Thirty-five years ago, my friend Ron Sider published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a very influential book at the time. While I haven’t always agreed with Ron, in fact, we’re poles apart politically, I have no doubt of his integrity, his wisdom and his desire to bring biblical truth to all aspects of life.
That’s why so I’m happy that Ron has turned his attention to one of the most pressing issues of our time: our national debt.
His new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit, is the result of his reflections on the issue. As the title suggests, for Ron, the ballooning national debt isn’t simply a matter of accounting. According to him, there are three “crises” operating here: the first is the deficit crisis, the result of government spending more than it collects in taxes; the second is a poverty crisis, in which the bottom 20 percent become poorer, while the top twenty percent get wealthier.
Together, he says, these add up to a third crisis—which he calls the “justice crisis”--in which we “put current expenditures on our grandchildren’s credit cards,” which Sider calls “flatly immoral.” Amen.
Having identified and described the problem, Sider offers a set of biblical principles that should guide our thinking. Again, while I don’t always agree with his specific policy prescriptions, I agree with him about these principles. Let me share a few with you:
First, we reject both radical individualism and sweeping collectivism. A truly biblical solution should take into account personal freedom, personal responsibility and our interdependence with each other in our communities.
We are also called to do what is in the “genuine long-term interest” of our neighbor, especially the poor. This is not the same thing as handouts, nor should it mask indifference.
Here’s another principle: While economic equality is not a biblical norm, we should work to ensure that everyone has a chance to “earn what is needed and be respected members of the society.”
Also, government is only one of many crucial institutions, and its power should be limited. This being said, government does have a role to play in caring for the poor and promoting economic opportunity.
Finally, “Intergenerational justice is important. One generation should not benefit or suffer unfairly at the cost of another.”
Christians can and will disagree about how best to ensure than people have a chance to “earn what is needed.” They can and should debate what the best way to promote intergenerational justice is: tax increases, benefit cuts, or a combination of both?
What they can’t disagree with is the need to fix the moral deficit sooner rather than later. If we eliminated every last bit of non-defense discretionary spending, we would still be facing trillions in additional deficit spending over the next decade. It’s not sustainable.
By describing the deficit as a “justice crisis” Ron Sider has turned our attention to where it should be: not what is “politically doable” or what I can make “someone else” pay but, instead, what is right by my neighbor and those who will follow.
Come to our bookstore at ColsonCenter.org to get your copy of Ron Sider’s new book. And while you’re at the Colson Center, be sure to watch my “Two-Minute Warning” about my dream for cutting the deficit.