Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Luke and the Two Pauls

Tomorrow's class on Luke is concerned with Luke 16. Quite a bit on money in that chapter with the oddity of Luke 16:18, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery ..." in the middle of it. I don't think Luke was making a subtle point about the monetary costs of divorce. Luke is quite outspoken about money. Previously here I have raised the question whether he was a proto-Marxist. But that might be an insult to Luke or to Karl or even both!

Interestingly, when many pundits are making a play on the role Paul Ryan will make in the American election now that he is Mitt Romney's pick for Vice-President, it is the fight between the two Pauls which may be more important than Mitt v Barack, or Paul (Ryan) v Joe (Biden). Who is the other Paul, you ask? Why, it is Paul Krugman. Our friendly Nobel Prize winning economist is a geek's geek when it comes to number crunching (I cannot understand all his graphs, can you?) and a laureate's literatti when it comes to word smithing. And he does not think much of Ryan as an economist. Here Paul K deals to Paul R with some fine word smithing built on a foundation of crunched numbers:

"Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense."

Who is right? On the answer to that question depends quite a bit about the future of the world in my lifetime.

Essentially Paul R stands for constraining growth in deficit, cutting government expenditure to do so, and cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth (which, in the long run, should help generate new jobs, grow the tax base and reduce welfare dependency). All this gives the US a chance of funding through the long-term the welfare dependency it cannot reduce easily, that of its growing population of elderly people. The risk factor is that the global economic situation might be so bad that nothing by way of tax cuts and business initiatives encouraged by a trimmed back government  will stimulate the US economy back into life.

Essentially Paul K stands for stimulating the economy through government borrowing in the hope that the debt incurred (on top of debt already incurred) will be repayable like previous mountains of debt, even though those mountains, in comparison to today and tomorrow's debt, were just little foothills. To help repay the debt, he wants to increase the tax taken from the rich, or, to be more accurate, the higher middle classes and above, while constraining no existing government programme and enlarging the amount of government spending on welfare, including health. In the short term no entitlement will be taken away from anyone, but in the long term, Paul K cannot guarantee that, after repayment of interest on debt, future US governments will have enough money to care for people.

What would Luke do? In terms of Luke 16 I think Luke would say, "People matter, economic policy must serve them. Riches are to be used in the service of God. Read the Law and the prophets and follow their guidance in order to live justly. Above all, take a long term view of future prospects and make present decisions accordingly (unlike the rich man who kept Lazarus unkempt at his gate and paid for it later through eternal punishment).

Just as we see in the New Testament some interesting distinctions between the theologies of Luke and of Paul the Apostle, so Luke's economics challenges both modern day Pauls.

POSTSCRIPT: For a cheap and cheerful attack on Ryan, read Giles Fraser. I think Fraser misses the point Ryan and Romney will be making in the election: social welfare (including health) in the long-run depends on thriving businesses to generate the employment which can be taxed to cover welfare (and education, military costs), operating in an environment which is not skewed by massive debt (which  skims the cream off tax received, and inhibits business with rising cost of loans). Their proposals may or may not be better than what Team Obama proposes, but their validity has nothing to do with whether Ryan once espoused the philosophy of Ayn Rand or not. All successful capitalism involves a degree of 'selfishness': "I want a job so I can get ahead in life" is always better for successful government (it generates more tax and less welfare dependency) than "I want my beneficial share of the socialised distribution of tax through welfare"). Still, Fraser is writing for the Guardian so expectations should not be too high about depth of economic analysis ...


liturgy said...

Might the oddity be, Peter, that, on a blog which dedicates so much energy to preventing the redefinition of marriage by state and church, the quote of Jesus’/Luke’s definition of marriage which does not allow for divorce and which both state and (some) churches (including ours) have redefined – is provided with so little further comment? But then, as has been repeatedly said of me on this site, (clearly not an ad hominem as that is not allowed on comments here) I miss the real point, and am one of those who inadequately understand. Blessings. Bosco

Father Ron Smith said...

Gosh, Peter, with everything that's on your plate professionally, one has to wonder how you get the time to get mixed up in American politics. I do admire your eclectic fortitude, though. (I hope the American thing doesn't intrude into your biblical teaching. We have enough problems in our own setting here in Aotearoa.

Peter Carrell said...

I am, as you know, Bosco, very odd!

Bryden Black said...

Hi Bosco,
You are of course right to call for answers to the question of the rationale for granting remarriage in church. Once again however, I offer the best resource I know of, the CoE’s Winchester Report of 2000, Marriage in Church after Divorce.

The blurb from Church Publishing House goes as follows:

“Prior to the historic decision of July 2002 (on which see GS papers 1449, 1449a and 1449b) the Church of England was actively engaged for many years in trying to reach a common mind on the question of whether a divorced person with a former spouse still living should be able to marry again in church.

“This discussion document came from a Working Party commissioned by the House of Bishops, under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Winchester. Published prior to July 2002, for discussion in the dioceses, its aim was to take the debate further.

“In this report, the reader may find the key to the greater coherence and consistency now present in the Church’s pastoral practice, and see the initial proposals regarding the procedure under which further marriages might take place in church.”

Tolle lege!

Kurt said...

Hi, Peter,

Your readers should know that there are alternatives to the Demopublicans (or, is it the Republicrats..?) in the upcoming American general election. I’m supporting this team:

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY