Moral Motions Meet Economic Prosperity

Moral Motions Meet Economic Prosperity

by Mike Pyatt

Mike Pyatt

Many confuse micro and macro economics. Few understand the marginal propensity to save or consume. Most understand a three percent GDP has investors and markets mesmerized. Conservative economists attribute the impetus to President Trump’s turbo charged economic stimulus. Craft and trade workers, those who “shower after work,” now feel the momentum of his “Make America Great Again” policies. More dollars in one’s pocket. Democrats predicted economic disaster. Solid indicators are hard to dismiss, as historic low unemployment, or home ownership among blacks and Latinos at historic high levels. Eighteen states legislated an increase in the minimum wage rate for 2018.

On April 12, 2016, the Burbank Leader, wrote an opinion column, titled “In Theory: Is there a moral component to a living wage?” This was days after New York and California acted to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Dozens of “faith leaders” stood in solidarity, calling for U.S. Presidential candidates to make a “living wage” for low income workers as part of their primary campaign agenda. That coalition of “faith leaders” represented a religious “hodge-podge” from Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Unitarians, and other puzzling theological bedfellows. This was part of an “Interfaith Call for Moral Action on the Economy,” released in honor of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the anniversary of his death. According to the Burbank Leader, this group described “model employers” as those that “pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour, provide decent benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation.” It sounded more like a union rally cry. They railed against the U.S. Government that, “continues to be America’s leading low wage job creator.” Have they looked at government wages lately?

One Jewish leader said it’s not just an economic issue, “It’s a moral crisis.” One member invoked I Timothy 5:18, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” The context is regarding pastors and elders who labor in the ministry of the Gospel. It was a reckless application, foisting a biblical principle on anyone who works in exchange for a living wage. Reverend Brian Griem, was quoted, “Spiritually speaking, people should be paid for the jobs they do, and they should be rightly treated.” His insistence doesn’t hold sway against Jesus’s parable of the laborers in Matthew 20, when some labored but one hour, others who bore a greater burden, labored all day, yet all were paid the same. “Spiritually speaking” would the reverend agree Jesus’s wage paradigm was fair? In the field of hermeneutics, theologians call that eisegesis, not exegesis.

The Calvin Coolidge Foundation insists that a fundamental aspect of President Coolidge’s philosophy was his refusal to separate economics from morality. They insist “He saw them as one in the same, especially true during Coolidge’s presidency.” He also believed that the issue of taxation was a moral issue. In a speech to the Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York, in 1924, he referred to a safeguard against this power of taxation to destroy, saying that a citizen must work a certain time for the government, and that the authority to impose a tax on the people “has been most carefully guarded.” The safeguard which Coolidge referred to was the constitutional mechanisms of checks and balances and separation of powers, which are foundational to the Constitution. His moral economic philosophy was tied to his devotion to the Constitution. He understood the difficult task of implementing economic policies rooted in limited government.

Coolidge warned: “A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny.” He left a warning for today, that seems to have gone unheeded for generations of presidents and congress, “One of the chief dangers to the success of popular government is that it will throw away self-restraint and self-control and adopt laws, which being without sound economic foundation, bring on such financial distress as to result in want, misery, disorder, and the dissolution of society.” It wasn’t long before the Federal government loosed itself from our Constitutional moorings.

Many private organizations embrace moral constructs such as trust, honesty, altruism, and mercy. However, most economic theories are designed to create wealth-not ameliorate poverty. Poverty is relative, and has manifold causes. According to Jesus, the poor will always be with us. The New Testament posts a solemn warning to the lay-about, “He who will not work neither shall he eat.” Poverty of the soul has been the downfall of nations, reaching the summit of prosperity, yet denying their cavernous moral abyss. An ancient, still powerful statism fosters a false, beguiling mood of optimism when decadence has rotted its core. Struggling to uphold permanent things has no surcease.

Centralized government is a bane to solving problems-it creates swamp creatures-and is a cruel task master. Local private faith based organizations are most effective and efficient at delivering compassion, and loosening the shackles of sin and poverty. The national debt clock continues to tick, approaching $21trillion. Federal and state politicians tout the Constitution, yet ignore its checks and balances, squandering our money through profligate spending habits. Senator Rand Paul, tweeted, “The national debt is a threat to our national security and prosperity. Time to cut the waste and balance the budget.”

It’s understandable to want to jump on the next “prosperity train.” Best be certain where that train is going. Consider the age old question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Considered “as the best friend democracy ever has had,” Alexis deTocqueville expressed concern with early America’s propensity toward cupidity. C.S. Lewis summarized our plight, “All that we call human history-money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” What do you think?

Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s

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