Christianity and Capitalism, Part VI

A Review of “Just Generosity”, Part IiI

By

Brent Hardaway

 

 

 

Just How Far Does Biblical Compassion Go?

Sider (and those of his persuasion) speak about the poor as being dear to God’s heart and as being the beneficiaries of His special compassion. While we agree that this is generally true, Sider believes that all poverty is an injustice and it is incumbent on Christians to eliminate it. Even when poverty is due to poor choices, Sider has proposed that poor choices are really due to unjust social conditions. Since we have shown this to be largely false, it’s time to test Sider’s assumptions. We need to take an inventory of each category of impoverished people.

1. Those who are poor because of true social injustices. The Bible is clear that God strongly identifies with those who are poor because of injustice and oppression, and it this that the Biblical prophets spoke out so frequently. And as we noted in the previous essay, this type of poverty has not totally been eradicated in America today.

However, according to the evangelical left, or “Progressive evangelicals”, as they often prefer to be called, one can’t help but read the Gospels and the Prophets and see extensive parallels between the brutality of ancient societies and 21st century America. Indeed, if one were to tally the number of verses dealing with the poor in scripture, one would see that an overwhelming number of them describe the poor as being victims of oppression. As Sojourners editor Jim Wallis says in his book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, the scriptures claim that “they are regularly neglected, exploited, and oppressed by wealthy elites, political rulers, and indifferent affluent populations.” [Wall.GP.5] However, what Wallis, Sider, and their like-minded friends fail to note, is that the Bible doesn’t actually say that this is the case in 21st century America. And so, often cloaked in terms of societal self-examination and repentance, a post-modern relativism emerges, as the injustices of the U.S. and more brutal societies are ridiculously stretched so as to make them look very similar.

First up is David Batstone, writing in Sojourners magazine, a longtime leftward leaning evangelical publication. (See here - free registration required) who writes after a visit to Cuba;

“I talked at length to a biochemist who now practices massage out of his home. His salary as a biochemist for the state-controlled pharmaceutical industry was around $28 a month. He can make that in a couple of days giving massages. But he lives in fear that he will be caught in an unofficial enterprise. The punishment: a fine and closer vigilance of his future activities.….Many Cubans, particularly professionals, spoke of their desire to advance beyond a subsistence lifestyle. Thorny obstacles are put in place to frustrate those aspirations. By and large, the Cuban system treats private economic initiative as a threat to social parity—just as the U.S. system treats them as incompatible ends. The freedom to pursue financial advancement is esteemed as a hallowed right in U.S. society. The poor meanwhile are left to fend for themselves. To create a level playing field would demand too many sacrifices for the liking of most AmericansIt would be much too simplistic to lay down a summary verdict on the Cuban system, or on U.S. society for that matter. The respective benefits of their systems are apparent, as are the social costs.”

The benefits of the Cuban system might be a tad more apparent if just one flotilla in the Florida Strait was headed southbound. What good is a system where Livan cannot give a massage to Orlando supposedly for the benefit of Rafael, whose life will be no different if the exchange takes place, when the first two see it as a mutual benefit? Social parity and private initiative are incompatible, and the brute fact that immigrants to the U.S. don’t change their minds once they realize what a miserable gulag they’ve arrived in and try to escape should lead us in the direction that social parity is readily dispensable. And the fact that scripture does not support it (see essay four in this series) should push us even farther down that road.

We will return to the question if a level field in just a bit. First, though, let’s look of an example of an attempt to put anti-capitalist words in the mouths of the Old Testament prophets. We turn now to Thomas Cahill, (here), also writing in Sojourners

“Let me tell you about a society of peace and prosperity that existed long ago. In this society, many people had much more than they needed. The construction business was experiencing an unprecedented boom; elaborate wine cellars and even personal vineyards were in vogue. All the markets were buzzing; the communications, entertainment, and travel industries had never enjoyed such escalating profits.

The men and women of this society—at least the ones who luxuriated properly—would have been shocked to hear that there were some in their midst who enjoyed none of these pleasures, people leading lives of quiet desperation. The people on the hilltops would have been greatly offended had anyone dared suggest that the dispossessed were their responsibility—that, in fact, it was their uncaring wealth that was responsible for the plight of the invisible poor.”

“The scene I have set is not in the Hamptons or Marin County, but in Samaria in the Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C.”

But don’t leave just yet, America! Cahill isn’t done with you yet. He goes on to say that if Micah, Amos, and even Mary and Jesus were around, they’d say the same things to you that they said to ancient Israel and Rome! So, let’s just imagine what would happen if this foursome came around today. They would have a number of strong words for America, to be sure, but would they throw out these specific charges, like in Amos 5:10-12, which speaks of the poor being trampled, thrust aside at the gate and having taxes on their wheat extorted?

Would not these four notice that, at a federal level, the government has tried to equalize spending on education between poor and rich school districts, as we noted in the previous essay? Or that the government made serious attempts to assimilate American Indians into the mainstream culture, that were rejected? Or that, under the No Child Left Behind Act, some districts received money to hire social workers whose whole job was to deal with frequently truant students? (Fresno Unified alone received $9 million, for example.) Left to fend for themselves? Let’s see - you are given the chance to go to school, even go to college. Ah, but if you don’t feel like going to class, then we’ll send people to try to convince you that you should go to class. Still don’t feel like doing that? That’s ok - you can go back to adult school, or get your GED, and then go on and do that community college or even university stuff anyway, whenever you feel like it. But if you don’t feel like doing that, we’ve got Federally-funded job training programs that you can go to. But if you don’t feel like doing that, that’s ok - you’re still eligible for a $4200 income tax break (even if you don’t pay any income taxes), food stamps, and subsidized housing. Plus, we’ve got food banks, soup kitchens, thrift stores…..on and on it goes.

Can we actually entertain the notion that that Ancient Israel and Rome ever went to this much trouble without bursting into laughter? No, our four revered visitors would probably judge that a level playing field certainly reflects the beliefs of nearly all Americans - and federal policy, reflecting the voice has attempted to do that in so many ways, so much so that nearly everything that can be tried has been tried. A key indicator of this, I would think, is when the would-be prophets actually start proposing things that have already been tried and failed! Sider himself does this twice!

“One especially tragic measure of the failure of U.S. schools is that the initial gap between beginning students from advantaged and disadvantaged homes widens steadily as they continue through school. Fortunately, the French system demonstrates that this outcome is not inevitable. In France, the gap between advantaged French children and disadvantaged North African immigrants who receive two years of French preschool decreases with each school grade.” [Sid.JG.155]

Hasn’t Sider ever heard of Head Start? That program that was begun four decades ago as part of the Great Society? The one that has failed to produce statistically significant results? [Thern.NE.223-25] (Although, I would add, for all we knew in the sixties, it was probably worth a try.)

And,

“We have a long history in this country of using government policy to help a large number of citizens own wealth. From Thomas Jefferson’s decision to have the public lands conveyed not to large absentee landowners but to the farmers who worked the land, to the G.I. bill subsidizing veteran’s education, to today’s student grants and loans and individual retirement accounts, government has acted to diversify the ownership of wealth. A broad middle class has benefited. Why not do the same for the poor?” [Sid.JG.206]

Did I miss something here? Were the GI bill and student loans only offered to middle-class kids? On the contrary, lower-income kids are eligible for this AND Pell Grants that middle-class kids are not eligible for.

On the contrary, where social injustice still exists, it isn’t for a lack of trying to eradicate it on a national level. The removal of oppression and social injustice is non-controversial in American society for both conservatives and liberals. Everyone wants adequate education for all - the disagreement is how to get there. As we saw in the fifth essay, where social injustice exists it is often local leaders who maintain it, through red tape and other barriers to commercial activity - but don‘t look for any outcry from “progressive evangelicals” over these.

These questions have flared again in the wake of the disaster in New Orleans by hurricane Katrina, given that many had warned of such a disaster, but we as a society failed to do anything about it. But whether the disaster would not have happened if New Orleans residents were wealthier is doubtful. After all, the federal government failed many middle and upper class members in the years leading up to September 11th and ignored numerous warnings before then. While it is true, that the federal government did cut levee funding in recent years, but now that it is known that the Levee Board spent much more of its time and resources on casino development, it seems like a rather smart move. (And of course, why would the onus be on theFederal government to fund them in the first place?) This cuts back to our main point that when oppression and neglect exists, it is on a local, not a system-wide level.

Self-examination and repentance are not incompatible with distinguishing between a truly oppressive, brutal society and one that is largely egalitarian but flawed, as any human society is bound to be. Saying that contemporary America resembles ancient Israel and Rome is like saying that Fairbanks, Alaska and Dallas, Texas have similar climates because the latter averages a few inches of snowfall every year. If you want to find oppression on a ancient biblical scale, look towards the Third World with its corrupt governments and killing fields. You don’t even need to look very far - just across the Florida Strait to Cuba, if we can keep from being overcome by warm fuzzies about communism’s ideals. Perhaps a charitable view of those who claim the prophetic mantle would say that one simply doesn’t want to risk overlooking any injustices. But a lot of times, it’s just over-the-top posturing.

2. Those who are poor because of circumstances. Once again, the Bible is clear. These people are especially dear to God’s heart. The Bible speaks of people born blind. It speaks of people who are crippled. It speaks of the orphan and the widow. As a matter of fact, the orphan and the widow are often spoken of in parallels, implying that these people made up such a large part of the poor that they were almost synonymous with the needy.

We still have people who fit this description like this in American society today. Some of them are people that need temporary help because of a job loss, injury, etc. Most of us, in fact, are susceptible to ending up in this category. People are still born with physical and mental disabilities. Women are still widowed, but at a far, far lower rate. More common than the literal widow and orphan are the women and children whose husbands have abandoned them or been incarcerated. Some of these women may have focused on child-rearing instead of the acquiring of vocational skills. Thus, they may not be able to fully support themselves when the loss hits. The people in these households, then, still need help, as well as the ever-present physically and mentally handicapped, the laid-off, etc.

However, with the exception of Jesus, our revered biblical guests would be amazed at just how few crippled, widowed, fatherless and flat out helpless there are. In biblical times, people were born and lived under very unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. As much as 50% of families with young children would have experienced the dead of at least one parent dead. Blindness was also a far, far, more widespread problem.

“The blindness from birth spoken of in the Bible was prob. Ophthalmic neonatorum (gonorrhea of the eyes). This has been the prime cause of infantile blindness for centuries. Women often harbor gonorrheal diplococci in their vaginas, even though they may be totally unaware of the infection. Then, when a baby is born, and it makes its passage down from the uterus, it may get some of the germs in its eyes. The conjunctiva of a baby is an ideal breeding place for gonococci, and in about three days the baby’s eyes run with pus. In many cases, permanent blindness results. In modern practice, antiseptic drops are placed in the infants eyes immediately after birth and the infective organisms that may be present are destroyed…The other frequent cause of blindness was trachoma. The infecting organism is a virus…Today’s sulfa drugs provide an easy and complete cure, but in former days it was a devastating illness.” [Ten.ZPE.Vol.2, 133]

Malnutrition and other medical maladies also lead to a much larger percentage of the population being crippled in lame, something that in modern America is virtually non-existent.

So, our visitors would probably smile at yet another vast chasm that separates ancient Israel and Rome from contemporary America. So few oppressed and so many empowered. So few blind and crippled and so many able-bodied. So many more who aren’t helpless and need to rely on the compassion of others. So many more who are able to fulfill the Bible’s requirement to support yourself if you are able.

This, again, is not a controversial point. Nearly every American would agree that help and material resources should be available to these people.

3. People who are poor because of the failure to use productive resources available to them, but realize their failure, and want to get their lives on track.

Now, here the disagreement begins to emerge, but it’s not so obvious at first. That these people are deserving of help is not a controversial point. But to illustrate the growing gap, we will tell a story, in Cahill-style prose;

Once there was a very rich, influential, and powerful man, living in a land that was enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity. The markets were buzzing. The construction industry was booming. Money was everywhere. However, this very rich tycoon was perfectly aware that there was a man who was not sharing in the prosperity that others were enjoying. This man was willing to work, but there was no work available for him to do. However, claimed the tycoon, this man had perfectly good access to the resources that would have enabled him to share in the wealth of the nation. But when it was time to cultivate those resources, this man just didn’t feel like doing it. The rich man would have been very angry and offended if someone had said that his wealth was causing the poverty of this man, because such a claim would have been mindless drivel. Neither would he have had much patience for claims that poverty in his affluent nation was a scandal, or a tragic injustice. No, this man actually argued that poverty, when it was due to poor choices, was, in fact, just tragic.

The land that I am describing is not Silicon Valley or Manhattan, and the man isn’t some heartless, profits-before-people Fortune 500 CEO, or some hateful, blowhard extremist right-wing radio talk show host a la Michael Savage. The man is….

AN INSPIRED AUTHOR OF HOLY SCRIPTURE!!!!

“ A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.” Prov. 20:4

Despite the vast differences in economies of our society and that of Ancient Israel, we can come up with some very close equivalents here. A young kid who doesn’t finish his schooling is just like the sluggard not plowing his field (which every family in ancient Israel got). And when he’s an adult (harvest time), he looks for a good paying job, and finds nothing. Sider’s claim that Biblical principles require a “living wage” to everyone who “works responsibly” misses an important detail. In ancient Israel, a family’s income depended on what they actually produced. Sure, you got resources to produce goods, but you still had to actually use what was given to you. To have an income that was comparable to others in the community, you had to do the same things that they did. And if you didn’t, they’re wasn’t some policy wonk going around saying, “Let’s see, the sluggard didn’t feel like plowing his field, so let’s create an incentive. If he plows 50% of his field next year, we’ll take enough produce from his neighbors so that he has the same income as if he had plowed 80%. And we need to hire some social workers to go around, find out why people aren’t planting in their fields, and then try to convince them that it’s a good idea to plant their fields.” Nope, Solomon’s administration certainly didn’t bother with that. Didn’t plant when you could have, you’re out of luck. So in some ways, America’s efforts to reach out actually supersede the Biblical requirements.

Now, there is good news here. As Marvin Olasky points out in his book The Tragedy of American Compassion, American Christians in the late 1800s faced a movement called Social Darwinism. Leaders of this movement saw the poor as needing to be eliminated, considered them worthless and incapable of change. But Christian and Jewish social workers, on the other hand, frequently enjoyed great successes in turning transient and/or alcoholic men into productive citizens. [Ola.TAC.60-98]

Unfortunately, people who fit this category are renewable. Poor people escape the choices that lead to their circumstances are lifted out and go on to a life of responsibility and industriousness all the time - but there is always a new bunch ready to replace them. Because of this, poverty will never completely be eliminated, even in our wealthy nation. That fact by no means excuses Christians from serving and coming to the aid of these people. But the fact of their poverty does not constitute injustice from a biblical standpoint. Simply throwing up a bunch of statistics about income and wealth divisions is biblically meaningless by itself. Only the causes of each matter.

Sider, Easterbrook, and the rest would argue that the Bible requires that people in this third category must immediately have a job that enables them to be lifted out of poverty.

A more biblical model, I would argue, is that they must do the things that other people do. By all means, they should have help in getting their high school diploma, aid for vocational training, tutoring, and any help that they may need in overcoming alcohol or drug dependencies. But that doesn’t mean that they are exempt from doing what others did to avoid poverty.

Equating the modern American high school dropout with the blind, crippled and trampled of Biblical times is unbecoming to them, and though it professes compassion, it is ultimately condescending, and it ends up making pets out of the poor, because it treats them as incompetent and unable to overcome the slightest obstacle in some of life’s most simple tasks.. But there is evidence that the poor, when given a chance, are far more capable than most prophet wannabes will give them credit for.

4. People who are poor because failure to use productive resources available to them and continue not to. Now, Sider is so sure that the existence of poverty is just so terrible that no one ever deserves to be in it that he claims “..we dare not leave today’s poor entangled in poverty that we can help correct.” [Sid.JG.102]. Once again, I am in agreement with Sider when it comes down to someone who wants to change, is willing to get an education that they neglected earlier and learn a marketable skill.

But there is nothing in scripture that even remotely suggests that poverty that is due to the repeated failure of a person to use his/her resources is unjust. Poverty of this kind is not a tragic injustice, it’s just tragic. It is not “morally unacceptable”. And if that sounds too heartless, let’s just review all of the things that the typical high school dropout has been given and what Sider, Easterbrook, and others say that we should offer.

We pay taxes for you to attend schools. And if you don’t feel like going to class, we’ll pay for people to try and convince you that it’s a good idea. But if you still don’t feel like going, you can always come back to adult school or try to get your GED. And from there, attend a community college, paid for with tax money. Or enroll in a tax-supported job training program. But, according to Sider, Easterbrook, and Wallis, if you don’t feel like doing any of that, we’ll place the blame on ourselves and offer you a job that, one way or the other, pays an amount that is comparable to the amount that you could have earned if you had actually completed your schooling. Or to put it another way, the fact that you don’t feel like working at the market wage level that is available to you is our fault. We’ll just keep offering you living wages and tax refunds on unpaid taxes until it’s enough to actually make you feel like working.

While Sider rightly recognizes the Biblical imperative that “a man that does not work shall not eat.” (I Thess. 3:10), he misses the main point, and that is not just an able bodied man should work, but he should do everything he can to avoid being a burden to others.

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” 1 Thess. 3:7-9

Loving my neighbor, then, cuts both ways. If I can’t help myself, love for me should compel my neighbor to help me. But, if I am able to help myself, love for my neighbor should compel me to not be a burden on him as much as I can help it. Thus, while Sider sees his scheme as rewarding work, responsibility, and self-support, it’s really not doing that. The message being sent, is once again, if you neglect your education, it’s ok. We’ll take money from the people that didn’t, and give it to you.

It is a serious misuse of the words of Jesus and the OT prophets to generate sympathy for people in this category and to say that they are oppressed, exploited, or victimized. They expressed compassion for those who could not help themselves. They offered not one word of compassion for those who were lying flat on their backs and refused to pull themselves up when offered a helping hand. And history has shown that there will always be people who fit into this category..

To sum up - the number of helpless people has been greatly reduced by far better social and sanitary conditions, even if it hasn’t been reduced down to zero. Thus many who would have been helpless in Biblical times are not poor, and behavior will be a far, far more likely cause of poverty than injustice, disability, or misfortune, as we thoroughly established in the previous essay. Just because the Biblical material is far more likely to speak of the poor as helpless does not mean that if there aren’t enough helpless people, it is necessary to invent them. As even Easterbrook admits,

“Statistics show that in order to avoid becoming poor in the United States, you must do three things: graduate from high school, marry after the age of twenty, and marry before having your first child. Only 8 percent of those who do these three things become poor as adults, whereas 79 percent of poor adults have failed to do these three things.” [East.PP.54]

Is Socialism Part of Being Pro-Family?

In the last essay, we noted that Sider gave several reasons for the breakdown of the two-parent family. There is the obvious loosening of sexual standards over the last 40 year s or so, and the increased acceptance of divorce. He passionately calls for Christians to continue their efforts to reform the social mores being taught by both public schools and the entertainment industry. For this, we enthusiastically applaud him.

But he also argued that economic factors also play a role in the breakdown of the family. Lack of job and educational opportunities for low-skilled men, especially minorities, keep them from marrying their girlfriends, and this, according to Sider leads to illegitimacy. So, income redistribution is needed to strengthen the family.

In evaluating the incomes of men in the 25-34 age group, I must say that Sider has ignored the “Gen-X slacker factor”. That comes from my experience of being a 35-year-old single male who has had numerous chums and roommates over the last ten years that fit into this category A lot of guys in this group are content to work for less than full time at the local Starbucks and only make enough to pay for rent and the occasional movie, concert, or pizza. Some of them have their college degrees in hand, and two I know spent more than a decade in college without getting a degree. And many of them were from white, middle-class backgrounds. Interestingly enough, getting a serious girlfriend actually got some them in gear to go out and find a way to earn enough to support a family. Why do so many young men not make enough to support a family? The answer in part, at least, is because they don’t have to.

The Now-Available-but-Largely-Neglected Anti-Poverty Program

There is a very effective anti-poverty program that isn’t mentioned at all in Sider‘s book. It may be difficult to blame him, though, since it receives scant attention. Unfortunately, it is being used less and less. And that program’s name is: ADOPTION.

Adoption solves every problem for all involved without making a mother and her children dependant on taxpayers. The mother can get her life together, go on and complete an education, get married, and start a new family when she is ready. The child isn’t condemned to a life of poverty. A couple that is ready to provide for the child but can’t conceive themselves gets a child. Granted, it is no doubt difficult for a mother to give up a child that she has carried inside of her for nine months. But once again, Biblical principles do not in any way support the notion that you have a right not to be poor and only do whatever you feel like doing.

But as the stigma of having a child out of wedlock has declined, so has the percentage of children given up for adoption. Prior to 1973, 8.7% of children born out of wedlock were given up for adoption But by the 1989-95 period, this number had dropped to an anemic 0.9% (Center For Disease control data here, figure 22), despite the fact that waiting lists for couples willing to adopt are often lengthy. No mother who conceives out of wedlock needs to be poor.

Of course, that so many “poor” Americans are not really needy means that the situation of households headed by a never-married mother are overstated. But in the case where real neediness exists, can we then call real poverty that is due to illegitimacy an injustice? The answer, I believe, is both no and yes. As far as the mother is concerned, it is not. A mother who doesn’t give her child up when she can’t provide for it hasn’t made one bad choice, but is continuing to make bad choices. is not . In the case of the poor unfortunate child, it is a tragic injustice, but the oppressor is not Bill Gates, Wal-Mart, or politicians that cut taxes, but the mother herself.

News! These Guys Aren’t Helpless After All!

In 1990-94, 39% of out of wedlock births were to cohabitating couples. (CDC, Table 15, page 9). Current estimates put that number at about 50%, and the conclusion to be drawn from that is that the parents of these children in fact can afford to support themselves.

What’s more, there has been a dramatic shift in exactly who is giving birth to children out of wedlock. (Figure 14)

Age of mother

1970

1999

Under 20

50%

29%

20-29

42%

55%

30+

8%

15%

 

The typical never-married mother is getting older and older, and so are the fathers. More and more out-of-wedlock births are to men and women well into their twenties (or even thirties), who should have figured out how to support themselves by that point in their lives. And indeed, a number of them have, given that so many of these children are born to cohabitating couples.

In 2003, a mere 5.4% of married-couple families were poor. (See data here). And Sider, failing to draw some important conclusions from the very data he presents, reminds us that the long-term poverty among married couple families is 11 times less likely than among single parents!

We must acknowledge that that poverty among married-couple families is hardly a significant problem, not enough to justify more giveaways to strengthen the family, as two people that marry without being prepared to earn much more than minimum wage for the foreseeable future already have responsibility issues and problems that wage supplements aren’t going to solve. It is biblical to expect men and women to support themselves and not rely on handouts when possible, and not to do so is a very serious sin;

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” 1 Tim. 5:8

I Heard An Old, Old Story, Why Fewer Men Want to Marry

One of reasons that people are waiting longer to get married stems from the fact that increasing numbers of young single men are unwilling to get married, and do not show an interest in ever doing so. Why? One obvious answer harkens back to the old adage “Why buy the cow if the milk’s for free?” Women came off as the big losers in the sexual revolution. While it is certainly true that sex is important to most women, and long term commitment to most men, it is also true that there will be more men who can live without commitment. And if sex is available without it, there are still too many young men who will say, “why bother?” As the Rev. Donald Sensing, one of the internet’s most prominent socio-political bloggers has said

“Most women agree to cohabit thinking it will lead to marriage, but most men ask women to live with them so they don’t have to marry them. Forty of every hundred cohabiting couples never marry one another. Of the sixty cohabiting couples who do marry one another, forty-five divorce within ten years. Simply put as a general rule, women agree to cohabit and give a man sex in the hope that marriage will result. Men who cohabit do so to get sex and domestic benefits without the commitment of marriage. What’s wrong with this picture?“ (Oct. 20, 2003)

Granted, premarital sex has always been a problem. Prior to the sexual revolution, most men would be sexually experienced (having been with a prostitute or very loose woman), while women were not. Women would typically withhold sex until engagement. Was this situation Biblically acceptable? Of course not. But still, men would still have to get married if they wanted sex to be a regular part of their lives. And women could get the commitment that they desired by withholding it. Now that this is gone, women are finding it harder (though no means impossible) to find men to marry them.

This is part of the family breakdown, and renders void the nonsensical idea that there will be no societal side effects to premarital sex if we simply educate kids about birth control. Society would be much better off if premarital sex was still frowned upon and discouraged, even if it has always existed and will never go away.

How Generous Should We Be?

As we noted earlier, aid to those who aren’t able to provide for themselves due to circumstances beyond their control is not particularly controversial. But there is the question - how generous should this aid be? Sider doesn’t talk about this too much, but he does speak ambiguously of the need for disability and unemployment insurance to be “generous.”

“Generous unemployment insurance is also essential. Many people lose their jobs each year through no fault of their own…Generous unemployment insurance provides temporary help so they and their families do not go hungry or lose their homes.” [Sid.RC.114]

“Some people are too old or too disabled (physically or mentally) to earn an income.

We should provide them with a generous sufficiency so they can live dignified lives.”

[Sid.RC.185]

Given this, and the fact that Sider speaks so favorably of Europe’s generous social safety nets, would mean to imply that aid now should be more generous than it is. But as we have noted in previous essays, the biblical provisions were not as generous as Sider and many others would like us to believe. Instead of handouts, the Bible favored loans, left-over food, and food offered at cost. And once again, the aim was to meet people’s basic needs, and not much more.

Why was aid to be so spartan? Although it is not explicitly stated, it seems likely that the Bible prescribes more modest, needs-based means of aid, rather than parity-based aid, to provide a check against sinfulness and to discourage persistent free-loading. The more free money you offer, the greater the supply of able-bodied people willing to take it. A common saying from early in American history was “The more paupers you support, the more you will have to support.” [Ola.TAC.43-44].

Government Aid

Sider rightly observes that it simply is impossible to eliminate all government social programs. Non-profits and churches simply do not have the resources and cohesion that governments do.

Medicaid alone in 1997 cost $172.5 billion. If the 325,00 religious congregations in the United States tried to shoulder that load, each local congregation would have to raise an extra $529,000 per year.” [Sid.RC.151]

However, it is important to pay attention to what the weaknesses of government aid are.

1) Lack of accountability - it isn’t for no reason that the Bible encourages families to take care of their own before those who are less close to the needy. Families, and after that churches, are more able to determine whether a needy person is deserving or undeserving of aid. Thus governments necessarily must (or should) require more documentation and paperwork to be completed to establish eligibility. If it were not so, and money was given out more freely, many people would come running. But this leads to another problem.

2) Lack of flexibility - government aid, because it is necessarily cumbersome to get, simply isn’t suited to help people who suddenly need money to pay for a large car repair bill or can’t quite make rent for a month. It may help to think as government as a vacuum cleaner, and non-government charities and churches as dust busters. It is very difficult and impractical to try to clean an entire house with a dust buster, but there are many hard-to-reach spots that a vacuum cleaner can’t get. In these cases, churches and other non-profits are more equipped to fill the gap.

3) Aid may be available, but not taken - As we noted in the previous essay, there are already a number of people eligible for government assistance, such as the EITC or Pell Grant, that do not do so, for a variety of reasons. There are people who won’t seek out help, or aren’t aware of it. Also, those who are responsible for distributing aid may not always be aware of who is needy.

There is also the issue of children who are being raised by negligent parents, as Charles Murray tells us in his preface to Olasky’s book;

“It is nearly impossible in the contemporary United States for a mother to be left without a way to provide her children with a decent diet. Government programs, beginning with the AFDC and food stamps and working down through a long list of special food programs, not to mention churches, neighbors, and a profusion of private services, offer ways for a competent mother even in the most desperate of circumstances to make sure her child’s stomach is filled with good food every day. And yet, many children are malnourished.” [Olas.TAC.xiv]

It is also instructive to note that even in European countries with generous welfare largess, they are still talking about the continued existence of poverty, hunger, and homelessness, as these examples from Germany, Sweden, and France show. At some point, more money stops helping.

There is also one more issue to look at. Inevitably some hunger will occur among those who have the means to purchase food, but spend their money on drugs, alcohol, gambling, or some other vice. Given this and some of the logistics problems described above, it would seem that we will never get to a point where we have eliminated all hunger.

Wage Supplements

Given what we have said about the responsibility are wage supplements like the EITC and assistance with child care for low-income single parents justified? I believe that the answer is yes, because a number of these people still fit into the “poor because of circumstances” category. Women who are suddenly abandoned or widowed may be unable to provide for themselves, do in fact need this kind of help

However, Sider seems to think that because these supplements to working low-income households are a good thing, we should then keep expanding them. But at some point instead of helping the needy, you are simply rewarding the wrong kind of behavior, I.e. the failure to acquire marketable skills. It is admittedly a fine line to walk, but we should still try.

Would A Second New Deal be a Big Deal?

We will make a few brief comments about Sider’s proposed Work Program to give all who desire a job a government guaranteed job. First of all, I do think there is some merit to this. For many people, an additional difficulty with being unemployed is simply feeling unproductive. Thus, I think that creating a public works program under the umbrella of our current unemployment insurance programs (that already uses those funds) merits discussion.

Now, can we guarantee a job for everyone that wants one? On a practical level this may be difficult. It is hard to imagine government officials always being able to locate productive work that needs to be done within a reasonable distance of every single unemployed person, especially for those living in small, isolated communities. But when a certain project can be done, we can make it a requirement for receiving unemployment money, perhaps requiring 24-32 hours of work a week, with the rest being left free to seek for permanent employment. And this type of employment should generally only be available to those who are eligible for unemployment aid under current requirements. We do not want to reward freshly minted high school dropouts with a job.

Sider considers the number of people that we are going to get to come out for these jobs to be an unknown,

“It is true that some people deny that there are many people unable to find low-skill jobs. The truth is that we do not know for sure…If there is little need for such PSE (Public Service Employment), then few people will apply and the cost will be modest.” [Sid.RC.110]

It is interesting to note that of those below the poverty level and older than the age of 16, there were 15.4 million who did not work at all in 2003. (See here). Of those, only 891,000, or 6%, citied “being unable to find work” as the reason. In fact, of the possible answers it came in dead last, and by a wide margin. The other reasons were:

 

Reason

Number

Percent

Ill or Disabled

4.2 million

27.0%

Retired

3.7 million

24.0%

Home Or Family Reasons

3.3 million

21.2%

School Or Other

3.4 million

26.2%

 

Of those who were retired, nearly a million were under the age of 65, including 9,000 jokers who were 16 or 17, 21,000 who were 18 to 24, and 62,000 who were 25 to 34! So it is a combination of not being able to work and choosing not to work, much more than not being able to find work. This also ties fairly well with the Bureau of labor Statistics, who reported that in 2003 that the number of people who were counted as discouraged workers was only 466,000 - and that year was when the labor market was at it’s lowest point in the past decade.

We are unlikely to get those who aren’t in the labor force and thus aren’t counted in the unemployed category . As we noted in the fourth essay, the bottom fifth, whether it be for a few brief years during college or long-term, have resources that allow them to live at 173 percent of the poverty level. Sider chose to rationalize away Robert Rector’s analysis, and this leads him to think in offering the non-working poor an income of 120 to 130 percent, he’s offering water to a parched man in the desert. Rather, it’s more like offering water to a man who already has a 32 oz. Pepsi, and he’s left unprepared for how few takers he may get.

Welfare Reform

Sider starts his chapter on welfare reform by giving a fairly detailed history of the U.S. welfare system, from it’s origins in the 1930s up until 1996. He presents a summary of the provisions of that law, which include a five-year limit for an adult’s entire life, a two-year work requirement (recipients must work at least 20 hours a week after that point, or lose their benefits), strengthened enforcement of child support policies, and programs to reduce out of wedlock births.

After that, he presents his evaluation of the 1996 law. Sider in particular likes the final two provisions mentioned above. He does still have some serious reservations, though.

“There are disturbing reports that many - if not most - of the people dropped from the rolls have not found long-term jobs and certainly not have escaped poverty. Many church-based social ministries also have reported dramatic increases in requests for emergency food and housing, which, they believe, result from the changes in the welfare system.” [Sid.RC.181]

No doubt such a dramatic change was not going to go off without a hitch. There were bound to be problems, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that welfare reform was not worth doing. Here in 2005, we stand in a much better position to evaluate the changes.

In 1996, when the reforms were enacted, the poverty rate for single mothers stood at 41.9%. By 1998, it had only dropped to 38.7%. However, by December 2000, the rate had declined to 33.0%, which was a record low. Was this simply due to the robust economy at that time? Apparently not, for as the economy worsened, the poverty rate for single moms saw only very modest increases in poverty. In fact, all of the years 2001-03 had unemployment rates higher than 1996, yet the poverty rate for single moms never came close to 1996 levels.

 

Year

Poverty rate, single moms

Unemployment rate

1996

41.9%

5.4%

2001

33.6%

5.7%

2002

33.7%

6.0%

2003

35.5%

5.7%

2004

35.9%

5.4%

 

 

(Data for poverty found here, scroll about 55-60% of the way down. Data for U.S. unemployment found here).

What has really been dramatic, however, is the rapid decline in the number of children who experienced hunger at any time during a given year.

 

Year

Children experiencing hunger (In thousands)

Percentage of all children

1998

716

1.0%

1999

511

0.7%

2000

562

0.8%

2001

467

0.6%

2002

567

0.8%

2003

420

0.6%

 

(From USDA data here, Table 1, Page 6) From this, it appears that welfare moms who haven’t found work are instead relying on help from family, boyfriends, etc., and haven’t

One needed change that took place is that welfare offices have begun making more of an effort to keep people from getting on welfare if they can avoid it.

“In 1992, Barbara Sabol, then New York City's welfare commissioner, visited two of her own welfare offices dressed in a "sweatshirt, jeans, and scarf or wig." She told the welfare workers she needed a job in order to care for her children, but regardless of how hard she tried, she could not get the workers to help her find a job…

Today, Sabol would find that welfare workers are eager to find jobs for their clients. Across the nation, the culture of welfare offices has changed, from places where mothers are signed up for benefits (with almost no questions asked) to places where they are helped, cajoled, and, yes, even pressured to get a job or rely on others for support. The General Accounting Office described the change this way: "Under states' welfare reform programs, participation requirements are being imposed sooner than under JOBS [the old welfare regime], with many states requiring participation in job search activities immediately upon application for assistance. Before reform, recipients could wait months–or even years–before being required to participate, and many never were required to participate because of the lack of sufficient services and staff…

Many welfare offices are now "job centers," where workers help applicants find employment. Depending on the office, these centers can teach resume-writing and interviewing skills; provide access to word processors, fax machines, telephones, and even clothes; offer career counseling and financial-planning services; and refer individuals to employers who have specific job openings. In a survey of Texas welfare recipients who left the rolls in December 1996, over 60 percent said that the welfare agency "gave me the kind of help I needed."

Some of this is boosterism, plain and simple, with welfare workers giving young mothers the moral support they often need. As one worker said, "Some of these women never thought that they could get a job. We give them the confidence to try."

The welfare system was a tragedy and provides a key example of what happens when capable people are reinvented as helpless. Reforming it was necessary, and we wait in vain for an apology from those who said that it was warfare against the most vulnerable.

Immigration

Since Sider lives in Philadelphia, where immigration from Latin America doesn’t affect daily life nearly as much as it does in the Southwest. I, on the other hand, live in California, where immigration issues dominate public life so pervasively that you can’t get around it. This will require a digression from our current train of thought, and we will primarily limit our discussion to the effects of immigration towards the availability of low-skilled jobs and the rate of wages that those workers receive.

The current situation is basically this; the U.S. has laws restricting the number of legal immigrants and resident aliens that can come into the country. As a matter of practical fact, however, we have an open border. The border patrol catches some would-be entrants, and deports them - only to see them come back. (I once shared a desk with a man who was caught by the border patrol seventeen times). Once the alien gets beyond the border, gets settled into a place to live, and gets some work, his chances of being deported are slim as long as he stays out of legal trouble. Latino immigrants frequently do some type of manual labor, especially construction, gardening, house cleaning, and agriculture. When illegal immigrants apply for these jobs, employers are usually quite aware that the papers being handed to them are likely forgeries, but the government does not require them to detect the forgeries, so they are hired. After a while, they sort of become de facto legal. Their kids can enroll in American schools, and they are eligible for state sponsored medical care. California, of course, tried to end this ten years ago with the controversial Proposition 187. Though it passed overwhelmingly, it was ruled unconstitutional.

It is important not to cast blame on the people who come here. It is common to say that they are not respecting our laws by coming here, but honestly, can you blame them? When there are no jobs in rural areas of Mexico or El Salvador, and the choice is between seeing your family not get enough to eat, or just barely get enough, crossing the U.S. border and forging working papers understandably seem as harmless as jaywalking. The reason that they are coming here is that Mexico, and other Latino countries, suffer from many of the maladies that permeate the Third World that we studied in the second and third essays of this series. Jobs are few because of inadequate legal systems and pervasive corruption all the way down to local police.

The question is, what should be done about this state of affairs? At this point, there is a fairly broad public consensus that we should at least know who is here, due to the obvious security threats that an open border poses in a 9/11 world. But beyond that, how many should we take in? Should we limit it to the number of legal immigrants that we allow already? We have two basic choices; we can either maintain the status quo, or we can do more to close the border, including putting military forces on the border to reinforce the existing border patrol. We will submit some of the most pertinent arguments for and against tightening the border.

Arguments for allowing the current level of alien influx.

1. This is an outstanding way to help out the poor in Latin America. Remittances by immigrants back to Mexico and Central America often exceed the foreign aid amounts, and without the problem of this money shrinking as it funnels through government middlemen.

2. Those aliens that come here do enjoy a substantially better life than they could in Latin America. While there are examples of recent immigrants living in rather poor conditions (particularly in South Texas’s many colonia communities), but that is not the norm. California farmer Victor Davis Hanson describes his experience living in the San Joaquin Valley town of Selma, CA;

“I live in the poorest section of one of the poorest counties in California, and people of all sorts are just not starving. Wal-Mart is packed. The local Blockbuster video store is teeming. I can go into town and hear no English spoken at all, even as I see women with carts full of food, clothes, and electronic goods. New Kias, Ford pickups and space-age baby strollers dot the shopping-center parking lot.” [Han.MSB.56]

3. It gives the children of these workers the opportunities that are available here. (Though the percentage of these children taking advantage of the opportunities given to them is somewhat disappointing.)

4. These workers are only taking jobs that native Americans won’t do. They play an important role in the American economy. Agriculture would be especially hard hit. Basically, they are doing our “dirty work”.

5. Some studies suggest that immigrants contribute a net gain of taxes to the country, due in no large part to the fact that they will never collect Social Security taxes that they pay into via phony SS numbers. They actually pay more in taxes than in services consumed.

Arguments For Tightening up the Border

1. Wages for low-skilled workers decline because of this pattern. Very simply, our economy is seeing an increase in the supply of low-skilled labor, while demand remains fairly stagnant.

2. Illegal Immigrants are actually a minority in the labor force of the industries that they typically work in. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, they make up only 19% of the nation’s farm labor, 17% of cleaning labor, and 12% of construction labor. (See page 27 - of course, these are much higher in the border states. So to say that American citizens won’t do these jobs at all simply isn’t true. More would be willing to do them, certainly, if wages were higher.

3. Some jobs would simply be eliminated without serious disruption. For example, it used to be that only the wealthy could afford to have someone mow their lawn or clean their house. Now, middle-class people are increasingly hiring gardeners, nannies, etc. Without the influx, many would simply go back to mowing their own lawns.

4. Some jobs could simply be replaced by automation. The supply of cheap labor makes productivity-boosting capital investment unattractive. This article describes some of the grape and raisin harvesting technology developed in Australia, where farmers did not have a ready supply of cheap labor.

5. Even if illegal immigrants do contribute a net surplus in taxes at the NATIONAL level through Social Security taxes (and some would argue the point), it isn’t true at a state level. The services consumed by immigrants (primarily education and health care) are largely consumed at the state level. States, particularly California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, must bear the brunt of the costs of immigration.

Each side has good points to make, and either choice involves some give and take. On balance, it isn’t a strong overall economic advantage to the U.S. to continue to allow the open border, and lower-income Americans who have to compete with foreigners for jobs take the biggest hit. On the other hand, we are helping large numbers of poor people who originate outside of the U.S. Scripture doesn’t give a whole lot of guidance here, other than Leviticus 19:33-34

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.”

However, this says nothing about how open an immigration policy you should have. It would mean, I believe, that if we are going to allow illegals to live here and treat them as de facto legals, we must be prepared to educate their children. And if they mow our lawns and pick our fields, we just can’t allow them to go without health care when they are seriously sick.

In conclusion, I would submit that the Bible is really neutral on this point.. Allowing the current level of immigrants helps many of the poor outside of the U.S., but it is primarily going to come at the expense of lower-income native-born Americans (who may be lower income through unfortunate circumstances), or even recent immigrants, as they must compete for jobs with newly legal and illegal immigrants. This summer, Fresno area farmers have gotten a taste of what can happen to unskilled wage rates when the spigot’s flow is lessened.

“Fewer migrant workers are crossing the border illegally because of more border patrol agents, human smugglers raising their prices and the Minuteman Project that put civilian patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border, workers and federal officials say. And because fewer migrants are coming, those who do can choose better-paying jobs, often in construction and landscaping.” (“A Tough Road to Hoe”, The Fresno Bee. August 7, 2005)

There is, however, no free lunch that allows us to maintain or increase low-skilled wage rates when the supply of low-skilled workers continues to exceed demand.

Health Care

(Disclaimer: Sider’s chapter on health care is a general sketch of the issue and possible solutions, and my discussion will be as well. This topic is, as you surely know, huge, and I would not consider myself qualified to proscribe a remedy for all of the problems in our health care system. However, I do believe that there are some clear-cut and easy choices that can decrease the number of the uninsured, and there are some clear-cut and demonstrable problems with some of the solutions that Sider proffers.)

“Nearly forty-three and a half million Americans lack health insurance. Bob George is a dear friend and fellow elder in the small city church I attend. Bob also has a $100,000 medical bill he and his family can never repay. “

Sider goes on to note that Mr. George’s family was covered by his health insurance from his work of managing a small drug and alcohol treatment agency. This agency went under, and he lost his medical insurance. Then, Bob got cancer, and the bills quickly piled up to $100,000.

“Distribution according to need is sometimes a biblical imperative…In the United States today, however, the market rather than need largely determines who gets health care. That is why 43.4 million largely poor people lack health insurance. They do not have the money to buy it. Biblical truth demands that this injustice end….Unlike the United States, every other wealthy nation today guarantees health care to every citizen, no matter how poor.” [Sid.RC.141]

Here I’m much more inclined to agree with Sider’s theological assumptions. Health care really is a need category because without it, someone may die or be disabled for the rest of their life. The problem is that with other basic needs, like food and clothing, production can simply be increased. The supply of health care, however, depends on the availability of skilled labor, which is always scarce, and providing it for every person in a society will always be a complex problem fraught with imperfections.

First of all, though, we issue a challenge to the 43 million, which is the figure given by the Census Bureau at the time Sider wrote his book. (The 2004 number was 47 million.) But the Congressional Budget Office has challenged these numbers on the basis that this figure actually reflects the total number of people who are uninsured at any time during the entire year. Two other surveys, which ask people about the status of their health coverage every four months, conclude that the number uninsured at any given point in time is actually 21-31 million, meaning that the true number is 25-50% less than what is So at least part of the problem disappears upon close examination. Furthermore, the issue of those who are eligible for Medicaid programs but are not enrolled in them is a murky one. There is a provision that allows them to receive retroactive coverage upon incurring medical expenses. So all in all, while the problem is still large, it is somewhat smaller than it appears.

Sider offers three options for making sure that all Americans are covered [Sid.JG.146]:

1) A Single-payer plan similar to Canada. The government provides coverage for all citizens.

2) Forcing employers to provide health coverage to all of their employees. Sider sees this as the most politically feasible, since the previous option went down in flames during the early years of the Clinton administration.

3) Mandating that everyone purchase health insurance, in the way that we mandate everyone to have auto Insurance. Sider says that this would be difficult to administer and would also require a subsidy for low-income workers.

We will deal with the first option right away. European countries have a similar system , except that individuals may purchase private insurance to supplement or opt out of the national plan. Sider says that “As a person whose extended family lives in Canada, I know that a single-payer system is much better than U.S. citizens frequently admit. But I do not have enough knowledge to argue for that option.” [Sid.JG.146]

There is one well-known disadvantage with Canada’s system as compared to the U.S. While Canada does quite well in supplying enough general practitioners, the U.S. does a much better job of supplying enough specialists. Government sponsored health insurance faces an inherent weakness. Specialists, as a rule, command very high salaries. But for governments to pay the market rate for these specialists, they must raise taxes to even higher levels, which is generally a politically and economically bad move. So, government compensates by offering specialist payouts below their market rate. And when that happens, the supply will inevitably not show up. Thus, waiting times to see specialists in Canada can be lengthy.

“The fact is, though, that Canada's system is riddled with problems, many stemming from inadequate funding. As a result, delays of several months are common before seeing a specialist or getting nonemergency surgery.”

For his part, Kioussis said the month he waited between seeing his family doctor and his surgery did not seem unreasonable. He admitted, though, that because of a personal connection between his brother and the surgeon, the doctor operated on him just before he left for vacation.”

And if you’re a Mountie, criminal, or another member of society who’s given priority, you can get health care faster, too. So much for the myth of government sponsored health care providing a totally egalitarian system where you have an equal chance of getting care regardless of social standing!

What’s important about this is that specialists role in health care is extremely important. Many of the things we see a general practitioner for (Pulled muscles, colds & minor illnesses) would often heal themselves on their own, though treatment can lessen the discomfort and length. But having to wait months for bypass surgery is, well, scary.

So, when Sider claims that “every other wealthy nation today guarantees health care to every citizen, no matter how poor”, we need to point out that providing universal health insurance and guaranteeing health care to every citizen are two different things. In reality, no society has figured out a way to guarantee health care to everyone. One rather extreme example came from France in August of 2003. As you may recall, a record heat wave resulted in over 10,000 people from dying from something as treatable as heatstroke. Normally, record heat causes a few deaths, but in this case, inept government and the fact that nearly everyone goes on vacation during August meant that victims could not be treated, even though universal health care was offered.

As we previously noted the European countries allow individuals to purchase private insurance to cover gaps in the socialized medicine net. Obviously, if single payer systems could deliver the same goods, there would be no need to do this. Those with higher incomes are still going to get better care, and a two-tier system still exists.

There seems to be so little to be gained by making such a huge sweeping, change to our health care system. We are, after all, talking about extending health care to the final 15% percent of the population. Instead, we need to look a multiplicity of changes. There are several things that can be done (and likely many more not mentioned here.).

The first order of business concerns Sider’s second option - mandating employers to provide health coverage to all of their employees. Unfortunately, it makes the wrong assumption - businesses don’t want to cover their employees. It is often insinuated in left-wing rants that large corporations are dropping health insurance to pay excessive CEO salaries. But the reality is that the larger the company, the more likely it is to offer health benefits.

Size of Company (employees)

Percent of Employers Offering Health Coverage

Fewer than 10

52%

50

87%

200

99%

 

(Source: Kaiser Family Foundation study cited here)

Now, what possibly could be the cause of this? Are people who run larger corporations just more compassionate and smaller business owners just stingy and heartless? That’s absurd, of course. Instead, the deal is that employers have to offer health coverage if they wish to be competitive in attracting employees. But, because they don’t have enough employees, they do not generate the kind of quantity discount that a larger employer does, so they are less likely to be able to offer coverage. Now, don’t you think they would like to be competitive in competing with large employers?

The solution is to allow small businesses to form associations that allow them to bargain with insurance companies as a group, so they can get those same quantity price breaks. As of this writing, the House of Respresentatives has passed the Small Business Bill of Rights, which allows small businesses to form these associations.

Without this, mandating that all employers offer health benefits would have the same effect as a sharp spike in the minimum wage - it would drive up the cost of labor to the point where some smaller employers would have no choice but to close shop or cut back on workers. And since small business generates 75% of new jobs, this is obviously a bad idea.

May this bill enjoy safe passage through the rest of the process.

Sider’s third option, requires everyone to have health insurance.

Actually, this is very similar to the Swiss system, which is unique in Western Europe that it avoids much of the paternalism that exists in other European states. There, private insurers must insure anyone that walks through the door. Lower income citizens are charged a reduced rate, and the difference is made up through tax-financed subsidies. Former Senator John Breaux (D-LA) has advocated something similar: a refundable tax credit to those with lower incomes to help them purchase at least a “basic plan”.

If any new tax-supported social program for the poor deserves more discussion, it is this one, in my opinion. How much it would cost, where the money would come from, and exactly what a “basic plan “ would cover are details to work out. It may be helpful, though, to look at it this way - the cost of treating uninsured patients who can’t pay is passed on to the consumer through higher premiums. We will pay for the health care costs of the uninsured one way or the other, whether through higher insurance premiums or taxes. Coverage for all, though, will at least encourage those who are not insured now not to delay seeking medical care because of their inability to pay, as well as partially help keep premiums from continuing to climb. However, keeping with the principals that we’ve been operating under, we should only use this option after everything that can be done to improve health coverage via the private market has been exhausted.

Sider argues that this would be difficult to administer, but doesn’t specify why. If the policy is to require purchasing health assurance, then it would be difficult to enforce. An obvious solution to this is not to enforce it. Simply offer this subsidy, publicize it strongly, and then leave the ball in the court of individual responsibility. Anyone not taking it simply accepts the risks of not having health insurance.

Health Savings Accounts

Health Savings Accounts were first allowed on a national level in beginning in January 2004. When Sider was writing this book, it’s passage was still up for debate, and he offered this conclusion.

“What is wrong with this plan? A lot. First, it would siphon off younger, healthier people and leave a disproportionately larger number of sick and older people with conventional insurance. Insurance plans work by spreading the risk. In any year, most of us stay healthy and need far less for medical bills than our insurance premiums pay.

However, there is a fallacious assumption here. It is assumed that the chronically sick would choose conventional insurance rather than H.S.A.’s, because they would have to pay more out of pocket money than they would under conventional insurance. What this ignores, though, is that a chronically sick person usually will have to pay substantial out of pocket amounts with conventional insurance anyway. Most plans require an upfront deductible, and then some sort of percentage co-pay, with some sort of out of pocket maximum. But this maximum is not usually much smaller than the deductible allowed under an HAS less some employer contribution to the account..

Lastly, Sider complains that Republican proposals in 1998 would allow anyone at any income level to open an HSA and invest the money tax free, with the result that this could be a huge tax shelter for the wealthy (and this was true with the version that passed last year). And indeed, the H.S.A.’s that were allowed beginning in 2004 had this feature. [Sid.RC.149] However, we must consider that with the top income tax rate at 35%, a deposit of $4,500 would result in a tax savings of a whopping $1,575 a year per household. If all of the top 5% of households (about 5.5 million) all took advantage of this, the total would come to a rather paltry $8.6 billion.

The widespread use of H.S.A’s has one very good potential upshot. When someone takes a new job, they frequently become eligible for health benefits after a 90 day period. They may be able to continue their old coverage under COBRA, but this is often expensive. With an H.S.A., the account can be maintained to pay any out of pocket expenses during this time AND to continue paying the high-deductable insurance premium.

I’m afraid I just can’t get too outraged about this, and certainly this would not have been a reason for Christians to campaign against H.S.A.’s being allowed.

 

Reference Notes

[Ola.TAC] Olasky, Marvin The tragedy of American Compassion. Washington, D.C. Regnery Publishing, 1982

[East.PP] Easterbrook, Greg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. New York. Random House, 2003

[Han.MSB] Hanson, Victor Davis. Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. San Francisco, Encounter Books. 2003

[Sid. JG] Sider, Ron. Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker, 1999

[Ten.ZPE] Tenney, Merrill C. (Editor) The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible

[Ther.NE] Thernstrom, Abigail and Stephan. No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Education. New York, Simon and Schuster. 2003.

[Wall.GP] Wallis, Jim. God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. San Francisco, HaperCollins.2005