Sunday, October 26, 2008

When Social Justice is Counterproductive

Who doesn't support the lofty ideal of "social justice"? It has such a nice high moral tone to it.

But what does it mean in practice? That's much harder to determine, for "social justice" covers a broad range of platitudes. Consider A Social Creed for the 21st Century from the National Council of Churches:

We Churches of the United States have a message of hope for a fearful time.

Just as the churches responded to the harshness of early 20th Century industrialization with a prophetic “Social Creed” in 1908, so in our era of globalization we offer a vision of a society that shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination, and finds security in joined hands rather than massed arms.

Inspired by Isaiah’s vision of a “peaceable kingdom,” we honor the dignity of every person and the intrinsic value of every creature, and pray and work for the day when none “labor in vain or bear children for calamity” (Isaiah 65:23). We do so as disciples of the One who came “that all may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), and stand in solidarity with Christians and with all who strive for justice around the globe.

In faith, responding to our Creator, we celebrate the full humanity of each woman, man, and child, all created in the divine image as individuals of infinite worth, by working for:

  • Full civil, political and economic rights for women and men of all races.

  • Abolition of forced labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children.

  • Employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage, with equal pay for comparable work.

  • The rights of workers to organize, and to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth.

  • Protection from dangerous working conditions, with time and benefits to enable full family life.

  • A system of criminal rehabilitation, based on restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.

In the love incarnate in Jesus, despite the world’s sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family and seek to awaken a new spirit of community, by working for:

  • Abatement of hunger and poverty, and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable.

  • High quality public education for all and universal, affordable and accessible healthcare.

  • An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and old age.

  • Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.

  • Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers’ rights, require employer accountability, and foster international cooperation.

  • Sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety.

  • Public service as a high vocation, with real limits on the power of private interests in politics.

In hope sustained by the Holy Spirit, we pledge to be peacemakers in the world and stewards of God’s good creation, by working for:

  • Adoption of simpler lifestyles for those who have enough; grace over greed in economic life.

  • Access for all to clean air and water and healthy food, through wise care of land and technology.

  • Sustainable use of earth’s resources, promoting alternative energy sources and public transportation with binding covenants to reduce global warming and protect populations most affected.

  • Equitable global trade and aid that protects local economies, cultures and livelihoods.

  • Peacemaking through multilateral diplomacy rather than unilateral force, the abolition of torture, and a strengthening of the United Nations and the rule of international law.

  • Nuclear disarmament and redirection of military spending to more peaceful and productive uses.

  • Cooperation and dialogue for peace and environmental justice among the world’s religions.

We—individual Christians and churches—commit ourselves to a culture of peace and freedom that embraces non-violence, nurtures character, treasures the environment, and builds community, rooted in a spirituality of inner growth with outward action. We make this commitment together—as members of Christ’s body, led by the one Spirit—trusting in the God who makes all things new.

Oh, where to begin? Alex LaBrecque writes,
"The founder of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, regarded churches as an ideal vehicle for advancing the Marxist cause."
What's so Marxist about the Social Creed above? The Rev. Mark H. Creech observes:
What is inherently immoral about socialistic endeavors is the effort to equalize economic conditions by forcibly redistributing wealth. To get this done, the right to private property, which God gives in the eighth commandment of the Decalogue, is violated. And charity, which according to the Scriptures is supposed to spring willingly from the heart, is instead coerced. Therefore, the image of God in man — his creativity and productivity — is suppressed, while those who are indolent prosper.

What is more, socialistic principles fail to take into account man's depravity — his fall away from God and into sin. The socialist contends if man's environment is changed, he will change. He'll be better to his neighbor. It discounts man's need for redemption in Christ and contends that if all have an equal share, then there is less reason to war and steal, etc. But the fact is socialistic principles change nothing about human nature and only concentrates economic power in the hands of a few sinful individuals who are more able to exploit the public. [Emphasis added]
Perhaps more germain is that the NCC's Social Creed lists lots of "common good" theories that have been miserable failures in practice:

  • Employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage, with equal pay for comparable work.
The living wage laws that numerous communities have instituted drive up costs but keep the poor poor, according to a study from the Cato Institute.
  • The rights of workers to organize, and to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth.

Powerful unions at GM, Ford, and Chrysler haven't prevented layoffs or plant closings - see How Detroit Drove Into a Ditch from this weekend's Wall Street Journal. And let's not forget the effort by unions to have Congress pass card-check legislation which even Sen. McGovern deplores. (You can read more at EmployeeFreedom.org and Bad Labor Law Is a Path to Economic Ruin.)
  • High quality public education for all and universal, affordable and accessible healthcare.
  • An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and old age.

The Democrats' prescription for universal health insurance is predicted to lead to fully socialized medicine like Canada and Great Britain. Yet we ignore at our peril the examples of US government hospital systems which have been fraught with scandal and poor service for decades. If the Federal Government can't do military hospitals well, why should we expect better results if they're in charge of all health care? As for Social Security, it's a fiscal timebomb waiting to explode if current law isn't changed.
  • Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.

Hmmm. To reduce disparities between rich and poor, either we make the poor richer or the rich poorer or both. "Spreading the wealth around", as Senator Obama told Joe the Plumber, usually means redistribution of income, not increasing opportunity for everyone to succeed and become richer. Investor's Business Daily notes:

Higher taxes lower returns on capital. This means everything — wages, stock prices, real estate — will have to decline further as Obama's tax hikes take hold. That means fewer jobs.

This reverses what has always been America's recipe for success: an economy built on low taxes, few regulations, free trade and, in general, letting markets decide winners and losers.

Hugh Hewitt predicts, "An Obama-Pelosi-Reid troika will shutter the creation of wealth in the country, though it will do an extremely good job of spreading existing wealth around through massive transfers through the federal government."
  • Public service as a high vocation, with real limits on the power of private interests in politics.

Do we really want to make the solons in Washington and the state capitols even more detached and arrogant than they already are? If I have a beef with Congress, the First Amendment guarantees that I have a voice, whether I do it myself or band together with others and hire a lobbyist. The McCain-Feingold Act was intended to insulate politicians from the "corrupting" power of big-money donors. Instead, it hinders political speech and pushes the big money donors into the shadows where they're harder to find but just as manipulative of the process.

And then there's the requisite diatribe against prosperity in the Social Creed:
  • Adoption of simpler lifestyles for those who have enough; grace over greed in economic life.

I liked what Peter L. Berger had to say in Pennies From Heaven:

Poverty (of sorts) is suddenly in fashion. Politicians and commentators blame the financial crisis on greed, not only by malefactors on Wall Street but also by all the denizens of Main Street who live beyond their means, accumulate useless possessions and despoil the environment. It is not quite clear what a nongreedy Wall Street would look like. But for the rest of us, after due repentance, the solution to our financial woes is held to be a more ascetic life. If it is voluntary, rather than compelled by circumstance, it has the glow of moral superiority. "Green is good," says a latter-day Gandhi as he goes to work by bicycle. But if you are really poor, asceticism does not mean giving up your SUV -- it means eating just one meal a day because it is all you can afford.

Far more attractive to poor people, who are a majority of its adherents, is the "prosperity gospel," a version of Christianity asserting that material benefits will come to those who have faith, live a morally upright life and, not so incidentally, give money to the church. Broadly speaking, this is what Max Weber called the Protestant Ethic, but with much less emphasis on self-denial and more on hard work, planning for the future, family loyalty and educating one's children.

The last four are precepts the Left uses as rationale for economy-busting "carbon" taxes with mis-placed priorities; anti-trade legislation; withdrawal from Iraq in the face of victory; subverting the US Constitution and national sovereignty; and cutting military spending no matter what. (And note that there's evidence the earth may be cooling, not warming.)
  • Sustainable use of earth’s resources, promoting alternative energy sources and public transportation with binding covenants to reduce global warming and protect populations most affected.

  • Equitable global trade and aid that protects local economies, cultures and livelihoods.

  • Peacemaking through multilateral diplomacy rather than unilateral force, the abolition of torture, and a strengthening of the United Nations and the rule of international law.

  • Nuclear disarmament and redirection of military spending to more peaceful and productive uses.

Platitudes, by definition, sound wonderful. But when the policy prescriptions that go with them make a bad situation worse, we need to rethink the assumptions and world-view behind them.


Further reading:

A Reality Check On Obama's Wish List, Michael Barone in IBD Editorials

T-2 Days and Counting: Voting God's Politics