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News

Saturday Selections – April 4, 2020

3 things to remember when you're feeling anxious (3 min) "It's striking that the most frequent command in the entire Bible is to not be afraid. Don't fear. Don't be anxious. And it's a very unusual command because it doesn't say, 'Repent,' or 'Try harder.' It's a command, but then the next thing said is a promise: 'I will be with you. Don't be afraid.'" – David Powlison New free Christian streaming service Looking for some good Christian viewing? Vision Video and the Christian History Institute have just started a new, free (donor-supported) streaming service (H/T Tim Challies). You have to give your name and email, and then you are good to go. A lot of it is middling content, some is Roman Catholic, but there are some gems worth checking out including a great children's film... Storm and Luther's Forbidden Letter  ...5 biographical dramas (I've ordered them from best to not bad)... C.S. Lewis Onstage Martin Luther Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace  John Hus - A Journey of No Return God's Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale ... and, for the even more studious, a classic apologetics series from Schaeffer, and a series from James Kennedy... Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live" James Kennedy's "What if Jesus had never been born?" There's also the Torchlighter animated biographies, where some episodes are quite good (like the Martin Luther one). But despite being animated, these are not all-ages viewing - The Jim Elliot Story, for example, includes a brief depiction of his death by spearing. So, as always, parents should preview. We can't spend our way to prosperity This is not a Christian article but it makes a Christian point: it is not spending, but investment, that grows an economy. We see in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) the lazy servant is taken to task for not investing his talent, while the two others are congratulated for making more out of what their Master gave them. The idea of "stimulus spending" flips this on its head, calling on us not to create more, but to spend what we have. To be clear, this article isn't critiquing aid to those in need – that's a different discussion. What's being critiqued here is sending cheques out with the goal of getting people spending. As the author notes, this has been tried repeatedly, and it has failed repeatedly: "More spending is a consequence of economic growth, not the trigger for economic growth." Fear of dying There's nothing like a pandemic to bring our mortality close to home. Lou Priolo lists 6 common reasons we're afraid of dying and lays out a "brief biblical remedy for each of them. Christian Psychology: an introduction & biblical analysis (15-minute read) This is a helpful article, highlighting the differences between secular psychology and two types of Christian psychology. It's not a quick or easy read, but it is an informative one. A Christian and a feminist almost agree (5 min) The world can often be spot on about what the problem is, and still be completely wrong about what the solution is. And unless someone tells them God's answer, they aren't going to figure it out on their own. ...

Economics

5 things Christians should know about income inequality

Income inequality is still at the forefront of conversation for many people. Thankfully, there are biblical principles that help Christians understand whether income inequality is a problem, and if so, how we are to respond. At the Christian research organization I work for – the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics – we talk a lot about various aspects of income inequality and how to think about it. Today, I’d like to summarize this tough topic through these five points dealing with the best approach to bringing about flourishing, especially for the poor. 1. HOW INCOME INEQUALITY IS MEASURED Income inequality measures income differences across groups of people using a statistical tool called the Gini coefficient. It ranges between zero and one. A score of one indicates perfect inequality: one person makes all the income and everyone else makes zero. A score of zero indicates perfect equality: everyone earns exactly the same amount. The U.S. Gini coefficient is 0.45 according to the CIA World Fact Book. For the sake of context, the impoverished country of Bangladesh has less income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.32). Meanwhile Hong Kong has slightly more income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.54).  Alone, income inequality data doesn’t tell us that much about whether one country is “better” than another. 2. CRONYISM MAKES INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE, AND IT'S UNFAIR Cronyism occurs when corporations pursue the government for benefits, protections, or subsidies benefiting their business at the expense of competing firms and consumers. It is a growing trend evidenced by the hundreds of lobbying firms popping up on K Street. Politicians have responded quite favorably to these lobbying efforts and have created a culture in which the most well-connected win. This is inherently unfair. An unjust system is prevailing where ordinary businesses and entrepreneurs are failing because they lack the resources to buy off politicians. The unfortunate result is that they can’t succeed, and the well-connected rich get richer and stifle more opportunities for the poor. 3. DIVERSITY IS A BIBLICAL PREMISE OF CREATION. WE ARE BORN WITH DIFFERENT GIFTS, RESULTING IN DIFFERENT INCOMES. We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and, while we bear many physical similarities, we are all distinct. That means that, by definition, we are unequal. God knew that our uniqueness makes our work and talents inherently dignifying and brings us into community with one another. Our interdependence makes us able to achieve things we never could on our own. We use our gifts and skills to provide goods and services that others need. We then trade for goods and services that we need but aren’t able to provide ourselves. The market return for our services is our income, and that income is based on the market supply of what we provide and the value people place on it. This means that our incomes will be different. However, because we do not operate in a vacuum, those who do earn high incomes tend to create lots of value for everyone, including lots of job opportunities. High incomes are not a sign that the rich have stolen from the poor. Quite the contrary, wealthy individuals have often innovated products and services that make us all richer and ease our way of life. 4. INCOME MOBILITY IS A BETTER MEASURE OF PROSPERITY Income mobility is quite different from income inequality. Income mobility tracks the lifetime income of a person. It’s a way of understanding if people are able to earn more income over their lives as a result of increases in their education, skills, and productivity. The trouble with the data on income inequality is that it doesn’t track individuals over time. If we look at the poorest income bracket in 1990 and again in 2014, we have no idea if the people who were poor in 1990 are still poor today simply by looking at the data. In fact, mobility data suggests that almost sixty percent of individuals who were in the lower income brackets moved into higher brackets in under a decade. 5. WE SHOULD FOCUS ON WHAT GOD HAS CALLED US TO DO, NOT ON WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING In a flourishing society, there are going to be lots of people who make high levels of income. Think how different the Congo or Vietnam would look if local entrepreneurs had the opportunity to create and innovate. The world would have a lot more people like Bill Gates and a lot more wealth and opportunity for all – not just the rich. It’s easy to want for ourselves what others have, but we can’t all be Bill Gates. God has gifted each of us to do something specific and special. We need to focus on our unique callings and do them with excellence rather than focusing on what others have. Unfortunately, some of the talk around income inequality is about coveting what others have rather than wanting more for the poor. I can tell you from living in a county with the highest per-capita income in the country that it is easy to want what others have: the newest car, the bigger house, the better wardrobe. It is a deceptive trap to believe that if we have these things, we will feel better or live better. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT INCOME INEQUALITY? Be aware of the cronyism all around us that often shows up in seemingly benign programs like laws mandating certain light bulbs, sugar subsidies, and occupational licensing. Government is increasingly giving in to the entitlement culture of lobbying. We need businesses to stop asking for favors and political leaders who will stop the handouts. Furthermore, prayerfully discern the path to which God calls you and pursue it with integrity, hard work, and faith. No matter what income it brings, it gives you a chance to serve others in the here and now and achieve everlasting significance for God’s kingdom. This article is reprinted, with minor edits, with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appears here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Go here to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog. Dr. Anne Bradley "is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom." RedPanel.com comic used with permission....

News

Saturday Selections – February 29, 2020

Could giraffes fit on the ark? Answers in Genesis has made a 30-second commercial for their Ark Encounter in Kentucky. It's based on all the children's bible storybooks that depict Noah's Ark with giraffes that have to stick their necks out a window. As the Giraffe family discovers, those pictures don't capture the true scale of things. If you've ever thought of visiting the Ark Encounter this might be the year to go – in 2020 kids 10 and under are free. Catholic mass to be offered to Protestants in Calvin's Cathedral today As Adam Ford noted, this is something that should not only get Protestants angry but even Catholics. There are real differences between us about who God is and what He has done for us. Rather than addressing those differences, this pretends that the truth of the matter is inconsequential. So this isn't Catholic theology sneaking into a Protestant church; this is relativism and apathy showing they already run the place. Christian atheists? Though they won't worship God, some prominent atheists still recognize that Christianity is good for the world. Is Transhumanism uncomfortably tempting? Is Transhumanism – the idea that we can use technology to reshape ourselves – the next thing coming? Transhumanism includes things as minimal as a pair of high-tech glasses that access the Internet. It can also be much more radical, involving the replacement of body parts with cybernetics. Artificial limbs designed to help those who have lost their own arms or legs via accident or disease might be grafted onto people who want to substitute their healthy arm for a bionic one. Inconceivable? Not in a world in which men are being told that they can become women, and vice versa. What is the Christian response? Denyse O'Leary provides a partial answer. Reformed sermon site has 1,500+ TheSeed.info has collected 1,679 sermons from pastors in the Canadian and American Reformed Churches and their sister denominations. It can be searched by biblical text (with at least one sermon available for every book of the bible except, somewhat mysteriously, 1 Chronicles) so it's a great study resource and quite the source of reading sermons. All Bob's money.... (3 min) Now that Bernie Sanders is the Democratic presidential front runner, this spoof of the Beatles' "All my loving" is making the rounds again. Sanders has spoken of banning billionaires, not for any specific evil they've done but simply because they have more money than he thinks they should have. This is what breaking the 1oth Commandment looks like at a governmental level – he's peeking over the back fence at what the billionaires have, and he's coveting. But is that the only Commandment that Sanders is breaking? If you have libertarian friends you may have heard one claim that "all taxation is theft." Libertarians believe the government derives its authority from the people, and thus only has the same powers that we as individuals have. And since we can't force people to give us money – that would be stealing – it's still theft even when the government does it. In contrast, Christians know that governments are put in place by God, and derive their authority from Him. They can tax us because, as Roman 13:6-7 shows, God has given them the authority to do so. So, no, not all taxation is theft. But where Christians can go wrong is in believing that since the government is allowed to tax that means taxation is never theft. However, when King Ahab wanted his neighbor Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21) he couldn't simply take it, even though he was the king – even though he was the government – because that would have been a violation of the 8th Commandment, Do not Steal. So he found a couple of men to bear false witness against Naboth, accusing him of blasphemy, and then had him stoned to death, and only afterward took his vineyard. Do we imagine, as Douglas Wilson recently asked, that "if Ahab has done what he did to Naboth via a program of land reform, or eminent domain, or zone redistricting Elijah would have nodded to himself saying, 'That's more like it'?" Whether we think Sanders' billionaire ban violates the 8th Commandment or not, it breaks the 10th. God made Abraham wealthy, and Jacob, and Solomon too. While Jesus warned that wealth comes with temptations (Matt. 19:24), being rich is a responsibility that God gives, and is not an injustice the government must correct. ...

Economics, Movie Reviews

Wait till it's free

Documentary 2014 / 82 minutes Rating: 9/10 Why would Canadians be interested in watching a Scotsman take a look at the American healthcare system? Because this examination, of how capitalism and socialism impact healthcare costs, is very relevant for us too. The film’s director and producer, Colin Gunn, is Presbyterian and consequently a capitalist. If that seems an abrupt connection, then consider that we Reformed folks know that the heart of man is wicked. So we are well aware that if an economic system needs men to be angels, laboring for no personal benefit, then that is an unworkable economic system. So we know better than to be socialists. But for some reason, we don’t seem to think that holds true for healthcare. This comes out most strongly when Canadians, even the Reformed ones, start talking about healthcare with their American cousins. Then we seem to be quite proud of the socialistic nature of our healthcare system, which “costs us nothing, and is free for everyone.” But, of course, that isn’t really so. It certainly isn’t free – the costs are simply not seen, paid out in taxes, so that Canadians have very little idea of how much their healthcare really does cost. And that everyone is covered doesn’t distinguish it all that much from American healthcare, where everyone can get emergency care, and where more and more of the population is covered by the government-run Medicare. As Gunn points out, the American system is almost as socialistic as the Canadian. Gunn’s main argument is that a good dose of capitalism would be good for what ails the American system. His most telling observation was that in the American system no one knows what the costs will be beforehand. There is no public pricing chart, and so no way of comparing what one hospital might charge versus another. And without an awareness of how much things might costs, there is only a pretense of competition. You won't have innovation if you don't have competition so if we want to reform healthcare, this might be the first place we need to start: make all the prices public! I highly recommend this documentary – it is a brilliant argument by a Christian filmmaker who has perfected his craft. The content is superb: Gunn has assembled an impressive cast of experts from around the world to make his case. And the presentation is even better: there are fun little animated bits, and great narration, and a wonderful story arc – this is packaged up nicely, and tied up at the end with a bow. Who should see this? Anyone who thinks socialism is the answer to our healthcare needs. You can watch the trailer below, and watch the rent the full film by clicking on the "$4.95" link in the trailer below. The Wait Till It's Free YouTube site has a lot of extras that are also worth checking out. ...

News

Saturday Selections – June 8, 2019

Dude Perfect's does more than bottle flips If you and your family don't already know about Dude Perfect, these guys provide some good clean and free fun with their creative videos. FREE COMMENTARY ON JAMES We haven’t read this commentary, but others in this commentary series have been well worth recommending. The ebook of Sam Allberry's James For You is free all June (but you do have to give them your email address). The theological legacy of Rachel Held Evans The popular blogger made it easier for people to express their doubts. But she didn't help them find answers. How to talk to your children about climate change This article highlights two important points we need to pass on to our children: wishing doesn't make it so, and the government does not have God-like expertise. Young people calling on the government to fix things need to understand that even the US's best-known proponent for government-directed environmental intervention, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, doesn't know what sort of change is needed, or possible, or at what costs. Eve was just like Adam, except completely different This is a fun short piece on the meaning of the Hebrew word kenegdo, translated as "suitable" in Genesis 2:18–21, but which more literally means "like" and "opposite." So, when this passage speaks of Eve as a "suitable" partner for Adam, we can understand it as saying she's a "similar" but "opposite" partner for him. And isn't that a great description of what spouses are in a good marriage: like-minded, yet completely different? Rent control is a feel-good policy that does bad (5 min) Christians will sometimes support rent control – the government legislating whether and how much rents can increase – thinking that it is a compassionate way to provide affordable housing for poor people. But rent control means that the government wrests control of these rental properties from their owners and decides for them what they are worth. If that's not what we'd like the government to do with our own property (our house, our car, our business, etc.), then, as Jesus instructs in Luke 6:31, we shouldn't ask the government to do that to others. And what this video shows is that "compassion" like this actually hurts the poor. That brings to mind another lesser known passage: "...but the mercy of the wicked is cruel" (Proverbs 12:10b) – politicians may continue to back it, even understanding the harm it does, because it makes them seem compassionate. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Pursuit

Documentary 77 minutes / 2019 RATING: 7/10 "From 1970 until today the percentage of people living at starvations door has decreased by 80%. Two billion people have been pulled out of starvation-level poverty. What did that!?! What did that? That was my vision quest, to figure out what did that." – Arthur Brooks The Pursuit is the story of one man's search for the best way to lift the world's poorest out of their poverty. And what the former French-horn player and current globe-trotting economics professor Arthur Brooks discovered is that it's the free market that did this, that lifted literally billions out of extreme poverty. Brooks makes for an interesting guide for this journey. In passing he identifies himself as a Catholic only to, moments later, start sharing Buddhist wisdom. He takes us to the words of the Apostle Paul, but soon after takes us to the home of the Dali Lama. So why would a Buddhist/Catholic former French horn player make a good guide for Christians interested in learning about economics, and the benefits of the free market? It's because, as much as he might differ from us in big ways and small, his case for free trade is built on principles that line right up with Scripture. He doesn't quote it, but his foundation is the Second Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:36-40) – Brooks is clearly motivated by a love for his neighbor. That same command is often used as a justification for socialism – if we care for our neighbor, why wouldn't we use the State's taxing power to help the poor? But Brooks responds with a very practical, Prov. 27:14 type, counter-argument: good intentions are not enough. He does that by taking us to a coal mining town in America, where the mine has been shut down, to show that however well-intentioned the socialist government programs might be, they don't help in the long run. He also takes us to the slums of India to visit some of the world's poorest. The desperately poor still remain, but Hindol Sengupta, editor-at-large for Fortune India, estimates that if not for market reforms initiated in India three decades ago, 300 million more Indians would still be impoverished. Socialism didn't help – this improvement came about by allowing people the freedom to make choices, sell their own labor and goods, and make the most of whatever (even if they were limited) opportunities that might come their way. This came about via capitalism's free markets and free enterprise, not socialism's compulsion and restriction. So Brook's argument is simple then: if we believe good results are more important than good intentions, we should support the economic system that actually helps the poor. And that's capitalism. ONE CAUTION I'd highly recommend The Pursuit, but it does require a little discernment on Christians' part. We need to remember that despite Brooks quoting Scripture – sometimes quite insightfully – his is not a strictly biblical perspective. So, for example, he makes this good point in citing 1 Tim 6:10: " putting yourself always ahead of other people. I often reflect on the verse in the New Testament that's most often misquoted: 'Money is the root of all evil.' "That's a misquote of the Apostle Paul. Here's the real Scripture: "For the love of money is the root of all evil." This really illuminates the problem of materialism. It's the not the  existence of material things. It's not the abundance around us. That's great! The problem is, not the money, it's the love of money. It's not the stuff. The stuff isn't the problem. It is the attachment to the stuff." This is an important point, but it goes askew when Brooks immediately pairs it with the Buddhist philosophy of detachment. Buddhists are right that money makes for a lousy idol and can't possibly satisfy us, but the answer isn't simply detachment. The proper corrective to false worship isn't merely to stop it; we need to start worshipping the one true God. This is where the film falls short. It is excellent in highlighting problems with socialism, and envy, and covetousness, and hard-heartedness. And The Pursuit even directs us to an economic system that will help many materially. But when it comes to what matters most – Who do you serve? – Brooks is stuck on the Second Greatest Commandment and doesn't bring us to the First: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:35-40). CONCLUSION At a time when 4 in 10 Americans believe socialism is a good thing, and many Christians think it the compassionate approach, there is a need for a film like this, that makes the very practical case against socialism that it isn't actually caring because it doesn't actually work. That message and a charming host make The Pursuit both an important film and a pleasure to watch. The Pursuit is playing in limited engagements across North America (to find locations check here) and can also be rented via the iTunes stores here. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

News

Saturday Selections - May 18, 2019

Caterpillars feeding on an explosive treat (3 min) BBC Earth is all about getting viewers closer and deeper into Nature than we've ever been before. And in this clip what we find is freaky coolness. While the BBC never gives God his due, by giving us in-depth looks at His creativity they can't help but prompt praise for the One who made it all. Tardigrades too tough for evolution? Here's a fascinating anti-evolution argument: Natural Selection has no reason to over-engineer. So why can the Tardigrade survive being frozen at -267ºC? And why can it revive after being hit with 250 times the radiation needed to kill a Man? Israel Folau thrown to the lions Australia's top rugby player has been fired for an Instagram post that noted, unless they repent, drunks, adulterers, liars, thieves, atheists, idolaters, fornicators, and homosexuals will go to hell. But he's not backing down. 5 charts that show the world is improving for mothers We can sometimes get tricked by all the doom and gloom in our daily news  into thinking the world has never been worse. To provide a little balance - and show how much we have to thank God for – here are five charts that show how some things are better than ever. The religious language of climate change John Stonestreet notes that the way the world talks about climate change is religious, with transformative language, its own list of sins, and its own damnation too. Keynes vs. Hayek: round 2 Rap and Economics? Can it get any better? ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

3 provocative, powerful, PG-rated, dystopian novels

The best dystopian books warn us of an undesirable future that seems far too likely for our peace of mind. The most famous examples are 1984 and Brave New World and while these are very important books, both have sexual content that make them problematic to discuss in a high school setting. But there are fantastic alternatives that are every bit as challenging and thought-provoking and yet don't bring in the sexual content. The most "explicit" of the three below is Time Will Run Back in which sex is mentioned but only in the context of the government mandate that no one can pair up for longer than a month, lest they form familial bonds that compete with the bonds they should have to the State. Nothing titillating here. What we're left with are provocative PG-rated stories and that'll allow parents and teens to enjoy and discuss them together. ***** WINTERFLIGHT by Joseph Bayly 1981 / 216 pages In this dystopian novel, Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands. When Jonathan and Grace Stanton's six-year-old son Stephen falls off his bike, they don't know what to do. The fall was minor, but their son has hemophilia and he needs treatment. But the law says he shouldn't exist: had his condition been diagnosed prenatally the State would have required that he be aborted. Stephen survived only because he mother never visited a doctor during her pregnancy, and when the time came a friend helped her have a home birth. Now the Stanton's wonder what the State might do, even six years later, if they bring their son in to see a doctor. Do they dare find out? Winterflight was written almost 40 years ago, but it got my heart racing – it all seemed far too probable for my liking. Abortion is already being used to "cure" genetic disabilities like Down Syndrome and while it isn't mandatory, pressure from doctors and culture are such that in some countries 98% of Down Syndrome children are killed before birth. When it comes to killing the elderly, we don't demand their deaths at 75, but we are already exploring the cost savings that can be had from their early departure. In countries where euthanasia has been legal longer, there are regular reports of involuntary killings. In Canada, attempts are already being made to make involvement on some level mandatory for all doctors. But what hits closest to home is Bayly's portrayal of the confused Christian response to these government abuses. When Grace's elderly father is told he must report soon to be euthanized, their misunderstanding of Scripture has them thinking that they need to obey the governing authorities even in this, since those authorities are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). But at the same time, in saving their son, the Stantons show that on some level they do understand we must sometimes defy the State. Is their confusion realistic? We'd never march ourselves off to the local euthanasia clinic just because the government demanded it. But why would we resist? Do we understand on what biblical basis we could reject such demands from the "governing authorities"? During World War II there was confusion on this point among some good Reformed Dutchmen. Among those who joined the Resistance, some felt guilty about it because they were worried that in acting against the Nazis they were resisting God's chosen rulers. The confusion persists today. Even as we know the government shouldn't mandate euthanasia – even as we recognize that there are limits to their power – many Christians will still turn to the government asking it to solve our problems. We understand the government has limits, and yet we'll also ask them to do more and more. We are confused. And that's what makes this book such a fantastic read - the discussion it'll prompt is one we need to have. Cautions There are just a couple cautions to note. First, there is a small bit of language – I think "damn" might be used two or three times. Second, without giving away the ending, when the book was first published some Christians misunderstood the ending as being prescriptive – they thought the actions of the book's confused Christians were what we should do. So it's important to understand that's not so. These are confused Christians, under enormous pressure, acting in a confused way and the author is not endorsing their actions. In fact, the book is primarily about warning us not to do as they do. Conclusion This is a fantastic dystopian novel, as prophetic as they come, and certainly unlike any other Christian fiction you've read. The topic matter is weighty, but because there's nothing graphic this could be appropriate for as young as early teens. However the younger a reader might be, the more they'll need a guide to steer their interaction with the story, and particularly the not-at-all happy ending. It would also make great book club material, with fodder for some fantastic discussions. ***** TIME WILL RUN BACK by Henry Hazlitt 368 pages / 1951 As novels go, this is intriguing. As economics textbooks go it is downright amazing. Like 1984... In Time Will Run Back author Henry Hazlitt envisions a future in which the communists won and have been in power for more than 100 years. As Henry Hazlitt himself acknowledges, his novel bears some similarities to 1984 (published two years earlier) since both take place in a dystopian future in which the government manages every aspect of citizens' lives. But Hazlitt didn't read 1984 until after he had finished the first draft of his own book, so no plagiarism was involved. Instead, as Hazlitt puts it, authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley (and his Brave New World) and himself were: plagiarizing from the actual nightmare created by Lenin, Hitler and Stalin....All the writers had done was to add a few logical extensions not yet generally foreseen. In Hazlitt's envisioned future the government has not only taken over the capitalist West, but they've wiped away any memory of capitalism, even editing Karl Marx's books so that no one could deduce from them what sort of economic system it was that Marx was writing against. Into this setting Hazlitt places the ultimate outsider. The world dictator's son, Peter Uldanov, has grown up far away from his father, isolated on a Bahama island. When his mother and father split, he agreed to let her take Peter, so long as she agreed not to teach Peter anything about history, politics or economics. So when the world dictator calls his now adult son to Moscow and informs Peter that he is to succeed his father as dictator, father first has to bring son up to speed in these three key areas. Peter's education takes up the first third of the book, though there is some palace-intrigue as well: the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo is eager to see Peter dead, but doesn't want to be caught doing the deed. ...and Screwtape Letters This first third bears more than a passing resemblance to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, with Peter's teacher filling the role of the elder Screwtape explaining to his younger devilish charge why they do things the way they do them. For example, at one point Politburo member Adams and Orlov, the editor of the world's state-approved and only remaining newspaper, explain to Peter how what is carried in the paper has nothing to do with the truth, but instead has to do with what is useful for the masses to hear. It turns out "what is useful" can be hard to determine. "It is for the Politburo to decide, for example, whether we shall say that the production record is very bad, in order to exhort and sting everyone to greater output; or whether we shall say that it is very good, in order to show how well the regime is doing and to emphasize the blessing of living under it." "These decisions are sometimes very difficult," Adams put in. "We often find that a zigzag course is best. For example, if goods are shoddy and fall apart, or if too many size nine shoes are made and not enough size eight, or if people cannot get enough to eat, there may be grumbling and complaints – or silent dissatisfaction. We must make sure that this unrest does not turn against the regime itself." "Therefore," said Orlov, "we must lead the complaints. We must ourselves pick scapegoats to denounce and punish." In the middle third of the novel Peter takes on the role of the ultimate benevolent dictator. He wants to help his citizens, so he tries desperately to figure out ways to make socialism work. He has the help of his country's greatest minds, and near absolute power, so he is in the best sort of situation to make it work. But try as he might, they can't make it work. The biggest trouble Peter keeps running into is trying to figure out the value of what they are making. They have no money (since no one buys anything, but is instead given what they need) so they can't use price to calculate how valuable one product might be compared to another. And if they can't calculate value, then they also can't determine if the country is producing more overall this year vs. the last. Sheer tonnage is one proposed measure – that could use that to compare how much grain they grew from one year to the next. But even this falls short, because grain can come in different qualities. How then should they evaluate things if one year more grain is produced but of a lower quality, and in another year there is less but of a higher quality? Which was the better year? After ruling out tonnage as a helpful means of measuring output, one alternative after another is proposed only to have the shortcomings of each then exposed. The alert reader will see where this is leading: what this socialistic  economy lacks are markets in which the value of a product is assessed by consumers as a whole. In the final third of the book Peter gets more desperate and more radical in his efforts to make real improvements and give citizens real freedom, and he ends up discovering some economic principles that really help: open competition, property ownership, and the rigorous prosecution of cheats and swindlers. To help his citizens he is forced to invent capitalism! Conclusion Though the book is most obviously about communism, the warning Hazlitt offers here - that freedom and prosperity cannot co-exist with an economic system that prioritizes equality of distribution – is directly applicable to communism's democratic twin, socialism. This book sat on my shelf unread for many years because I didn't believe a world-renown economist could also be a credible novelist. I was wrong. There is a conversation here and there that gets bogged down by the economic lesson Hazlitt is trying to teach, but overall this is not just readable, but engaging and entertaining, able to stand up to comparisons with 1984 and Brave New World, which themselves are not read for their wonderful prose, but rather for their insightful investigations of human nature in the face of tyranny. So this is a readable, intriguing and important novel with a few slow bits. And as an economics textbook, there is none better – Hazlitt makes a strong and compelling case for the free market. The e-book can be had for free here. ***** THE GIVER by Lois Lowry 1993 / 208 pages The Giver is a book that is not specifically Christian, but has been studied in Christian schools and is stocked in our Christian school library. Why? Lois Lowry's novel is a brilliant dystopia - a vision of the future where things have gone horribly wrong. What makes it so brilliant is that in the brief space of a children's novel, Lowry shows, as dystopian novels always do, how the desire to make a utopia leads to disaster. The original Utopia (which literally means "no-place"), by Thomas More (an English Catholic writing around the time of the Reformation), is a vision of an ideal, perfectly regulated society, where people live their lives with leisure and work balanced, and the wealth is fairly shared among all. All these features are appealing, but given human nature, any attempt to build society through regulation will result in the stomping out of individuality and the oppressive power of whatever authority we trust to organize everything. Basically, there is a kind of idolatry of human systems and power. Of course, we know that idols always disappoint, and idols always demand horrible sacrifices. That's what's going on in The Giver. Lowry builds up a picture of an ideal, well-organized society where everyone has his or her specific role set by 12 years old. All the angst of adolescence in our society has been taken care of through this selection of each person's career by the community, as well as by the suppression of the disruptive disturbance of teenage hormones. The result is a village in which there is no significant crime; in which each person is given a specific role and, in return, has all his or her needs are met from cradle to grave by the community; and in which both the physical storms and emotional storms have been subdued by technology. This "sameness," as the narrator calls it, has been maintained for generations. Even the memory of the relative chaos of our own society has been wiped out, but the elders of the village have ensured that the past is not entirely lost, so that in the event of crisis, the elders can learn from it. This is where the main character, Jonas, comes in. At twelve years old, he is given the unique role of the Receiver of the community. What does he receive? The memories of the village before the "sameness" - from the Giver. Jonas's unique knowledge enables him to see what a terrible place our own world is - with war and other suffering - but also what emotional ties like family and romantic love were lost with the oncoming of the "sameness." His own crisis comes when he sees what sacrifices his seemingly utopian village demands to keep its stability. Why would Christians want to read this? The Giver shows us both the beauty and the cost of human emotion and desire, but also the foolishness of playing God in trying to wipe both out by human power. What we need is not liberation from our own humanness, but liberation from the sin which has corrupted our humanness - by the death of Christ - and the redirection of our emotions and desire - by the work of the Spirit. Lowry may not explicitly put us before God's throne, but she does a fine job of knocking down one of the idols that serve as a stumbling block blocking our view of His glory. ...

Economics, News

The $33/hr minimum wage?

As of January 1, the minimum wage in New York City was boosted to $15 an hour, a more than doubling of the $7.25 minimum wage of just six years ago. Three days later The New York Times published a piece with the provocative title: The $15 Minimum Wage Is Here. Why We Need $33 an Hour. Author Ginia Bellafante didn’t exactly demand $33 as a new minimum wage or at least didn’t set a timetable to reach that number. She did argue that the new $15 minimum wouldn’t do much to meet New York City workers’ needs and “the war” for an adequate living wage had to continue. Bellafante cited a report by New York’s largest food bank, City Harvest, which calculated that a “single parent with two school-age children…would need to make nearly $69,427 a year” which works out “an hourly wage of just under $33.” But is need a good basis for a minimum wage? If a single mom needs $33, a married couple with two kids could get by with just half that. So maybe $15 is a good number after all? But then what of that single mom? And what if, instead of just two kids, she had four? Then she would need a lot more than just $33, so should we be looking at a $50 minimum wage, or even higher? If you see a problem with that idea, you’re recognizing something that many minimum wage proponents do not – that the basis for wages isn’t employees’ needs. Consider our own buying habits. We don’t buy a car from Ford because Ford needs the money – that’s not a consideration. When we head to Safeway and find out that a dozen bagels are on sale for $5 we might buy them. But not at $10 a dozen – they aren’t worth that to us. So whether we buy them or not depends on what value they return to us for the money we have to hand over. It’s no different when employers buy labor. They aren’t buying our labor out of a charitable impulse – they are looking to get good value for their money. And like us, if something is overpriced, they aren’t going to buy. That’s why a minimum wage of $50 would be disastrous. Many of us aren’t worth $100,000 a year to an employer so if $50 were the minimum wage, we would be out of work. We would be unemployed because our labor was overpriced by government mandate. While $15 is a lot lower than $50, not everyone is worth that either. Unskilled workers might not be able to produce $10 or even $5 an hour of value, or at least not until their employer trains them. If the law says they have to be paid $15/hr that makes them unemployable. It may not even be the unskilled worker who pays the price. Take as example a business that employed high school students at minimum wage, and also employed a single mom who made a bit more. When the owner needed help running the business he began training the single mom to become a manager, and increased her salary to go along with the new responsibilities. Then the minimum wage went up and the owner had to increase the pay of all his high school students. That money had to come from somewhere and the end result was that the owner had to let his manager-in-training go, because he had to use her wages to pay the students. This government-mandated increase, legislated as a means of helping the poor, didn’t help her. High schoolers who had already been happy with their wage got more, but a single mom lost a good job. The government might have meant well, but they didn’t do well. There is a Christian case to make against the minimum wage and any number of verses could be cited. Prov. 14:31 tells us to be kind to the poor, and while that is the professed intent of the minimum wage, that is not its effect on the least skilled. Just as relevant is Prov. 27:14 which tells us that mere good intentions are not enough – we actually have to be kind. In the online discussions of this article Luke 6:31 was raised: "Do to others as you would have them do to you," as in employers should pay their employees what they would think fair, were their positions reversed. True enough, but this verse is applicable the other direction too. Don't want your job banned? Then don't ban other people's jobs. There are any number of reasons why someone might be happy to work for wages below a government-mandated minimum. Someone might want to work for free as an intern instead of spending thousands learning the same skills in university. Low-skilled or no-skilled workers might want to get a foot in the door so they can work their way up to higher paying positions. Some low-paying jobs have fringe benefits, like a parking lot attendant I knew who could do his university homework during his shift. Mentally handicapped people who can't do as much as others might still enjoy work. Elderly folks who can't move as quickly as they once did might appreciate a job that doesn't demand a high output. And students might prioritize flexible hours over big bucks. Do these sound like positions that need to be banned? Should it be the government's job to make working for less than $15 a crime? God warns against arrogance (Daniel 4:30) but when a government makes minimum wage laws it is making decisions for millions and presuming it can price the value of people's labor better than they can themselves, and better than individual employers can. Our governments are trying to manage our economy in a hands-on way that requires them to be near all-knowing and have miraculous powers. But they are not God, and they can not make everyone worth $15/hr. by government decree. In humility, our governments need to recognize that their powers and knowledge are limited, and they are simply not up to that task of running an economy. Is it any wonder, then, that God never asks them to? This article has been expanded by a couple of paragraphs to answer some of the questions the original version prompted. ...

News

26 richest people own as much as the world's poorest 3.75 billion

The 26 richest people on the planet hold as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population. So says the Oxfam Inequality Report 2019 released this January. That quite the statistic – it’s a disparity that will surprise and stun many. But why is Oxfam sharing it? To foster covetousness. Of course, that’s not how they present their case. They speak of fairness. They think it obviously unfair that the 26 people at the top have as much as the 3.75 billion on the bottom. But what the report doesn’t detail is how these 26 got their wealth. No accusations of theft are made. We know God hates for the powerful to oppress the poor (Prov. 22:16, 22-23) but Oxfam doesn’t even try to make the case that this is how the rich gained their money. The report details the dire circumstances the poor face around the world, but no linkage is made between their poverty and wickedness done by the rich. Still, isn’t it obviously wrong that so few have so much, when so many have so little? To answer that question properly, we need to view things biblically. In Scripture we find God repeatedly calling on us to help the poor (Prov. 28:27, 31:9, etc.). And at the very same time in the 10thCommandment – Do not covet – He makes it clear He doesn’t want us concerned with what the rich have. Poverty is a problem to be tackled, but the God who made Solomon wealthier than any before him nowhere speaks of “fixing” wealth inequality. How can the God who wants us to help the poor also tell us not to concern ourselves with the wealth of the rich? Aren’t the two related? No. That’s the lesson the Oxfam needs to learn. Abraham prospered, but his increased wealth didn’t come at the expense of anyone else (Genesis 14:23). Similarly, a successful businessman doesn't become rich by taking from the poor. Unless he steals, the only way he can become wealthy is by making others wealthier too. He can only sell us his $10 widget if we think he’s delivering more than $10 worth of value. After all, if we don’t think it's worth more than the asking price, why would we trade our money for it? If we do make that exchange, not only is the widget-maker wealthier (he’s up $10!) we're wealthier too because we now own a widget that’s worth much more than $10 to us! The Oxfam Report laments the wealth of the super-rich. They see it as representing good that could be, but isn't being, done – they see it as good withheld. What they don't understand is that this wealth represents enormous good already done – every dollar representing more than a dollar’s worth of wealth given to their customers. (And we haven't even touched on how these 26 people’s wealth is tied up in companies that bring further benefits by employing millions.) There will always be a temptation to look over our back fence at what our rich neighbor has. But when God calls on us to help the poor, He's calling on us to help the poor....

News

Saturday Selections – Jan. 5, 2019

Is our galaxy in the center of many others? This is a tentative finding that the Institute for Creation Research urges Christians to hold onto loosely, but the data suggests that the Earth, or at least our galaxy, is in a very special, central spot amongst many other galaxies. What we read in the Bible wouldn't lay out that it would have to be so, but considering the central role of Man in all of creation, it also wouldn't be surprising to us if our galaxy was centrally located. But it sure would be unexpected for evolutionists who think everything happened without planning and intention. Skip New Year's resolutions in 2019 – make a rule of life New Year's resolutions are often a very surface-oriented attempted fix to a more foundational issue - how are we going to intentionally live our lives to God's glory? Abortion was the leading cause of death in 2018 LifeNews.com is reporting that of the approximately 100 million deaths in the world last year, 40 million were due to abortion. In comparison, the next leading cause of death, cancer, killed 8 million. Children aren't optional The average American woman is having just 1.76 children in her lifetime and the Church is following the world's lead. Why Coke is now better than Pepsi In the wake of undercover videos showing US Planned Parenthood (PP) clinics selling baby body parts, major US companies have been cutting their support for PP. That includes Coke but not, according to the group 2nd Vote, Pepsi. (These are American findings - it could be different in Canada and elsewhere in the world.) No one knows how to make a pencil If we expect our government to manage the complexities of our economy, consider this: no one on earth knows how to make even a pencil. It's a simple everyday object that costs only pennies. And yet, as Milton Friedman explains below, the making of a pencil requires the cooperation of thousands, from different countries, who don't even speak the same languages, and "who might hate one other if they ever met." This is the genius of free trade – "the magic of the price system" – that something no individual knows how to make, can get produced anyway, by mass cooperation, and so efficiently it can be sold for a trifling sum. As Leanard Read once wrote: "Skeptics of the free market are forever asking, “Well, how would the free market attend to mail delivery? Education? Or, whatever?” a person can no more explain how the free market would attend to mail delivery than his great-grandfather could have explained how television could ever emerge from free market forces! Answer honestly: I don’t know; I never will know; no one will ever know." Just as no one knows how to make a pencil. And yet it happens! ...

Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On equality...

I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 years lower than that of females. This phenomenon must be properly discussed. What is a more valuable commodity than life? Nothing, I would say. And yet females habitually possess over 8 percent more of it than men. It is clear that when it comes to life, there is no level playing field in our society between males and females. I, therefore, call upon the government to take measures to empower men to overcome this glaring inequality. What we need is legislation, programs, and lots of funding. First of all the government should enact human rights legislation which will unequivocally state that males have the right to the same life expectancy as females. This legislation will empower the government to make proactive adjustments in Health, Social, and Education programs. I would like to share with you the following suggestions for such adjustments. An immediate transfer of medical research dollars from female diseases to male diseases. The inclusion of a mandatory life expectancy rights component to be taught in all our schools starting at the kindergarten level. The appointment of kommissars (also call commissioners) for each federal and provincial ministry who are to scrutinize all proposed legislation for life expectancy bias. Mandatory sensitivity training for all our judges to ensure that crimes against women are not more discouraged than crimes against men. Mandatory affirmative low-stress jobs action for all businesses employing more than 10 people to ensure that men will be employed in at least 50 percent of such jobs. The creation of Men's Issues Department at both the federal and provincial levels. Thus far my suggestions. If we do not want to lose the image of Canada as a caring and nurturing society we had better implement these suggestions regardless of costs. Of course, some naive people may suggest that it would help if men changed their lifestyle by smoking, drinking, fighting, and fornicating less, and by being more spiritual and less macho. However, though in the past this might have been a solution, we now know that we can only lead fulfilling lives if we are true to ourselves. Since institutions of education and our public media zealously indoctrinate the populace with this new gospel, it would be futile to appeal to "the man kind" itself to heal the wound of life expectancy; the government is our only hope. This post first appeared way back in the May 1999 issue, but doesn't it seems like it was written for today? As Christians we believe God calls us not to be partial to rich or poor, black or white, young or old – He calls us to equality. But what kind of equality does God call us to? Is it an equality – as is called for in this article – of outcomes? Or is the equality meant to be in how we treat people? The world says the former, but God is calling us to the latter (Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1-9, Acts 10:34)....

Economics - Home Finances

Is gambling wrong? And if so, what about buying stocks?

Some Christians won’t invest in the stock market because they believe that investing in stocks is really no different than buying a lottery ticket. Both, they argue, are examples of gambling, which God forbids. But are they really so alike? Consider these two ways in which investing in stocks differs completely from gambling. 1. You can gain without causing pain While it could be argued that the Bible doesn't specifically forbid gambling, it does condemn the roots of it including covetousness (Ex. 20:17), love of money (1 Tim. 6:10, Hebr. 13:5, Matt. 6:24), and the lack of productivity (Matt. 25:14-30). Another significant problem with gambling is that a person can only win if others lose – there is no way for all the players to benefit. It is a zero-sum game, so for a gambler to walk away with more than he came with, he has to get it from the other players. God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), but the gambler wants to benefit at his neighbor's expense – he wants to get something while giving nothing. With stocks, it is very different. While the stock market has its ups and downs, over time the trajectory is ever upward, as the economy expands, and as we continue to learn how, through automation and other efficiencies, to become ever more productive. That means it is possible for all investors – or at least all of the patient, cautious sort – to win. An investor’s gains need not come by making others lose; instead their increase can come from helping a good company grow. An investor’s return can come from supporting companies that are creating good products, or offering wanted services, or who are in some other way being productive in a way that paying customers appreciate. And then the return he gets will be in exchange for the help he provided: it will be something for something. Of course, someone could buy stock in all sorts of evil companies too, so we’re not trying to say here that buying stocks is always good. The point is more limited: whereas a gambler can only gain by other’s pain, it’s possible for an investor to gain by helping others. 2. You are likely to gain Another problem with gambling is that it is a waste of the resources God has entrusted to us (Matt. 25:14-30) because in gambling the odds are always stacked against the gambler. Slot machines, provincial and state lotteries, 50/50 raffles, casinos: all of them are a source of revenue for governments because they are designed to pay out less than they take in. Sure, a fellow might makes some short-term gains, but any gambler that keeps at it is sure to lose…and quite possibly everything he has. But in the stock market, the very opposite is true. If the economy is growing (as it is, at least over the long term) then the stock market will grow too, and see more gains than losses. If you have no other ideas as to what to do with your money, then placing it in a diversified portfolio is one of the safest places to put it. With minimal risk you can increase the resources God has entrusted to your care. Conclusion To sum up, whereas a gambler is always trying to win at others’ expense, stock market investors can gain by helping others do better too. And while the odds are stacked such that over time a gambler will lose all he has, stock market investments overall continue to grow over time. In these two significant ways, buying stocks is the very opposite of gambling....

News

Venezuela’s inflation to hit 1 million percent?

An official with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is predicting that by the end of the year Venezuelan inflation will his 1,000,000 percent. What does that even mean? It would be like that $1 dollar soda you bought with your burger increasing in cost to $10,000 by year’s end. As recently as 2012 Venezuela was being touted by some as an example of socialist success. So what, over the space of just the last six years, has caused the sudden collapse of the Venezuelan economy? Oil prices are certainly a factor. Venezuela’s main export is oil and world prices for a barrel of crude fell from $100 (US) in 2014 to roughly $30 in 2016 before slowly rising to around $70 today. But many other oil-producing countries have been able to ride out this oil price drop. Another significant factor is surely the precipitous loss of economic freedom in the country. Since 1995 the Heritage Foundation has been ranking countries on their Index of Economic Freedom. The higher the score, the more individuals “are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please.” In 1995 Venezuela scored a 59.8, which gave them a “mostly unfree” rating but that was, at least, a couple points better than the world average. However, since then the Venezuelan government has taken over large parts of the economy by nationalizing everything from oil projects to glass manufacturing. The Heritage Foundation ranks countries who score under 50 as being “repressed” and Venezuela now comes in at just 25.2. (By way of comparison, the United States, Canada, and Australia score 75.7, 77.7, and 80.9, respectively.) The Index of Economic Freedom highlights many practical reasons why a loss of economic freedom leads to a loss of economic prosperity. If a business owner has to bribe officials to get his permits, or can't hire new workers because high taxes don't leave him money to pay for them, or he isn't sure whether he'll even own his business next year for fear the government might nationalize it, we can understand that this type of business environment is going to stifle initiative and innovation. Why start or expand a business – investing your sweat and yours savings – when the government is going to take most of the earnings via high taxes, or might take it from you completely via nationalization? But the practical argument against socialism is only the outworking of the theological argument. As Nancy Pearcey has noted, "biblical principles are not only true, but also work better in the grit and grime of the real world" and reverse is true too: what conflicts with biblical principles isn't going to work for long in that grit and grime. While socialism might seem admirable at first blush, as John Piper explains, it isn't biblical: "Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people’s needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced. ....ll of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, assumes both the legitimacy — and, I think, the necessity — of personal ownership. 'Thou shalt not steal' makes no sense where no one has a right to keep what is his." Venezuela is just the latest example of how socialism fails everywhere it is tried. Will the world ever learn?...

News

Why do more today feel like have-nots?

Back in 1988 a Pew Research poll of Americans found that a majority thought they were doing quite well, describing themselves as “haves.” Just 17% said they were “have-nots.” Twenty years later there was quite the change: a 2011 Pew poll found that self-identified have-nots had doubled to 34%. So, why this pessimistic turn in Americans’ self-assessment? Is it because things have gotten so much worse? Well, no. Things have improved in big ways and little since 1988! Consider, for example, how many Americans had cellphones in 1988. It was under 5% of the US populace. Today 95% of Americans have a cellphone, and more than 75% of them have a smartphone. In other words, three quarters of the population are walking around with a device in their back pocket that their 1988 forbearers couldn’t even have imagined, but if they did, they would have thought this music-playing, direction-giving, movie-showing, call-anywhere, super computer would have to be a tool reserved for only the super rich. And yet we all have one. And when it comes to the basics, in 1988 necessities used to eat up 39% of the average American worker’s income. In 2013 that had fallen to just 32%, meaning more disposable income for most everyone. So, again, why do more people feel like they are bad off when, in general, things are actually improving? Well, maybe it has something to do with the growing popularity of the term “income inequality.” By one measure, this term is used almost twice as often as it was in 1988. And focusing our attention on how much more our neighbor has than us can make it hard to appreciate our own blessings (Prov. 14:30)....

News

Saturday Selections - June 23, 2018

What submission means for singles Wives are called to submit to their husbands so does that mean submission is only for marriage? Supercomputers don't compare to single cells  Paul Nelson talks with Del Tackett about "how a single cell is more complex than any computer." "Happy wife, happy life" and other misleading advice to young husbands Martin Luther once noted there are two sides of a horse we can fall off of, and swing back from the one side can have us falling off the other. When it comes to headship, some Christian men understood their headship role as being a domineering, rather than sacrificial one. Perhaps in an overreaction, there are men who think their headship role is sacrificial in so far as it involves doing whatever their wife asks, but they've abdicated any sort of leadership role. Other gospels? A number of scholars address the claim that there are other gospels (4 minutes). Should Christians be conscientious consumers? In a world in which the corporate sphere increasingly endorses what God opposes, should Christians be boycotting this business and that? Douglas Wilson argues that while that can be a legitimate tactic, that's quite different from saying it is a moral obligation (7 minutes). Dogs can talk In this half hour film Ray Comfort introduces us to his incredibly cute dog, Sam, and highlights how man's best friend can break the ice for evangelism (28 minutes). ...

Economics

The rich get richer by making us all wealthier too

Coveting is not only a sin, it's stupid. It's important we're clear on both points, because the Devil is willing to work any angle. He knows he's not going to fool us on the sin side – many of us hear the Ten Commandments read every Sunday again. But what if he could make the case that, sure, coveting is sinful, but it still makes sense? Oh, yes, looking over the fence at your neighbor's stuff may not be polite...but just look at it all! Does he really need all that stuff? Is it even fair that he has all that? To many, Christians included, this is an appealing pitch – fairness is a good thing, isn't it? Then comes the clincher: we're told all this ogling is okay because our neighbor’s wealth – well, a lot of it anyway – is really ours in the first place. The way the story is told, there's only so much wealth to go around, so our rich neighbor could only become wealthy by taking more than his fair share, leaving poor folk like us with next to nothing. So we're not coveting someone else's stuff – it's really ours. We have a right to it, and it’s about time that the rich starting giving it back! That’s a popular story in the world today. But as you might suspect, folks who tell us it is okay to do what God forbids (Ex. 20:17) don't have their facts straight. The truth of the matter is that, so long as our rich neighbor didn’t get their money from piracy or lobbying the government (did I just stutter?) – so long as he got his money by earning it – his wealth didn't come at our expense at all. In fact, if he got his money by selling something others wanted – whether it's iPads, cows, or his own labor – then this rich neighbor has already given back more than he got. As commentator John Stossel explains: "It is instinctive to think of life as a zero sum game – if I win, you lose. Politicians think that way because that’s how their world works. And lawyers who sue people think that way – you either win or you lose. "But in business, you only win if you give your customers something they want. If you make a big profit, it doesn’t mean you took it from the customer. The customer voluntarily gave you his money. He felt he gained something too. It is why you get the weird double thank you moment when you buy anything. If you bought a cup of coffee this morning, you gave the cashier a buck, and she said, 'Thank you.' She gave you the coffee, and you said, 'Thank you.' "'Thank you.' 'Thank you.' "Why both? Because you both felt you won. The same is true with even the richest people on the planet. We look at a Bill Gates and think that he must owe us something because he has so much. But how did he get his billions? By selling a product – Windows 1.0 – for $99. To Gates, the $99 was worth more to him than his product, and that's why he was happy to make the exchange – it made him wealthier. But here's the thing: his customers were happy to make the exchange too, because his product was worth more to them than holding on to their $99. Afterwards they felt they were better off too – if they didn't, they never would have made the purchase. So today's covetousness is as sinful as ever. But it is more than that: talk of "getting the rich to pay their fair share" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the good the industrious rich have already done. A rich businessman like Gates has made his billions by giving something even more valuable to his customers and in doing so, he is already spreading the wealth – billions and billions of dollars worth....

News

When marriage means only: "a way to avoid taxes"

Matt Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan are good friends – they’ve been friends for almost 30 years. They are also straight. And, as of the Dec. 22, according to the Irish government, they are husband and husband. The two decided to get “married” so that 85-year-old Murphy could pass on his house to the younger 58-year-old Sullivan, tax-free. As O’Sullivan explained the arrangement to Independent.ie: "I was homeless, sleeping in my car and needed someone to move into his home and take care of him. He was losing his sight and needed a full-time . He told me that he couldn't afford to pay me but said that I could live with him and he would give me his house when he passed away as payment.” The problem was, if Murphy simply deeded the house to O’Sullivan in his will, O’Sullivan would be faced with a €50,000 tax bill under Ireland’s inheritance tax. And since the formerly homeless O’Sullivan doesn’t seem to have a lot of money lying about, such a bill might well have forced him to sell the home to pay the taxes. And then he’d be homeless again. However, spouses seem to be exempt from this inheritance tax, and when the two straight men heard of this option they decided it only made sense to get “married.” There’s an obvious problem here, and another lurking underneath. Marriage becomes meaningless First up, we can see here that when God’s standards are abandoned, the State’s replacement has no foundation. Redefining marriage hasn’t left us with a different version of this institution, but only turned “marriage” into a meaningless term. As God defined it, marriage is a man and a woman becoming one flesh, for life. The State undermined the “for life” part with no-fault divorce, and the “man and woman” part by recognizing same-sex couplings. The act of homosexual sex makes a mockery of the “one flesh” part, and, in a different way, the Murphy/O’Sullivan “friendship marriage” does too. So what then are we left with? Marriage has been redefined to mean only “a means of tax-avoidance.” Death taxes are problematic Another problem lurking in the background of this story is the nature of the tax they are working so hard to avoid. Of course, taxes are never popular, but inheritance taxes are particularly problematic. How so? Well, consider the basis on which the State is taking in these taxes. Normally taxes are justified as a trade of sorts. We fund the government and in exchange we get benefits from that government, like policing, roads, healthcare, unemployment insurance, etc. But what services will Murphy get? None at all – the tax only kicks in after he has departed. It is something for nothing. Consider also that while elections give us a say in how taxes are used, an inheritance tax is “taxation without respiration.” A death tax is revenue without accountability, since (at least in most electoral districts) the dead don’t get to vote. This type of taxation also undermines property rights. Do we really own something if we can’t give it to whomever we wish? Murphy wants to give his home to his friend, but he can’t (or at least he can’t unless he resorts to these extreme measures). He can only given a portion of it, with the State demanding the rest. But Murphy’s wealth has already been taxed when he first earned it, so why isn’t the remainder – the after tax portion – now finally his to do with as he wishes? Finally, we should consider what such a tax encourages. If parents spends all their wealth and leave their children nothing, then the State is satisfied. But if parents save, and invest, and build a business that they want to hand on to the next generation, then the State demands a share. So such a tax encourages spending, and penalizes investing....

History

Karl Marx: preaching a different gospel

To mark the 100th anniversary this month, of the Communist Revolution in Russia, we're sharing Piet Jongeling's brief biography of Karl Marx, first published 34 years ago.  **** Karl Marx was both an economist and a politician, but in fact he was much more than that. He was the founder of a new atheistic political religion, the prophet of a new world-to-come in which righteousness would dwell. Man in his own strength would bring this about. Marx proclaimed the coming of a new messiah, the proletariat, which through suffering and struggling would eventually bring salvation to the world. His message has had great influence, not only before his death, but especially after it. At present one third of the world's population lives under a political and economical system that can be called "Marxist" . This indication as "Marxist" is valid, even though there may be many differences between Marx's theoretical concepts and the practical application which the communist countries have made of them. Life story Karl Marx was born on May 2, 1818, at Trier, Germany. He descended from a long lineage of rabbis. His father was the first to break with that tradition. Instead of becoming a rabbi, he studied law and he broke with the Jewish religion. His mother was Dutch. When young Karl was six years old, he was baptized together with the other members of the family. That baptism, being a social affair, had little religious significance. It served only as evidence that the Marx family belonged to those modern Jews who favored assimilation and who desired to eradicate their cultural and religious heritage. Baptism functioned as a ticket of admission to European civilization. That could — as it did in this case — coexist with atheism in practical life. Marx Junior was uncommonly intelligent. He studied law and the history of philosophy in Bonn and in Berlin, and he received his Ph.D. degree in 1841 at Jena. After he was awarded his doctorate, Karl Marx became a journalist. Soon it became apparent that he espoused some very radical social and economic ideals. His paper, accused of inciting rebellion, was closed up. Karl Marx married a woman from an outstanding German family. Shortly after his wedding he fled to Paris. There he studied the history of the French Revolution. He got to know the French laborers in their often bitter poverty and in their just as bitter revolutionary zeal. Sometimes he lived in poverty himself, so as to gain deeper insight into, and firsthand experience in, the painful inequality and the depth of the social injustice of those days. When France also expelled him a few times, he fled back to one of the German states (the federal German state was not in existence yet). In 1849 he departed for London, where he remained living and working until his death in 1883. Turn socialism into a system Marx perceived very clearly that the society of his days was distinctively a class society, in which the working class was badly abused. He even invented a new name for this class: "the proletariat," people who have no possessions except their "proles" – that is, their children. It was Marx's intention to come to the aid of this oppressed bottom layer of society. He believed that socialism was the solution. But the socialism of his days was more of a golden pipe dream of the future than a usable doctrine and practice based on a principled structure. The road towards the ideal state had not been charted in a system that was methodically and logically acceptable. This bothered the intellectual in Marx. Rejecting this socialist romanticism as "Utopian Socialism," he developed a well-thought-out system himself in which he delivered the "proof" that the prevailing economic system, which he gave the name "Capitalism," was itself instrumental in unleashing the powers that would inevitably bring about the downfall of Capitalism and the victory of a new and superior system: Communism. The Communist Manifesto and Das Capital In 1847 Karl Marx and his German friend and spiritual brother, Friedrich Engels, drafted the Communist Manifesto. Published in 1848, it contained three main points: 1. Communism is a historically determined direction of society, a development which will unstoppably continue and whose eventual victory cannot be held back by anything. 2. The road toward that victory is marked by the class struggle, which, after an ocean of misery, shall lead to the great showdown. Capital and the means of production will accumulate in the hands of ever fewer owners. The proletariat shall encompass ever greater numbers, suffer more and more poverty, and so be better prepared and determined for the great battle. Eventually the proletariat will rob the last of the supercapitalists of their possessions. After the great expropriation for the benefit of all, the conflicts between the classes will disappear. 3. The proletariat must be well-organized in national and international societies, accept proper leadership, discipline, and order, and be able to act as one man. The Communist Manifesto thereby condemns the revolutionary movement of the anarchists which had a much greater individualistic character and would not accept a strict organization, a systematic approach to the problems, or subjection to a leadership. The Communist Manifesto was probably written mainly by Friedrich Engels, the son of a rich merchant and manufacturer. Marx and Engels were both gifted students of Hegel, the German philosopher. The two worked together for many years, and during this partnership, Karl Marx became more and more prominent. When the year 1848 did not bring the expected and hoped for breakthrough of Communism, Marx went back to elaborate on the thoughts developed in the Communist Manifesto. He attempted to place the Manifesto on a scientific footing in his trilogy Das Capital. The first volume came out in 1867. The second and third volumes were published after his death by Engels, in 1885 and 1894. Communism in theory and practice Now, this column is not the place for a detailed analysis of the Marxist political dogmas so a few broad outlines will have to suffice. Karl Marx has attempted to construct his study in a scientific manner and to base his conclusions on irrefutable evidence. This impressed a great number of people. The evidence that the communist victory was inevitable was backed up by a mathematical formula! Nothing and nobody could avert that triumph. Later thinkers have undermined this foundation of scientific irrefutability. They pointed at errors in the line of theoretic reasoning. But history has done greater damage to the system than the critics. Many of Karl Marx's predictions never came true. 1. The Soviet Union has had sixty-five years of experience with its "new" system. But although Karl Marx predicted that after a short transition period the state would wither away, the reality was that anywhere Communism took power, the state became stronger, harder, mightier, and more brutal: an all-oppressive dictatorship! Communism is nothing short of state Capitalism! 2. During this transition period, mentioned above, the dictatorship of the proletariat would have to be established to do its task of destroying the capitalist structures, until, after the last remnants of Capitalism had been eradicated, it itself would disappear. But in reality it was a dictatorship not of the proletariat but over the proletariat. And that dictatorship did not disappear. It is bent on self perpetuation. 3. Also in the countries where free enterprise prevailed (called Capitalism by Marx), things went clearly different from what Mr. Marx had predicted. In the previous century, during Marx's lifetime, there were admittedly very serious dark sides to the free enterprise system. However, social laws, social actions, and mutual consultation have brought about great improvements. That does not mean that the world has become a paradise. Sin keeps doing its work. There is much social injustice even now; violations are committed by employers and employees alike. But looking back at the past we must admit: the improvements are enormous. The material welfare of those whom Marx called "the laboring classes" is much greater than in the previous century. The "proletarians" are no longer the dispossessed. The wealth of the working people in the capitalistic West is considerably greater than is the case in the communistic East. And, more importantly, the Western people enjoy a relative freedom, while the Communist system of servitude takes away spiritual freedom, oppresses the church and church members, and places callous atheism high on the throne. A different gospel What the Red Revolution delivered was the opposite of what it promised. It is terror instead of freedom, serfdom under masters instead of equality, brutal force instead of brotherhood, and above all, the dread of the secret police. How could Karl Marx's doctrine then be so successful? It must be admitted that Marxism achieved great victories. One third of the world's population today lives under a political and social-economic system that is named after Marx. The reason is that Marx came to the world with a new gospel! It was the doctrine of self-redemption which he dressed in the shining apparel of scientific certainty. Marx, the man of Jewish descent, may have broken with the religion of Israel, but he was very well versed in it. His rich and impressive writing style betrayed the influence of the Old Testament. In his writings he has the grand manners of the prophet who proclaims to the people the glad tidings of forthcoming deliverance. The Jews had refused to apply Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering servant of God to Jesus Christ, the Savior. The rabbis applied this prophecy to the suffering people of Israel itself, so that its nation, through suffering, would gain deliverance for itself and so also for the world that surrounded its people. Israel was its own messiah! Marx adopted this model in a secularized format. For him the messiah is the proletariat. Through struggles and sufferings the proletariat shall redeem itself and the world and so bring into the world the eternal "peaceable kingdom." This alternate gospel with its false-religious message, with its inversion of Christendom, has cast its spell on many millions of people. It was not an unstoppable historic determinism that brought the victory to Communism. It was not an automatic, inevitable course of world events that led to the Red welfare state. Wherever Communism gained control it was always a power grab by a minority which used the confusion of wartime or national unrest to its own advantage. And once in power, it could only stay that way by keeping its weapons trained on the oppressed people. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany — there are many examples to illustrate this fact. Marx's style of writing is eschatological. He prophecies of a new earth, created and cleansed by man. From that time on, the history of mankind will find rest, because the final destination, the eternal wellbeing of mankind, has been reached. It was that prophetic zeal that attracted so many. Conclusion But how different was the reality! Sixty-five years have passed since the Red Revolution, and still the shining final destiny is far out of reach. This image of the glorious future is a fata morgana – an illusory reflection that recedes as one approaches it and finally dissolves into thin air. According to eyewitnesses, one finds very few genuinely committed communists in the East Bloc countries — percentage-wise, certainly far less than in the Western nations. There is little more than an outward conformation to save one's hide. Open protests will only pave the way to concentration camps, prisons, or, more recently, psychiatric institutions. The Red Bloc, with the Soviet Union as its core, has grown into a superpower, which, armed to the teeth, has become a constant threat to world peace. It is to be hoped that those people who are still free may find the fortitude to oppose that threat. The continuing de-Christianization has robbed the Western nations of their spiritual strength in the face of Marxism, or, at least, has seriously impaired it. If Marx could witness the reality of today, he would very likely be appalled by the manner in which his prophecies of the glorious future have been fulfilled in the drab present. But the negative forces which he has helped to unleash are continuing to have their impact, even now, a hundred years after his death. Piet Jongeling (1909-1985)  was a politician, journalist, and children's fiction author, and it is in this latter role that he might be best known to our readership, though under his pen name, Piet Prins. This article first appeared in the May 1983 edition....

News

Destruction only destroys - the "broken window fallacy"

We are halfway into the 2017 hurricane season and tropical mega-storms in the Atlantic basin have already broken several records. Hurricane Irma has sustained its destructive power longer than any super-storm ever recorded (and our data goes as far back as the 1970s). At the time of writing, the expected damage caused is upwards of $250 billion US. In the midst of this destruction, some are speaking of an economic “silver lining” – that the incoming hurricanes might in fact be good for the economy. For example, William Dudley, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, argues that, “the long-run effect of natural disasters is that it actually lifts economic activity.” The reasoning is that after the initial harmful effect on human and economic resources, the inevitable rebuilding efforts will stimulate local economic activity. It will also increase demand for labor, driving up wages and ultimately making people wealthier. And if we consider the way economic activity is most often measured – via Gross Domestic Product (or GDP) – reconstruction efforts might seem to cause an increase in the economy. Unfortunately, this is not true. Simply put: destruction does not benefit the economy. In the case of Hurricane Irma, the GDP figure will show the value of reconstruction efforts, but not the value of what was destroyed. It is true that the reconstruction of infrastructure and housing spurs on economic activity. However, this argument ignores the opportunity cost – it ignores what could have been done with that money if it didn’t have to be spent on reconstruction. This observation was first made by the French economist Frederic Bastiat. He illustrated the concept that destruction does not benefit the economy through the example of a broken window. Replacing the window may improve the economic position of the repairman, but it means that the owner of the window has lower disposal income to spend on anything else. If the window hadn’t broken he could have had a window and a pair of news shoes. Now he can only afford to replace the window. Similarly, the destruction caused by the hurricane requires the government to spend money on reconstruction and aid, at the expense of what it might otherwise have done with that money. The government has to use resources to rebuild something, as opposed to using the resources to build something new. As Christians, we need to be sensitive to this fallacy in the measurement of economic activity. The task of stewardship of God’s creation is not only about the utilization of the resources within it. It is also about considering the destructive impact we have on creation through our activities. Far too often do we only consider the value that was generated through our activities, but we forget to properly count the cost of our activities, whether it be environmental or socioeconomic. May the Lord be a refuge and strength to those affected by the destructive power of the ongoing natural disasters across the world....

Economics

The rich keep getting richer… and they're not the only ones

Capitalism helps everyone. That might be hard to believe right now, with the worldwide economy in the doldrums, and with many fingering capitalism as the culprit. But before we jump on the anti-capitalist bandwagon, and before we ask the government to take over larger areas of the economy, it would be a good idea to look back and get a proper understanding of the good capitalism has done. The fact is, capitalism is responsible for lifting billions of people out of poverty and creating improved standards of living that previous generations couldn’t have dreamed of. Swedish scholar Johan Norberg has written a brief overview of this phenomenon in The Wealth of Generations: Capitalism and the Belief in the Future. Marx got it half right It’s likely that Karl Marx, the originator of Marxism, developed the sharpest anti-capitalist theory. According to Norberg, Marx believed “that capitalism would make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” If someone was making money in a free market situation, it must be at the expense of someone else. That is, somebody was losing money if another was gaining money. Thus over time the upper class would accumulate more wealth at the expense of the middle class and lower class. The middle class would be pushed into the lower class, and the original lower class would basically starve. Marx made this prediction during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. Despite its undeserved bad reputation, the Industrial Revolution resulted in a dramatic rise in living standards. “When Marx died in 1883, the average Englishman was three times richer than he was when Marx was born, in 1818.” Since that time capitalism has continued to raise living standards to the point that “the poor in Western societies today live longer, with better access to goods and technologies, and with bigger opportunities than the kings in Marx’s days.” Lenin got it all wrong Marx’s original theory was obviously a failure; standards of living rose rapidly for all classes due to capitalism. So Marx’s disciple, and Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin had to rework the theory to explain how workers in Western countries were doing so well economically. Lenin argued that the capitalist class of the Western countries looted the poor, undeveloped countries, and gave a portion of the loot to the workers in their own countries. The rich countries were made richer because the poor countries were made poorer. Quite simply, the rich countries took the wealth of the poor countries. But like Marx’s theory, Lenin’s theory contradicts the facts. As Norberg explains, the problem with Lenin’s view is: “all continents became wealthier, albeit at different speeds. Sure, the average Western European or American is 19 times richer than in 1820, but a Latin American is 9 times richer, an Asian 6 times richer, and an African about 3 times richer. So from whom was the wealth stolen?” Capitalism benefits every class, every sector of society, and not just one special group or certain exploitive nations. In fact, Norberg describes the success of capitalism in alleviating poverty in the last three decades or so as “the greatest untold story ever.” As Norberg writes, the proportion in absolute poverty in developing countries has been reduced from: “40 to 21% since 1981. Almost 400 million people have left poverty – the biggest poverty reduction in mankind’s history. In the last 30 years chronic hunger has been halved, and so has the extent of child labor. Since 1950 illiteracy has been reduced from 70 to 23% and infant mortality has been reduced by two-thirds.” This has occurred during a period where many countries around the world have shifted away from socialism and socialistic policies towards capitalism and free market policies. Using creativity to create wealth It’s common to think of creative people as being writers, painters, musicians, and others in the fine arts. But some of the most creative people in the world are entrepreneurs. These are people who use their creative abilities to provide products and services in new and innovative ways. By doing so they create new jobs for countless people and generate wealth where previously none existed. Capitalism allows the greatest freedom and opportunities to people whose creative talents are in the economic sphere. This is a key reason (perhaps the key reason) for the success of capitalism. A thriving economy requires entrepreneurs but socialism stifles and punishes entrepreneurs. Generally speaking, socialists consider businessmen to be the exploiters of workers, therefore these “exploiters” must be heavily regulated and controlled. Capitalism, on the other hand, unleashes the creative powers of entrepreneurial businessmen, and thus becomes a driving force for generating new wealth and economic development. As economic history clearly demonstrates, capitalism is the only system that leads to prosperity. Yes, the rich do get richer under capitalism but so do the poor! Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective. This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue under the title "The rich keep getting richer...and that's a good thing!"...

Economics

What is "Equal Pay for work of Equal Value"?

Canada's Liberal government has announced plans to bring in “equal pay for work of equal value” legislation by 2018. It would apply to almost 900,000 Canadian employees, including not only federal employees, but also anyone working in federally regulated sectors like banks and airlines. To be clear, we're not talking about "equal pay for equal work." That's the idea that if two people are doing the exact same work, and to the same quality, and for the same amount of hours – if it is exactly the same – then the federal government should pay them the same. That makes good sense. But what we have here is the government deciding they are going to intervene in situations where people are doing very different work from one another. And the government is going to figure out how much their work should be worth, and whether they are doing work "of equal value." None of the newspapers reporting on this can spot the huge glaring problem with this - they talk of it as if it is simply a matter of administrating it right. So what is the problem? Who decides how work should be valued? Consider this: how valuable is the work done by a second string back-up goaltender on an NHL team? He might still make several hundred thousand, even a million or two, and yet he's not doing all that much. Meanwhile a good teacher is helping form the next generation of minds – what could be more important? Yet this teacher isn’t likely to make even one hundred thousand. Whose job is more valuable? A bureaucrat might decide it is the teacher. But are we going to start paying our teachers millions to even it up? What we have here is an example of the "diamond water paradox." While water is more important for life than diamonds (we can't survive more than 3 days without water, but we can get by a lot longer without diamonds) water remains much, much cheaper than diamonds. Why is that? As we all know, it's because water is far more abundant than diamonds. Or to say it the other way around, diamonds are more expensive than water because they are rarer...even though they aren't more important or more useful. So something’s price is not always determined by how useful it is. There are other factors involved, and when it comes to jobs, that may also include how ready a supply there is for this position vs. that position. Teachers are in a far more abundant supply than NHL players of any type. That's why the NHL player gets more. If we start arbitrarily deciding this job is the equivalent of that one, and so both should get the same pay, only bad things can result. In our example it would either mean bumping all the teachers' salaries up substantially (which we can't afford) or lowering the goaltenders' salaries to just a hundred thousand. But if these goalies are any good they could make more than that overseas. And so, suddenly, we've created a situation in which there is a shortage of quality second-string goalies because the government restricts what they can be paid. Of course, the government isn't going to restrict goalies' pay – this is a goofy example. But the principles are just the same – the government is going to set up some sort of system of deciding what work is equal to which. And because it's going to ignore simple economic rules (like scarcity driving prices up) it's going to be a mess.  ...

Economics

Let's not be the squeaky wheel

Fewer people are using VIA Rail, more trains are behind schedule, and the Crown corporation continues to bleed money by the millions: that’s what Canada’s Auditor General found when he took a close look at the passenger service this spring. In 2014 VIA had revenues of $280 million, but spent $597 million in operating costs, plus another $82 million in capital projects (putting down tracks, etc.). That works out to a loss of $399 million, all of it covered by the government. So what did taxpayers get for their money? Well, an economy ticket for a four-day trip from Vancouver to Toronto is roughly $500, but the true cost is $1,100, with the government chipping in the difference of $600.  Even with government subsidies of $55 million for the Vancouver-Toronto route, VIA Rail can’t compete on speed or price. In comparison an economy ticket for a flight on WestJet for the same route can be had for $300 and will take five hours. A bus ticket for a three-day Vancouver-Toronto trip is as little as $250. Government intrusion into the marketplace has left us with a business that is slower, more expensive, and costs hundreds of millions of Canadian tax dollars each year. Why, then, does VIA Rail still exist? Because every time they cut service on unprofitable routes, ticket buyers – those who get the bulk of their ticket price paid for by taxpayers – protest. And these squeaky wheels continue to get greased. What’s the takeaway for us? Let’s not be that sort of squeaky wheel. We can make use of VIA’s service for as long as they exists – we don’t need to feel guilty about taking advantage of their subsidized ticket prices. Why? Because so long as their trains are going to keep running whether profitable or not, our ticket purchases will amount to a small decrease in VIA’s overall losses. However, if VIA proposes cutting a money-losing route – even our favorite route – then we must not squeak! It’s one thing to make use of wasteful government services, and quite another to demand the government continue providing these services. On what biblical basis can we argue that others should be required to subsidize our scenic train trips? SOURCES: VIA Rail Canada Annual Report 2014; 2016 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada: Via Rail Canada Inc. – Special Examination Report - 2016...

Economics - Home Finances

“Honey I blew the budget!”

A FEW THOUGHTS ON GETTING BACK IN THE BLACK AFTER TAKING A PLUNGE IN THE RED “Honey I blew the budget!” Do those words sound familiar to you?  Were you one of many Canadian couples that made a New Year’s resolution to build a budget and live according to it?  And February 14th came along and you blew it?  Or perhaps the budget was blown before you even started because your Christmas spending made the budget a non-event? Or perhaps it is a much less dramatic event that got you off to a bad start: you just can’t seem to stay within the amounts you had agreed on. How to start: prayer Let’s see if a frank discussion of some potential issues can benefit us all.  Before we do that I believe that everyone should begin their budget process with prayer.  Pray that God would grant you the courage you need to be honest with yourself and your spouse as you build the budget. Also pray that God will grant you a sense of satisfaction with the gifts He does grant. Pray that God remove the sense of covetousness from your heart. Pray that God would forgive your sense of entitlement if that is something you struggle with. A sense of entitlement? What do I mean with that last line?  In my business I often hear the following excuse when a couple comes to me and they are having serious difficulty making ends meet. Often it is because one or both of them have what I call “a strong sense of entitlement.”  They say things like, “We deserved that one-week vacation in Mexico because we both worked very hard these past three months.” Or, “I deserve that new dress or new suit, because I have not treated myself to anything new for a long time now.” Or perhaps you blew it on Valentines Day; you dropped in at the flower shop on your way home and purchased a dozen roses for your wife and then, when you got home, you told her, “Honey, I am taking you out for dinner tonight!” So you take her to that very special (read expensive) restaurant downtown.  The dozen roses are $25 and the dinner was $100.  But your entertainment budget for the month was $30. So what do we do now? Well, the temptation now is to reduce your contribution to the church for the month because the church, after all, has lots of other people that can pay. No easy way, but there is a way So, how can we deal with these kinds of blown budgets?   Discipline.  One word only. Discipline. There is no easy way to deal with this temptation.  Once again, let me urge you to pray.  In John 15 Jesus encourages his disciples to bear good fruit and He also says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (verse 7).  You see! Jesus clearly says it.  Of course we need to keep this in its context. Jesus is saying this in light of His other comments regarding the bearing of much fruit.  I take this to mean that there is a relationship between what we are to ask for and bearing fruit. So, pray that God will help you in your struggle with covetousness.  Or ask God to grant you His peace and satisfaction so that you are truly at peace with what He gives you and you don’t just use that Visa credit card that makes it so easy to grab “stuff” that God has not granted you. Looking at the grocery budget But let’s move on, because there may be other ways we can help you with your budget. Let’s take a hard look at your grocery budget. Do you really think $800 per month is what it takes to provide a family of five, two parents and three children, with all that is needed? Perhaps we can find a way to do this for $500. This is not always the most fun part of running a household but perhaps you can make it a little more enjoyable. First, it’s vitally important that you plan a menu for every day of the week. If you know that Monday you are going to have chicken and rice and a vegetable for dinner, then the two weeks before you can keep an eye on the flyers and purchase that chicken when it is on sale at one of the grocery stores.  If you put together a planned menu for the entire month, you have a great weapon that you can use in your battle with the budget.  If pork comes on sale this week and you know that there is pork planned for next Thursday’s dinner, buy it now when it is on sale, and freeze it. Or if your family regularly has oatmeal for breakfast, (I know, oatmeal is old school, but it’s healthy and it’s cheap) then find a store that sells oatmeal in bulk - leave the individual packages on the shelf and buy it in bulk. You will easily save 20 per cent. As I said earlier, grocery shopping is not always the most fun, but what you can also try is to band together with one or two of your friends. I know, for example, that here in Alberta one of the grocery outlets will give you a $25 gift card when you buy $250 dollars of groceries.  So join forces. Go to the store with two or three of you. Make sure you all have a list - impulse buying is dynamite on grocery budgets (it blows them up!). When you go through the check-out, ask the cashier to sub-total at each person’s purchases. That saves you the hassle of having to total it up at home.  And then share the gift card on your next trip. Try to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season (when possible).  In the summer and fall, find a farmer’s market and buy some extra beans and carrots and freeze them. Don’t improvise In my experience though, it is not the grocery dollars that destroy a budget; it is the impulse buying. It is the idea that I must have a new 40 or 50-inch television, even if that means it goes on a credit card. Or, it is the new stereo for the car or the new cellphone with all the latest technical stuff. Or even just the cellphone plan that we just have to have - the one with unlimited texting! - or the cable plan that has all those sports channels. or the new chesterfield and chair that we just have to have. The unexpected expenditure Some other things that can blow a budget are things like a hot water heater that bursts, or a furnace or a refrigerator that packs it in. Now these truly are valid items that need to be dealt with. But once again, a few tips may be beneficial. Check out the nearest used furniture and appliance outlet or go through the local free “buy and sell” magazine. You may be surprised at how often you can find a very good used furnace or a refrigerator (I have a used hot water heater stored away just in case).  The wealthy in your town or city often will be replacing perfectly good mid-efficiency furnaces for a high-efficiency furnace and often you can buy their used one for as little as $200. Insurance There are some other areas in which we can save money as well.  One of the areas I often look at with my clients is the cost of all their insurance.  Call to a few other brokers and see if the premium you are paying to insure your home really is the best premium available. If you are not in BC or Manitoba, check the rate on your car insurance as well. Another high cost is the cost that many young people pay for life insurance.  The life insurance industry will go to quite some lengths to show you why you need a million dollars of life insurance and a further $200,000 critical illness policy.  But I would suggest that you look at that more carefully.  Also look at the type of life insurance that you have.  Ask the insurance salesman why he might be recommending whole life or universal life insurance when a 20-year-term policy at less than half the price may be all you really need. You won’t live like your parents Another mistake we often make is we compare what we have to what we had when we were still living with our parents.  But remember, our parents have been working for 20 plus years and are often at the top of their pay scale while we are starting at the bottom of the pay scale.  Once again, at risk of sounding repetitious, be satisfied with what God grants you. Greed and covetousness are sins that are spoken of in many places in God’s Word and these are sins that we need to fight against daily. So, if we go back to our initial statement, “I blew the budget,” don’t despair. Ask God to bless your attempt to start the process again. And do not be afraid to start a third or a fourth or even a tenth time.  Living within a budget is a tough thing to do and it does require some determination.  But when it works it works well....

Economics - Home Finances

Do we need to tell our mortgage banker about our school payments?

BEING CHRISTIAN AT THE BANK A reader recently sent in an interesting and somewhat difficult question about home purchases, school fees and tithes. Now most people in Canada don’t pay school fees, and don’t tithe to their church so the question I was asked was how these “obligations” might impact the affordability of a home and whether we, as Christians, have a duty to tell the banker about these “obligations” when we apply for a mortgage. Just to be sure that we all understand the question, let me rephrase it with a more concrete example. Joe and Mary Joe and Mary have 4 children, one of whom is beginning school in September. Joe earns $4,700 per month. Joe and Mary have been renting a duplex or what is also known as a side by side. They have managed to save $40,000 for a down payment for a home purchase and have found a house that they would like to buy. It is an older home but one that has been well maintained and appears to be well built.  The house is for sale for $260,000. They have offered $240,000 and their conditional offer has been accepted. Now they will need to qualify for a $200,000 mortgage. Joe has done some research and knows that the banker will want to know what his total monthly debt payments are, or what could be called his “obligatory payments” and the banker will also want to know what the monthly costs to run his home will be. And of course he needs to be within the banks ratio in these two areas. Debt service ratios Now what are these bank ratios? There are two, known as the GDSR and the TDSR. The Gross Debt Service Ratio (GDSR) is the percentage of gross annual income required to cover payments associated with housing (mortgage principal and interest, taxes, secondary financing, heating, and 50 per cent of condominium fees, if any). The GDSR should not exceed 32 per cent of gross annual income. The Total Debt Service Ratio (TDSR) is the percentage of gross annual income required to cover payments associated with housing and all other debts and obligations, such as payments on a car loan. The TDSR should not exceed 40 per cent of gross income.   So the important thing for us to remember is that the TDSR must be less then 40 per cent and the GDSR must be less then 32 per cent. If either of these two conditions is not met then Joe and Mary do not qualify for the $200,000 mortgage they require in order for them to be able to buy the home they have found. So let’s crunch some numbers and see what sort of situation our couple is facing. Joe earns $4,700. A $200,000 mortgage requires a payment of $1,190 per month (at 5.25% amortized over 25 years). The property taxes on the home they would like to buy worked out to $150 a month. The average heating bill was $150 per month.  So $1,190 plus $150 plus $150 equals $1,490 for housing costs. His monthly housing costs of $1,490 divided by his income of $4,700 gives us a GDSR ratio of 31 per cent. So, he qualifies here. The TDSR is a different matter. According to the banks guidelines he needs to include all debts and obligations in his calculations including any car loans. Joe and Mary do not have a car loan. But we should add the church and the school into this total, right?  Church and school add an additional $870 per month to the total.  So $1,490 plus $870 equals $2,360. $2,360 divided by $4,700 is 50 per cent. Now here is where things become interesting.  His application as it stands now will be rejected. However, does the banker consider the donation to church as an obligation or just a desire or a hope? What is our responsibility here? If we do not include the $470 to church the total becomes $1,490 plus $400 or $1,840. Divide that by $4,700 and the ratio becomes 39 per cent. Now we qualify. What should we do? The ethics of this question are one part of the equation. The other is, can Joe and Mary make ends meet if they were to qualify? If the banker grants the mortgage because he does not consider the donation to the church as anything more than a hope or a wish, where might this leave Joe and Mary? First the ethics. We might be tempted to hide the truth of the situation. Maybe we neglect to tell the banker that we consider the contribution to church as an obligation. I think we can all readily see and agree that this would put us outside of the Ninth Commandment. That's the one that deals with bearing false witness. So it should be obvious that we would tell the banker about the obligation to church. If the banker grants the mortgage anyway because he considers the payment to the church as a donation that has no legal obligation tied to it, what should Joe and Mary do? Bankers have years of experience that suggest that when the TDSR is more than 40 per cent homeowners often get into financial difficulty. So maybe Joe and Mary should decline the mortgage and save for a few more years so that they have a bigger down payment. Now before we go into all the argumentation about rising house prices, the effects of inflation and the fact that I may be asking the impossible here, let’s just go back to a few other principles that we have learned.  In an earlier article (“Budgeting Basics: Everyone needs to budget” July/August 2009) I tried to make the case that we all should have a budget. We should not just have a budget but we should run our household within that budget. So, if Joe and Mary have been living within their budget and their budget has allowed them to save the $40,000 they needed for the down-payment, then I am sure that their budget (and the records they have kept which illustrate that they actually live within the budget) can easily be used to satisfy even the most conservative banker that they can make all their obligatory payments, because Joe and Mary also have learned to live prudently and economically.  Mary is an avid “coupon collector.” She is known as the queen of collectors at the grocery store.  She also has learned to dress her children very well, even though they are not always wearing the “name brand” items.  Joe and Mary do not have cable television and they do not have a cell-phone either.  They manage with one car. They enjoy reading and the entire family makes excellent use of the local library. The only two pieces of reading material that come into their home at a cost are the Clarion and the Reformed Perspective.  Both Joe and Mary have the reputation of being hard workers and also of always being aware of the specials on anything they might need to be buying. So, I would conclude by saying that yes, we must honestly tell the banker about our obligations, also our obligations to the LORD, and we should also have lived prudently, within our budget, maintain good records of our prudent living and then trust that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He will continue to maintain His promises to His covenant children....