Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Bible and Economics


Fiery Martin 2
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Part of an ongoing series looking at all the many passages in the Bible that deal with wealth and poverty issues. You can see the links to the other passages in the series under the heading "The Bible and Economics" below or clicking right here.

I began looking at the book of Psalms last year and am still wading through it. The last batch I quoted excerpts from was Psalms 39 - 49.

Continuing walking through the book of Psalms, after chapter 49, we have many chapters that deal with prayers about "the enemy/enemies" who have beset the Psalmist or Israel, but these don't identify the "sins" of the enemies specifically, although given the times and the context of much of the Psalmists' complaints, you have to wonder if economic oppression might be amongst them. Nonetheless, skipping past those, we start up again in chapter 62 (still in the midst of passages complaining about ill treatment from the enemy) and looking through chapter 73...


Lowborn men are but a breath,

 the highborn are but a lie;

 if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;

 together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion

 or take pride in stolen goods;

 though your riches increase, 

do not set your heart on them.

Psalm 62: 9, 10

You care for the land and water it;

 you enrich it abundantly. 

The streams of God are filled with water

 to provide the people with grain,

 for so you have ordained it.

Psalm 65: 9

You gave abundant showers, O God;

 you refreshed your weary inheritance.
Your people settled in it,

 and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.

Psalm 68:9, 10

In the midst of more complaints about the enemy, the psalmist says...

The poor will see and be glad —

 you who seek God, may your hearts live!
The LORD hears the needy

 and does not despise his captive people.

Psalm 69: 32, 33

Yet I am poor and needy;

 come quickly to me, O God.

 You are my help and my deliverer;

 O LORD, do not delay.

Psalm 70: 5

Then, in chapter 72, the Psalmist prays for the king to be good and just, saying...

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
He will judge your people in righteousness,

 your afflicted ones with justice.
The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,

 the hills the fruit of righteousness.
He will defend the afflicted among the people

 and save the children of the needy; 

he will crush the oppressor...
In his days the righteous will flourish;

 prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.
All kings will bow down to him

 and all nations will serve him.
For he will deliver the needy who cry out,

 the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy

 and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,

 for precious is their blood in his sight.
Long may he live!

 May gold from Sheba be given him.

 May people ever pray for him

 and bless him all day long.
Let grain abound throughout the land;

 on the tops of the hills may it sway.

 Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon;

 let it thrive like the grass of the field.

Psalm 72: 1-4, 7, 11-16

...and although the Psalmist, in the passage above, is nominally speaking of a prayed for Just and Good King, it sounds more like he's speaking about the Kingdom of God, where "grain abounds" and freedom from oppression and violence is the norm for the poor and marginalized folk of the earth.

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;

 I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant

 when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;

 their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from the burdens common to man;

 they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;

 they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;

 the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;

 in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,

 and their tongues take possession of the earth...

This is what the wicked are like —

 always carefree, they increase in wealth.

Psalm 73: 1-9, 12

While I get accused sometimes of using language that sounds like "class warfare," clearly, I'm not the first to use such language (if it were true)...

107 comments:

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

A defense on often hears of our current socio-economic structure that seeks to reconcile the Biblical imperative of justice with our national religion of greed is the Biblical verses apply to our private lives, rather than public, nationally organized, legally enforced redistribution of income and resources toward the needy.

Except, of course, this completely disregards the reality that the Hebrew Prophets were speaking not of charity or philanthropy; they were not speaking to the Israelite equivalent of Bill Gates. They were speaking to the king and his bureaucracy, the whole mechanism of state-sanctioned and mandated taxation and distribution. The call for justice for the widow and orphan, for a more just social order rooted in the goodness of God was most vitally concerned with state policy in the two kingdoms.

Certainly a counter-argument can be made that since we are not the people of Israel, nor are we a kingdom but a secular, multi-cultural, multi-religious, republic, these verses cannot and should not apply to us. Yet, as Christians, we have to use these resources as a way of entering debate and discussion as to why it is we work for justice, help the homeless, demand greater help for those most in need.

Dan Trabue said...

I agree. Clearly, the Gospel and the teachings of the OT are not a "me and God" only set of teachings. There are obvious societal/communal implications and warnings found within the Bible.

Now, for me, that does not translate to "therefore, the state must help the poor!" Just that it ought to be done some way or t'other.

Alan said...

Well, that and the notion of the individual then was not the same as our post-enlightenment notion of the individual.

Read Nehemiah's first chapter to get a sense of the assumed interdependency of the Hebrew people. "*I* confess the sins *we* your people...", etc.

Plus American greed assumes that the gold is ours, the silver is ours and the cattle of a thousand fields is ours to do with as we please. For the Christian, that isn't true.

I suppose I'd buy the notion that we don't need some level of a collectively financed safety net if there were any evidence at all that human beings are that generous without government intervention. Might be a nice idea in theory, but it completely disregards humans' fallen nature. In this country, I'd say our history of slavery, child welfare, and the elderly living in abject poverty pretty much proves that the ideal of a generous American people who are willing to help with no government intervention is a delusion.

Alan said...

"child welfare" should be "child labor"

Anonymous said...

Where does the Bible describe this "mechanism of state-sanctioned and mandated taxation and distribution?"

Alan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Alan said...

Where does the Bible describe open heart surgery, vaccines, flight, space travel, atoms, not wearing stripes with checks, how to boil and egg, democracy, or leaving anonymous blog comments?

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Anonymous, read the prophets. Read the story of Ahab in 2 Kings. Read the pre-exilic prophets, particularly Amos and Hosea. While there are, to be sure, statements against foreign nations, there are also utterances directed at the king as "oppressive", as ignoring the welfare of the least powerful, who should be of direct concern.

In other words, Anonymous, read with a brain.

Dan Trabue said...

First, Alan, Geoffrey, we don't know anything about this particular anonymous person. It's possible he/she is asking sincerely seeking opinions on this (although, admittedly, it appears to be coming from a hostile starting point - nonetheless, I prefer to give possible newcomers the benefit of the doubt. Okay? Thanks.

Alan, you make an excellent point. The Bible talks about a great deal of stuff specific to the times in which it was written and leaves out much specific for today's world (of course). How does God want us to behave in a democratic republic? Well, we have to figure that out a bit ourselves, since there isn't a specific plan. That's sort of the way it is, right?

Dan Trabue said...

Now, as to some specifics: Leviticus 25, for starters...

The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them...

These are rules for the PEOPLE of Israel, for the NATION of Israel. Rules or laws they were expected to obey at the national level. Failure to obey them would result in trouble at the national level...

'When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD....

This LAW for the whole of Israel sets REGULATIONS about how they can and can't grow their "own" food. "WHAT??" some conservatives would say at such a demand. "You're going to set a NATION-WIDE rule about how I go about farming? How I go about doing my business??? I don't think so! That ain't none of the business of the gov't!"

And yet, this was the expectation for the nation of Israel. Even after they ceased being a nominal theocracy and became a monarchy, these laws were expected to be obeyed.

...Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.

Whatever food DOES grow naturally in this Sabbath year, it's up for grabs for anyone to eat. "WHAT??" some conservatives might say. "You're going to tell me that just anyone can come into MY land and take whatever they find there to eat??! I don't think so!"

And yet, that was the expectation for the nation of Israel.

For starters.

Is that a perfect analogy? No way. That was a different time, a different place, a different context. There were no stores where people could go and just buy food, for instance. Most people depended upon farming of one sort or the other to survive. Plus, Israel as a whole was (supposedly, imperfectly, not really, but kind of) committed to doing God's will. It was much closer to a theocracy, especially in the days when the laws were first adopted. They were a community relatively united with a common purpose.

But clearly, at the national level, Israel had rules that placed expectations on how people worked and how they accommodated the poor, the foreigner, the marginalized.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I think it's a leap to go from those rules to "state-sanctioned and mandated taxation and distribution."

Dan Trabue said...

Well, those weren't my words. Still...

"state-sanctioned and mandated taxation and distribution."

A leap? Maybe, but not an especially large one. The people of the nation of Israel (ie, a "STATE") were required by their LAW ("STATE-SANCTIONED") to provide some of their GOODS ("TAXATION"? Not exactly, but not far from it) to provide assistance to the needy ("DISTRIBUTION").

We could quibble about the words, and I probably wouldn't use those terms, but neither does it seem especially far off.

Do you think that the people of the Nation of Israel were not required by Law to provide some of their goods for the needy? Do you think that Israelis were not required by law to let "their" land rest every seven years?

Anonymous said...

Of course, but the law came from God, not the state, and there wasn't any government officials gathering food for central storehouses. Joseph did that in Egypt, but I don't think that happened in Israel.

Alan said...

OK, Dan, but frankly, I have very little patience for anonymous trolls. If people can't be bothered to sign their names, they get what they deserve.

Anyway, A. Nonymous,

We don't stone disobedient children either.

Why? Because, in the Reformed Christian tradition anyway, it is recognized that those punishments were the role of the state of Israel as a government. Since we are not Israel, we do not carry out such punishments.

Nor are we a monarchy, as Israel was.

Do you think that, just because Israel was run as a monarchy, we should as well? Do you think we should follow all the Old Testement punishments for disobedient children? (For additional information and/or to prove to yourself these aren't just my ideas, but inform the whole history of Reformed Protestantism, please see the Westminster Confession.)

So, when you throw away all your modern conveniences, get rid of democracy, institute slavery, and go out and stone your children any time they back talk, then I'll believe you're serious about following Israel's example of governance.

Believe it or not, it is 2010AD, not 2010BC. But feel free to return to that time if you wish. Good luck with that.

Alan said...

BTW, I can't help but notice the tone of this has gone from asking one question to an interrogation in which anonymous provides no answers to our questions.

Anonymous, is that what we should continue to expect, or are you going to do something other than just ask the same question over and over again?

Craig said...

Dan,
“"WHAT??" some conservatives would say at such a demand. "You're going to set a NATION-WIDE rule about how I go about farming? How I go about doing my business??? I don't think so! That ain't none of the business of the gov't!"”

As someone who would be considered both a Christian and a conservative, I believe that your analogy falls short regarding conservatives view of government (as you acknowledge). The most obvious area is encompassed in this sentence. “The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them...”.

Since we both agree that “the LORD” has passed down these commandments for the nation of Israel, we both agree that those rules were context specific. Where your analogy breaks down is in assuming that a law passed by a secular republic would carry the same force as one handed down directly from “the Lord”. So while there might be some atheist conservatives who would balk at a direct command from God, I’m not sure there would be many.

That leaves us with the obvious question. Since you have established that you believe (and I agree) that these particular rules are established by “the LORD”, and that they were to have been obeyed. That leaves the question. Should all of these laws have been obeyed?

For example in the same chapter of Leviticus we read “44 " 'Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.” Clearly this legitimizes the practice of Israel buying slaves from other cultures, was this a rule that would have been expected to be followed?

Craig said...

You also say this, “These are rules for the PEOPLE of Israel, for the NATION of Israel. Rules or laws they were expected to obey at the national level. Failure to obey them would result in trouble at the national level..”. Again I completely agree with your premise, however how do you square this with the recitation of what that “trouble” would entail? For example, “…then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.” Or, “'If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. 20 Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.” Or, “I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. 22 I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.” Or, “I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. 25 And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. 26 When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied.” Or, “I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. 31 I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. 32 I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. 33 I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. 34 Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. 35 All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.” Or, “As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them. 37 They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies. 38 You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. 39 Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers' sins they will waste away.”

Now personally, that sounds like more than simply “trouble” to me.

Craig said...

So, having said all of that, where does that leave us.

You seem to be acknowledging that "the LORD" did speak in this case and that He did say something that has been accurately recorded and passed down.

You also seem to be acknowledging g that there are types of Levitical law and that those types might call for different responses from different people.

So, in our world today, what does it mean? How do we live differently? How do you choose which aspects of this law to obey? Would you like to see these laws applied to the US? I think that the questions this is raising are critical to what the Church looks like going forward. There seems to be a wide variety of ways to address these issues that encompass the entire spectrum.

The biggest question,in my mind at least, is the role of government. While I can see that there is role for the government, it seems as though many on the left seem to place the secular government in a position of being the primary means through which these issues are addressed. It seems as though you are trying to suggest that the role of the Hebrew theocracy/monarchy should be assumed by our current secular republic. (At least to some degree) I'm not sure that works on a number of levels.

This is something that I live with daily and I am interested in how others address the different aspects of the solution.

Alan said...

"While I can see that there is role for the government, it seems as though many on the left seem to place the secular government in a position of being the primary means through which these issues are addressed."

I can't speak for any other liberals, but I would say that government is one means in which taking care of the poor, the hungry, and the homeless can be addressed.

Wouldn't it be great if the Church did this? And I don't mean just "we give some canned food to the food bank once a month", but actually care for *all* the poor, homeless, and hungry?

But they don't. Because long before there was Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Prescription drug benefits, free/reduced school lunches and the taxes that went with them, we had at least a century and a half to see what the churches would do. We were rewarded with child labor, seniors living in poverty and squalor, high illiteracy rates, etc., etc., etc.

In other words, though I think it would be ideal if taking care of others could be voluntary, I think that's a pipe dream and there's no evidence that has ever happened in the history of the world to the extent that it is actually needed.

And that is recognizing the fact that Americans are particularly generous when it comes to their charitable giving. We give more in charity than the GDP of many countries in the world. Yet in 1920, churches gave 10% of their budget to mission work. Now it's 2%. Charitable giving as a function of income, adjusted for inflation, has been at about 5-7% since the 1920's, in spite of highs and lows in tax rates, and in spite of the increase in government social programs.

Given that history, why conservatives think we should just give over charity primarily to churches and other non-profits is a mystery. People are selfish. That conservatives, who are supposed to be far more realistic than us head-in-the-clouds idealistic liberals, can't seem to see that is also a mystery.

I also think that the reasonable old conservative notion that we should have the best government we can afford has morphed into the knee-jerk "All government BAD!" response. It's a human institution and is therefore subject to the same human foibles as any other human enterprise. However, to believe that government can't do anything good, to believe that people working together cannot accomplish great things, to believe that the best option is always "No!" is neither useful nor particularly conservative.

Craig said...

Alan,

While I can't speak for conservatives, I can speak for myself and say that there needs to be a multifaceted approach and that there is a role for government. It seems as though many/most on the left would prefer that government gives things (money, food, housing etc) to those in need. Where I would advocate moving toward a model that advocates more than simply handing out checks. There are certainly times when the charity of cash or food is desperately needed. But isn't it preferable (long term)to provide the means by people can provide for themselves rather than have others provide for them?

Craig said...

Really, isn't this Dan's point, sort of, that we need to find a way to help those who need it?

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

TO either Anonymous or Craig:

The distinctions you are attempting to draw - between "government" and "people", did not exist in ancient Israel. Just as there was no real distinction between the king/state-bureaucracy and official religion, or between, these are all post-Enlightenment, western conceits that would be quite outside the understanding of the folks who wrote the Old Testament (or the New Testament, for that matter). That is one issue many have with Enlightenment thought. By creating these distinctions that become far more murky in our daily experience, so much of our discussion of these issues, both in our contemporary setting and of past events, becomes muddled and confused.

The Levitical codes - and much of the legal content of, say, Exodus - reads exactly as a judges ruling in a particular case would. That is to say, it is case law. The ox-goring codes, for example, sound like a judgment from a civil suit brought because an ox gored and killed another man's servant or child or spouse or whatever. That these specific rulings became binding law for the whole people, and was done in a manner that invoked the ruling deity for the whole people shows the way religious belief was contiguous with civic life in a way that is incomprehensible today, at least to Americans.

Extending that thought - that there is no distinction between "the people of Israel" and what we would call the state bureaucracy - opens all sorts of passages to a deeper understanding. Consider the way Solomon "reformed" the kingdom. By eliminating the traditional homelands named after the children of Jacob and creating different zones - for tax purposes, for purposes of raising and army, what have you - he did what rulers who alter traditional (or what is understood as tradition, at any rate) bureaucratic fiefdoms. He stepped on toes, in other words, of entrenched power structures. Just as the creation of the Homeland Security Department in the early 2000s created havoc and in-fighting among the bureaucracies involved in changing their flow charts and chains-of-command, as well as potential funding sources and where they fell in the hierarchy, so, too did the change implemented by Solomon - which may have had many things going for it - create havoc and in-fighting. Eventually, it led to rebellion and the separation of the northern part of the kingdom from the southern part.

The northern kingdom maintained the original, more loosely-federated structure, while the southern kingdom became more centralized. Alas, while the northern kingdom may have maintained a certain continuity with the history of the people before the creation of a royal dynasty and increasing centralization, it did not have the power base (including a central city like Jerusalem) from which to serve as a base of power. It vanished under the Assyrians three hundred years before the southern kingdom was swallowed by the Babylonians.

This is why it is important to read thoughtfully, with a modicum of understanding, including the understanding that the kinds of things we think of like "bureaucracy" and so forth, existed in some form or another, even as the context, what can be called lebenswelt, the life-world, or "set" by which and in which and through which we understand ourselves, is in many ways alien and strange.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

This does not mean that a more contemporary, or even Enlightenment-libertarian reading of these passages is impossible. It does, however, make it necessary to be wary of broad generalizations. One way of reading the prophets, in particular, that seems at least partially amenable to a more libertarian reading is as follows.

It is pretty clear that the pre-exilic prophets were pretty harsh on the royal treasury for being punitive, confiscatory, and regressive in its policies. This is not necessarily an argument against taxes qua taxes; rather it is an argument for a more just system of taxation, operated according to what was considered the common understanding of justice and fairness. It does offer an opportunity to argue against arbitrary state power, performed without any system of accountability (there were "prophets", as we read in both Amos and Hosea, who were court employees; I would gather that they would have no problem with greater state impunity in generating more revenue that could help them).

Alan said...

"But isn't it preferable (long term)to provide the means by people can provide for themselves rather than have others provide for them?"

Indeed. But when people on the left propose things like a modern WPA or CCC to help with unemployment during our current crisis, "conservatives" just shout "Socialism!!!"

When the government protects American jobs by buying shares in the US auto industry (an investment that history shows pays off more than it costs) in order to keep people off the unemployment rolls (in other words, a hand-out), "conservatives" just shout "Socialism!!!"

When liberals suggest that one of the things keeping people in dead end jobs is the lack of portability of health care in this country and that one way to end that is the cut the cord between employer and health care, "conservatives" just shout "Socialism!!!"

When liberals suggest that education is the silver bullet for getting people out of poverty and thus funding education and pre-education initiatives like Head-Start are a way to do more than just hand out checks, but can actually break the cycle of poor education and poverty, "conservatives" just shout "Socialism!!!" and attempt to cut HeadStart, cut the DOE, cut teacher salaries, etc.

When liberals suggest that instead of grousing about high taxes from federal social policy, people might well look to the DoD as a place to cut some fat also, "conservatives" just shout "Un-American!!!"

So, I think instead of convincing liberals that the US needs to find better ways to teach a man to fish, perhaps real conservatives might better spend their time trying to convince their brethren that poverty sucks and that the federal government has a role to play in combating it.

Craig said...

GKS,

I'm not sure I'm drawing a distinction between the government and the people in the sense you are suggesting. While the history stuff is a good base, I'm more interested in 2010. I do seem to see a sense in which an equivalence is being drawn between the role of the Hebrew theocracy/monarchy in caring for the poor and the role of our government today. I would suggest that (as Alan mentioned) since we don't live in a theocracy/monarchy that there is little practical that we can draw from the Hebrew example. We can, draw out some general and specific principles that guide both our personal behavior as well as our corporate action. I think that some on the left put too much stock in government/community. Some on the right tend the opposite way. But really it can't work with just one or the other. While the history lesson was informative, how does it affect how we live our lives today?

Craig said...

Alan,

So how does your last comment move us forward?

Yes, some conservatives do/say those things. Some liberals seem to be advocating divorcing help and assistance from responsibility.

Yes, there are some on both sides who are so focused on their narrow political views that they won't see the bigger picture. Why not spend time focusing on those who are open to acknowledging that there are a number of ways to approach these problems and that government is one of many.

So, how do we move forward?

Alan said...

1) Nothing is going to get done until a reasonable argument can be had about the goals and priorities and limits of government. I'm not talking about bipartisanship here. I have no interest in bipartisanship. I think bipartisanship is bad. I want there to be enough good honest conflict to keep government moving as slowly as possible. But I did say "reasonable argument."

2) So, until real conservatives can take back the Republican party so that there is someone there to actually make the real conservative argument (and when that happens, I can go back to voting Republican), nothing will move forward. In the same way, until we find some liberals with balls enough to take up a valid argument and not run scurrying under the bed every time the poll numbers drop 5 points, nothing will move forward.

In our US House district, we had a guy, a Republican, named Joe Schwartz. Good guy. Moderate. Real conservative. He was challenged and beaten by some nutjob former minister named Tim Walberg whose entire campaign was nothing but, "Schwartz = Liberal." So, Craig, you ask why not spend time focusing on "those who are open to acknowledging that there are a number of ways to approach these problems and that government is one of many."

Because, as that example shows, they're going the way of the dodo, and it isn't liberals who can or will be able to fix it. At some point, Republicans are going to have to do some major surgery if they want to keep their party alive. I'm talking amputation.

3) At this point, who would *want* to move forward? Our options are, apparently, nutjob Republican/teabagger Obama-is-a-crypto-Muslim bullshit or pathetic liberal bed-wetting. (Democrats can't, for example, even get a pissant law like DADT, which 70% of the American people think is wrong, though a Democratic House and Senate to be signed by a Democratic President.)

As long as those are our options, I prefer gridlock. Gridlock is much better than doing something as supremely stupid as, say, privatizing social security.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I would second Alan's latest response, in particular light of the nonsensical "Pledge to America" offered by House Republicans today. Repealing a law that is already in effect in good and sundry ways - outlawing recision and barring elimination from consideration for pre-existing conditions - I mean, that's just nuts. Reducing spending to 2008 levels? What does that mean, exactly?

The whole argument over taxation is also ridiculous. The Republicans assertions are quite contrary to fact. A return to Clinton-era tax levels is hardly confiscatory, still regressive by any historical standard, and would serve to offset reduced revenue from middle-wage earners with increased revenue from the top wage bracket.

Any Christian argument that the commonwealth is better if the rich pay less in taxes, at least as currently set up, is contrary to fact. That tax cuts generate revenue is simply wrong, and its repeated assertion in the face of studies that prove it so is simply to lie.

Finally, as Bob Somerby notes in today's Daily Howler, the media, including the internet, has done a piss-poor job making clear that, in the face of an economic crisis that is on-going, and the worst since the Depression, the two years since Obama's election hardly count as a measure of the success or failure of his programs. Republican intransigence has not helped (although the refusal of the Congressional wing of the Democratic party to take any risks doesn't help).

It isn't criticism of the President or his policies that is at issue. Rather, it is criticism that is based outside reality that is frustrating.

Dan Trabue said...

Many great comments and points all around, fellas. But you're going faster than I can keep up...

Craig said...

Alan,

Not much time, but a quick thought. I guess where we are diverging is that I am asking the questions on a local personal level, not a national political level. So, while the issues you raise are worthwhile, and I'd be happy to respond, ultimately I don't think this is a problem to be solved in a political/government vein.

I'm much more interested in how do we as individuals who live in community with others actually live out the ideals we're talking about.

The political side is so much about party, ideology, power, etc that it seems very removed from actual people dealing with actual issues. Not that is is not a part of both the problem and the solution, but because it is a distant mostly innefficiant means of dealing with people.

I agree that for there to be meaningful dialogue, that I would love to see our leaders let go of position and power and have your "reasonable argument", but I don't see it happening from much of our political class as it exists today.

Gotta go, Thanks

Alan said...

Well, tithing seems like one way to go about helping on a local level, but few do that because they simply must buy their own lawn mower and not just borrow or share with their neighbor.

Having a church that isn't afraid to get dirty would help. Churches in our town, for example, rotate an overflow men's shelter throughout the winter months. So, for a week in January we have about 50 homeless men sleeping in our sanctuary. Most church ladies and fusspots would never dream of sullying their well-polished church sanctuary for something like this.

Having churches that recognize that a building that sits empty for 167 out of 168 hours a week is poor stewardship might be a good idea. Our church hosts something like 10 AA, NA, and ACOA groups throughout the week. In fact, it's often hard for us to find meeting space because we have so many other people using our building. That's a good problem to have.

In other words, if Christians and churches would stop giving AT people, and move to living WITH people, I think we could make a significant difference.

From local government standpoint, our local government is trying to find creative ways to house the homeless, is trying to find ways to cut down on urban/suburban sprawl, etc. I think there's much more that can be done, but again most of the successful local gov't programs have moved from giving AT people to working with and among people, while simultaneously working to end the foundational causes of poverty at the political level.

Alan said...

"ultimately I don't think this is a problem to be solved in a political/government vein."

BTW, I disagree.

To quote Kuyper, "There is not one thumbprint on Earth that Jesus Christ does not look down upon and declare, 'That is mine.'" That includes politics.

Deciding, "Oh, this is too much of a mess, and there are too many nutjobs on both sides for political/governmental solutions to ever work" is no way, in my opinion, to be confessing Christ and doing politics.

I think Christians need to redeem politics, not ignore it, and not just use it to gain political power (a la Focus on the Family, etc.)

"but I don't see it happening from much of our political class as it exists today. "

Then we need to vote them out. Not to replace them with even crazier teabaggers, but to replace them with reasonable people. But as long as the response to the teabaggers is for Republicans to look even sillier (and frightened) with their newest Contract On America, instead of growing a set and taking back a real Republican party, nothing is going to happen.

Craig said...

"ultimately I don't think this is a problem to be solved in a political/government vein."

I probably should have said "... primarily in a political...". There is a role for the political but politics tends to be impersonal and inefficient which make dealing with these types of issues harder. I would also suggest that a vital component of any solution is/are responsibility and accountability both of which are hard to come ny in the political world.

I think that your list is some good stuff, I have no problem with any of that. I especially like the thought of living with rather than giving at. I don't think that politics/government are good at that though.

While I'd rather not get into a political arguement in this thread. I would agree that we need to do some wholesale replacing of our current governing class. There is a little to much of a sense of entitlement among the DC class (I cringe when I hear stuff like "the Kennedy seat" or whatever. Thank God we don't do hereditory government) I suspect that we would disagree on what constitutes "reasonable" in a political sense, but I think that we can agree that there are plenty of unreasonable folks there now. It does seem like you are someone who would like to see substantive differences between the two parties, so as to actually spur worthwile debate.

Dan Trabue said...

Okay, jumping back to address a few questions/comments...

Craig:

You also seem to be acknowledging g that there are types of Levitical law and that those types might call for different responses from different people.

So, in our world today, what does it mean? How do we live differently? How do you choose which aspects of this law to obey? Would you like to see these laws applied to the US?


1. Yes, I think we can agree that there are different types of Levitical laws and different implications of different laws.

2. We almost all universally agree that the punishment phase of levitical laws certainly ought not be implemented now as then. We don't want to kill disrespectful children, "men who lay with men," or cheating housewives, etc, etc. These were rules for a specific people at a specific time.

3. We probably can all agree that there are, within the Levitical laws, some more universal guidelines and some more temporal ones. Stealing would be wrong across the board. Tattoos? Eating shrimp? Probably not wrong in and of themselves.

4. So, in today's world, what does that mean? you ask. Good question. What I think it means is that we can glean some moral guidelines from OT teachings, but that we probably should not try to implement laws just as they had, in the manner they did.

5. How do we choose? you ask. I think we choose the only way we can: Using our God-given reasoning and moral aptitude, flawed though they may be.

6. As to how this relates to legislation in a modern Republic, I think we do best to try to limit legislation to mostly matters of natural law - your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. We legislate, ban, regulate actions that might reasonably cause unjust harm to another.

Given that, we might reasonably outlaw drunk driving, because of the potential for harm, but we probably won't do so well to try to outlaw drinking alcohol itself. In a proper context, no harm is done by drinking alcohol.

Similarly, we might reasonably outlaw rape, because of the obvious harm done to another person. BUT, we probably would be best to avoid outlawing consensual sex between rational adults.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

The biggest question,in my mind at least, is the role of government. While I can see that there is role for the government, it seems as though many on the left seem to place the secular government in a position of being the primary means through which these issues are addressed.

I'd suggest we'd do best to avoid sweeping generalizations. Conservatives don't hate the poor. Liberals don't want gov't to be the primary means where these issues are addressed.

As Alan and Geoffrey have already pointed out: We see no reason why gov't can't/ought not be ONE source for dealing with some of these problems/issues.

As I have stated in the past: My general preference for seeing matters like poverty, education, environmental issues addressed is:

1. Try to resolve problems at the home and family
2. Try to resolve problems at the community, faith community level, where family has not been enough
3. Try to resolve problems through the local gov't where family and community have not been enough
4. Then the state gov't
5. Then the federal gov't

In that order, as a rule. I'd rather see a church (synagogue, mosque) or community-based rehab program set up in prisons as I tend to think that these tend to have the best chances of working.

However, failing that, AND knowing that rehab programs - even gov't rehab programs - reduce recidivism and increase successful re-entry into society, I sure don't want to rule out gov't programs. That would just be foolish, it seems to me.

I don't know that liberals can reasonably be said to want gov't to be the primary means of addressing problems. We just don't want to discount them out of hand, especially when the private sector isn't stepping up.

Craig said...

Dan,

Thanks for the answer.

First I said "many on the left" not all on the left. I probably should have been more specific, but from my exchange with Alan, it should be clear that I am primarily referring to those on the governing class.

Second, since your earlier answer is grounded in your use of Lev. 25, which is the instructions for the government, I'm curious how that supports your later points.

I can only assume that your silence on the issues of both the issues of slavery and punishment mean that you are granting the accuracy of the text. If not could you clarify the following.

Are you agreeing that "the Lord" did in fact sanction at least some form of slavery?

Are you agreeing that the "trouble" you referred to would likely involve the items listed?

As to the rest, I agree more than I disagree. I'll try to get specific when I have a chance.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

If I may jump in here. I read Craig's statement concerning "many on the left" as being of a kind with the kind of misreading of liberal political and policy preferences. What is nothing more, as Dan rightly says, a legitimate role for state power at any level as a force in our social life is too often read as a preference for public action over private action. This lie - and, come one, let's face it, after over two generations of liberals being called nothing better than commies who dress better by folks on the right - is so ingrained in the right that any serious discussion of the possibilities for positive state action becomes impossible.

Proving this case is simple. Even the modest, and by many commentators too small and ineffecive, intervention in the market proposed and enacted by the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress, is derided, still, as "socialism". Further, one still hears that we liberals are nothing more than blind worshipers of Obama as some kind of Messiah. Whether or not you have said it, Craig, this inhibits serious discussion of the issues on their merits.

Just as I was recently taken to task because I sought some kind of understanding of certain phenomena in our social life without judgment, so, too I think it possible, even necessary, to have a discussion of policy preferences on the merits. (Bubbaesque continued . . .)

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

At this point, I would also say that there are some liberals who are as bad as conservatives on this matter. One of the few things I see good about the "Pledge to America" is that it deals with substantive policy matters without regard to personalities. At least on paper, Republicans in Congress want a discussion on the merits of certain policies.

Let's have it - and without reference to either the current or previous President. Let's have it - without reference to the Speaker of the House, either current or prior.

Finally, for the record, most socialists that I know - and I mean real socialists, not the one's the right call by that name - are disgusted with the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party. I consider myself a kind of fellow-traveler with Democratic Socialists, and I feel much the same. So, rather than call people names without understanding, it might be helpful to survey what folks are saying in order to get not just our facts, but our categories straight. Again, I'm not saying you, Craig, are doing this. It is far too much a part of our political zeitgeist, however, to ignore.

Craig said...

GKS,

I would have thought that my reference to "many on the left" as opposed to "the left" or "the right" would not have proved to be as much of a distraction as it has been. Especially as I have provided additional clarification, and repeatedly said that I see a role for government in these issues. I believe that is is a relatively safe generalization (which may or may not be useful) that those on the political left tend to favor solutions to these sorts of problems that favor government action. This is somewhat buttressed by the the responses in this thread. You, Alan, and Dan have tended to cast this in a political light, and in terms of right v. left. While this is a reality in our society, I am suggesting that this automatic casting of these topics in a right/left political dynamic is something we need to get past in order to make progress. If I am reading you correctly, I think that this is the direction you are going. If that is the case, then I agree that we need to get beyond the current model.

I also agreed with Alan (and now you) that there are legitimate policy discussions that should be had in as evenhanded a manner as possible. I would love to see principled representatives on both sides put aside the "republicans are crazy/evil/stupid/etc" and "democrats are socialist/naive/evil/stupid/etc.", and actually look at what works and what doesn't moving forward. Hopefully we are moving in this direction.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

While I think your reading comprehension is improving, you are still stuck, Craig, just a bit. The following sentence leaped out at me:

"I believe that is is a relatively safe generalization (which may or may not be useful) that those on the political left tend to favor solutions to these sorts of problems that favor government action."

I said nothing about "favoring" one way of dealing with our national issues over another. I know of no one on the left who does. We are discussing matters of public import and talking about public policy. Thus, we are discussing the role of state action, at any level, to deal with them.

Is this notion that hard to understand?

Of course we are talking politics. I still think, along with Alan, it would be wonderful if there were a real, serious conservative movement in the United States. There hasn't been since the Civil War, when some southern Senators made a play to work in some Burkean thought to their view of American politics. What goes under the rubric of "conservative" in the US is an amalgam of libertarian (which is really nothing more than 19th century liberal) nonsense and religious sectarianism and racist/generally bigoted approach to our polyglot society (in other words, all those folks who aren't like us should either be like us or go away).

We are talking about what role, if any, the state might or should have in our economic life. We are talking about whether or not there is Biblical support for any particular position. We are discussing ways to have a thoughtful discussion of a Christian approach to our economic and social life.

My position, stated here and elsewhere, and held pretty firmly since my early reading of the Bible even as a kid, is the Bible, when approaching topics on economics, falls firmly on the side of economic justice for all. Furthermore, the statements of both the prophets and the law, as well as certain Psalms insist that this justice is in keeping with the covenant made between the people of Israel and the LORD.

New Testament ideas on economic justice stem from Jesus' sometimes cryptic comments, sometimes bold comments, that our concern as Christians should always be with a compassionate approach to our fellow human beings, which follows from the first commandment, loving God. This is in keeping with the approach of the whole body of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Now, we can have a good discussion, I think, on all sorts of things. What we should not do, is misunderstand one another. There is no way we can have a non-political discussion of our common life, because politics is a part of that life. As Alan pointed out, our political life also falls within the Providential Grace of Jesus Christ. You want a society without politics, Aristotle said there were such places - he called them tyrannies. That's a reality, and I'm sorry to say that while it would be nice if we could do economics without talking about politics or state action, in some ideal world that would be nice. But, we live in this world, and we Christians are to witness to the call of God to make our world and our life together more just for all, more humane. That includes taking matters of power and control in to account - that is, politics.

Craig said...

GKS,

You are correct that it is important ti understand each other. Therefore when you say that I "want a society without politics", I have to question your understadning or "reading comprehension". I have not said that, I have said that I am interested in (in this thread) focusing on what can be done at levels other than the political. I completely comprehend that there are political factors in this discussion, I am more interested in other solutions.

As far as my earlier generalization about "many of those on the left". Your response based on you and those youknow. Well, it certainly seems possible, maybe even likely that there are many others on the left who disagree with you on this. When I listen to left wing talk radio and other media on the left I hear a pretty consistent refrain that Government is the solution to many if not all problems.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

First I said "many on the left" not all on the left. I probably should have been more specific, but from my exchange with Alan, it should be clear that I am primarily referring to those on the governing class.

I think it is probably a general truth that many in the gov't (Left AND Right) probably tend to think Gov't can and should do more than it ought, just in different areas.

That is for example, many liberal politicians may well think gov't can "cure" homelessness or poverty. Likewise, for example, many conservative politicians think gov't can solve drug problems if we'd only get tough enough (ie, criminalize enough behaviors and build enough prisons to house the resulting criminals).

Craig...

Second, since your earlier answer is grounded in your use of Lev. 25, which is the instructions for the government, I'm curious how that supports your later points.

I'm not sure what you mean here. I pointed to Levitical laws to show an indication that gov't policy was used in biblical context to solve/address many problems, including poverty and agricultural issues. I wasn't suggesting it would be good to implement all or part of OT law on our modern culture.

Craig...

Are you agreeing that "the Lord" did in fact sanction at least some form of slavery?

I don't think everything listed in the Bible as being a commandment of God represents God's will. I don't think God sanctions or endorses slavery, targeting children for slaughter, forced marriage of virgin girls captured from their foreign culture, where the rest of their families were killed, etc.

God doesn't generally get directly involved in our politics. I don't know that God got directly involved in Israel's politics.

Do you think that God sanctions some forms of slavery or some forms of forced marriage or some forms of killing the children of our enemies?

Craig...

Are you agreeing that the "trouble" you referred to would likely involve the items listed?

The trouble I referred to was the general truism that when we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind, that our actions have consequences and that our negative actions have negative consequences. I don't think that God generally is in the business of stepping in and slaughtering a nation because of the sins of their leaders, but if a leader is a bad leader, that may well have bad consequences for his nation.

I'm not sure if I'm answering your questions as you intended. If not, please re-state and I'll try again.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

When I listen to left wing talk radio and other media on the left I hear a pretty consistent refrain that Government is the solution to many if not all problems.

Could it be that you're mishearing them? Or that you're hearing them aright but that the liberals you're hearing are overgeneralizing and hyperbolizing to make a point, and when it comes down to it, they would love to see answers to problems, period? That' it's not necessarily the case that they want to see gov't as the primary solver of problems, just as one possible source of solutions?

I know of no liberals who would say, in a rational moment, "I want to see primarily gov't-based solutions to all our problems. I think gov't is the ONE solution to many if not most problems."

I know of no one like that. We recognize that there are limitations to gov't, to what they can and can't do. We don't WANT gov't providing a solution to "the marriage problem," for instance, or to sexual problems. We want gov't OUT of our bedrooms and private lives. We don't want a gov't that tries to travel around the world and democratize and pacify nations willy nilly. We want gov't to realize its limitations.

I'm sure that there exist some liberals out there who may be as you suggest, but I don't know of a single one, privately or in the public eye. Certainly not me, not my fellow "liberal church" members, nor, does it sound like, Geoffrey or Alan.

Can you cite anyone who fits your description and what they've said that makes you think that?

Alan said...

"When I listen to left wing talk radio and other media on the left I hear a pretty consistent refrain that Government is the solution to many if not all problems."

And when I listen to the right wing blowhards, I mostly hear teabagger BS.

But you just said in an earlier comment, "Yes, some conservatives do/say those things. Some liberals seem to be advocating divorcing help and assistance from responsibility."

So are we moving forward in this discussion, or shall we focus on your misreading of what you think some liberals believe?

Craig said...

Dan,

Since your later point was that the national level government is you last line of solution, why would you point to a text that somewhat disagrees with your personal priority list.

RE: Slavery.

"YOUR male and female SLAVES are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 YOU MAY also BUY some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will BECOME YOUR PROPERTY. 46 YOU CAN will them to your children as inherited property and can make them SLAVES FOR LIFE..."

It would seem that at a very minimum that "the LORD" did permit/condone/accept/regulate slavery at this point in the history of Israel.

Since, at this point, "the LORD" was directly engaged in leading Israel (this is why this period is sometimes referred to as the theocracy), how could "the LORD" avoid becoming involved in "politics".

"Do you think that God sanctions some forms of slavery" (since we're specifically dealing with the passage you cited, and it only deals with slavery, I'll pass on the rest of your question).

My answer to your question is, "YOUR male and female SLAVES are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 YOU MAY also BUY some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will BECOME YOUR PROPERTY. 46 YOU CAN will them to your children as inherited property and can make them SLAVES FOR LIFE..."

RE: "trouble". Since the passage you site specifically lists the consequences of failing to follow 'the LORD"s instructions. I am trying to understand how you can divorce the specific commands from the specific consequences of failing to obey the commands. I hope that is more clear.

RE: left wing media. Sorry, I listen to quite a bit of left wing radio and rarely document specific instances for later citation. I would suggest that some time spent listening to those who purport to speak for the left in this country might be valuable.

As I said earlier, I made a generalization that may or may not directly apply to you or those you know. In much the same way that someone might say ""The right, however, has decided...", I have said that "many (I'll change it to some if it will stop the digression) on the left...". Now obviously we know that there is no "the right" or "the left", at yet some on the left accept the fact the "the right" exists and is monolithic.

Maybe we can let this digression go and move on.

Craig said...

"So are we moving forward in this discussion, or shall we focus on your misreading of what you think some liberals believe?"

I'd be happy to move forward. Or we can focus on how you misread what conservatives and liberals believe. Or we can focus on how you assume you know "what you think some liberals believe"?

Why is it that it is assumed the Beck, Rush, et al speak for all conservatives everywhere, while Miller, Hartman, Kennedy et al don't speak for at least some portion of the left?

So, can we move on? I'd be happy to.

Craig said...

"1. Try to resolve problems at the home and family
2. Try to resolve problems at the community, faith community level, where family has not been enough
3. Try to resolve problems through the local gov't where family and community have not been enough
4. Then the state gov't
5. Then the federal gov't"

In the spirit of moving on can we agree that Dan's list above represents a way to deal with these problems that would be an ideal?

Can we also agree that Dan's list is in accordance with how God would have us act?

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Craig said the following:
"I have said that I am interested in (in this thread) focusing on what can be done at levels other than the political."

What, pray tell, are those? Even a real laissez-faire approach is still a political decision. That's my point. You cannot box off issues of the economy and justice and the commonweal and artificially insist that politics has nothing to do with it. These are issues that inherently involve questions of power, issues of access, issues of voice. These are political questions.

The decision to be philanthropic rather than to support public policy that offers assistance to the needy is political. The refusal to involve oneself in matters of public policy to remain pure is political.

That's my point. That's where I see your reading comprehension as failing. The yearning by so many - across the political spectrum - for some efficient, technocratic solution to these issues without resorting to matters of power is a pipe dream. It has been criticized by many on the left, who see in the technocratic nightmare the hint of tyranny.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Part of the problem of many on the (Christian) left is the inability to see that political matters are messy, tentative, contingent, and always stained with sin. This is Niebuhr's position, elucidated across hundreds of pages of most of his works. Yet, he sees our obligations for political actions as Christians as necessary; he also sees the promise of working out of what he calls "the love ethic" as, and here he uses Barth's phrase, an impossible possibility.

My position isn't that different - we must pursue the goal of justice as set forth in Scripture always with the understanding that it will be compromised by the realities of our sinful life.

Alan said...

As GKS points out, even if we were to buy the list of 1-5 above, we're still making decisions about the role of the federal government at each of those points, even if one's position is that the federal government should have no role.

I would say that such a scheme is too limiting because there are times when we should start with the federal government because economies of scale might make federal solutions more efficient and cost effective than 250 billion individual solutions.

So, if what you're asking is, do we agree that the federal government should be a solution of last resort, then my answer is no.

In this, as with all things, context matters.

Craig said...

"what pray tell are those?"

That is what I was hoping to get from you (all), what areas do you see that these problems can be dealt with at other levels.

It seems as though you are saying that these issues cannot be dealt with unless government/politics is/are part of the solution.

I understand (I actually made the point earlier) that politics is a messy business. I fully agree that all we do is tainted by sin. So what is your point?

Do you disagree that Dan's list is not the way things should work in an ideal situation?

For example are you suggesting that the federal government can do a better job of providing high quality low income housing than Habitat.

Yes, there may be some limited situations where some sort of economy of scale might make a federal solution preferable. But wouldn't you want to balance that against the seemingly inevitable one size fits all approach that such a massive solution would seem to demand.

It would seem as though you are saying that the federal government is indispensable in solving problems of this type. So what has the federal government done well in one of these areas?

Or put another way, in what areas is the federal government indispensable and in what areas should the federal government stay out of?

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

In the spirit of moving on can we agree that Dan's list above represents a way to deal with these problems that would be an ideal?

I think it's a general good approach, but it depends on the situation. If a local school has implemented racist policies, requiring white people to live in one neighborhood and not allowing them to live anywhere else, and the local and state authorities don't do anything, it's appropriate and good for the feds to step in.

Craig...

Can we also agree that Dan's list is in accordance with how God would have us act?

I wouldn't go that far. I don't presume to speak for God when I suggest that as a general good guideline. God has not told me that this is a good guideline. The Bible doesn't tell me this is a good guideline. It's just my opinion. I have no need (or desire) to stamp it as God-approved.

Reasonable enough?

Sorry I haven't been able to keep up with this, I'll comment more as I have time...

Alan said...

"For example are you suggesting that the federal government can do a better job of providing high quality low income housing than Habitat. "

According to Habitat's statistics, they've provided housing to about 1.6 million people around the world.

There are between 1.5-2 million homeless people just in the US. I couldn't find stats for the number of habitat houses built in the US, but their website claims "Habitat for Humanity has helped change the lives of more than 30,000 American families."

Well, 30,000 families is a lot. That's great. But clearly Habitat cannot be the only answer to homelessness in the US.

And the Habitat vs. Gov't question is a false dichotomy. Where, exactly, do you think Habitat gets a lot of its money? Answer (according to them): The government. And they work with the government to lobby for legislation to increase home ownership.

So, if even Habitat doesn't think it can do this job without the government (and even with that help, there are still millions of homeless in the US, so Habitat clearly can't be the only/best solution), then I will bow to their expertise in the matter and agree with them.

"in what areas should the federal government stay out of?"

When it comes to housing, Craig, I would greatly appreciate it if the government stayed out of my bedroom. I don't need the government nor a majority of voters telling me how to live my life. Unfortunately most of your so-called conservative brethren don't agree with that position. They want government that is just small enough to fit into everyone's bedrooms. "Small government for big business, but Big Brother for the little guy" is the current Republican motto.

So while we're talking about Big Government, how about talking a bit about State control over sexuality? There are worse things than socialism.

Craig said...

Dan,
I wouldn't ask you to speak for God, however I believe that it is not unreasonable to believe that it is withing Gods plan that we deal with these types of things from closest to furthest. I would suggest that as a general rule, that your list comes close to what we can glean from scripture. It's not perfect, nor did I suggest that it was. But doesn't it seem reasonable that the most of the best solutions for these kinds of things are going to come from those closer to the problem rather than further away.

As far as your example regarding racist schools, I would sugest that one would start at the local level working through the electoral process to put people on the school board who will effect the desired change. Or even through public pressure/demonstration. If that fails then one would cosider bringing in the state government and if that fails then the federal. Again, I'm not suggesting that the federal government has no role, just that their role begins after more local solutions have failed.

RE; Lev. 25. I guess I'm not exactly sure what your point was in using that passage. It actually seems counterproductive to try to superimpose what were (IMO) specific rules for a specific government in a specific time, one our current system. One could argue that if the Church is the "continuation/fulfillment" of ancient Israel that the application would be more for the Church than for the government.

Craig said...

Alan,

First, may I correct your misapprehsion about Habitat. Habitat is not involved in providing houses for the homeless.

Second, my point is that while Habitat is not the sole solution, and not the only orginization working on this area. The level of quality is going to be higher than in government low income housing.

Third, while Habitat is currently accessing available federal/state/and local grant monies to a greater extent than ever. Habitat is not dependent on that money. The vast majority of Habitat funds have historically come from private, corporate (yes those evil corperations) and faith groups. Additionally there is a significant corporate non cash donation.

Fourth, yes Habitat has been lobbying for things that will help increase home ownership. This does not necessarily equate to money for Habitat.

Fifth, I did not suggest that Habitat was the only or best solution. I did suggest that they will do a better job providing high quality housing than the government. Because, we know how well the government has done at providing low income housing.

Finally I could give a rats ass what or who you do in your bedroom. I'll be happy to stay the hell out of there. If you keep it in your bedroom, you won't hear a peep from me. I'll not assume responsibility for what other conservatives say and do because I'm not them. You feel free to generalize as much as you would like about republicans/conservatives.

Unless I'm mistaken, this post/thread was/is about how we deal with social issues of poverty, hunger, etc. Is there a reason to intruduce sex into this?

Craig said...

A couple of numbers regarding Habitat funding.

2008
Contributions (cash) 47,655,757.00
Government Grants 20,074,439.00

Families Served 55,000 families
Approx. 220,000 people

Of the govt grants 4,308,323 was for Ameri Corps/VISTA which would reflect mony spent on building.

2009

Contributions 71,403,279
Govt Grants (all)17,447,062

Families helped 61,000
Approx 244,000 individuals

4,344,062 Ameri Corps Vista

The individual number is based ona family size of 4, which is probably less than actual family size.

A little math would demonstrate that Habitat does not recieve anywhere the majority of its funding from the government. These numbers do not include income from the existing mortgage portfolio, investments, ReStores, and other merchandise. Nor do they include in kind donations.

Just thought you'd like to have some better info.

Alan said...

"A little math would demonstrate that Habitat does not recieve anywhere the majority of its funding from the government"

A little reading would demonstrate that I never said that they do.

Craig, are you really going to start your usual nonsense again, pretending I wrote stuff that isn't there? We were having a nice little conversation, which I'm happy to continue if and only if you don't start your usual BS.

I wrote, "Where, exactly, do you think Habitat gets a lot of its money? Answer (according to them): The government."

I didn't say majority, I didn't say how much. But $20 million seems like a lot of money to me.

So, lemme know if you're starting your usual misreading/misrepresenting crap again, so I can know whether to stop wasting time.

Otherwise I'm happy to continue a pleasant conversation.

Alan said...

Well, I had a previous comment that disappeared. Dang.

Well, I'll try to replicate it ... but briefer... It was before my last comment asking Craig to start reading more carefully.

1) Yes, Habitat provides housing to the homeless. I've seen it. They'll provide housing to anyone who meets their requirements for being able to pay their low/no interest mortgages and provides hours on their own house and others. Of the 50 homeless men who stay in our sanctuary for a week in the winter, almost all of them have jobs ... sometimes 2 or 3, and I'd wager some of them would have a high enough income to get a Habitat House if one were available. If you believe that homeless = no income, Craig, I'd say you're the one with the misapprehension.

2) All you've done is provide examples and statistics to demonstrate that Habitat uses government help. If the experts use government help, I'm going to agree with them that government can be part of the solution.

"Because, we know how well the government has done at providing low income housing."

This is where so-called conservative thinking so regularly goes off the rails. Point out an example of a government failure, then conclude that government can never and could never ever do anything better. Ever. Just because government has done a bad job with affordable housing in the past, there's no reason why it couldn't do better (and in fact has done so. That some people would like to ignore the successes doesn't mean those successes don't exist.)

"If you keep it in your bedroom, you won't hear a peep from me....Is there a reason to intruduce sex into this?"

Funny, I thought we were talking about the role of government. In particular, I thought we were talking about the need for smaller government. I think it is relevant to point out hypocrisy on that position when I see it, so that people remember that others' seemingly principled positions on smaller government may not be either principled, nor even real positions.

Is there a reason not to discuss smaller government, Craig? ;)

Alan said...

Last point that was in the comment that disappeared...

Craig, when Habitat saves the world and eliminates all homelessness in the US, then I'll be the first one cheering.

If they (and other non-profits) can all do it without any government help (in spite of their currently taking government grants), what's stopping them from doing so?

Once they save the world, I'll be the first person to lobby my elected officials to cut any programs that are no longer needed. How long do you think we should wait for non-profits and religious institutions to fix everything? They've had 234 years.

Alan said...

"and in what areas should the federal government stay out of?"

Also Craig, if you're going to get all testy when I answer your questions, perhaps you shouldn't ask them.

'k?

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Actually, Dan's list is extremely biblical - should one read, for example, St. Paul's exhortation for Christians to deal within the community rather than invoking outside secular law; or Jesus' invocation that we need to deal with one another in cases where insult or injury are taking place, rather than drag others to court.

Having said that, I fail to see the relevance, for all that it makes sense, to the issues at question.

I would agree with Alan that posing the question, "Does Habitat or the government help the homeless more?" is a false dichotomy. While Habitat might, for example, be able to do what it does, over all, cheaper than what public housing does, that is because it does not have the problems of infinite resources, multi-level bureaucracy, and applying one-size-fits-all rules to different circumstances - all problems that face public funding of pretty much anything.

Part of the problem is that the economic issues we face are not just local. They are international. They exist at a level that defied easy policy solutions. For example, Wal-Mart purchases most of its products from China for the not-silly reason they are far more cheap. Yet, this contributes to a number of economic problems, here and abroad. One can certainly decide not to shop at one's local WM, but that will not hurt the company.

This is not to suggest that we should legislate where WM purchases its products; on the contrary, I would find that kind of thing repugnant. This just demonstrates that the problems are far more complex, and weave beyond our local communities in ties that are binding the whole world closer together.

Craig said...

Alan
"Where, exactly, do you think Habitat gets a lot of its money? Answer (according to them): The government."

Sorry, I apparently misunderstood the comment. I believed that since you identified the government as the only source of Habitat money, that you were unaware of the numbers, so I provided them. I would hope that a simple misunderstanding would not be enough to ruin what has been a reasonably pleasant conversation.

1. While someone who is homeless might occasionally meet the qualifications for purchasing a Habitat home, it is not by any means the norm. Some of the homeless may actually earn enough to qualify, but might not meet all of the requirements. Housing is a continuum; for the most part Habitat is dealing with families on a different part of the continuum than those who aren't currently homeless. There are a number of other organizations that work with the homeless, but Habitat is primarily dealing with those who already have housing.

Since I never said government, had no role in these issues, I’m not sure what the issue is here. What I did do is demonstrate that the amount of government grant funding (at all levels, not just federal) is a small part of the money used by Habitat. While the money is available and being used for the purpose intended it is certainly not the primary or even necessary for Habitat to function. It would reduce the number of families served, but not be a crippling loss. Especially when you consider that number include Ameri Corps/Vista funding which is not construction related and would be spent anyway.

I’m not sure how acknowledging a fairly consistent track record of failure in government affordable housing is a failure of conservative logic. If one was to look at the track record of the federal government and compare it with other options, a reasonable person could conclude that the history of federal low income housing would be reason to look elsewhere. That is certainly not to say (nor did I say) that the federal government could never ever provide high quality affordable housing. Certainly they could if they chose to. There may even be some successes, but even the most biased would have to admit that those are few and far between.

I’m still not sure what role the government has in your sex life, nor do I care about your sex life. I’ll make you a deal, when I start to intrude into what you do in your bedroom, then feel free to admonish me for that intrusion. Until then why keep bringing up sex. I thought it was conservatives who were obsessed with sex. I will go on record right now that I stand in favor of abolishing the Department of Interfering with What Happens in Peoples Bedrooms in the name of smaller government. Mostly I’m just glad that I am not actually advocating this sort of thing. I’d love to see the size of the federal government reduced. But, I’m still not sure of the link between housing issues and sex.
“Craig, when Habitat saves the world and eliminates all homelessness in the US, then I'll be the first one cheering.”
I’m glad to hear it. Hopefully you’ll maybe support them along the way as well.
“If they (and other non-profits) can all do it without any government help (in spite of their currently taking government grants), what's stopping them from doing so?”
Since no one here has suggested this, I’m not sure how I could possible respond in a way that might satisfy you.
“Once they save the world, I'll be the first person to lobby my elected officials to cut any programs that are no longer needed.”
No offense, but I’ll believe it when I see it. So, what unneeded federal programs have you lobbied to end?

"and in what areas should the federal government stay out of?"
“Also Craig, if you're going to get all testy when I answer your questions, perhaps you shouldn't ask them.”
Since when is asking a question getting testy? Thank goodness, you’ve given up snark. ;)

Craig said...

GKS,

Thanks for supporting a couple of my points.

"Actually, Dan's list is extremely biblical..."

That was the only point I was attempting to make. That the Biblical ideal of how to deal with these types of issues is a reasonable place to start.

"While Habitat might, for example, be able to do what it does, over all, cheaper than what public housing does, that is because it does not have the problems of infinite resources, multi-level bureaucracy, and applying one-size-fits-all rules to different circumstances - all problems that face public funding of pretty much anything."

Exactly my point. Why would anyone choose to do something less efficiently and less well. Maybe the answer is to divert money that is being used inefficiently in directions where it could be better used. The strength and beauty of organizations like Habitat is exactly that they can tailor their solutions at the local level rather than the national. What is the benefit to anyone in bogging down those in need in "multi-level bureaucracy, and applying one-size-fits-all rules to different circumstances"?

Does it benefit those in need?

Does it benefit the taxpayers whose money is being spent?

How many people go unnerved because of the inefficiency and overhead in the federal system?

Yes, many of these problem are global in scope, but they still remain local as well. I guess that I would suggest, that one can engage locally in some very effective and satisfying ways, without mitigating the need to be aware of the larger problem and engage politically.

Look, I get that this is a political problem. I know it's bigger than one community or one organization. But what energizes me is when you see where God's people are doing some incredible stuff that God is blessing, and to be able to jump in.

I am quite sure that when the homeless folks stay at Alan's church or mine, that there are some incredible moments where God does great things. I guess I'd rather spend time figuring out how to find and multiply those kinds of things, rather than argue about the role of government. I'll do both, but one is sure a lot more fulfilling than the other, IMO.

Dan Trabue said...

Y'all are doing fine without me, it seems. Good conversation, carry on...

Alan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Alan said...

"I’m not sure how acknowledging a fairly consistent track record of failure in government affordable housing is a failure of conservative logic."

Because our government today is not the same as it was 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 100 years ago. If we had one monarch for the last 234 years, then you could make a reasonable argument that if government screwed something up 50 years ago, it is necessarily the case that it absolutely will do so again.

Who, exactly, do you think "the government" is, anyway? Just people. People make mistakes. People can fix mistakes. This notion of "the government" as some faceless fairy tale malevolence makes good political ads, but it isn't reality. If you think government has made mistakes, elect a new government. If you want to elect people who do nothing but say "No" that's fine. If instead, you want to elect people who might do a job better than the last folks, elect those people. Your choice. My choice is to believe that just because some old dead white guys screwed up 50 years ago is no reason to believe that the folks in charge must necessarily follow the same mistakes. And that belief is born out by the evidence.

"Hopefully you’ll maybe support them along the way as well."

Already do. I've worked on several habitat houses and make regular financial contributions.

"So, what unneeded federal programs have you lobbied to end? "

Just a few:

Bans on immigration for people with HIV/AIDS. Unneeded.

Bans on gay adoption. Unneeded.

Bans on gay marriage. Unneeded.

DADT: Unneeded.

The School of the Americas, a US military organization that trains terrorists. Unneeded

The Iraqi war. Unneeded.

Most of the Patriot Act: Unneeded.

Bans on certain types of imported food. Unneeded.

Just a few topics, big and small, that I've contacted my Senators and Representatives about over the last few years that increase the role or size or expense of government.

Craig said...

Your areas of involvement are comendable, thanks for the answer.

As for the history of federal low income housing. One would be foolish to not look at the entire picture when evaluating something of this nature. The whole picture is it is going to take a years of success to balance out the years of failure. I'm sure that there is some good federal housing, but judging by the number of Section 8 houses I've inspected (and a familiaity with the HUD standards), the federal bar on what is aceptable is set pretty low. So, I will be anxious to see more success stories on this front.

I can completly agree with your last paragraph, in that a multi level approach is usually going to be a part of the solution to any problem. I further argee that the one size fits all solution that seems to be the norm for the federal government is almost always going to be more inefficient and ineffective that solutions that originate closer to the problem.

So, we agree (somewhat).

Since I was not the one who brougt what you do in your bedroom into the conversation, I waa under the impression that I had not intruduced sex into the discussion. Pardon me for responding to your comments/answering your questions.

Alan said...

"Since I was not the one who brougt what you do in your bedroom into the conversation, I waa under the impression that I had not intruduced sex into the discussion. Pardon me for responding to your comments/answering your questions."

And since I was not the one who first asked the direct question, " in what areas should the federal government stay out of?" I was under the impression that you wanted to know what areas the freakin' government ought to stay out of. Pardon me for actually reading your words and responding to your questions. I know neither is something you're in the habit of doing, so I can understand why you're confused.

But please, keep it up until this whole conversation is about your continued obsession with sex. Or you could let it go and move on. Your choice.

"One would be foolish to not look at the entire picture when evaluating something of this nature."

Yup. As you may have noticed, I've written several times that we should absolutely look at the failures and learn from them. But if the result is always "don't do anything ever" then I'm not convinced we've actually *learned* anything. Instead, I'm for actually learning something from the failures of the past so that we can do better, not just do nothing.

Because people actually do need homes. And food. And healthcare. And just saying "NO!" because Cabrini-Green (for example) was such a failure doesn't mean there can't be better alternatives to both failure and doing nothing. That is, if we're actually motivated to learn from the past instead of just "refudiate" it.

So if the options are:
1) repeat failure
2) do nothing
3) learn from failures and improve

I'm for 3 most of the time. Hope that's clear enough.

"one size fits all solution"

You didn't understand what I meant. Actually I was referring to your notion that government always has to be last to help. But it couldn't possibly matter, as I don't have any confidence that explaining it yet again would elicit further understanding.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Actually, Craig, I understand the complaints about inefficiencies in all sorts of public projects, not the least of them public housing. At the same time, the problem, overall, is generally far less horrid than one assumes. As Alan points out, "public projects" aren't some weird thing no one understands. On the contrary. They are marvelously detailed plans for doing specific things in a particular way (full disclosure - I once worked for a public agency at the local level and spent more time than I care to remember creating and revising a multi-binders-thick manual on policies and procedures; if one jot or tittle was deviated from, it could result in serious repercussions).

One thing I think we all agree on is that it would be preferable if there were fewer obstacles in the way of all sorts of beneficial acts toward the poor. Inefficiency is a frustrating factor; technocrats at any level, and both in the public and private sector realized long ago that more inputs (more people on committees, that kind of thing) create more headaches. The problem, particularly in the public realm, is that while unwelcome, these inputs are necessary because it is public.

This is why inefficiencies in public projects are generally tolerable - they are usually safeguards preventing abuse and misallocation. The one public sector where the fox guards the henhouse is the Defense Department. With nearly a trillion dollars in appropriations each year, it is quite literally impossible, no matter the number of number crunchers and oversight, to keep track of all that cash, which invites corruption.

Having said all that, we are still left with the problem of the poor, and how we Christians are to respond in a Biblically and theologically authentic manner. I think we all agree this is the question. I think that railing against problems inherent in any large bureaucracy - public or private - is a waste of time, really (and this is just my position) because it ends up distracting us from the very real need to do stuff.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Related to this last sentence, I would also say that we need to be careful we don't get so caught up in making sure we have the "right" solution, we end up procrastinating doing anything because we haven't tweaked it just so.

My favorite quote from FDR is his admonition to members of his Administration - "For God's sake, do something" - that was the central philosophy behind what he called "bold, persistent experimentation". Non-ideological, FDR's preference was that we keep trying stuff. If some stuff didn't work, well, try something else. The point wasn't to get it right, in either a technocratic or ideological sense, but to do it so that people who were hurting got help.

That lies at the heart of my frustration with both parties at the moment, and is, I think, non-ideological. Both the Republicans and Democrats are in search of magic-bullets (and I think the Republican criticism of Obama that he oversold the stimulus package on that score is sound) rather than telling us that we're in it for the long haul and we need patience and a willingness to think outside all sorts of fiscal and monetary boxes if we're going to repair the damage.

Craig said...

Alan,

Pardon me for not seeing the connection between the topic at hand any your bedroom activities, consider the matter dropped.

"So if the options are:
1) repeat failure
2) do nothing
3) learn from failures and improve"

I have no problem with #3 being the most desirable option, the problem is that much of what happens through government action seems to be either #1, or as GKS suggests #2 because we can't come up with the perfect solution.

I guess I would suggest that maybe part of the solution is to bypass as much government involvement as possible. It seems safe to say that government is not necessarily a prime source of innovation so why not look elsewhere. Maybe increase grants to private organizations while reducing direct government involvement.

GKS,

"Having said all that, we are still left with the problem of the poor, and how we Christians are to respond in a Biblically and theologically authentic manner. I think we all agree this is the question. I think that railing against problems inherent in any large bureaucracy - public or private - is a waste of time, really (and this is just my position) because it ends up distracting us from the very real need to do stuff."

I think I said something similar earlier in this thread. My position is that as the Church we all benefit from actually doing things to help people.

As far as tolerating inefficiency, I'd just say that it is a fine line between acknowledging that "that's just how it is" and accepting it as the norm. Just because there is some inefficiency built into the process doesn't mean we shouldn't keep looking for a way to do things better.

Dan Trabue said...

I think we can all agree that efficiency is preferred over inefficiency - whether that inefficiency is in HUD or in the military.

I think we further agree that just because the military or HUD may have had a program(s) that are/were inefficient does not invalidate HUD or the military.

Fair enough?

Now, I've a question: We've already pointed out that Habitat For Humanity - a non-profit/non-governmental agency - receives money from the gov't. Do we agree that this is a good thing?

Or, for another example, my wife's agency (a Christian non-profit agency) manages affordable housing that has been built, at least in part, by gov't (HUD) dollars. Big gov't isn't "giving money" taken from the rich straight to the poor, but they are giving grant money to private non-profits who've proven their worth.

Do we agree that this is a good thing?

Obviously, Habitat for Humanity or my wife's agency could both do SOMETHING for the poor, even without the gov't infusion of money. The point is, they'd be doing less, simply because they would have fewer dollars.

Is the gov't giving grant money to these non-profits a good thing?

If we can all agree on that, then where's the beef?

Craig said...

"Is the gov't giving grant money to these non-profits a good thing?"

I can agree that in the abstract government grants to organizations like these can be good. I would draw some distinctions between federal, state, and local, but not necessarily a bad thing.

I assume that you are saying that government grants to these organizations are good is predicated on the money being used wisely and efficiently.

If it is possible that the organizations receiving the grants can use the money more effectively than (for exampl) HUD, then why shouldn't we get rid of HUD and use the money to provide more grants?

Dan Trabue said...

You asked...

I assume that you are saying that government grants to these organizations are good is predicated on the money being used wisely and efficiently.

And then asked...

If it is possible that the organizations receiving the grants can use the money more effectively than (for exampl) HUD, then why shouldn't we get rid of HUD and use the money to provide more grants?

And I'd suggest the answer to the first question is found in the second question. We have HUD as the overseer of the money, they insure that it is being spent wisely, responsibly, transparently and in accordance to our laws and ideals.

You probably would agree that you don't want to just hand out grants willy nilly with no oversight or guidelines, right?

Well, in the area of housing, an entity like HUD is the one responsible for doing this.

Could HUD be streamlined and downsized and still accomplish this? I don't know. Maybe. I don't know enough details of the organization.

The answer, I would guess, is probably yes. Yes, gov't entities like HUD or the military or the fire department could likely be run more efficiently and effectively. It's hard, in my estimation, to manage large organizations like HUD or the military without some level of inefficiency. In all cases, efficiency should be maximized and a goal to strive towards.

But do away with HUD or the military? I don't know that either would be wise or feasible.

Alan said...

"It seems safe to say that government is not necessarily a prime source of innovation so why not look elsewhere."

Really?

The US holds something like 90% of the intellectual property in the world. Have you considered, in scientific fields, how much of that is funded by the federal government?

I don't know the exact number, but it's huge.

And how many high-tech start ups were public/private partnerships spun off of NIH/NSF funded research? Again the number is huge. We have a whole office full of people here at the U just to handle such enterprises.

How much of that research was funded by local government? The number rounds to zero.

State? Well, the U receives a mere 7% of its budget from the state of Michigan, so that number essentially rounds to zero.

Of course, a great deal of innovation in science also takes place in private companies. But how many of those innovations were based on the basic research that is completely unprofitable and was thus funded through government grants at research universities? Most of it.

In this case, at least, I'd say the federal government is key to this sort of innovation.

Craig said...

Dan,

Ok, let's cut HUD by 90% just keep a necessary level of oversight and the use the savings to provide grants and/or reduce the deficit. Sounds like a plan.

In theory, there is probably some room to do some cutting in the military, but it's a little more complex.

Alan,

It seems that what you are saying is that the federal government funds some level of innovation. I have no problem agreeing with that. My point is that a our government structure is not going to produce innovation from within. I'm not sure we can equate funding innovation with actual innovation.

Alan said...

"I'm not sure we can equate funding innovation with actual innovation."

Still, it's a role to play. And certainly without the funding, less innovation will happen.

"My point is that a our government structure is not going to produce innovation from within."

In addition to funding, there are also examples of real innovation through government programs such as nuclear energy (both peaceful and wartime applications), space exploration, etc. So "not going to produce" is incorrect. A possibly more defensible position might be "less likely to produce".

Alan said...

"In theory, there is probably some room to do some cutting in the military"

In theory?

I might start by cutting unnecessary wars. That would save a few billion right there. Not to mention real lives.

Craig said...

OK much less likely to produce...

Yes there is room to cut in the military.

I said "in theory" because I'm not sure I have the willingness to go down that road right now. It's also a little trickier as the existence of some means of national defense is mandated by the constitution while HUD is not. So any cuts would need to be made within that framework.

I realize that you would argue that "unnecesary" wars would fit within that framework (as would I). This is an area where we are going to disagree significantly and I don't see as much room for common ground as there is in some of the other areas we discussed.

Honestly, given Dan's pretty much blanket pacifism (I don't know where you stand), there would probably be some disagreements between you three on what constitutes a necessary war as opposed to an "unnecessary" war.

But, maybe we can agree that there are areas to be cut and that a more efficient military is by and large a good thing.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

There are whole weapons systems that we neither need nor have any actual use that continue to be funded not because the Pentagon wants them, but because a member of Congress has a factory in his or her district that makes it.

We could, for example, eliminate all funding for outmoded and vulnerable naval weapons platforms - destoryers, say (they hunt subs, and American subs hunt other subs better than any destoryer) - and that would pretty much cover the budget for the Department of Education, say, or Interior.

Consider that for a moment.

You want to get rid of HUD? Fine. On the other hand, HUD might be affordable if we actually worked to get rid of all sorts of crap in the Defense budget.

It should also be noted that many of the same Republicans who insist on voting for outmoded weapons systems refuse time after time to raise enlisted pay.

Alan said...

"It should also be noted that many of the same Republicans who insist on voting for outmoded weapons systems refuse time after time to raise enlisted pay."

... while voting for their own pay increases, a little bit of info that the people who vote for them keep forgetting about when it comes time to vote. Because Republicans "support the troops."

Yeah, sure.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

"Support the troops" is one of those phrases that actually means the opposite. The previous Republican Congresses did not want to raise enlisted base pay enough to keep their families off public assistance; did not want to raise their combat bonuses; did not want to grant bonuses to those who re-enlisted during a time of war.

They did not want to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs. They starved various Veterans Health programs to the point that DVA policy doesn't allow granting coverage of mental health coverage for PTSD directly related to service time, if it isn't accompanied by other injuries. The state of affairs at various DVA hospitals is already well known.

Facts be damned, when in power the Republican Party only wants to give the Pentagon oodles of cash to buy all sorts of big, shiny, noisy things that blow stuff up but are totally useless in our current context. We don't need the F-22 Raptor, but a new generation of attack helicopter might be nice. The M1-A1 Abrams tank is already nearly a generation old, performs horribly in desert conditions and is useless in close-combat urban warfare situations (it's a target, and isn't used because it merely draws extra fire).

Don't even get me started on the Navy. The same branch that wants us to build battleships, a platform that was obsolete before the first shots were fired in the First World War. Carriers are huge, impressive status symbols that require so much protection they create more problems than they are worth.

As soon as some Republican somewhere starts talking about stuff like this, instead of harping on waste and inefficiencies in other Departments that are grossly underfunded, understaffed, and underutilized, I will take them at their word that they are fiscally responsible. Otherwise, not so much.

Craig said...

"But, maybe we can agree that there are areas to be cut and that a more efficient military is by and large a good thing."

So, we agree.

I'd be more sympathetic to your views on the republicans, had the congress (veto proof democratic majority in the senate, and complete control of the house, and the presidency) done or even proposed and brought to a vote any of your suggestions.

I'm not arguing the validity of your points, I agree with the areas that could be cut or redirected. I just don't think you can let your dems off the hook so easily.

It's amazing how much vitriol a comment like "...there are areas to be cut and that a more efficient military is by and large a good thing." can generate.

Here's a deal, you cut funding for all of the destroyers in the navy, and I'll cut the NEA. Can we go for that.

BTW, what would eliminating a bunch of destroyers do to unemployment?

GKS, actually the Arleigh Burke class destroyers are primarily SAM ships not primarily ASW. So what would you propose to fill the SAM role in the fleet.

Alan said...

"I'd be more sympathetic to your views on the republicans, had the congress (veto proof democratic majority in the senate, and complete control of the house, and the presidency) done or even proposed and brought to a vote any of your suggestions. "

So a Republican house from the 103rd to the 109th Congress, a Republican Senate, and Republican President Bush (not to mention a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for good measure) couldn't have done these things?

Nice revisionist history. Yes, Craig, the Republicans have never controlled all 3 branches of government, ever. LOL

Your "blame the Democrats" talking points are old.

Meanwhile, I agree with Geoffrey, actions speak louder than words, and Republicans can't be taken at their word.

LOL. Fiscal responsibility. We want to cut destroyers (the newest ones cost 3-4 BILLION dollars per destroyer), and you want to discuss cutting the NEA (current budget $161.3 million). Having some problems with decimal points or powers of 10 there, Craig? And you think *you're* the one being fiscally responsible? LOL Funny.

And unlike you, let me reiterate that any legislator, Democrat or Republican, who supports these bloated defense budgets is at fault.

You asked about programs I think should be cut and what I've done to support eliminating those expenses. Other than the paltry NEA budget, it seems you're the only one here arguing for massive government spending.

Alan said...

Oops. Old data. The newest class of destroyers isn't actually costing 3 Billion. That's what they were "supposed" to cost.

"US DoD's top acquisition official, stated that the per ship price for the Zumwalt destroyers had reached $5.964 billion, 81 percent over the Navy's original estimate "

Oops.

I'm sure there's no waste there to cut. Let's go after the Muppets instead.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

On the SAM destroyers - why have them at all? Our entire Naval doctrine was outmoded before the First World War. During the Second World War, the various "naval" battles were actually airplanes sinking ships. They are large, slow, easy targets. We don't need a navy, certainly not one designed to fight the battle of Gibraltar all over again.

That's part of my point.

As for the NEA, why cut it? It serves a variety of useful functions, and its motto - "A great nation deserves great art" - is hard to argue. Besides, You cutting the NEA doesn't mean squat compared to, say, the massive boondoggle of missile defense. Billions and billions of dollars wasted, finally deployed in a limited capacity after a series of rigged tests, even more billions to sustain and it serves zero useful strategic purpose, let alone actually working.

So, please, as soon as someone explains to me the equivalence here, I will listen. Otherwise, try flying an Osprey home (hint - they always crash and kill everyone on board, the Marines don't want them, but Congress keeps spending money on them).

Edwin Drood said...

Why can't the federal government just fund those things that defined in the constitution as the responsibility of the federal government and let states and private sector fund the rest?

GTK, we need ships to launch aircraft and cruise missiles, we need more ships to protect the ones doing the launching. It if very difficult for an aircraft to attack a ship as they will face "missile lock" and then death.

Craig said...

Alan,

Whether intentionally or not, you miss my point. The democrats have had control of all 3 branches of government for the past 18 months or so, yet none of the cuts you want have been made. How is then that the republicans draw the vast majority of your ire. Maybe some action from the left would be a good thing. Oh, but they can't because the republicans won't let them. Great line, but the whole concept of control of all three brances of government means, shockingly enough, control.

GKS,

It seems your point is that since the majority on naval battles since 1940 or so have involved aircraft sinking ships, your response would be to eliminate the ships tasked with shooting down the airplanes. Well thought out. Maybe we should eliminate the navy, add the ships to the latest arms sale to the Saudi's, and dump a few million more folks on unemployment.

ED

What a concept, we'll never see it.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Edwin - the Constitution doesn't actually say anything other than Congress shall fund stuff. What that stuff is, well, is up to Congress. Unless you have a different copy of the Constitution than I do.

Craig - my point is simple. I read a whole lot on military doctrine. Most folks who know this stuff and study this stuff are unanimous that navies are outmoded. Even as a weapons platform, they are unnecessary. The only reason the US Navy still exists is that one could combine the navies of the next five, ten, 15 naval powers and it still wouldn't come close in size, technological superiority, or sheer firepower to the US Navy.

Because those other countries understand that navies aren't really important anymore. Countries like Britain, France, Russia, and China. They are a huge vacuum on resources, and their return on investment is negative.

Billy Mitchell made this point ninety years ago. It is still lost on most American military planners who just love those big shiny toys.

Dan Trabue said...

Great conversation, all. As might be expected, I agree with Geoffrey and Alan. And, to the degree that we're talking about making reasonable cuts based on rational evaluation, perhaps I could agree some with you, Craig.

A blanket cutting of 90% to the HUD budget? Based on what? What if that meant that my wife's programs and Habitat's work? If you can show a particular budget item that you can make a case for cutting, by all means do so. But a blanket cut? No, I don't think that's rational.

But like Geoffrey's argument against the Navy? Pretty compelling for at least reducing some parts of it. Based on some grounds, not just a blanket cut.

And the argument "It will cost jobs if we end that program..." if THAT were the argument, then we'd still be building gatling guns so as not to lose jobs in the vital gatling gun industry.

Craig said...

GKS,

If your argument is that navies in general are outmoded, then that is one thing. Your original statement was that we should get rid of DDG's because they are primarily ASW platforms and subs are better at ASW. However, the most recent DDG's are in fact primarily anti air platforms. So, if you're original point is correct then we should not eliminate DDG's as they offer protection against what you point out is the greatest threat.

While you are welcome to your opinion, I'm not convinced that we should eliminate the navy entirely.

I can only assume that your invocation of Mitchell means you think we should increase our strategic bomber force and use that to project power in the way that a CVBG does currently.

Dan,

I would love to see reasonable cuts based on rational evaluation in the federal budget. We certainly haven't seen much since the dems have achieved control. Maybe we will some day.

Re Hud; My proposal was that we eliminate 90% of HUD, keeping some of the oversight functions intact and take some or all of the savings and do direct grants to organizations that are doing effective work in the area of housing. In any event, my suggestion was more of an example than an actual proposal.

As to the "losing jobs" "argument", I think you misunderstood me. I am suggesting that during this period of really high unemployment that eliminating the building of an entire class or classes of ships would have seem to be a bad political move. Adding hundreds of thousands to the unemployment rolls as well as the loss of the tax revenues seems like it would not be good from an economic sense either.

Dan Trabue said...

It looks like to me we mostly all agree on the principles:

1. Inefficiency = bad.

2. We ought to strive to remove inefficiencies in gov't where we can.

3. There almost certainly exists inefficiencies in almost certainly all areas of gov't, military and HUD included.

4. We ought to decrease funding based on reducing inefficiencies, not just randomly cut. If no inefficiencies or lack of need are found in a dept, we can't reasonably demand a cut (although perhaps economic times may demand it at times).

Fair enough?

I'm curious, Craig and any other right-ish types: Would you all advocate the blanket removal of NASA (as some here have suggested or nearly suggested for HUD and the NEA) because it does not exist as a "role of gov't" in the Constitution?

As to HUD, Craig, what if 90% of their budget went out to non-profits in the form of grants, etc? Wouldn't gutting 90% of their budget be the same as ending all those grants?

Alan said...

"Oh, but they can't because the republicans won't let them. "

Indeed. Now you're getting it.

18 months, vs 7 years, Craig. Are you serious? Seriously serious? Because even I can do that sort of math.

Cutting defense dollars? Are you honestly saying that Republicans would let them do that? What color is the sky in your fantasy world?

Yes, let's only fund what's in the Constitution. Good bye, Fire Protection. Much like the nutjobs who let someone's house burn because they didn't pay their fire protection fee.

Good bye, roads.

Good bye, science.

Good bye, most of the defense department. (The constitution never authorizes a war department that is offensive.)

And Hellooooo Slavery!!

Originalists are morons.

Alan said...

Since we're talking about the billions wasted by the Pentagon and the millions wasted by the NEA, here's one that I'm sure we'll find agreement on, Craig.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/10/fbi-tracking-device/

I'm sure I'll see page after page of outrage about this from small-government and teabagger blogs complaining about the complete waste of federal government money and resources.

Or not.

Alan said...

"Great line, but the whole concept of control of all three brances of government means, shockingly enough, control. "

BTW, Craig, could you please look up the word "Filibuster" before you start making more silly statements like that one?

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

On the Destroyers as anti-air weapons. Yes, they are. They are anti-air weapons to protect the Carrier. In other words, the entire system of naval weapons platforms (with the possible exception of the ballistic missile submarine and the Cruiser, from which Cruise missiles have been launched) exist to protect one another so that . . . we can have a navy!

The ballistic missile submarine is the most important leg of the our three-legged nuclear deterrent stool. They go out, sit very deep in the water, and wait for the signal to kill millions of human beings. Yeah, let's keep 'em!

As for the cruisers - land-based planes (the B-52 in its various guises, the B-1B bomber and Stealth bomber) are just as nice at launching cruise missiles, far less expensive (a crew of, at most, five or six, compared to hundreds on a cruiser), and the missile gets where its going.

You see how this works, Craig? Naval war-fighting doctrine centers on . . . protecting the Navy's assets! It used to pretend to be about projecting power, but since ships are just big floating targets, they need a huge array of other ships to do nothing other than protect them.

That's my argument against much of the Navy. It begins by realizing we aren't in the 19th century anymore and crossing the enemy's "T" is as anachronistic as the use of horse cavalry (the British were slow in learning that lesson, too).

Craig said...

Dan,

I'll try this one more time. Reduce HUD by 90% (this is a hypothetical example), keep the oversight function, then use the funding that would have funded the 90% of HUD for grants.

Alan,

Yes, I know what a filibuster is. A also remember the jumping for joy when the dems acquired the filibuster proof majority. 18 months and your side has done nothing on this, that must be disappointing.

GKS,

Thanks for your response, however my point was that you had incorrectly suggested that destroyers were primarily ASW platforms. Since you have acknowledged your error on this, I await the democratic party starting the "get rid of the navy movement".

As far as your assertion that air power can accomplish everything that naval power can, to each his own.

Also, while cruisers can fire tomahawks, they are also primarily a SAM platform.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig, I don't think we're understanding one another.

Do you know what percentage of HUD money goes to fund Habitat and other non-profits? I don't know, either. How about this: Let's assume 90%.

So, let's assume a budget of $10 million. So, $1 million goes towards administrating $9 million that goes to non-profits.

What exactly are you suggesting, in that scenario?

(And, for the record, I understand that HUD does more than just various housing projects - there's also the "Urban Development" portion of their mission - but unless someone has some specific numbers and context, let's assume this scenario, fair enough?)

Alan said...

Actually Craig, you might remember that the Democrats have never held 60 seats in that 18 months, so again, please quit your revisionist history. You only get to 60 if you include two independents who do not always vote with the Democrats.

Again, this information should be widely available anywhere on the web. Even wikipedia has it correct.

So please stop trying to snow us with your misinformation. If you don't know or understand basic parliamentary procedures, please feel free to ask.

Alan said...

BTW, Craig, 18 months is nothing like 8 years.

Still can't do the math?

Alan said...

It is funny how these conversations go...

Craig asks for instances of where we'd like to cut government, and we provide numerous examples, both domestic and defense related. Of course, he instead decides to criticize the NEA.

We discuss the massive DOD budget, and he defends it and instead decides to focus on the fact that Democrats couldn't cut it in 18 months of not actually having a filibuster proof majority in the Senate because he doesn't understand the word "majority. In other words, he's interested in complaining and arguing about a process issue he apparently doesn't even understand rather than simply admitting, "Yup, You're right. Republicans DID rack up amazing debt in just a short period of time and did absolutely nothing to cut spending."

He bobs and weaves, trying to ignore the main ideas by focusing on minutia (and getting even the minutia wrong.)

That's yet another reason why these conversations go no where. People are incapable of actually acknowledging basic, simple facts, so they instead focus on random distractions hoping no one notices how fast they're trying to dance away from the main point.

So, back to the topic that started all this ... the role of the federal government...

When Republicans actually start to cut the size of government, then I'll believe they mean it. In 100 comments, the best Craig can come up with is the NEA. We've come up with both defense AND social programs we'd be happy to see the federal government drop.

Craig has the NEA.

Bully for him.

Craig said...

Dan,

I'll try once more, (again this is an example not actual numbers). If the budget of HUD is 10 billion. I would propose that the budget be reduced to fund what ever oversight and other functions are necessary, then the remainder would be sent out via grants. This would (in theory) allow for more money to be spent directly on projects and less on overhead. It's a pretty simple concept, sorry if I'm not explaining it well.

Alan,

First, I have agreed that there are areas in the military, that should be cut.

Second, It would seem then that it is those darn independents that are keeping the dems from proposing the type of cuts you espouse. Please not I said propose, not pass. I'd be happy had the dems actually proposed significant cuts, but that's probably asking too much.

Third, since the chances of the dems picking up enough senate seats in Nov to get 61 seems slim, you'll be able to continue to blame everything wrong with the country on the reps. Lucky for you.

"When Republicans actually start to cut the size of government, then I'll believe they mean it. "

Since I don't speak for the republicans, I guess we're just screwed. But we have a pretty cool form of government where that majority party can propose and pass legislation too. So, what have your folks done to convince you they will do any better.

Sorry, try reading more closely, I've suggested HUD, NEA, and agreed with defense.

I'd waiting for you to suggest ending the right of the minority party to filibuster.

Alan said...

Craig wrote, "you'll be able to continue to blame everything wrong with the country on the reps. Lucky for you."

LOL. Incapable of reading the numerous times I've clearly laid out my view on *both* parties? Here's an example:

"So, until real conservatives can take back the Republican party so that there is someone there to actually make the real conservative argument (and when that happens, I can go back to voting Republican), nothing will move forward. In the same way, until we find some liberals with balls enough to take up a valid argument and not run scurrying under the bed every time the poll numbers drop 5 points, nothing will move forward."

Sorry it isn't in crayon, but if there are things in there you don't understand, let me know and I'll use smaller words. Do you get paid to look so foolish, Craig? Because I can't see any reason you'd keep it up without some sort of paycheck.

Or would you like to now be man enough admit that your comment above was stupid and you wrote it without thinking? That is, Craig, can you ever actually concede a point when you're wrong? Ever? Or do you just resort to the sort of stupid comments evidenced above? Seriously, in spite of my several comments to the contrary, do you *really* think that I *only* blame Republicans? Or are you clever enough to see the *actual* point I've made several times now about the difference between 18 months and 8 years and that, while both parties may share blame, they clearly do not share equal responsibility for recent history?

Because if you're just going to pull your usual stunts of intentionally misrepresenting people's positions so that you can weasel out of any substantive debate (then whine about it), in order to get people off topic, please let me know.

(BTW, if you could look up the term "political capital" that might be useful in explaining why someone wouldn't want to propose legislation that is doomed from the start. The realities of political tactics really aren't that complicated.)

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

I'll try once more, (again this is an example not actual numbers). If the budget of HUD is 10 billion. I would propose that the budget be reduced to fund what ever oversight and other functions are necessary, then the remainder would be sent out via grants.

So, isn't that the same as what I've said?? I said, "IF the budget is $10 billion AND they give $9 billion out in grants AND it takes $1 billion worth of management/oversight expenses. are you okay with that?" The answer appears to be yes, is that right?

Good enough, then. Unless you have some numbers to support cuts (90%!) to HUD, then I'll stand by it as it is, flawed and all. IF you have some specific suggestions to specific expenses, I'm willing to listen.

Did you ever say if you'd cut NASA, since it's not a Constitutionally-approved line item?

Craig said...

Dan,

My point with HUD is that there is a significant amount of unnecessary overhead that could be cut which would allow those funds to be used to more directly help those who need it.

As for NASA, although there have been many benefits that have come from the space program, I would have no problem privatizing it. I would think that you might have a problem placing our access to space in the hands of for profit private companies, but personally I could go either way.

"When Republicans actually start to cut the size of government, then I'll believe they mean it."

See when I read comments like this I get confused. Obviously the term "Republicans" is actually a code word for "*both* parties". How silly of me.

Had you actually read my earlier comments you would have noticed that I have actually conceded points in this very thread. I have also admitted mistakes. If you are going to "intentionally misrepresenting people's (my)positions", then maybe you should admit it.

Dan Trabue said...

Craig...

My point with HUD is that there is a significant amount of unnecessary overhead that could be cut which would allow those funds to be used to more directly help those who need it..

Okay. Where?

I have no doubt that, just like in the military and in the DOT and in Congress and the president's office there are areas where waste and needless bureaucracy occurs. I'm just not sufficiently informed enough to say where.

I doubt seriously that there is any more waste in HUD than there is in the military (I suspect that the military - being even more sprawling and uncontained than HUD - has much more, but that's just a guess).

I'm opposed to generally slashing any budget blindly, but I fully support cleaning up any waste that can be pointed to. Can you point to any specifics?

I'm glad to hear that you're okay with privatizing NASA. I suspect that perhaps most of your conservative comrades would disagree with that, with the exception of the Libertarians.

Craig said...

Dan,

I've not actually suggested that we blindly slash anything. I used an example of a situation where I believe that Habitat (or others) can spend HUD money more effectively than HUD can. So to minimize the HUD beauracracy in favor of direct grants seems to be sensible. Obviously, it would need tobe determined exactly where such cuts would occur. Also, I was using HUD as an example. There are cuts to be made throughout our federal government. My concern is that the needed cuts won't be made and we will continue to simply spend more.

Since, I am not most conservatives or libertarians, I really don't care if they agree with me or not. I know it is easier to think of people as part of a group, but it is rarely an accurate image of an individual.

Like you I would not subscribe to blindly eliminating NASA, but I could see making it smaller and more focused, and/or privatizing all of part of it's functions.

I can see problems with this approach as well. Not insurmountable, but problems that would need to be addressed.

What I would like to see from our governing class (and we may see it from some of the new folks elected in Nov.) is a desire to actually cut unneeded programs and to pare down others to suit that actual need. I'm not sure the dems have the cojones to piss of the unions and actually make it happen, and if we look at the last 10-12 years the reps haven't been willing to do much more than spend either.