Monday, December 17, 2012

Economic Perspectives – Abortion, Retirement and Understanding God

This is long, but bear with me.

I’ve been thinking about the economic impact of abortion for some time now, especially having been told a couple of decades ago that we may have problems when the baby boomers retire. How do those two things relate?

You can find plenty of articles on baby boomers retiring and how it will affect the economy without understanding how that works. But the articles are there. You can also search for articles on abortion and find information on how having less workers has affected the economy. I can’t find too many articles that put the two together in any significant way. But it brings up an issue regarding our ability to balance disparate accounting methods.

This reminds me of an old brain teaser I grew up with:

“3 guys go to rent a hotel room, the room is $30, so they each pay $10. Later that night the hotel guy finds out the room is only $25 so he gives $5 to the bell boy to split between the 3 guys. The bellboy did not know how to split $5 in 3 ways so he kept $2 for himself and gave $1 to each guy so the guys only paid $9 a piece right? So if the guys paid $27 and the bellboy kept $2, where is the other dollar?”

Figure out the discrepancy and you might be able to understand where the money in the economy went.

So let me start out with one observation that is fairly easily calculable: If the children that have been aborted in the US (about 30% of children are aborted) were employed at normal rates, our GDP would be increased by over $39 trillion. Given that, the question I have is what affect do baby boomers retiring have on the economy? It’s not apples to apples accounting to figure it out and I can’t find an estimated figure that relates to GDP loss anywhere. But I can explain what happens when someone retires.

The way we normally think of retirement is that we save a percentage of our income one way or the other. Social Security is supposed to be the government’s way of saving money. (Ha. If you believe that, you’re really in trouble.) But we’ll assume it’s basically the same thing for the sake of simplicity. So people save their money by putting it in the bank, investing it, having 401K accounts, relying on the company they worked for to hold on to it, improving our real estate, etc. We worked hard for it over our lifetime and have it stored up for ourselves. It’s ours and no one else’s. In fact, since we invested it, we’ve made some interest on it so there’s more than what we actually put into it. So when we retire we have access to it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the economy – except now the government wants more of it… and why are health care costs going through the roof?

That’s the way we look at it and it seems reasonable. It’s a zero-sum game. We expect to have what we worked for. The problem is that we didn’t work for what we need today. We worked for what the world needed then. Today’s workers are making what we need today.

Money isn’t real; goods are. Money accounts for the goods we can expect to receive. The percentage of money that we have today out of all the money in the economy entitles us to the same percentage of the amount of all goods that are produced today. So if less goods are produced or our percentage decreases as the total amount of money inflates, our money is worth that much less. If you want more goods, you need more people making the goods. More people? Those are the tens of millions that have been aborted, by the way.

Let me illustrate simply.

1 - Let’s say that we have a population of for people – two couples. There are four people producing enough to support four people. More than enough.

2 - So they reproduce. Let’s say they each have only one child. That’s four people making enough to support six people. Still more than enough.

3 - Those children grow and start working. That’s six people supporting six people. Plenty to go around.

4 – The kids get married and have one child. Six people working to support seven people. Still good.

5 – The first generation retires. Two people working to support seven people. Oops. We have trouble. That’s not enough. The working population has decreased by the amount necessary to support the whole population. If one of the two becomes pregnant to try and raise up more workers for the future, that leaves one to try and support all seven people.

Everyone suffers at this point. Didn’t the first generation make enough extra to keep them in their retirement? Goods only last so long. Houses need to be kept in repair. New food needs to be produced. New clothing needs to be fashioned. The extra goods they worked for are in need of replacement and there’s precious few to do the replacing.

That’s what we are facing today. When money is invested, it doesn’t go under a rock or a mattress and gather dust until it’s needed. It’s placed in the economy as capitol for generating growth. When it’s removed, the growth goes away and the market shrinks. But what growth can we expect if we have fewer workers.

The argument can be made at this point that plenty of people are unemployed and need work. The problem is twofold.

First, moral decline has created a generation that doesn’t want to work hard. Some want the hours so they can have the money, but many aren’t willing to put in the work to warrant the money make for working the hours. Some want extra pay and benefits beyond what is reasonable, so they unionize and extort as much as they can from the bottom line of the company. Meanwhile, they make rules that make them have to work less for it. They are less productive. There is a class of potential workers that are made unusable by the drug and crime culture. The businesses that remain viable in the US have plenty of people to hire, but few worth hiring.

Second, there is great incentive for people on unemployment to remain on unemployment. I know from experience how we try to hire someone who doesn’t want the job, but only needs to prove that he was looking for one in order to keep getting the check. The taxes that pay for him to do nothing are slowing the economy such that fewer businesses are viable. The flow of money is down enough to keep business from being able to sell what they need in order to open.

I want to take this around and use it to make an observation on how we understand God. I’ve just took a couple of very simple glances at the economy from two different perspectives. I hope you’ve followed along. It’s informative to know our little place in the grand scheme of the economy and why our income is not a zero-sum game. It can be treated as such for miniscule budgeting purposes. In fact, it’s prudent to do so. But when we plan long-term, there are things we can never be certain of. We can stockpile all kinds of proverbial grain for the future and return only to find it infested with worms. Our investment shouldn’t be only in money, but in the culture. Are we producing the kind of culture that will provide when the future comes?

Looking at our relationship with God is usually like playing the zero-sum game. We see things with God from a human perspective. Indeed, God gives us human examples to help us understand our relationship with him. Perhaps we see how people could be so saddened by Jesus’ death on the cross and use this emotional sacrifice to understand how much God loves us. But really, God’s love goes far beyond any emotion that we are familiar with.

The very words “propitiation”, “atonement”, and “penal substitution” speak of human things that help give us an idea of what God was up to in the cross. We know what a bank account is like so we can understand that Jesus paid money into our spiritual bank account. We know what punishment for wrongdoing is, so we have an understanding of Jesus being punished on our behalf. But these are physical images of a spiritual truth.

Questions we have about God of things that seem contradictory are because we expect a logical zero-sum game. The presence of sin in the world has skewed the relationship between our personal connections to God (like our personal budgets) and the overall purpose of God to glorify himself in all of creation (the GDP). I have a buddy that says that the human perspective is all we have available and that’s all he can understand. He’s an accountant, so what can do about that?

Nevertheless, we are given glimpses of God’s perspective in his revelation to us in the passages of scripture. It doesn’t take the suspension of disbelief to understand these things, or delude ourselves into believing that we understand God when we really don’t. We can understand God when we understand that it’s not a zero-sum game.

Now that’s a perfectly nebulous thing to say, but it’s accurate. The difference is in our ability to wade through the cloudiness that our sin causes in this world and view the world through the purposes of God.

For example, we tend to talk about God in personal terms: “I give testimony about what God did for me and how my life has changed. And now you need to do what I did so that you can have Jesus in your life too.” The other side of this example is a small look at what God sees in this exchange: “The Spirit has motivated me to tell you my story about the gospel because that’s something that you can relate to. The same Spirit is now working in you to move you to respond in faith.”

To many, that sounds like we’re only puppets. However, God is not functioning on the same level that we are. But when we realize that it’s God working on his level to cause what happens on our level, we realize that only a God with that kind of power can be trusted to fulfill his promise. So understanding God truly requires an ability to navigate both the physical and the spiritual. So we are given the Holy Spirit of God himself to help us.

I hope this helps you understand God a little better. This was only one example. There are so many more. I hope you devote your lives to understanding how great God is in how he works in your life to glorify himself.

Does God Allow Sin?

I caught a link to an article on the Ligonier site that deals with this question from the Triablogue site.

This is the Ligonier article: Why? The Nagging Questionby Paul Helm
This is the Triablogue post that linked to it: Why? The Nagging Question

The reason I included the Triablogue link is that Ligonier doesn't open their articles for comments from the peanut gallery. Triablogue does. So I posted a comment to the Ligonier article on the Triablogue post. Clear as mud? I'll also copy my comments here because this isn't an area I've written about in much detail. These comments summarize some of my thinking on the nature of sin and evil, what we have to do with it and what God has to do with it. There is much more to be said about this, but this is a foray into this topic that so often confuses us.

I'm convinced that our understanding of evil is not fully developed. We can draw certain conclusions from Joseph's distinction between acts of evil and intent. Much of what we consider to be acts of evil are evil only in context of being performed by fallen men in particular situations. There's no difference between the act of adultery and the act of marital sex except the context of a committed relationship defined loosely enough that we debate divorce and remarriage within the Body of Christ. If the ceremony were enough to warrant a commitment, then we have problems. Additionally, as fallen humans, none of us enters into a committed marriage without importing our own sin. I only mention this by way of example. The issue of evil becomes extremely complex if our goal is to merely to behave well and call ourselves good.

On the other side is the knowledge with Joseph's distinction that nothing we do is truly good because it is always laced with sinful intent and everything God does is always good. for us, even though we may have a core desire to do good, we are not unilateral creatures. There are always tangential desires that creep in. How many of us can say that we are not motivated in the least by a desire to share some of the glory with God for doing something well in his name? Even every act of humility has an element of false humility as long as we need some element of sanctification.

The balance in a fallen world is that some acts carry the weight of divine justification. God could call his people to kill for the right reasons and be held accountable for not doing so. By saying this, however, there are many who would look at their sin and try to find justification for it where scripture can be twisted to that end. This can only be divine justification. It was the penitent prayer of the tax collector rather than the falsely righteous prayer of the pharisee that received justification. They were still sinners. The pharisee thought his good behavior was worth something. Indeed, we should vie for good behavior, but the best among us have no greater cause to stand before God unashamed. Thanks be to Jesus Christ because he stands with us.

One further observation is that

1) if behavior by itself is not evil
2) some acts are justified because of an evil world
3) God never sins
4) Everything we do is laced with sin
5) Acts are caused by both God and us

Then things that are evil for us to do are not evil for God to do. This is what typically troubles us, but it follows if 1-5 are all true. We want to be able to say that we can be as good as God by exhibiting good behavior. We also want to say that God can do evil when we must live in a world that is cursed and difficult because of the sin of our father, Adam, that we have perpetuated generation after generation since then by the mere fact that we have been born separated from God. So it is our guilt that must be addressed, not God's. So even if God directly causes our difficulties, it is on account of our sin, not his.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Do We Educate People?

Al Mohler published a blog article recently about the inequality of families with good parents versus bad parents:

President Hollande wants to end homework in order to level the playing field for the nation’s students. As France 24 reports, Hollande told an audience at The Sorbonne, “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”
He went on to explain that it was unfair for students with parents who are engaged with their schoolwork to gain an educational advantage over others, whose parents do not offer such support.

Dr. Mohler points out correctly that good parents are important for their children, even beyond the quality of education that they receive.

However, I want to take this in a different direction. Dr. Mohler, in summing up President Hollande's statements, points out that it is "unfair for students with parents who are engaged with their schoolwork to gain an educational advantage over others." (emphasis mine) The implication is that education is a matter of competition. In this view, the goal of education is to do better than others so that you can help yourself.

My understanding of education has always been that the goal is for each student to do better at the end of any course of study than what they did at the beginning. In other words, the goal of education is a personal struggle against ignorance.

But that's not and end in itself. There's a larger goal. While we improve ourselves the goal is to contribute positively to society thereby helping others, not defeating them.

An observation I've often made is that it seems more acceptable to tout some talents than others. For example, it seems relatively acceptable for a good leader to say, "I'm good at leadership." But one talent it seems particularly unacceptable to tout is intelligence. If someone says, "I'm exceptionally intelligent," he or she is quickly labeled arrogant. The fact is that some people have a natural predisposition to great intelligence. For some reason people don't think that's fair. And this doesn't figure into President Hollande's idea for a "level playing field."

But this betrays the fact that it is fairly common to think of education, not as a benefit to society, but a benefit to individuals over others. The reason is because many people use greater academic achievement not primarily for the betterment of society, but for their own advancement in society. What most in secular society will ignore is that this is precisely evidence that people are basically evil.

So what are Christians to do?

First, we must recognize the God-given responsibility we have to train up our own children.

Second, we must vie to help them get the best education possible with the goal not of improving their own status, but for contributing positively to society, particularly in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

So we have to stop looking at education as the means for achieving the best life for ourselves on this earth ans start looking at it as a means for drawing us closer to God by using our talents to help other people.