economic, love

The absurdity of fiscal responsibility

Anyone else beyond exasperated with the rhetoric of “fiscal responsibility” that parades as a moral economics but is really the privileging of economic’s god — efficiency — over paying to care for our neighbors? Last I checked, Jesus’ healing the sick, caring for the poor, and the cross and resurrection had absolutely nothing to do with efficiency masked as fiscal responsibility, but rather love. This love is categorically opposed to efficiency. This should not be a surprise. After all, to quote Balthasar, love alone is credible.

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16 thoughts on “The absurdity of fiscal responsibility

  1. Stephen says:

    But money doesn’t grow on trees. I want to agree with you, but if you don’t like free market capitalism and all that it requires (such as a need to keep government spending at around the same level as government revenue), they you had better come up with a better system that will feed people. Unless we can do that (and I do think that we [the human race] have to do so quickly), calling such economics selfish and idolatrous is only rhetorical posturing.

    Love alone is credible, but it doesn’t pay the bills (or deal with the fact that currency and markets currently exist).

    • Stephen, I’m a little taken aback at your comment. I thought you would know better…? There are plenty of good theological resources on economics, so much that this post is not all original in its concerns. Notions of the common good through democratic socialism or Catholic Social teaching should be recalled instantly. And then there are the economic moves in liberation theology, or more reformist positions like that of John Ryan. Love in political theology is not disconnected from materiality, nor, as Arendt argues, an impossible politic. In fact, connecting love to materiality is the very point of good political theology. As much as it is transcendent, love is also immanent.

      • Stephen says:

        David,

        Sorry for being so simplistic. My problem is that democratic socialism doesn’t work (but maybe I’ve overlooked an example where it has worked), and Catholic social teaching (as far as I understand it) does little more than to put limits on the system that we’ve got (living wage, etc.). You’re completely right that they are great notions, but I don’t know that either could successfully replace capitalism – as miserable as it is. At most, they seem to play off the state against the corporation or to replace the state with the corporation (and I haven’t seen much success on the part of centralized economies).

        When capitalists say that their system is lifting billions of people out of poverty, they’re kind of right (although it’s neither a sustainable system [ecologically and demographically] nor a just system). I hate to be so skeptical of the alternatives, but I just haven’t seen how they can actually replace the global free market economy without at least substantially mimicking it.

        Whenever there are small glimmers of hope (like employee-owned corporations), they seem to lack the incentives that would enable them to replicate. As a result, I am tempted to think that the global economic sphere is similar to what Alasdair MacIntyre calls the sphere of moral philosophy: A big enough disaster that people should just start monasteries and isolate ourselves from a hopeless culture.

        • As far as democratic socialism goes, you’ve heard of Bolivia right? And how about thinkers like Cornel West and Gary Dorrien? Democratic socialism — a half way between reform and revolution — isn’t exactly dead on the vine. Nor are the more reformist positions, although, yes, they are obviously reform based. However, with notions like the living wage, neo-liberal economic theory (aka supply side or the chicago school) and keynesian economics does not remain untouched at the core. The reformist position with the focus on the sacredness of life completely calls into question and significantly alters any majority notion of capitalism at its core. For instance, Adam Smith’s classical notion of freedom, efficiency, and competition do not remain as the metacategories.

          Second, “When capitalists say that their system is lifting billions of people out of poverty, they’re kind of right” they’re bullshitting. This move divests capitalism of its historical rootedness in colonialism. The very reason for why the poor the way they are is because of the union of neo-liberal economic theory with political empire. This is simply another form of mercantilism. See Pinochet’s Chile.

        • Stephen says:

          Yes, Bolivia is a partial example, but it seems to have more of a mixed economy than anything else. Swings between socialist and neo-liberal political ascendancy make me wonder if that project is really all that viable.

          Additionally, my problem is that, until we all know where our food comes from and is processed (let alone all the other products that we buy), then everyone (Bolivian, North American, etc.) will be guilty of remaining parasites (for lack of a better term) on an almost entirely capitalist global economy.

          Sorry to keep commenting; I just think that the hole that we are in is deeper than a lot of people on the left realize.

        • Bolivia seems to be operating more in a democratic socialism paradigm than confusion over what it means to be socialist or neo-liberal. Granted, there are people with socialist or neo-liberal interests, but the use of referendum voting, among other forms of governance, indicate political operation that is not an accident.

          And of course the hole is huge, but it is still unacceptable.

  2. What has the individual, interpersonal acts of Jesus have anything to do people with real concerns (I am not talking about the winners Tuesday posing as fiscal conservatives) with the debt/deficit? Let us not forget that Jesus was Jewish, and he was familiar with the Hebrew Bible/Septaugint. In Deuteronomy, the nation of Israel is told not to borrow or lend; in Wisdom literature, Proverbs, it says that the borrower is subjected under the lender. If you are looking for historical precedent for churches in the US that used to preach fiscal responsibility, look no further than the Negro church, the black church after the civil war/before the 1950s civil rights marches. Concern for the deficit is a form of neighborly love, if you do not want your neighbor a slave to others.

    • Actual personal fiscal responsibility — not spending beyond one’s means — with one’s own money is important, I am not rejecting that here. However, let us not forget either that the poor and the widow is one of God’s greatest concern in the prophets and that we ought not let neo-liberal economists only allow moral or ethical good as a happy accident. The purpose of this post is to point at what we care about the most. Or in other words, our governing telos. Take the idea that, say, healthcare for people is untenable because it must be subject to efficiency first. But instead, the Christian ethic privileges the poor first and says immediately that the person hurting is a primary concern and we will somehow find a way to pay it — we ought not make money off of people’s bodies.

      As for Jesus not allowed to have weight on the deficit, I’ll simply say that I don’t agree with what sounds like your re-proposing of Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.

      • Yikes! Me, a Niebuhrian? I would say that could be further from the truth, considering my actual preference for liberation theology and John Howard Yoder. Niebuhr’s Christology and anthropologic present far too many problems,as well as his real politik.

        I do not see it as a matter of a fear of inefficiency. It is a matter of who is indebted to whom, a concern found in the canon. If Jesus is the liberator, would not he oppose slavery from borrowing from future generations? I would say yes. Borrowing money from the future is making our children slaves, and it’s suffice to say Jesus was all about the emancipation of children and debtors with his theology of the Jewish Jubilee. Your position actually sounds more Christian realist, if anything, placing present concerns over even any thought to the future which happen to be children. The concern for efficiency is not the point; the future is.

        • I’m not talking about borrowing from the future, or an inept way of dealing with pay day loans. I’m talking about re-ordering our priorities around different non-negotiables today. And these non-negotiables are taken from what it means to love. Efficiency — of production and the reason for “trimming” spending (really just organizing spending around a different telos) — is a huge issue in economic theory. It is one of the grand metacategories by which economists police out all other concerns like morality and ethics. The law of efficiency in capitalism today, when all things are said and done, conflates inefficient spending with care for the poor. For instance, your liberation emphasis should help you recognize this because this has been American, IMF, etc. policy regarding social projects in Latin America — nix them to pay back loans that were made under duress. Or we could go ecofeminist here that have put forward a long standing critique of efficiency over environment. In the end, concern about slave wages (or sometimes called starvation wages) of the future ought not get in the way of helping the slave wages today, because if we don’t address it today, nothing will keep the wages from rising tomorrow. The structure of capitalism today is built to oppose this by way of main doctrinal tenets, specifically efficiency.

  3. @David,

    My politics is informed by liberation theologies. If I am understanding you right, you and I both reject the idea of fiscal responsibility at the expense of the oppressed. I have no issue with this, and in fact, from my understanding, the IMF and the WTO, function in a way to maintain select few industries and corporations in power; that is not a free market, that is corporatism. I did not mean to imply that concern for the future should be our overriding political concern, but it should definitely be a factor in political decision making. The problem is that there is no longer a concensus on what are the non-negotiables, except one, the Defense budget. Now, if it were up to me, I would exclude the DoD as a non-negotiable and lower its budget; that’s a policy preference driven by love. Thats where the problem lies, with what is considered non-negotiable and what isn’t. Also, we could do with the pork-barrell spending done by U.S. politicians as well as that stupid Bush-Obama faith based initiative program. Get government money out of church coffers (love of God before Caeser). Hardly Niebuhrian at all.

    • Although I’m not convinced by your over all reading of Niebuhr (i.e. your version of how Niebuhr reads the future), the observation of Niebuhr was very particular — it was specific to “What has the individual, interpersonal acts of Jesus have anything to do people with real concerns (I am not talking about the winners Tuesday posing as fiscal conservatives) with the debt/deficit?” which sounds an awful lot like Moral Man and Immoral Society. You’ve explained yourself better since that first comment, even possibly explained a position antithetical to it.

      • Thanks David. Sometimes people have a hard time understanding my position when I do not articulate it better.

        My concern I think was the title and the opening statement on “fiscal responsibility as an absurdity.” While I may not agree with you on what that love looks like incarnate in the body politik, we can agree that love should be the norming norm for public policy, even though that sounds slightly theocratic.

  4. I have doubts that the real reasons to worry about “fiscal responsibility” are feeding the hungry and caring for the poor. It’s when you start giving handouts to the middle class, bailouts to the irresponsible wealthy, and trillions to “national defense” that things get truly problematic.

    It’s my friend who works at Target and bought a $300,000 home on Fannie Mae’s “affordable housing for the poor” dime, then couldn’t pay his mortgage. It’s the low-income housing subsidies for real estate developers who still keep the neighborhood rich and white by finding recent college grads who technically count as poor. It’s a healthcare system that has no internal ability to distinguish between caring for the sick and luxury treatment. It’s military bases in a hundred countries for no reason.

    To put it another way, love lifts us out of poverty but does not goad us on to gluttony. That’s the kind of spending that belies fiscal irresponsibility.

  5. Pingback: The Economy of Jesus: An Introduction | Political Jesus

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