Friday, April 3, 2009

Have all Republican Christians Forgotten about the Good Samaritan

One of the most famous passages from the New Testament is the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The parable tells of a man lying injured by the side of the road being ignored by men who professed religion, but being aided by a Samaritan - an individual from a group not generally known for charity. Jesus praises the act, and ends the parable by saying,"Go and do likewise."

A recent Gallup poll reports that 79% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. An even higher percentage of Republicans consider themselves Christians. So where is the charity toward those who have lost jobs in the Republican-led recession and whom President Obama is now attempting to rescue? Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, the blogosphere has been filled with hateful rhetoric decrying charity toward the jobless. One of the more unfortunate quotes on the blogs is Adrian Rogers saying, "You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity." Adrian Rogers was the three-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention who also said, "I believe slavery is a much maligned institution; if we had slavery today, we would not have this welfare mess." Where is the Christian spirit in such a sentiment?

Beyond being the Christian thing to do, government creation of jobs is good for the economy and for future generations of Americans. Without federal government support for job creation, our great country would continue its downward spiral. Private companies laying off yet more workers in response to lower sales, causing yet more unemployed workers to cease being consumers, further reducing the demand for goods and services, and triggering more layoffs in a tragic cycle that only federal government intervention can reverse. State and local governments, without the power to balance income and expenses across budget periods, also lay off, reducing or eliminating education and other services vital to ourselves and our children. These local government layoffs also begin the same downward spiral of layoffs, reduced spending power, and more layoffs that we see in the private sector.

America's jobless need help, now. America's economy needs a shot-in-the-arm, now. I'm all for free enterprise. For all its flaws, it is far superior to any alternative. Free enterprise has and will continue to make America the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but ...

One of the biggest flaws of free enterprise is its tendency to create boom-and-bust cycles. When times are good, optimism reigns supreme. Everyone is sure that things can only get better. Consumers consume, investors invest, businesses hire additional workers and increase production. This is what happened in the late 1990's. In Silicon Valley, as an extreme example, companies speculated on an exponential growth in demand for computers, internet bandwidth, and electronic gadgets of all kinds. No one was without a job, and the salaries of even entry-level engineers were bid up to astronomical levels.

Then bust hits. Goods have been over produced, and begin to pile up in warehouses. Companies stop hiring, then they start laying off. Investors stop investing, and then attempt to convert their investments into cash. Laid-off workers stop consuming. The news media screams "Depression." Pessimism - fear actually - takes hold of the nation's emotions. That's America's situation today - fear rules, and few see good times returning quickly.

The solution to the boom-and-bust nature of the free enterprise system is for government to cool the economy when economic enthusiasm surpasses reality - such as in the late 1990's, and to stimulate the economy when pessimism strikes and American's become afraid to produce, hire workers, invest, and consume. Now is a time for our government to stimulate America's economy.

Critics raise the cry of creating inflation, "counterfeiting" money, and socialism. These arguments are badly timed. 1998 would have been a great time to argue for increased taxes to dampen an over-stimulated economy and build a war chest for hard times - such as today's recession. There will again be times when unrealistic optimism reigns in America, and an unsustainable boom needs to be moderated. That will again be a time to raise taxes to dampen the boom and rebuild the reserves.

It is always difficult to imagine times being different than they are today. Even though the cycles of boom and bust are fully predictable - if with irregular timing, people's emotions get caught up in the feeling that times will always remain good - or will always remain bad, whichever they are today.

America's government needs to spend more than it receives in bad times, and tax more than it spends in good times.

I commend to you the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spoken in his second inaugural address in 1937, "In our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people."

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