The Myopia of Government Bail-Outs

February 10, 2009

St. Paul told the church at Rome, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due….” (Romans 13:7a). In 21st century democracies (e.g., the United States, India, Kenya) there supposedly exists what American President Abraham Lincoln called “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Why does it seem that most of the time government is for itself, not for the people?

The economy of the United States has a significant effect on the rest of the world. When the current economic crisis was finally acknowledged in the fall of 2008, government leaders claimed that unless unprecedented amounts of capital were infused into the banking system, there could be total economic collapse. There were warnings that the lack of available credit, primarily due to the “sub-prime” lending practices of the banks that needed to be bailed out, would prevent the economy from rebounding (i.e., no business investment, therefore no new jobs).

The result of the “sky is falling” predictions was a hastily-drafted $700 billion bailout called TARP (“Troubled Assets Relief Program”). Needless to say, TARP was thrust upon America without well-thought-out safeguards. But, hey, it’s only taxpayer money. Even more disconcerting is the fact that TARP effectively puts government in the position of having a say in how private banks and investment firms run their businesses (and we’re not talking about mere regulations, but investment strategies). This encroachment of the government into the private sector is a further step away from free-enterprise, and another step closer to socialism. But, of course, the TARP bailout would stimulate the economy by restoring the flow of credit. Or so we were told.

The encroachment of government into the private business sector is consistent with government intrusion into the charitable sector. Most religious people, and Christians in particular (who make up the bulk of citizens in the U.S.) are inclined to helping the poor and needy through providing food, shelter and medical services to the needy. These services have historically been provided directly by churches and para-church ministries. The 20th century saw government begin to usurp what had been a mission of the church, starting its own “War on Poverty” and other social programs that involved large giveaways of taxpayer money. The noble goal was to eliminate ghettos and provide equal opportunity for all. But, as evangelist Billy Graham once said, “You can’t get man out of the ghetto until you get the ghetto out of man.” In short, what the government myopically saw as an economic problem (ala Marx), turned out to be something else. Those who take the Bible seriously see it as a spiritual problem, requiring a change of the heart before there can be any significant change in the way we live.

When government began to socialize ministry to the needy, not only did it bungle the job (as the debacle of Hurricane Katrina so graphically illustrated) but it created a disincentive for Christians to continue providing services to the needy. Since our tax dollars were being used for disaster relief, many wondered why should we also give money to the church to do what the government has now begun doing? Of course, a close look at the Katrina saga shows that other than the first responders such as the Coast Guard, who rescued many who otherwise would have perished, the best short and long-term assistances came from Christian organizations who saw helping their neighbors as a ministry as opposed to a job. Many of those organizations are still a presence in the Katrina-ravaged areas, long after the photo-ops disappeared. But the bulk of the money allocated by the government to rebuild sits unused as government agencies fight over who gets to spend the money.

Fast forward to February 2009. Since we haven’t learned our lesson that government involvement typically makes things worse, at least the $700 billion TARP bailout fixed the economy, right? Of course not. Today the U.S. Senate approved an $838 billion “stimulus package” to fix the economy. This latest tax-dollar giveaway was sold to the American people as essential to avoid a greater catastrophe, i.e., the further down-spiraling of the economy. But wait—isn’t that what we heard back in October 2008—that unless the government acted immediate, the sky would fall? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Now that we’re up to $1.5 trillion in bailouts from taxpayers, can we seriously expect that our government leaders’ latest hastily-cobbled plan will work? We hope so, but we have no objective reason to believe so. Given its track record, when the government tells us to “Trust” it, we are being asked to exercise a blind faith at best, credulity at worst.

Regarding the $838 billion plan, President Obama says it will help “create or save” four million jobs.” A worthy goal, even if it’s not the government’s role to do so. But, first, how will we ever know whether the plan works? How does one determine whether someone’s job was “saved” because of the stimulus package? If 100 million people are working jobs in the U.S. at this moment, and if in one year there are still 100 million people working, did the stimulus package save those 100 million jobs? Only if the government can prove that without the stimulus package there would be no jobs.

Finally, using $838 billion to “create or save” four million jobs comes to $209,500 per job. Must be nice jobs. Maybe the government should, instead, just give all unemployed people $100,000 to spend as they see fit. That should “stimulate” the economy for awhile, until the next crisis that demands immediate attention and several hundred billion dollars in government spending and bailout.

The dye of socialism has been cast. People of faith are having their role usurped by a growing leviathan called “government.” It is difficult to consider the government as being “we, the people.” Instead, it looks more like “you, the elite.” And those elite who spend our money continue to miss the spiritual roots of most of the problems facing America and other countries. As the world continues its decline toward secularism, the reality of “good” and “evil” is diminished, and what has traditionally been labeled “wrong” for millennia is now just “different.” The ultimate solution is not an economic bailout, but an inward transformation of the individual, a spiritual re-birth. As the Apostle Paul said to the Church at Corinth, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and new things have come.” We don’t need a change of environment, a change of economic policy, a change of climate, or even a change of government leadership. We need a change of heart. That, my friend, comes through trusting Jesus Christ, and allowing His Spirit to lead you. If we follow Him, we can indeed say we are on the right path.