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Nov 20, 2012

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Dennis Sanders

All my life I've heard that the Bible talks about wealth and poverty more than any other topic, yet I find very few theologians who have ever taken even one class in economics.

Amen.

So, when are you going to write that book on Christian faith and economics?

It is interesting that some of the same people who look to some odd verse in Leviticus as an example of how our economy should run today, are the ones who make fun of those who see the creation story in Genesis as scientific fact. Physcian, heal thyself.

BTW, what do you think of this Rolling Jubilee that is being promoted by the Occupy folk?

Michael W. Kruse

Dennis, I'm writing right now. ;-)

Don't know a lot about Rolling Jubilee. Aren't they raising money to buy off debts for others? Don't know the details yet. What do you think?

NKR

So, I'm equally as frustrated that theologians don't take courses in economics.

But its more worrying to me how *militant* theologians and evangelical Christians alike are to programs *that already exist* that help the poor help themselves. Many are still living under the messaging manipulation of Republicans (Reagan, onward), who somehow got evangelicals thinking that the Democrats give the poor money and Republicans help the poor with skills. Of course us true policy wonks know that it was President Clinton who passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. Yet white evangelicals didn't like him because why? His personal life, abortion, etc.

You see, *good* ideas already exist to help the poor. There is no mystery here. Many non-white evangelicals (e.g. many African American churches) already understand the complexity of poverty and have never wanted "money" but opportunity. My point is that the whole blood-letting thing is really just old news to the progressive community. Why not *join* the momentum of people that have been working on these issues earnestly since the emergence of the Civil Rights movement?

NKR

FYI - I'm a white evangelical, full disclosure!

Dennis Sanders

Megan McArdle has a good post on one problem with Rolling Jubilee:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/14/debt-and-taxes.html

She also did a good rejoinder to a meme on Facebook that is critical of blaming the union workers for wanting raises while the execs were getting bonuses:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/19/big-losses-big-paychecks.html

Michael W. Kruse

NKR

"Of course us true policy wonks know that it was President Clinton who passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act."

It was a Republican Congress who passed this Act and dragged Clinton into it, kicking and screaming, claiming to his base he would fix it later. ;-)

But to the larger point, there is in array of societal institutions larger than individuals and smaller than federal government. If conservatives err to the side of “individual autonomy,” liberals err to the side of “every challenge requires federal solution.” These aren’t the only options. The subsidiarity principle suggests that problems are best solved at the level of society closest to the problem but recognizes that larger, more distant, institutions may need to offer support and correction in some aspects. Federalizing poverty abatement led to some worthy programs but also to some programs that were devastating to the poor with tremendous waste … sometimes a trickle-down government model.

Some federal programs have helpful in assisting with material and physical welfare of citizens. But citizens are not so many cattle be fed and sheltered. They are human beings created in the image of God who need freedom and the development of, as Robert Fogel writes, human and social capital. The equitable distribution of human and social capital is becoming the challenge of the 21st Century. These cannot be developed by federal bureaucracies. They require the dedicated work of intermediate institutions.

Both rugged libertarian individualism and progressivism are overly materialist ideologies. There are more ways than these two options to frame our challenges. IMO.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Dennis. I'll take a look.

NKR

Yes absolutely, federalizing poverty abatement was a wonderful thing. And to your original point, Christians do struggle to understand the obstacles to helping the poor. But what tops the list is the conservative movement to *actively* undo such poverty abatement, which of course have trickle down effects for networks of productivity and exchange.

For example, take Social Security- a tremendously popular program. The average payout is a meager 15,000k for retirees, yet many, many white evangelicals want (read: vote) to "reform" aka reduce it. There is nothing materialist about wanting old people to eat and take care of themselves. But to support the modern conservative power block (Republicans) is to actively support a movement to remove this support.

Painting with the broadest of strokes, sure, libertarian individualism and aggressive progressivism might be materialistic, but modern federal programs are neither. To return to Social Security, check out this report:

"Caring for Caregivers in Retirement: Social Security Works for Direct Care Workers"
http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/ss-2012-07.pdf

A "third way" is not needed when one thing works, is popular, and is good for people, materially.

All of this to say, I agree that Christians should study economics and policy, but they should look at the data behind programming on a case-by-case basis. That means calling for public sector accountability, not just blanket statements like "[The equitable distribution of resources] cannot be developed by federal bureaucracies." Christians should be more involved in program evaluation and measurement, not leading a charge for third way when current programs work really well (and are hugely popular).

As for waste, perhaps we should be looking to the U.S. war record for where a lot of our money really goes.

Dan

Another thing to note, I believe that a large part of the cause of poverty abatement's inefficiency is because of the layers of bureaucracy demanded by lawmakers who want to make absolutely certain the financial assistance is not going to the wrong people. The more assurance required, the more money is required. After the money spent on special debit cards, specially marked to make sure it's only effective for a specifically defined list of 'essentials' to people who have to fill out a specific form along with tax returns, every year, to someone to evaluate their eligibility for continued assistance until that amount is approved and a bank makes a transfer of funds to a specially established account that can't be accessed by any other means outside the special debit card. And that's just for the food stamps. Housing: Section 8 (evaluating housing), Healthcare: Medicare/Medicaid (medical eligibility checks, determining necessary care vs. elective care, determining payment rates)... so many 'checks' on necessity, if one is going to complain about inefficiency then they'd have to advocate eliminating all these layers of bureaucracy created solely to make sure the money is tightly controlled.

Michael W. Kruse

NKR, I'm scratching my head, trying to figure out who you are debating. I've never thought social security was a bad idea. I think it is one of those functions that the federal government properly plays in keeping with subsidarity.

I don't use the "third way" language and I don't like it. I agree that we look at policies case-by-case but not primarily through the eyes of modernist materialism, which both American conservatism and liberalism are. I subscribe to a form of economic personalism as theological/anthropological starting point for analysis.

You started commenting here a few weeks ago and I welcome that. But I get a sense that you are leaping to conclusions about my positions and what I'm trying to accomplish through this blog. While I am right of center on a number of economic questions I am not an Evangelical Religious Right Republican. They would not want me.

I'm a mainline PCUSA reformed Christian with an Anabaptist streak that makes me deeply suspicious of attempts by the right or left to accomplish the church's mission by compelling society to adopt the church's values ... whether personal morality or social justice ... through the state. (I'm hoping to post on this soon.)

I get this sense that you are determined to have a debate with a Religious Right Republican. It feels like you are picking out the pieces of what I say that conform with that template and then trying to debate that persona. That isn't me and I'm not going to engage that conversation. Peace!

Dennis Sanders

NKR,

I lean conservative and don't want to get rid of social security. Most conservatives I know, and most white evangelicals I know don't want to get rid of social security either. I feel as though you are setting up a strawman to debate with (or yell at) instead of actually finding out what right of center folks actually think. You are free to disagree with those actual ideas, but at least be willing to find out and discern those ideas instead of using hyperbole.

I would suggest that instead of having ready made answers at the ready, you listen to what's being said. You might actually see points of agreement as well as disagreement.

NKR

Yeah, so, I'm not interested in debating a Religious Right Republican.

My goal is simply to give examples of how data informs policy making and speaking to the "silent" spaces in the dialogue.

The theory and approach to solving social problems matters (as I think we'd all agree), but skepticism can create or feed cynicism that government programming doesn't work at all. This is the hijacking you see in Religious Right Republican argumentation. Preventing that is important to me (and perhaps all of us), as the stakes are high for the poor. So I'm not leaping to conclusions as much as showing (or trying to show) some of the implications of the modern economic order and extremist changes to it (aka radical changes to something like Social Security). This is something you grapple with in this post. Hope that all makes sense! Grace and peace!

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