I continue to be astounded by the breathless embrace of socialism by a growing number of young Christians. Speaking of blogs, Jim Wallis’ “GOD’S politcs” rag is commanding the attention of these well-meaning but misguided souls who believe the State can be turned to good purposes. Wallis’ latest preoccupation is the Obama healthcare plan. Legions of young believers agree that providing universal healthcare for the poor and uninsured is the “red letter” thing to do.
Frédéric Bastiat – who, incidentally, was also a Christian – taught us 160 years ago that good intentions in political economy have unintended negative consequences. The “iron law” of economic reality is this: a subsidized system expands coverage and causes the demand to rise; higher demand results in higher prices, i.e. higher costs to the government; higher costs lead to government price controls; and price controls invariably lead to shortages.
Right-wing nuts, whose demagoguery about “death panels” (Sarah Palin, El Rushbo, et. al.) does little but discredit the argument against socialized medicine, wax long about “rationing.” I suppose a shortage of doctors, procedures and medications could be so labeled; but it implies some shadowy, bureaucratic goon deciding who gets what treatment. The economic truth is that shortages translate into delays in service delivery to patients. And delays can, in many cases, lead to diminished quality of care.
But the rise of the “Christian Left” is merely symptomatic of bad, fallacious reasoning. Tom Woods, the author of the New York Times best-seller Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (and a Catholic), wrote a challenging piece on the Church’s tendency to endorse erroneous economic policy prescriptions.
It is obviously not “dissent” [from the Church] merely to observe that the cause-and-effect relationships that constitute the theoretical edifice of economics are not a matter of faith and morals. They simply do not fall within the range of subjects on which a Catholic prelate is endowed with special insight or authority. Catholic laity cannot head up petition drives against them. They are facts of life. Facts cannot be protested, defied, or lectured to; they can only be learned and acted upon. There is no use in shaking our fists at the fact that price controls lead to shortages. All we can do is understand the phenomenon, and be sure to bear it and other economic truths in mind if we want to make statements about the economy that are rational and useful.
Here’s hoping our Christian brethren of all stripes come to some rational understanding of economics. After all, we can no more successfully sustain an alteration of market behavior than we can change the direction of the wind. I think our old friend Richard Hooker would remind us that economics, like other spheres of the natural order, is subject to its own laws.
On a far more encouraging note, we visited a new mission church this past Sunday. My wife and I had met the pastor and his wife several weeks ago and instantly hit it off. The little mission is the result of the pastor’s “undercover work” (spiritually speaking) as a part-time employee at a Starbucks coffee shop (he maintains a full-time teaching job at a Christian school). There, he led an informal Bible study that resulted in conversions to Christ. When the church had its inaugural service this past week, it marked the first time some of its members had ever attended a Christian worship service.
There were around 20 that showed up for the first service – including parents and friends of those new believers. The little flock met in a former consignment shop that the pastor and his wife have transformed into a cheerfully bright worship space.
I don’t want to say too much about this little testimony lest I jinx it. But it is off to a very promising start.