Taking Blessings for Granted–Why We Ignore the Benefits of Sound Political Economy to our Ruin

Posted on November 11, 2013 by


As Christian political economists, your Berean bloggers are neither conservative nor liberal (in the classic sense), but rather a combination of both.  And while there is nary a drop of modern liberal blood in our bones, we nonetheless appreciate modern liberalism’s discontent with the status quo, often agreeing with their ends, even though almost always decrying the means they would like to use to achieve those goals.  And this latter appreciation is why we are not rigidly conservative–we realize we live in a fallen world and that existing systems can often reflect our fallen nature and need to be brought under Christ’s rule.  Yet unlike modern liberals, we realize that the societal institutions we have now are not an accident, nor are they simply the result of people that woke up and said, “how can I put up social institutions that are unjust?”  In other words, while our forefathers were indeed fallen, as we are, they too were created Imago Dei.  The institutions that we have can undoubtedly be improved, but the conservative side of us always asks, “how did the institutions we have arise?  What problems were they trying to solve that if we make a change, we may unintentionally recreate?”

It is in this light we look at the increasing flight into Political Economy fantasy highlighted in Mary O’Grady’s piece in the WSJ today.  In New York City, Bill De Blasio won the mayoral contest on a platform of far left extremism, with a large part of it focusing on the alleged oppressive tactics of the NYPD with “stop and frisk.”  Now I don’t doubt that NYPD has some overly aggressive officials, because we see zealots in government in many places (can you say E.P.A.?).  But there is little doubt that the combined terms of Mayor’s Guiliani and Bloomberg took a very dangerous city for its inhabitants into a relatively safe one.  I’ve been in NYC during the 80s and the 00’s, and I can tell you it is literally night and day.  Why would New Yorkers want to go back?

We can ask the same thing with Chile.  As O’Grady writes about Chile’s somewhat conservative  president’s tenure (since 2010):

Chile has grown 5.8% per year on average. When he took office, annual per capita income was $15,000. Today it is $20,000.

This is a performance that most countries would love to have, and yet O’Grady suggests that the socialist candidate, Ms. Bachelet

wants to expand the welfare state. To pay for it she wants to raise corporate tax rates and to tax shareholders on retained earnings along with the dividend taxes they already pay. She would restore a role for the state in the now privatized pension system and has called for an “exhaustive review” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would deepen Chile’s commitment to free trade. Labor unions would get more power, and education spending would be sharply higher. Most troubling, the self-described admirer of Fidel Castro proposes changes to the constitution that would extend the reach of government and has not ruled out calling a constitutional assembly.

So why is it that we are so quickly willing to abandon sound policies in favor of unsound policies?  O’Grady asserts that both current incumbents in NYC & Chile have not offered a principled defense of the policies that have led to success.  There may be some truth to this, nevertheless, I think there is more.  Unfortunately we simply take many blessings for granted, both spiritual and material.  In the material world, we assume that all of the blessings we have can be maintained while changing the institutions.  So with Obamacare, for example, we think we can fundamentally change the delivery of medical care and we’ll be able to keep the current quality and availability of medical treatment while expanding the affordability to those without current insurance.  Those advocating for the change assume they can keep all benefits of the existing institutional arrangements while eliminating the bad.  So in NYC, we can have a more progressive regime, and businesses will still come.  We can end “stop and frisk” and crime will stay low.  We can have more socialist policies in Chile, and growth will stay high.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  Yes there is a free lunch.

But maybe not…..

As Thomas Sowell has said, “the first law of economics is scarcity, and the first law of politics is to ignore the first law of economics.”  I couldn’t agree more.