Sunday, May 29, 2011

Economists Should Read More Lewis

C. S. Lewis, that is. Gretchen Morgensen, writing in the NYT, has an interesting column today about America's debt chickens coming home to roost. She quotes a scholarly article with this observation embedded:
An intriguing aspect of their analysis is how it views the rising tide of debt around the world from a historical perspective. For so many countries to be groaning under so much debt at the same time is unusual, the authors say. More typical are the somewhat contained debt crises, like in Latin America in the 1980s or in Russia in 1998. While both of those episodes reverberated beyond the countries from which they sprang, today’s debt problems are far more widespread. And, as a result, more worrisome.

The simultaneous buildup of very large public deficits and debt positions in virtually all of the advanced high-income countries “is a new element at work in the global economy,” the report says.
Historical, yes, surprising, no. Globally, the Western world has become more and more secular, seeking salvation by proxy. Instead of you doing works of charity with your own life and money, you are forced to give money to the government who will do them for you. The end result is what we see today, massive debts created by separating giving from receiving.

To the donors, the recipients are invisible, so politicians seeking to buy votes can convince them that the poor are deserving, no matter what destructive behaviors have become commonplace. To the recipients, the donors are invisible, so those same politicians can convince them that the donors aren't yet paying their fair share, no matter how much is being paid. There was no reason for the average person to want to slow the growth of these secular charities. To do so would be an act of greed or selfishness.

While we are observing the failure of an economic model, we're also observing the failure of the societal model that drove it. Salvation, both economic and spiritual, is personal, not collective.


tim eisele said...

So do you mean to say that, if I give money to, for example, the American Red Cross or the Catholic Church, then it is "salvation by proxy" and no better than giving it to the government? There is still an intermediary there deciding how to spend the money. The only difference I can see is that I have a choice as to whether to give money to the Red Cross.

K T Cat said...

I don't know about the Red Cross, but there is a sizable difference in expectations between the government and the Catholic Church. Check out one of Father Boyle's talks on YouTube. He doesn't try to save everyone, only those that show some interest in wanting to be saved. When I donate to Homeboy Industries, I know my donation has a good chance of producing results. When I give money to the government, there's no such filter on who gets the $$$.