The Cultural Cost of Economic Rigging
Posted on August 13, 2015
We live amid an economic revolution. The fact that it has engulfed us only gradually does not make it less revolutionary. It is equally a moral revolution. Economics is a moral issue. It’s not an issue over which good Christians can simply agree to disagree. It’s remarkable how many Christians oppose abortion and same-sex “marriage” but who refuse to oppose Obamacare and state welfare programs. Apparently they’re willing to defend the fifth commandment, “You may not murder,” and the seventh, “You may not commit adultery,” but not the eighth, “You may not steal.” Theft is not somehow sanctified merely because it is practiced by the state or federal government. All property belongs to God ultimately, but the Bible clearly demands the inviolability of personal property. Taxation is legitimate to the extent that it funds the legitimate role of government. The problem today, of course, is that government has greatly expanded its role and, therefore, extracted — that is to say, stolen — money to support itself.
As our culture becomes more secular, it becomes more socialistic. Socialism is a form of secular providence. When we no longer trust God provide for us, we turn to the state as our all-sufficient deity. This is why increasingly secular societies are always increasingly socialistic societies, as much as our secular libertarian friends my resent that fact. Secularization of society does not produce the secular free-market society envisioned by the Ayn Rand variety. It produces the socialist society closer to the Karl Marx variety.
But there is a moral cost of economic rigging no less offensive than state theft: the quest for utopia. Leftists always seem busy coercing tax revenue in order to create the just, or equal, society (by their definition, of course). Some citizens are too rich, and others are too poor, and the job of the state is to create greater equality. This is the fundamental tenet of atheistic Marxism that even professed Christians (like Jim Wallis and Sojourners) have purchased stock in. It is a form of economic rigging that the Bible prohibits. And it has costs, and I don’t mean principally the cost to hard-working people who must fork over their hard-earned money to the government to be used by elitist bureaucrats. The problem is even deeper than that.
Angelo Codevilla’s book The Character of Nations shows that a nation’s laws and customs tend to create (over time) a particular kind of citizen. Codevilla argued, and provided evidence, that people in the Soviet Union, for example, had different aspirations, behavior and habits than people in the United States. This is not a racial issue, but a cultural issue. The laws and customs of the United States incentivized and de-incentivized forms of behavior different from those that the different kinds of laws did in the old Soviet Union. The Soviet culture created a different kind of human. Over time, behavior instilled by a government becomes ingrained in a culture.
Economic rigging in the United States is now gradually creating a new kind of individual. This individual, from his and her childhood, feels entitled to a certain lifestyle, to a specific level of education, and to a particular quality of healthcare. In previous generations, within a Christian culture, it was understood that these enjoyments of life were the benefits of hard-working, wise investment. Today, however, they’ve simply been reduced to entitlement; hard work and wise investing have been pulled out of the equation. Since economic rigging has delivered on these benefits, for the time being, anyway, individuals have come to expect it. But not just come to expect. Economic rigging has created a new kind of individual, one for whom wisdom and intelligence and delayed gratification and pride of ownership and concern for future generations are largely irrelevant. It’s easy to blame the twentysomethings who refuse to leave their parents’ home and get a job and support themselves while expecting free cable TV and Internet access and tickets to the latest Coldplay concert. And, yes, they do carry their share of responsibility. But much of the blame must be laid at the feet of our culture and its government: economic rigging had a hand in creating these twentysomethings.
I suggest, therefore, that the most pernicious cost of economic rigging is not economic stagnation, which is truly burdensome, but ontological stagnation — that is, this policy, over time, creates a different, and morally inferior, kind of individual.