Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to help the poor

It is fascinating following the way the media take up a story when one knows some of the things going on and/or some of the personalities involved. The story noted in the post below I see today (i) does not make the frontpage of the Christchurch Press (even though a Christchurch man is involved) (ii) fails - as I read across several publications - to make any particular significance of the connection with the Anglican church (iii) in at least one instance makes the bystanding, uninvolved girlfriend the lead 'angle' on the introduction to the story (obviously working the angle of her employment relationship with the Green Party co-leader). Whereas, speaking personally, the interest in the story centres on Jolyon. I would never make a good journalist!

At the heart of the story, including some elements of the offered justification for adding stickers to National Party billboards around the country, is the question of what a 'brighter future' for NZ is, and how that brighter future is reached.

That brighter future, if it is to be a 'national' brighter future and not merely a 'National' brighter future, must be as far as possible a brighter future for all New Zealanders. A brighter future for the wealthy and a hope that some of that wealth will 'trickle down' to the poor and vulnerable is not a brighter future for all. As far as I can tell, that is not the brighter future being envisioned by the National Party. The brighter future for NZ being promised by the National Party includes, for instance, attention to improving education for all so all may have a good starting point for participating in society as adults educated to a basic standard of literacy and numeracy. No party disputes the goodness of this aim but there is plenty of debate about the means of getting there which includes 'national standards' which are much protested about.

In general, if I may stick my political neck out a bit, all our parties in NZ are responsibly committed to a better and brighter future for NZ. All want to put New Zealand First, to advance the National well-being, to commit to a better future for Maori, to ACT now in the best interests of consumers and taxpayers, to seek a United Future, with active concern about Green aspects for a sustainable future, while recognising that Labouring earns that future, not slacking around. The real debate is how we are going to get there, whether as many NZers can be assisted towards that brighter future by this policy rather than that one, and whether we can sustain the ways and means we choose to follow.

I believe as Christians belonging to the kingdom of one who said 'Blessed are the poor' we have a special responsibility to think, plan and work for helping the poor. When we vote in our elections we should be voting for the policies which will do most for the poor. In the wisdom of my now advanced years I think a bit differently about this than when I first voted (in the 1978 election) :). For me the key issue in helping the poor is the economic situation of our nation which, since we are small, involves the economic situation of the world. If we fail to master the best way to manage the economic situation as a whole (to the extent that we are able) then we do our poor no service at all. If we fail to manage the economic situation in the long-term we may do a special disservice to the future poor (e.g. to the elderly in our community in fifteen to twenty years time ... to me, when I am retired!!!!). To give one specific example: if we want great education for all we need a great economy which generates fiscal income which pays for our schooling system and opportunities for our educated youth to work meaningful jobs in the pursuit of good incomes. We cannot have a bad economy and achieve great things for society.

Where I part company with Jolyon in 'political perspective' (as mentioned yesterday) is not over our shared commitment in Christ to bettering the lot of the poor, but in respect of which pathway to doing that is best.

PS Is any reader noticing what I notice as I drive around Canterbury: the National Party is putting a lot of funds into its billboards? I reckon I see about 10 National Party billboards to every 1 Labour billboard, and 50 National Party billboards to every Green Party billboards!

11 comments:

Shawn said...

Part of the problem in debates concerning justice is that we tend to seek the ends, without caring much about the means.

As an advocate of Paleo-Libertarianism, for me the issue of justice in society must always conform to the most basic principle of justice, the non-aggression principle. That is, that it is ALWAYS wrong for any person, or group of people, including the State, to initiate force against any other people and their property. Compulsory taxtion is therefore thef because it involves using force against people and their property.

All of our major political parties, including ACT, fail the non-aggression principle.

Thus voting for me becomes a matter of choosing the lesser of evils, rather than a positive thing.

Father Ron Smith said...

Taxation is one of the most equitable ways of enabling the poor to live. If it were not in place, the economy would struggle to survive. Whatever 'Paleo-Liberalism' may mean, it surely could not, in all conscience, support a 'voluntary taxation' scheme. Who would finance national survival?

Shawn said...

Ron,

Taxation is theft. If I beak into my neighbours home and steal his property, then give it to the poor, will the police let me go because I gave away the property to the poor? No. Because how I obtained that property was wrong.

Why then, if it is wrong for me to steal, it is right for the State to do so?

This strikes me as clearly unjust. Taxation then is not equitable, it is economic violence.

Voluntary charity is the only truly equitable and Christian way to help the poor. Justice must be as much about means as it is about ends.

Jesus told us to give to the poor out of our own wealth, not to steal our neighbours to do so.

The term is Paleo-Libertarianism. Libertarianism itself is the poltical philosophy based on the non-agression principle, that principle being that it is ALWAYS wrong to intitiate force against other people and their property.

Paleo-Libertarianism is a Christian variant of Libertarianism, with its roots deep in the Old Right.

Paleo-Libertarians believe that:

I. The leviathan State is the institutional source of evil throughout history.
II. The unhampered free market is a
moral and practical imperative.
III. Private property is an economic and moral necessity for a free society.
IV. The Police State is a preeminent threat to liberty and social well being.
V. The welfare State is organized
theft that victimizes producers and eventually even its "clients."
VI. Civil liberties should be based on the property rights that are essential to a just society.
VII. The egalitarian ethic is morally reprehensible and destructive of private
property and social authority.
VIII. Social authority-as embodied
in the family, church, community, and other intermediating institutions- help protect the individual from the State and are necessary for a free and virtuous society.
IX. Western culture is eminently worthy of preservation and defense.
X. Objective standards of morality, especially as found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, are essential to the free and civilized
social order.

Peter Carrell said...

Shawn,
It is noticeable that neither Jesus nor Paul analysed Roman taxation as 'economic violence'.

It is also noticeable that you absolutise the right to property and the wrongness of theft. But these things are relative to a degree: my right to property for instance is not my right to build a high building on my land without consideration for where its shadows fall; theft is generally wrong, but the state has a right to require assistance from its population in order to provide for all, e.g. to raise an army for defence of the realm, (ditto the council to levy rates for the good of all, e.g. to provide a sewerage system).

I am not convinced by your argument that the state has no right to demand taxes.

Further, provision for the poor on a statewide basis is arguably for the good of all: no beggars on the streets [not a nice thing in countries I have visited], no agitated poor rising up in angry revolt [plenty of examples in history], no epidemics of nasty diseases brought on by poverty [also plenty of examples ...].

There is plenty of debate to be had about the level of taxation, what it is applied to, who benefits from it, whether it is administered efficiently and so forth.

I would be among the first to challenge our politicians over lazy assumptions that taxation is theirs to spend as they choose; but among the last to agree that taxation is economic violence.

Mark Baddeley said...

I think Peter is right that Christianity has rarely agreed that right to property is absolute.

From Aquinas' Summa, Question Lxvi:

Article VII.—Is it lawful to steal on the plea of necessity?

R. The institutions of human law cannot derogate from natural law or divine law. But according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained to the end that out of them the needs of men may be relieved. And therefore the division and appropriation of goods, that proceeds from human law, cannot come in the way of a man’s need being relieved out of such goods. And therefore the things that some men have in superabundance, are claimed by natural law for the support of the poor. Hence Ambrose says: “It is the bread of the hungry that you hold back: the clothing of the naked that you keep in store: the ransom and deliverance of the unfortunate is contained in the money that you bury in the earth.” But because there are many sufferers in need, and all cannot be relieved out of the same goods, there is entrusted to the discretion of every proprietor the disbursement of his own substance, that out of it he may relieve the needy. If however a need be so plain and pressing, that clearly the urgent necessity has to be relieved from whatever comes to hand, as when danger is threatening a person and there is no other means of succouring him, then the man may lawfully relieve his distress out of the property of another, taking it either openly or secretly; nor does this proceeding properly bear the stamp of either theft or robbery.


Aquinas is saying that humans have a right to property. But property is ordained to the end of preserving life, and the right to property is given as the best way to secure that. But in extreme situations that right cannot come in the way of property fulfilling its God ordained role to preserve human life, and a person with no alternative does not steal by taking someone else's property to save their own life. (They might in human law, but not in God's.)

Not everyone will agree with Aquinas here. Fair enough. But the fact that even his opponents on this point over the centuries haven't consider this to be heretical suggests that an argument for an absolute right of property struggles to find purchase in Christian ethical thinking.

More fundamentally, while Aquinas' conclusions can be contested, the argument is fairly clearly based upon reflection on Scripture (and I say that as a thirty-nine article man who regularly disagrees with him), in places like Romans 13:1-7.

The State, or any other ruling authority is not a private citizen, it is something different, and has the power of violence and coercion entrusted to it (given the sword). Hence, it can require the subjection of its citizens to its demands and back that up with force, and that comes from God in order to punish evildoing. Taxes are explicitly one of the things we are to pay, and there isn't a hint that there is anything morally problematic about them being leveled.

Whether or not that is 'violence', the Bible does not see it as unjust violence.

And implicit in Paul's argument there has to be a view that the right to property is not absolute, but must be used to pay whatever 'debts' we have outstanding - whether debts to ruling authorities, or debts of love to those in need around us. Paul doesn't draw a hard line between paying taxes and voluntary charity, but segues naturally from verse 7 'pay taxes' to verse 8 'owe no one nothing except to love each other', drawing a natural link between submission to ruling authority in 1-7 and the demands of love in 8ff.

Shawn said...

Peter,

"Shawn,
It is noticeable that neither Jesus nor Paul analysed Roman taxation as 'economic violence'."

This is because neither were particularly interested in advancing a political philosophy, they were concerned with advancing the Gospel.

Its also true that neither did they talk about the business cycle, fractional reserce banking, the gold standard, free trade vs fair trade, abortion, or the rights and wrongs of violence on television, nor many other issues. I think as Christians we are supposed to work out our political beliefs with reference to the whole of Scripture, natural law, and the relevant disciplines, such as economics. And we are supposed to apply Biblical principles to the issues of our day.

Libertarians of all stripes do not so much absolutise property, as they absolutise the right of people to be free from coercion and violence. This is the central issue of justice that all forms of libertarianism are concerned with. The absolute right to property then is more about the right of freedom from violence and coercion.

Many of the issues you raise to justify coercive taxation are the same that the State uses to justify its actions. But is it really true that "bad things will happen" if the State can no longer engage in the violent appropriation of other peoples property?

I do not think so.

The "Father" of modern Libertarianism, Murray N. Rothbard has dealt with the issues and concerns you raise in his book 'For A New Liberty'. He does a good job of demystifying the States claims and showing that the "bad things will happen" argument if the State is no longer allowed to engage in violence is untrue.

The book is worth a read, if for no other reason than to learn a different point of view on social justice issues. It can be downloaded for free (legally I should point out) from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute web site:

http://mises.org/

Peter Carrell said...

I may not be understanding you, Shawn, so:

on your political philosophy does the government run and army and a police force? And if so, how are the respective forces paid for?

And how is the government, no matter how minimalist, paid for?

Shawn said...

Peter,

Libertarians generally have two approaches to the issue you raise. One is to simply have no State at all. This is known as Anarcho-Capitalism. The other, Minarchism, allows for the State to run the police, the courts and the military.

The minarchist position is the one I hold too, for various reasons.

A minarchist State would be far less costly than our current one. The biggest costs at this time are health care, education and welfare. Once these are fully privatised, the remaining functions can be paid for in a number of ways, including voluntary funding, lotteries, state run businesses, amongst many other options.

A minarchist State would not need to use coercive taxation.

Shawn said...

XXXVIII. Of Christian Men's Goods, which are not common.

The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same; as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn
Thanks for last two comments. I appreciate the explanations provided.
Would need to think about endorsing lotteries as a means of funding the minarchist state!!

Father Ron Smith said...

Shawn, I think your arguments about a tax-less environment may find some acceptance on, say, a place like Soames Island, where inhabitants could, maybe, live off the land and educate themselves - according to their own chosen philosophies. I don't know whether they'd call it 'Utopia', though, or 'Dystopia'.

I does sound to me a bit like 'Cloud-Cuckoo Land'.