May 20, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, May 20, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this isThe Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
No free lunch: Economists warn Bernie's socialist policies would lead to economic catastrophe
One of the most surprising developments of a very surprising political season is the enduring candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the Independent Vermont Senator that is running for the Democratic presidential nomination and is still very much a part of the picture on the Democratic side. What’s so unexpected here is that this late in the primary season, Bernie Sanders would still be a factor. Furthermore, one of the issues that adds to the quandary is that Bernie Sanders is the first openly declared Democratic Socialist to run for president in many years. As such, he is still gaining traction, especially in some key portions of the electorate, including the young.
But there’s also now a deeper look at the Bernie Sanders proposals, and it’s interesting to see how many of these are coming not from the right but from the left. In this sense, it’s a reminder to us that Bernie Sanders is not a threat to the political right; he is a threat to the identification and the direction of the political left. Bernie Sanders understands that. His avowed intention is to draw the Democratic Party to the left. Indeed, radically to the left.Show Full Transcript
That’s what makes it so interesting that so many established Democratic sources now, or liberal sources, including the New York Times, that not only leans liberal but also very partisanly Democratic at times—that’s what makes it interesting that even now the New York Times is pointing to the problems with the Bernie Sanders campaign, in particular with his economic proposals. Margot Sanger-Katz, writing for the New York Times this week, ran a headline story entitled
“Why a Single-Payer Plan Would Still Be Really Costly”
Single-payer refers to health insurance and to what Bernie Sanders is calling for—that is, a single payer system. That means the complete elimination of the private insurance system and the fact that the federal government would now become the insurer for healthcare for all Americans. It is a total socialized system of medicine, which should come as no surprise coming from an avowed socialist candidate for president.
But now you have those on the left, including economists such as Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics who is also an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, and many others, who are sounding the alarm that Bernie Sanders’ leftist proposals would actually lead to economic chaos and disaster. This article that appears on page A3 of the New York Times—that placement’s crucial, this early in the paper means the editors believe it’s very important—this particular article looks at Bernie Sanders’ proposals for a nationalized health service and sees that it is a disaster. As a matter of fact, the analyses cited in this report vary basically from seeing the Sanders proposals as an abject disaster to something less than total disaster. In any case, disaster on every front.
Speaking of Bernie Sanders, Sanger-Katz writes,
“One of his signature proposals is to move the country’s healthcare system to a government-run, single payer system. Last week Hillary Clinton nodded in that direction, suggesting that she would be open to allowing Americans older than 50 to buy into the government Medicare program that currently covers those 65 and older.”
But, she goes on to write,
“Also last week, a detailed analysis of the Sanders healthcare plan from researchers at the Urban Institute showed that it would probably cost the government double what the campaign proposed. It is the second credible analysis,” she says, “to suggest that the Sanders plan would cost more than advertised. The other,” she says, “comes from Emory health policy professor Kenneth Thorpe. The Sanders plan,” she says, “is light on some key details, but even in sketch form it becomes clear,” she says, “that it would require even bigger tax increases than the sizable ones the campaign has called for.”
Now here we simply have to note that what the campaign has already called for is a staggering $18 trillion in increased taxation over the next ten years. In response to that, another left-leaning source, in this case the Democrat-friendly Washington Post, writes about what it calls the real cost of Bernie Sanders’ proposals, this time through columnist Max Ehrenfreund. Ehrenfreund writes, and I quote,
“New studies by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and the Urban Institute conclude that Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders’ proposals would cost a staggering $33 trillion over a decade, while his new taxes on the wealthy would raise only $15 trillion. To fund his plans,” Ehrenfreund says, “The federal government would have to borrow $18 trillion, more than doubling the national debt.”
Ehrenfreund concludes his article with a warning to the supporters of Bernie Sanders that is also a larger warning to all citizens of the United States when he writes, and I quote,
“Economists warn that massive increases in both taxes and government borrowing would push up interest rates, discourage job creation, and hurt businesses and homebuyers. In simpler terms,” he writes, “there’s no free lunch.”
Now that’s a very basic assumption to the Christian worldview. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The biblical worldview draws a very tight understanding of the connection between labor and income on the one hand, of savings and stewardship to be valued and honored, and a refusal to enter into avoidable debt, understanding that that debt is a form of enslavement. We should note that the national debt of the United States is a burden we are now handing down to successive generations, a burden that we actually know they will not be able to pay without economic catastrophe.
One of the signs of the failure of this generation of Americans and the generation preceding us is that we are willing to have a federal government that spends more money than it can possibly gain, shifting that economic burden upon our children. We should note that Bernie Sanders is now concerning even Democratic economists in terms of the debt he would now foist upon successive generations. Now you have Max Ehrenfreund and others warning—from the left, not from the right—that the Bernie Sanders proposals could bring economic catastrophe not only in the future but almost immediately in the present.
But from a Christian worldview analysis, the bigger question for us is why a new generation of Americans would be tempted by the idea of socialism. There’s a lot riding on this. The word socialism has been understood negatively in America for the better part of the last eight decades, and importantly so. Because history has shown that these socialist experiments have ended in disaster. Much of Latin America is right now facing a complete economic disaster precisely because of the failure of socialism. Socialism failed in Europe, and even where you have modern welfare states such as in Scandinavia, the very nations to which Bernie Sanders points, the reality is that those nations are having to cut back their federal spending because they too are running out of money—and the money they have, we should note, is largely coming from the sale of North Sea oil, the very fossil fuels that Bernie Sanders opposes.
The lessons of history seem to be largely lost on a generation of Millennials who did not live through that history and seem to be largely uninterested in the failures of socialism. Here we’re talking about massive, deadly failures in the 20th century and beyond.
Jonah Goldberg, writing for the Chicago Tribune, also points out that something else might be at work. These young Americans might actually have no idea what socialism is. This is a problem that has affected many generations. They arrive at the threshold of political voting and political responsibility without much understanding of the political context.
One of the things that Goldberg cites is a study that was done in 2014 by Reason-Rupe, a survey that asks Millennials to define socialism. As Goldberg writes,
“They had in mind a more generous safety net”—that is, by taxation—”more kindness and, as one put it, more ‘being together'”, which is to say, they define socialism in emotional terms rather than economic terms. But socialism isn’t an emotional system; it is an economic system.
When these researchers actually asked these Millennials to agree or disagree with specific economic proposals, even these Millennials overwhelmingly disagreed with those that were defining classical socialism. Which points to the fact that they probably don’t actually know what socialism is, and they’re probably not actually proposing socialist solutions. This may be explained by the unexpected popularity of an unusual candidate such as Bernie Sanders. It may also define the fact that they actually do not know much about the American political system or about economics. Of course, it points to the fact that we have seen a generational pattern at work whereby a new generation simply wants something different than what their parents wanted.
Goldberg writes that Millennials generally “are the only age group that views socialism more favorably than unfavorably.” He goes on to say,
“Some conservatives aren’t surprised. Schools have been force-feeding left wing propaganda to kids like it was feed for geese at a foie gras factory. On the other hand,” he says, “what are we to make of the fact that only a fraction of the young people who say they like socialism can explain what it is?”
He then asks the question, “If left wing indoctrination is so effective, you’d think it would have more success at getting kids to at least parrot back a serviceable definition of socialism.”
Finally, on this topic, Bret Stephens, always interesting, in his Global View column of the Wall Street Journal, wrote a column entitled,
“What’s Socialism, Dad?”
The headline comes from the fact that his ten year old son, watching the television with his father, seeing images from the disaster in Venezuela, hearing the word socialism, asked, “What’s socialism, dad?”
His father said, “‘Look at those pictures. That’s what socialism is.’ The pictures were of economic disaster and human misery, of lights out in Venezuela, of hospitals without blood, without drugs, and without power.”
Bret Stephens points to the fact that many of the world leaders who have been celebrated by and championed by Bernie Sanders are the very leaders whose governments led to absolute disaster and who are now being impeached or even tried for economic crimes against their own people. As Bret Stephens rightly says,
“Those who care for the good of their fellow human beings have to recognize that socialism is a road to serfdom everywhere.”
He then writes these very important words, and I quote,
“That’s a fact Americans might have learned after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. We didn’t.”
He then says this:
“Take the time to tell your kids what socialism is and does before they too feel the burn.”
LGBT activists assert human dignity at the expense of human identity, undermining both
Next, it’s often evangelical Christians who are asked the question: Why do we seem to talk so much about the transgender issue or the larger gay and lesbian issues, the entire complex of the LBGT spectrum issues? The reality is, we talk about these things because we have no choice but to do so because the questions are foisted on us by the culture around us, and because everyone is asking these questions, whether evangelical Christians or not. Furthermore, ample documentation has come this week that it’s not evangelical Christians who tend to raise the issue. In just the last several days, just from Sunday of last week until today, the New York Times has run so many articles on the transgender question alone, it’s very difficult to keep up.
But earlier this week, the President of the United States, in the New York Times, defended the statements he had made and the order his administration handed down concerning transgender bathrooms. The background of this is that late last week, the Obama administration handed down a directive to all public schools—that would include colleges and universities—from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice ordering that those schools must allow persons to use the bathroom of their choice depending on their chosen gender identity. It is an absolute federal overreach, and it is an absolute sign of the determination of this president to further the cause of the LGBT revolution as much as he is possibly able, politically speaking, before the end of his administration.
The article that was written by Julie Hirschfield Davis for the New York Times tells us that the President made an impassioned argument for his administration’s decision to instruct public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, saying that society must “protect the dignity and safety of vulnerable children.”
Now at this point, we need to think really carefully as Christians, and perhaps in a way we haven’t discussed before. That is, how in the world do we handle the idea of human dignity? How do we defend human dignity? How do we recognize when human dignity is truly at stake? Because, as Christians understanding that every single human being is made in the image of God, human dignity is not a marginal issue. It’s a central issue. This means that we have to speak up for the human dignity of every single human being. That includes every single human being at every condition and stage of life. That means every human being, whether born or pre-born. It means every single human being, regardless of race, or ethnicity, or economic condition, or anything else.
When we see President Obama speaking up for human dignity, we know that we must support human dignity. The question is, has he rightly defined the issue here? That’s a crucial question. In the interview earlier this week defending his policy, President Obama said these words:
“I think that it is part of our obligation as a society to make sure that everybody is treated failure, and our kids are all loved, and that they’re protected, and that their dignity is affirmed.”
Now we need to understand that our Christian responsibility is to affirm the human dignity of every single human being, period. What the President is saying here is that our affirmation of human dignity obligates us to affirm persons who claim that their gender identity is different from their biological gender. Furthermore, the President has now defined and predicated human dignity on the ability of a teenager who is a biological male to share a bathroom and changing areas and showers with those who are biologically female, and vice versa.
At this point, those committed to a biblical worldview have to understand that we cannot define human dignity at the expense of the definition of human identity that is revealed in Scripture. The biblical worldview would help us to understand that our human dignity is grounded in our identity as we were created by a loving, sovereign God who made us in his image, and made us male or female, and made us as individuals whose identity is actually a gift that includes whether or not God made us as male or female. Furthermore, Christians understand that human dignity does have to do with our body, with the integrity of our body, and with the reality that a biblical worldview affirms the fact that our body does tell us who we are.
The President of the United States is absolutely right to insist upon the affirmation of human dignity. But where the President goes awry here, and where we need to understand our society is increasingly confusing the issue, human dignity is defined as the freedom to assert one’s identity as different from the identity that God has given us. Furthermore, we need to understand that once you begin to define human dignity in this arbitrary and revisionist fashion, you lose any kind of moral sense about how to protect the dignity of those biological females who are now going to have to be sharing intimate space with a biological male.
The biblical worldview would remind us that even as the Scripture is so clear about human beings being made in God’s image and equally clear about the fact that God made us as male and female, we understand that any breakdown of that moral order grounded in creation cannot lead to a greater affirmation of human dignity, but only to a great damage to human dignity. Furthermore, when we see the President of the United States speak up for human dignity in this sense, we need to understand that he has now redefined human dignity in a way that will lead to moral catastrophe.
I don’t believe—I need to be clear—I don’t believe the President of the United States intends to subvert human dignity by this argument. Nonetheless, he is. The larger lesson for all of us is that if we are free to define human dignity on our own terms, we will all make a mess of the question, and we will all end up damaging human dignity itself.
The President of the United States is absolutely right to insist upon the affirmation of human dignity, but the larger secular project going on around us demonstrates the inability of a secular worldview to explain why that human dignity exists, where it comes from, and how it is to be defined, much less defended. We’re watching this in Europe, where secular notions of human dignity are breaking down in terms of the postmodern age, and we are also seeing it now in the United States.
In American academic circles, human dignity is increasingly becoming a philosophical category rather than anything that is tied to objective reality. If human dignity comes down to the fact that it exists simply because we say so, that’s not going to last very long. If human dignity is no longer acknowledged as God’s gift, it is not only going to be redefined, it will increasingly be denied.
How do we talk to our kids about sex? Christian parents have it easier than the sexual revolutionaries
Finally, in recent days, the Los Angeles Times has run an opinion piece by Alice Dreger. She is the author of a book that is entitled The Talk: Helping Your Kids Navigate Sex in the Real World. This is one of those articles that tells us just about everything we need to know about where we now stand as a civilization. The headline of her article is this:
“How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Sex.”
What we have here is a secular authority informing secular parents about how they’re to have a secular talk about sex with their presumably secular children. It’s not a pretty sight. As a matter of fact, what you have here is a manifesto for the sexual revolution packaged as how to talk to children, including very young children, about the sexual revolution, assuming you are all for it. If you want to know how the world has changed, just consider what Dreger writes in these words:
“A white wedding dress can present a chance to talk to your child about the history of the assumption that women would not have sex before they got married, and how that’s changed.”
In this column and in her book, this authority tries to tell secular parents that what they need to do is to introduce their children to the ambiguities and the complexities of human sexuality. Her book does represent a manifesto for completely overthrowing any kind of biblical or Christian sexual morality, but it’s packaged in a way that acknowledges the problem. Even very liberal secular parents evidently are finding it rather difficult to talk to their children and their teenagers about these matters. They’re finding it very difficult to translate the sexual revolution into what they want their own children and teenagers to think about sex, and for good reason.
As we saw earlier, once one tries to define and ground human dignity in something order than the fact that a sovereign, gracious God has made us, human dignity is inevitably confused and undermined. Similarly, when it comes to God’s gift of sex, once we abandon the understanding that sex is a divine gift to be received and celebrated in terms of the very laws and principles God has given us for sex, once we try to define human sexuality on our own terms, it inevitably leads to this kind of confusion.
One of the evidences of this confusion is that even these very liberal parents evidently aren’t exactly sure how to talk about what they say they believe with their own children, and for good reason. As I have said, it’s one thing to declare yourself a sexual revolutionary. It’s another thing to know how exactly you’re to involve your own children in the sexual revolution.