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.

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