangelical Alliance proposes—they will ultimately destroy the creation of the wealth that serves the least disadvantaged and destroy any hope they have of escaping their disadvantaged state. This is because the Christian socialists in the Evangelical Alliance have no concept of the production of wealth and how it is accumulated, but instead begin with the myth of the ‘distribution fairy’: that there is a finite amount of wealth in the world and that it is meant to be evenly distributed among everyone. These views come not from the Bible but from Karl Marx, and would naturally lead to the implementation of coercive policies that legally sanction theft and lead to a world that is physically empty of the production and accumulation of wealth. Instead of evenly distributing wealth, such policies end up evenly distributing poverty! As Reisman put it, the “thieves” end up as “starving wretches.” The truth of the above principles in born out in the actual history of all those societies that have adopted communism and other forms of socialism, and Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, is a current example of the poverty and economic ruin that comes from such policies.

Viewing wealth and produce as fixed implies that if anyone gains then someone must lose. But if wealth can be created then offense at the wealthy who created their own wealth is just envy. If every man grows 10 bushels of wheat a year and one man devises a method to grow 100 without preventing others from growing theirs, where is the injustice in that? If someone becomes wealthy at the expense of the work of the poor and refuses to pay them what he agreed in order to become rich, that is an offense. If a man creates work for others and in the process creates significant wealth for them as he creates wealth for himself, that is a good thing, even if he becomes richer than all his workers.

All in all an interesting read.

Categories: economics, poverty

>Reclaiming the Political Jesus

2007 April 15 1 comment

>I was asked to review A Prophet of God’s Justice: Reclaiming the Political Jesus by Chris Marshall

The article was published in Stimulus in 2006. I found it somewhat verbose. It is frustrating to have to read excessive words where the information content does not justify it.

I found him vague on specifics at times and when he did discuss specific passages I thought his exegesis was inadequate. He tried to give an overview of the gospels but he was somewhat selective and he tended to read his own left leaning politics into scripture. I also think his underlying belief that everything Jesus said spoke into the culture of the day is faulty. He is suggesting that one has misread the bible unless he understands the culture it was spoken into. This thinking is saying that the bible is a high context document (that there are certain assumptions by the readers according to their customs and language). While this is generally true, the context is not so high that readers of scripture don’t gain insight by what is written, and it is not so high that only historians understand what was meant. Further, what historians believe can be selective or coloured by their own theology.

Marshall also neglects large volumes of scripture. He favours words that are spoken by Jesus the man. Jesus as God is author of the entire bible. To use Jesus words to prove something, when he may or may not have been addressing the issue, to override other scripture that directly discusses the issue at hand is a poor interpretative technique. All scripture is given by God; Jesus words as a man should be given high (highest) priority, but if one’s interpretation of themes of Jesus contradicts direct comments elsewhere about an issue it is a good clue that the interpretation may not have been the correct one. I also wonder if he has read Revelation? He will have, but he doesn’t touch on Jesus words there, nor Jesus’ words to the disciples in Acts.

Below I will discuss 3 passages from his essay.

… Jesus’ saying “my kingdom is not of this world” cannot be taken as an affirmation that God’s kingdom is a
purely spiritual reality unrelated to worldly realities. After all it was out of love for this world that God sent Christ into the world in the first place, in order that “through him the world might be saved” (John 3:16-17). The term “kingdom” here, as always in biblical tradition, has the active force of “rule” or “kingship” or “power” more than place or territory or realm, so that what Jesus is really saying is that his style of exercising kingly authority is unlike that of other kings. His kingship conforms, not to brutal coercive rule of Herod or Caesar or Caiaphas, but to the compassionate, healing rule of God. It does not rest on violent coercion but on loving persuasion. That is why in the second part of the verse, which is hardly ever quoted by conservative apologists, Jesus explains that “if my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews”. The thing that most differentiates Jesus’ kingship from worldly forms of kingship is its non-violence. (p. 11)

I find this interpretation questionable, it alone may be enough for me to disregard the article. I do not think that “kingdom” means style of kingship. Now Jesus does have a style of kingship that is different, but the word “kingdom” does not mean this. Daniel discusses the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, and the rock that destroys the previous kingdoms is likely the kingdom of God. And while God’s subjects in this new kingdom live a different lifestyle and the kingdom is of a different nature (that is people called out of this world’s system to live for Christ), to say there is no violence is incorrect. What about the parable when the nobleman goes away to get his coronation and returns to destroy his enemies who did not wish to see him made king? (Luk 19). We do not coerce men into the kingdom of God but it is a stretch to go from here to pacifism. What about Jesus comments about destroying the wicked that he makes in the book of Revelation? (Rev 2).

Jesus is not saying his followers are non-violent (they are, but that is not the issue here), he is merely comparing what followers of a leader would normally do with his situation. That they are not doing so now is not because they are part of a pacifist movement, rather that Jesus’ kingdom is not an earthly kingdom in the same way that other kingdoms are.

How very different is the prevailing political landscape of global capitalist society today, which makes an idol of market forces, promotes consumerism as a means of political survival, and, while mouthing platitudes to the contrary, exacerbates the plight of the poor and dispossessed in pursuit of an ever-greater concentration of wealth and power. (p. 16)

It is interesting that he says this. I have become more capitalistic (and even more libertarian) as I have got older. Now there can be problems within capitalism, but one needs to ask whether this is as a result of the philosophy. Or is it that one sees these things in a society that is capitalist (or viewed as capitalist) and condemns them as fruits of capitalism society. Capitalism allows private property ownership, the rule of law, freedom of trade: it allows persons to provide goods or services in free exchange for whatever price the parties agree on. The early capitalists believed in thrift and hard work, both of which are very admirable. Money was reinvested hence “capital” rather than wasted on profligate living. Capitalist thinking came out of a Christian mindset; specifically: ownership, just courts, freedom and liberty. A capitalist system in a Christian society is materially beneficial for all. In a non-Christian society, it may have its downfalls, though I am uncertain if the downfalls are worse than other systems.

Does a capitalist society promote consumerism? Perhaps it does, and he is right that Christians should oppose that. However there are laws one could put in place that don’t refute capitalism but limit the damage caused by the greedy. Examples would be restricting an individual’s ability to indebt himself, limiting interest, limiting the power and exploitation from loan sharks, making bankruptcy more difficult.

“Exacerbates the plight of the poor.” Well this is patently false. Compare the poor in capitalist societies versus any non-capitalist society. The poor are hugely better off materially. Their rights are upheld more, they are better able to escape being part of the poor, they have more liberty. I am not certain what current system Marshall thinks does better. Capitalism is definitely better than the nobility/ serfdom system it replaced. Certainly capitalist states could do better, but they are doing hugely better than oppressive regimes elsewhere. Why do we hear about the problems in the West? Because our freedom of expression allows us to dissent without fear of government oppression. Worse problems happen elsewhere but voices are silenced. And why are people immigrating to the West in numbers that far exceed the other way around?

“An ever greater concentration of wealth and power.” That may be true on a national level, but that is because of the general wealth of the nation. In terms of within a country, the poor are not being sidelined in general. The problem with Marshall’s approach is it suggests that everyone should have the same, regardless of how little that is. But that is just a problem with envy. I am happy to live in a country that allows everyone to own a house and fed their children, even if that means there are some in the country who are filthy rich.

Some of the large corporations that exist do so within capitalist societies, but are not consistent with it. They seek to obtain governm
ent favours and this should be opposed, but this is the antithesis of capitalism which seeks a level playing field and to remove special favours.

I do think there are very real problems with chasing wealth, and the bible warns that riches can remove our devotion to Christ. This is very important. And it is far better to be poor and fear God than to have plenty and ignore him. But a lot is related to the love of money, and that vice is not necessarily limited to the rich.

Anyway, the studies suggest that conservatives that he has so much trouble with are actually more generous! Is he suggesting that the government should be handing out money to the poor? I am not so certain of the wisdom of this.

And I am much more concerned with the power concentrated in the monster of the United Nations, and that can hardly be laid at the feet of the capitalists.

It is here that Jesus’ exorcisms carried an important political message. It was common in Jesus’ day for people to ascribe the abject suffering of God’s people under Roman rule to the activity of superhuman demonic forces standing behind their pagan oppressors and their indigenous quislings. One manifestation of this spiritual tyranny was the susceptibility of vulnerable individuals to demonic possession. When Jesus cast out demons, therefore, he was not only healing the victims of societal dysfunction; he was symbolically challenging and defeating the spiritual authorities standing behind foreign repression. (p. 19)

So does he believe there are demonic powers behind nation-states or not? Where does he get that demonic forces in individuals is related to being subject to a foreign power? Is he saying that the Israelites in Egypt had more demoniacs when they were worshipping Yahweh, than the time in Israel under Jeroboam II when they were free of foreign rulership but were worshipping foreign idols? I do not accept his proposition of increased demon possession under foreign domination without proof. And even if it were true, how is that at all related to Jesus casting out demons? This shows his power over the spirit world; a testimony to his divinity. This says nothing about whether or not he was opposed to Rome.

In conclusion, Jesus may have had thoughts about Rome, but I see his message more in alignment with Jesus saying something like:

The problem is yourself, it is sin. Join my kingdom and I will deliver you from sin’s power.