Distributism

Roman Catholic theologian Hilaire Belloc stated in his book “The Great Heresies” that man is either enslaved by government (socialism, communism) or enslaved by private corporations and individuals with power and influence. He is of course referring to the downside of our capitalistic system which he describes as being “the exploitation of the masses of men still free by a few owners of the means of production, transport and exchange.”  He warns that the worse this exploitation becomes, “the more the State steps in to enforce conditions of security and sufficiency; the more it regulates wages, provides compulsory insurance, doctoring, education, and in general takes over the lives of the wage-earners.” In other words, if private enterprise and wealthy individuals don’t police themselves and capitalism as we know it today is allowed to continue unchecked, “socialism is the logical conclusion as captialism’s concentrated powers eventually capture the State.” Belloc cautions that socialism creates a whole new set of issues and points out that the “Nanny State” isn’t working out so well in those countries where it is prevalent. He proposes a better solution.

Belloc supports property ownership for all citizens because he believes it is the most effective way to prevent capitalism from running amok. In expressing this opinion, he is joining his fellow Roman Catholic theology, G. K. Chesterton as an advocate for “distributism.”

According to “Wikipedia,” distributism is an economic system that promotes property ownership as a fundamental right of all citizens. Belloc points out that only through property ownership can we be free from the enslavement of the State and private enterprise. Distributism is opposed to both capitalism and socialism. Thomas Storck states that distributism “seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life.” Under such a system, most people would be able to earn a living without having to rely on the use of the property of others to do so. Most people were under this economic system when 90% of them were farmers, a hundred years ago and, in this sense, distributism is equivalent to returning to an agrarian society. The concept is that people are likely to work harder and with greater commitment if they themselves possess the land on which they labor, which in turn will benefit them and their families as workers will be able to provide for themselves and their household. Of course, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” we can’t go back home again and encourage our citizens to take up farming, but Belloc’s point is that this same concept can be applied to our situation today.  Workers work better when they have an ownership share in the businesses that employ them.

Wikipedia devotes eleven pages to describing this system, and it is not my purpose in this blog to go into such detail. My purpose is to whet the appetite of my readers to learn more about distributism and see if they don’t agree with me, Belloc, Chesterton and many others that our legislators and administration can learn a lot from this system and pass legislation that utilizes some of its finer principles. It only makes sense.

 

Unity in Christianity

In C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, we learn that divide and conquer is one of Satan’s most useful tools. There is political, spiritual, cultural, and financial divisiveness in America now that I have never witnessed during my lifetime; and, there is divisiveness in our Christian churches; this should be of most concern to us because we know God intends for there to be one faith, one Christ, one people throughout the covenant ages. Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, in an article he wrote for Ligonier Ministries Tabletalk, states “from Adam through Noah, from Abraham through Moses, and from David to Christ, God’s people have been defined, united, and shaped through an ever-renewed and developed covenant bond.” We are one family.

The reality today is that our major denominations seem to have lost sight of God’s intent as they pridefully focus on distinguishing themselves from each other over non-essential differences in how biblical doctrine is interpreted and in the conduct of their worship service. They are “majoring in the minors,” and are unconsciously being used by the devil to accomplish his objective of destroying Christianity.

What are non-essential differences? In Book Three of The Cabana Chronicles, I describe non-essential differences as being “minor differences which don’t deviate from what we understand the Bible to be telling us. Any difference of opinion in interpretation of the meaning of the various doctrines associated with Reformed theology (that is, the Doctrine of Scripture, The Sovereignty of God, the Doctrines of Grace, and the Cultural Mandate) could indicate the possibility of an essential difference.”

There is also pragmatic reason for focusing on unity. In many of our communities, there are a number of churches of different denominations, and even different denominations within one denomination, many of which are struggling to maintain financial stability in this day and age of decreasing membership. In post-Christianity America, surveys indicate that more and more young people list “none of the above” in response to the question of what religion they follow. Consolidation of churches would insure their financial stability and, now more than ever, God’s church needs to survive so that His Word can continue to be revealed and reinforced in our communities. Of course, there will always be division based on essential differences, but churches that remain apart based on non-essential differences should not let their misunderstanding of God’s will remain a deterrent in unification. God’s will be done.

Education

Ideally, all Americans would have jobs where learning is continuous and work is engaging and not arduous. A few elitists have jobs like this, but most people don’t.  Douthat and Salam, authors of “Grand New Party,” maintain that we also “need to restore dignity to our work.” They recommend our government do all it can to promote “a vision of working class independence…Robust experimentation in education is a necessary first step.” The Republican Party must take this step if they are to best serve their new found constituency, the working middle class.

The Democratic Party wants these people back and continues to malign the Republican Party’s focus on the upper class in an effort to somehow convince the working middle class they were duped by Trump and his populist message and they need to come back to them. Of course, I should point out that the upper class has at least been responsible for an increased demand for skilled manual laborers, a demand that surpasses the supply and has resulted in six figure salaries for some of these workers.  In fact, the average welder now makes more than the average attorney. Personally, I think there’s some poetic justice in that reality.

For many years, the emphasis has been on obtaining a college degree; but a liberal arts college education is now mainly the preserve of the upper class. The expense of obtaining a four year degree has skyrocketed and is now beyond the reach of those of the working middle class who don’t choose to be burdened with debt for a decade after their graduation. So then, how do we provide an education that benefits all Americans, particularly the working middle class? We need look no further than to our old ally, Great Britain. For centuries, Great Britain has embraced an education system that suits the needs of the working middle class very well.

In the British system of education, evaluation exams are given in middle school to determine a student’s interest and aptitude. The student is then encouraged to take courses that address that aptitude and interest and, upon graduation from high school, attend whatever school offers an education that best suits that interest and trains them for that engaging job Douthat and Salam describe. I should also point out that in Great Britain, a trade school degree is considered to be equal in dignity to a college degree. Of course, money and respect seem to be closely associated and it helps when we know most people in the trades now make a very good living in their work.

In sum, education is connected to better jobs, but we need to get over this myth that a four year college degree is required of everyone to achieve success. We should make room in the high school curriculum, which is full of college prep courses, to teach the trades as well.  Our government needs to reform welfare programs which rob people of their dignity and focus on restoring dignity to all work by doing all it can to support our trade school education. According to Douthat and Salam, the Republicans have an opportunity to successfully address the needs of the working middle class. It’s entirely up to them now to get it done or this constituency will return to the Democratic Party and Republicans may never have another bite at this apple for the foreseeable future.

Waste in Military Spending

A budget, any budget, whether it be for a business, a government bureaucracy or for a family shouldn’t just focus on how to increase income; the expense side of the equation is very important too. Just throwing money at a problem doesn’t usually solve it if expenses aren’t considered as well.

The Department of Defense is one such huge bureaucracy. Experts agree that our military needs to be built up because our services are undermanned, equipment is in need of repair and refurbishment. They maintain we need new equipment, software and weapons for us to play our crucial role in keeping the world’s aggressors at bay and meeting the challenges of the cyberspace, unmanned systems and robotics era. So they make a good case for increasing government funding for our military; but before the budget is increased to meet the need, doesn’t it seem reasonable that our military expenditures should be examined to make sure the waste is eliminated, and we don’t just throw good money after bad?

Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine, a businessman who understands how budget’s are balanced, challenges the new White House Office of American Innovation, headed by Jared Kushner, to look into the Defense Department’s “monstrously sclerotic weapons procurement system, which has cost the lives of countless thousands of our servicemen and women and has literally wasted hundreds of billions of dollars.” His editorial goes on to list a number of examples of wasteful spending to make his case. He concludes by offering some words of advice to Kushner.

First Kushner should “dig up that Defense Business Board report. Their findings  will provide the info to mount a reform” to cut the wasteful spending. Secondly, Kushner should “take to heart the lesson of the Gordian knot and put into practice an idea recommended by Christopher Lehman, a former national security official in the Reagan administration.” Lehman proposed ” a simple legislative provision that would grant to the defense secretary, or any of the services secretaries (Army, Navy and Air Force), the authority for five years to waive any and all Federal Acquisition Regulations. Instead, the legislations would allow that official to use standard commercial law to acquire goods or services with funds appropriated by Congress. In this way, thousands of pages of red tape and myriad bureaucratic obstacles could be eliminated and straight-forward commercial contracting could be employed, saving months, years, or a decade or more, of delay and unneeded expenses.”

Forbes makes a lot of sense in his recommendations, and I wish our lawmakers would read the opinions of people like him to help them decide a course of action that will truly make America great again.

Sanctification vs. Exaltation: Mormons are not Christians

All human beings have a conscience, and, for this reason, most human beings recognize the difference between right and wrong and want to behave well. This is because most of us recognize that virtue is important and becoming more virtuous is a worthwhile objective. Ben Franklin once tried to keep a daily journal which he used to document how well he was progressing each day in becoming a more virtuous person. He finally gave up when he realized he wasn’t making the progress he’d hoped for. That’s okay, Ben, none of us can hope to achieve perfection.

Franklin was not a Christian and Christians understand we will never reach that objective; nonetheless, in his Word, God tells us to “work out or salvation,” as the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians. This is called sanctification.

Sanctification is a step in God’s plan of salvation. We are motivated to grow in our spiritual life because we’ve become new men through Christ. We are motivated to want to please God by working towards becoming better people by following his precepts. By becoming new men through Christ, we are motivated to follow his example. We know we can’t ever be perfect, but are motivated to work towards that worthwhile objective because we desire to please and glorify our Creator.

Mormons tell us they’re Christians, but, when we examine what they believe, we realize they have a very different understanding of the sanctification process than Christians do. In The Cabana Chronicles, Book Three, I explain the difference between their “exaltation” and our sanctification on page 164. “Both exaltation and sanctification describe progress, but the means and the ends are very different. Mormons believe most of us are going to heaven, but each Mormon aspires to end up in the highest heaven and become a god of their own planet, and this heaven is reserved only for those who have made the right choices in this life. The end for the Christian is guaranteed as well because we believe through Christ we are saved. The means for the Christian is our spiritual progress with the aid of the Holy Spirit. The means for the Mormon is doing good deeds to progress to godhood; in effect, to save himself. Christians know we cannot do enough good to save ourselves…Mormons believe Christ is nothing more than a prototype to show us how we should act.”

It’s obvious Mormons perceive that Jesus Christ plays a very different role in their religion than Christians understand the pivotal role he plays in our religion. This is why I contend that Mormons are not Christians no matter how much they claim to be.

Tax Reform

One of Trump’s campaign promises was to reduce taxes. Our corporate income tax rate is one of the highest in the world so there’s certainly a reason to reduce it to encourage more businesses to do business in America. But the existing loopholes which permit some corporations to pay no tax must be closed. All must pay their fair share.

The personal income tax is quite another issue. There was a time when Republicans were empowered by supporting a reduction in personal income tax for everyone; and, with the implementation of Reagan’s plan, the average income tax paid by middle income workers was cut in half. But the times have changed and the wealth gap has widened. It’s the rich who have benefitted most from income tax reduction as they take advantage of numerous loopholes in the law that allow some of them to pay much less tax as a percent of income than the working middle class. The Democrats have lost no time in pointing out the wealth gap is widening and focused on how much the rich are getting away with and how the Republicans have historically always protected the wealthy and how their new budget proposal and proposed income tax reform support their argument.

From the comments I see on the social media, my guess is that the working middle class that put Trump in office no longer prioritizes reducing income tax in the same way the young Reaganites focused on this issue. What worked for Ronald Reagan won’t work with Donald Trump. He may be clueless, but the fact is that income tax cuts are no longer seen as a means to attaining political power. That train has left the station and Republicans need to be aware of that reality if they want to say in power.

According to Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, co-authors of The Grand New Party, “the Federal income tax, the great bete noire of tax-cutting conservatives, is no longer Middle America’s worst nightmare. ” From my own experience and reading on the subject, it’s obvious to me that a growing number of people in the working middle class are being influenced by what the Democrats are selling and are becoming more concerned that the rich aren’t paying anywhere near their fair share of taxes to support our government. No political party can survive once the majority of voters determine that party only supports a wealthy minority and ignores their needs. So then, the Republicans in Congress who are working on income tax reform need to change the image of protecting the wealthy which Democrats have laid on them and do whatever is necessary to focus on helping the working middle class or they will lose their new power base and their influence in this government for the foreseeable future.

Douthat and Salam advise the Republican Party to reform our tax system to mitigate the inequality and close the wealth gap. This means we need a reduction in the payroll tax for the working middle class and balance the loss of income by extending the eligibility requirement out further so those earning more will continue to pay a payroll tax.  A still more radical move would be to completely eliminate the payroll and income tax and replace them with a progressive consumption tax, in which workers would be taxed on the difference between their income and their savings. Obviously, the authors state, this would have to be a long-range goal, not an immediate objective.

The authors generally recommend that advise that “the exemptions, deductions and rebates that make the system progressive would be chosen with the interests of the American family uppermost in mind. A generous personal deduction, and of course a generous child tax credit would protect working-class parents.” The Trump plan at least includes a doubling of the personal deduction.

The authors admit that such reforms would not benefit everyone, but they would serve the greater good: enable middle income families to have more security.  The authors conclude by saying, “Above all, like all of the reforms we’ve proposed, it would benefit parents with children, the people making the most significant investment possible in the American future and the people most deserving of government support.” It’s now or never for the Republicans. Listen to your working middle class constituency; don’t give them back to the Democrats. Do it right, or you’ll have squandered a great opportunity.

 

How Can We Fix Healthcare?

Americans consistently rank health care as one of their most important concerns. Obamacare was supposed to relieve that concern but it has mixed reviews and its proposed revision is not being well received.  The cost of health care and premiums for insurance are increasing five times faster than wages creating financial insecurity and contributing to a widening of the “wealth-gap.” So, what’s the solution? What should our legislatures consider as they work to come up with a plan to replace Obamacare? Routhat and Salam, co-authors of “The Grand New Party” offer some suggestions worthy of consideration.

In general, the authors recommend that the new plan should give individuals the same tax breaks employers get in purchasing health insurance plans. The new plan should also encourage people to exercise good financial judgment in deciding whether to visit the doctor or not and whether to take some expense test recommended before doing our own research. The internet makes it possible for us to do that research; we just need to discern the difference between biased information and the conclusions reached through true scientific studies.

Liberals, of course, are always touting the European socialistic plans as the solution to our health care dilemma, but the authors maintain that over the long term, plans like this are financially unsustainable. They support this conclusion by citing the French national health care system as an example. They use this plan because they believe it to be one of the best of these European plans. The authors point out that in the French plan, “costs are rising at a rapid clip, despite price controls and stingy government reimbursements for medical services, and even though French doctors make less than a third of what their American counterparts make” The American doctors, of course, would never accept French doctor salaries; and Americans are not likely to accept less medical care than we get now if the reduction in care is dictated by the government. Obviously then, this form of socialized medicine can’t be the answer for America. So, what’s the alternative?

The authors maintain that there are some good things about the French plan that we should consider. We can recognize that government has to play a more constructive role in a health care system. But when it goes too far and the government becomes our nanny, our accountability, responsibility and dignity are compromised, just as with every other welfare program. Addressing this concern, the authors state that “any health care reform needs to include market-based mechanisms that will make Americans more conscious, not less.” The authors ask “Is it possible to guarantee that all Americans get the health care they need and contain costs while preserving the level of market-driven innovation that’s arguably the best feature of our present system?” Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? Let’s see what they suggest should be in the plan to replace Obamacare.

The authors maintain that, in general, the plan must support the family, the foundation of our democracy. It should address people’s concern about insecurity, and thus narrow the real issue with the “wealth gap.” It must guarantee that no family will ever be at economic risk due to necessary medical expenses. It should maintain a strong free-market element which encourages families to choose medical services that offer value for the money.

The authors suggest such reform either should be accomplished with massive reform or take a more politically safe route and make changes incrementally, keeping employer-based coverage mostly intact. The safe route would involve the government to help pay for the cost of coverage for the uninsurable. Dr. Bill Frist proposed a plan like this when he was Senate Majority leader 15 years ago. To make sure the cost of this government “re-insurance” didn’t get out of control, insurance companies would be required to use a case management system for catastrophic cases which would limit waste. Stuart Altman of Brandeis University proposed such a plan. Jason Furman proposed a plan for “progressive cost-sharing,” and this should be considered as well.

The authors add that costs could also be controlled by reducing the current tax deduction for employer provided health insurance or replace it with a flat tax credit that applies irregardless of income. The rich of course would still be free to purchase insurance above and beyond what the credit covers, but the government wouldn’t be subsidizing them.

Brad DeLong, an economist at Berkeley, has come up with a utopian plan that requires every citizen to set aside 15 percent of their income in a Health Savings Account. As soon as the money in the plan is spent, the government steps in to cover the additional costs using the insurance companies as the middle men in a re-insurance system. Any money not spent would roll over to the next year. The objective is to encourage self-insurance and relegate insurance companies to an optional status. Generally speaking, the DeLong plan would “focus government resources on those who need it most when they need it most.” Such a reform would also “open the way for a broader attack on anti-competitive practices in the health care sector.”

Our legislators should consider the plans proposed by experts like Frisk, Altman, Furman and DeLong as they work on a replacement for Obamacare. It’s not a stretch to say that the future of the Republican Party is at stake here. The authors point out that the political party that comes up with a plan that supports the family unit by reducing the costs of child rearing, encouraging family formation, and improving family stability, will retain its power and influence.  If the Republicans drop the ball on this one, it deserves to fade into the background. We’ll either be stuck with Obamacare and its failure or our health care system will be socialized when the Democrats take over again.   Oh, how I wish Paul Ryan would read this blog.