…. along with a host of other (not random) musings on economics.
I don’t share the same passionate ire for Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly that I many other, mostly sensible individuals of progressive stripe tend to posses. In fact, I find his unashamed boorishness occassionally enjoyable kind of like Korean bean curd (dwen jjang), obscenely stinky stuff, but when applied correctly makes for a bold, tasty stew. I think the above interview with mah man Obama represents such an occassion.
For everyone who (justifiably) knocks down Fox News for being biased, there are some occassions, like the case of O’Reilly where his unashamed biases makes for a thoughtfully productive conversation. And to be completely honest, as someone who consumes way too much news, the conversation was kind of refreshing. For me watching, O’Reilly and Obama’s conversation boiled down to a fundamental economic question: What is the role of government in the lives of its citizines, with respect to taxes? And here are the facts of Obama’s position, that I can figure out to the best of my ability:
Accordint to Fact Check.org, Obama wants to cut taxes for 81.3% of American households (Obama likes to say 95%), which will undoubtedly come in the form of tax relief for lower and middle class families. He is, however, proposing corporate tax increases, which the Obama camp spins as “closing tax loopholes.”
O’Reilly shares his honest feelings about it:
You’re taking the wealthy in America and the big earners, OK, you’re taking money away from them and you’re giving it to people who don’t. That’s called income redistribution. It’s a socialist tenant. Come on, you know that. You went to Harvard…You’re going, I’m taking from the rich. I’m Robin Hood Obama.
If you take out some of the mumbo-jumbo on the capital gains tax percentages and payroll taxes, O’Reilly is basically saying its not right for the government to tax the rich that much because 1) its not fair and 2) Its income redistribution and 3) It actually depresses economic growht (the ulitmate argument being whether or not the Bush tax cuts stimulated economic growth).
I’m MOST thankful that at least out of this discussion, there were some clear positional distinctions that emerged, unlike the two weeks of conventions where both parties spewed meaningless cliches like “we’re for the people…” etc…
For me, that’s the looming question that is of utmost importance during this election… what kind of society are we advocating?
For Obama and the Democrats it boils down to, can the rich handle a little more taxes so that those who are trying to make in the middle class can get what they need, education, healthcare, etc. Its initiating governemnt programs to help those in need.
For O’Reilly and some Republicans (I question how much integrity the Reps across the board have in pursuing their platform), its about lowering taxes, esp. for corporations and investments hoping to spur economic growth and job creation. Its curtailing wasteful government spending in make a more effecient economy.
OK let me add this proviso… I have not taken an economics class before. I’m learning this all on the fly. So all you nerds out there please forgive me (or CORRECT me) if I’m out line hear. Wikipedia, which is for better or worse, the easiest source for my current economic education, I think lays it out in its comparisson between Social Liberalism and Classical Liberalism:
Classical liberalism believes that the provision of negative freedom constitutes liberty and is therefore a strictly laissez-faire philosophy. Social liberalism, however, sees a role for the State in providing positive liberty for individuals. They believe that lack of positive rights, such as economic opportunity, education, health-care, and so on can be considered to be threats to liberty.
That is a genuine argument that I think needs to fleshed out more in public discource. Its so sad that you NEVER see thoughtful conversations and debates about this key issue.
The NY Times recently had an article submiting that history is showing that the GNP grew faster under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. And furthermore, while families in the 95% percentile fared about the same, those in the lower percentiels fared consistently better under Democratic presidents.
But of course, I don’t know enough about economics to say if that’s really true or not, but either way the deeper question I’m asking myself is what kind of society do we live in? And deeper still, as a Christian, how do I want my secular government to treat me as well as my fellow citizens?
Obama threw in the word “neighborlienss” to describe what it means for people like him and O’Reilly to give a little bit more to help those who are in need. He certainly was alluding to Christ’s teaching of “loving our neighbor” as our selves as one of the greatest commandments of the law. Certainly conservatives (some even Christians) think this is all hogwash and stick their fingers in their ears and cry, “SOCIALISM.”
Yet of course just saying HOGWASH doesn’t make the issue go away.
I think Christians should heed this commandment. It is one thing for us as Christians to love our neighbors as ourselves and for the Church to selflessly give to those who are in need. That principle in could not be clearer when it comes for individuals and the Church, but what about government? That is indeed quite tricky.
One of my conservative friends who is involved in politics, told me that there are a lot rich people out there who do have a heart for the poor, but do not want to see their money squandered by an inefficient government. Now, I don’t think MOST wealthy people are as altruistic as my friend, yet there is a point there, does taxing the rich to fund government programs (welfare, healthcare, education) reap actual benefits? Is that the only way?
Furthermore, as Christians, does our uncompormising care for the poor warrant us to advocate for Democratic position on issues of economics?
Obviously, I don’t have answers… and this post is getting sort of long, but I guess I’ll just leave you with my own personal educational to-do list, for both my benefit and yours– of looming issues and questions that need to be answered before I can start to move forward in formulating my convictions:
- Proggresive taxes – do they hinder economic growth? Do they benefit the poor?
- Similarly, supply side economics do they increase government revenue?
- Income Redistribution – should the rich in society be obligated by government to assist the poor?
I read a book my sophomore year of college by Richard John Neuhaus called Doing Well and Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist, which was a defense of Pope Jon Paul’s teachings which condemned socialism and the welfare state, and praised many (not all) aspects of free-market capitalism as this very postive review from The National Review states:
In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul explicitly condemns socialism, and explains that capitalism, when understood as an appreciation of “the positive role of business, the market, private property, and… free human creativity” within “a strong juridical framework,” is the economic philosophy best suited to the Church’s understanding of “the inherent dignity of the individual.”
Anyways, I remember reading it and being fascinated and impressed by the Pope’s articulate and thoughtful defense of capitalism. I didn’t and still don’t understand all the arguments, yet I think for me, this is a journey of questioning and discovery.
I have to honestly admit that most of the strong voices for the poor among Christians tend to side with more progressive views of politics and economics. Yet, despite the many incredibly powerful and intelligent and overwhelming voices on that side, including Barack Obama, there’s part of it that rings hollow for me. Or at the very least there are more question that remain besides simply stating that as Christians the hope for caring for the poor comes from the democratic platform or at the very least, government programs or laws.
I think Neuhaus gets at it pretty well in a recent critique of Evangelical Ron Sider, author of “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” (An important book that I need to read at some point):
I like and respect Ron Sider, but The Scandal of Evangelical Politics evidences, once again, the limitations in moving from explicit biblical texts to public policies in dispute. This too frequently results either in pious generalities or in bending the Bible to sacralize one among several morally defensible options. Part of the scandal, and not only in evangelical politics, is the failure to engage public policy with arguments that, while supported by biblical faith, employ and advance a capacity for moral reasoning that is not limited to those who share that faith.
Anyways, I’m done now, but obviously still left with more questions that answers. Thanks Papa Bear and OBAMA for a stimulating afternoon!