“I only care about the moral issues.”
If I’ve heard that phrase once, then I’ve probably heard it a few hundred times in recent years. It’s a common response I hear when I’m among socially conservative faith-based groups and individuals, and questions about our economy arise.
As a writer and talk show host I covered the last presidential election cycle in detail. Hosting daily talk radio in Washington, DC back in 2008, it would become apparent when I was speaking with a faith-based or socially conservative caller to my show because such callers would frequently express concerns over some specific issues with the candidates. “I don’t think McCain is really pro-life” was a common concern. And “Obama says he opposes gay marriage, but I don’t believe him” was another.
To these types of statements about abortion and the definition of marriage, I would often respond with questions about economics, just to see where the discussion would go. “But what do you think of Senator Obama’s plan to raise taxes on rich people and to cut taxes for others – is that fair?” I might ask. Or “Do you think John McCain is right about the stock market crash when he says that it’s all because of ‘greed on Wall Street?’”
Generally speaking, my economic questions would bring these brief talk show conversations to an abrupt end. “I only care about the moral issues” was the response I’d usually hear – as though economic issues are morally neutral or of no moral significance at all – and then the caller would say goodbye.
That was in 2008. And today, as we close-out the year 2011 and prepare to elect a President again next year, I’m wondering if socially conservative faith-based America is now ready to regard economic matters as “moral issues.”
Given what has happened over the course of the Obama presidency thus far, it should be apparent that America is now in the midst of an economic policy revolution. Faith-based individuals and groups can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and pretend that economics is not a moral issue, nor can they assume that the various economic policies that get implemented at the federal, state, and local levels of government are all morally equivalent with one another.
Considering the severe mismanagement of private sector financial markets that helped lead to President Obama’s election in 2008, and the selfish and wasteful handling of tax-payer assets in Washington during these first three years of his presidency, the need for sound, moral understanding of the economy is as great as it ever has been.
One of the most important things that socially conservative faith-based Americans should be doing right now is thinking seriously, and critically, about people’s concerns and rejections of American capitalism. For example, one of the main reasons Americans cite for their dislike of capitalism is that they believe it is an idea based entirely on “greed.”
Just as Republican presidential candidate John McCain claimed back in 2008, there are many people today who still believe that our economic malaise was brought about simply by “greed on Wall Street,” and the solution to this all this greed is to simply empower politicians and government bureaucrats to place more governmental controls over bankers and “rich people.”
Faith-based Americans can respond to this by noting, first and foremost, that greed is a problem that impacts human individuals, and not specific institutions or economic systems. It is a “people problem,” and not a systemic problem.
From there, we can deduce that simply handing-over more control of economic resources to politicians and other government employees is not the solution to greed, because government employees are human beings and subject to being greedy as well (note the government entanglements with General Motors, Chrysler, Solyndra, and other for-profit corporate entities, and how in each of these cases public money is spent to advance the personal political interests of the politicians involved, the President’s included). Indeed, when employees of our government have the ability to control increasing portions of our wealth, along with the force of law on their side, their own greed flourishes, and we’re all worse-off for it.
Instead, faith-based Americans should be thinking more in terms of how we preserve our free market economic system, while at the same time exercising our freedom within that system more responsibly. “Greed” can be curtailed in the midst of our economic activities when businesses truly have to compete with one-another for clientele (and are thereby incentivized to treat their customers respectfully), and when each of us is truly free to both economically succeed AND to fail.
When people are allowed to experience the consequences of poor economic choices – they lose customers, homes, and so forth – rather than having their government “bail them out,” then they have an incentive to behave more wisely. And that makes for a better culture, and economy.
This is only one of many concerns that Americans face regarding our economy, and our economic system. Is the faith-based community prepared to begin addressing them?