Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Unacceptable Costs of 'Social Engineering' Governments

I want to interact here with the article that follows. My comments will look like this and appear throughout the article as needed.

Why We Whisper [Breakpoint by Charles Colson]
The Economic Costs of Sin
May 2, 2008

Imagine the following social experiment: You divide up Americans into two groups. Those who agreed to live by traditional moral values live in certain states. Those who reject traditional values take up residence in other states that would allow them to do whatever they pleased, morally speaking.

I agree with the "spirit" of Colson's thesis. The problems he mentions are real. But I still think that what he and the authors of the book he is recommending miss a key point in this whole matter, as we will see below.

If by “traditional” moral values Chuck means “Christian ethics” then I must agree. All things being equal, keeping the commandments will make life better. Clearly, if we didn’t murder one another, if we didn’t steal from one another, if we didn’t tell damaging lies about others, if we didn’t commit adultery, then life could not help but be better for everyone.

After 20 years, which states would be better off—economically speaking? The traditional values states would be far better off, because the liberal states would be spending $500 billion dollars every year dealing with the economic costs of their moral decisions.

Senator Jim DeMint and David Woodward outline those costs in their book, titled: Why We Whisper: Restoring Our Right to Say It's Wrong. As the authors note, "As elected officials and judges continue to throw traditions overboard from the ship of state," conspicuously absent from the political debate "is the mounting cost in dollars [and] debt."

But, of course, people are not always - or even often - going to live by the moral commandments of the Bible. Chuck wants to analyze the financial cost of failing to do so. While I think this is a worthy project, something very important is assumed in this analysis - and it is something that should not be assumed, but should be challenged.

For example, there is the cost in treating sexually transmitted diseases. Research shows that more than half of all Americans will contract a sexually transmitted disease at some point. The cost: Some $17 billion in higher taxes and health insurance costs every year. And that does not include secondary costs, like treating cervical cancer, infertility, birth defects, and brain damage. And yet, our government does little or nothing to discourage premarital sex.

There are several things here that should be challenged. Not a single tax dollar should be spent treating sexually transmitted diseases. I know taxes are spent on this - but rather than just complaining about it in this way, Christians should be challenging the morality of forcing one citizen to pay for the bad decision of another citizen. As nice as that sounds, it is a version of legalized theft.

And those health insurance costs? That problem could easily be solved if insurance companies were allowed to exclude sexually transmitted diseases from their coverage, or if they were allowed to refuse coverage to people who engage in activities likely to result in such diseases.

Of course, it would be much better if people simply didn’t engage in those activities. But since they do, the next best thing is to allow them to pay for their own moral mistakes, rather than forcing everyone else to pay for their moral mistakes.

And then there are the huge costs of out-of-wedlock childbearing. Welfare costs alone to single-parent families amount to $148 billion per year. We pay indirectly, as well, through costs associated with child abuse—much more common in single-parent homes—and in higher crime rates.

Again, having children outside marriage is a serious problem. And again, part of the problem here is that government actually encourages this activity by paying people, via welfare payments, who engage in this bad activity.

Americans spend billions on abortions—mostly to single women—not counting the expense of treating post-abortion medical and psychological problems.

Once again, this problem could be solved to some extent if our governments ceased all funding of organizations that provide abortions, and if we dealt with those who performed abortions as the criminals that they are.

We also pay huge economic bills associated with pornography and government-sponsored gambling. We pay for the easy availability of divorce and for the choice of many to cohabit instead of marry. In time we will, like Scandinavian countries, be asked to pay the economic costs of destroying traditional marriage.

So our efforts should be directed not just at disseminating good ethics, as important as that is, but in crying “bloody murder” when governments hand out money to people.

As DeMint and Woodward write, the quest for unfettered moral freedom has come at a very steep price—a price we all pay, whether we engage in these behaviors or not. And at the same time as we pay—more and more each year—we are being told we are narrow-minded bigots if we speak out against the destructive behaviors that are causing the increased costs.

I agree that there is an economic price we all now pay for bad behavior on the part of others. But one important mechanism to discourage bad behavior is to STOP PAYING FOR IT. At no point in this article does Colson make this very reasonable demand. Those who do what is right should not be forced to pay the expenses of those who do what is wrong.

The economic costs—not to mention the costs in human suffering—are why you and I need to speak out. We ought to insist that our lawmakers support policies that make good economic sense and relieve human misery. Instead of making biblical arguments, which sadly, most people do not listen to anymore, we ought to make prudential ones: that encouraging destructive behavior is destroying the economic health of our nation. And it is demonstrable.

So, Colson’s argument seems to go, if people will not listen to matters of right and wrong, they might just listen to the matter of what it is costing them. It is a good bet that people who don’t care about murder and adultery won’t be much affected by economic arguments. If you don’t mind destroying your own health by engaging in dangerous sexual activity, why are you going to be concerned about the “economic health of our nation”?

If special-interest groups and liberal lawmakers tell us to pipe down and stop trying to "impose our morality" on everyone else, we need to remind our leaders of that little clause in the Constitution: the one that talks about promoting the general welfare.

That phrase about “promoting the general welfare” occurs in the preamble to our Constitution. That general welfare was supposed to be promoted by the central government exercising only those very limited powers delegated to it by the Constitution.

Paying for abortions, fighting sexually transmitted diseases, payments to unwed mothers, and a host of other such things is not a power granted to the central government by our Constitution. So what we should be complaining about is not that many people are amoral. What we should be complaining about is the fact that our government has spun out of control. In its social engineering efforts, it has encouraged all sorts of bad behavior.

In regard to that bad behavior, Christians should preach repentance to sinners. In regard to policy, Christians should demand that government withdraw from areas where God never authorized it to operate.

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