The Nation's Pulse

The Bible vs. the Bailout

What part of "Thou shalt not steal" don't they understand?

By 10.2.08

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Some years ago, I was asked to speak to a Christian homeschooling conference -- my wife and I have homeschooled our six children -- and during the question-and-answer session after the speech, I faced a question for which I was unprepared.

"How has your Christian faith influenced your political beliefs?"

This stunned me into silence for a second. Then I answered: "Well, I guess it comes down to that part about 'Thou shalt not steal.'"

From there I proceeded to discuss the basic immorality of the welfare state, how it is wrong for government to take money that one man has worked for and give it to someone who hasn't earned it.

Whereas transactions in a market economy are voluntary and peaceful, the actions of government are essentially coercive, backed with the threat of violence to those who disobey. What government does, it does "at the point of the bayonet," so to speak. Therefore, the fearsome power of government ought to be constrained to limited and specific purposes -- defending the life, liberty and property of citizens.

When government begins to meddle in the economy, picking winners and losers, using appropriations and fiscal policy to transfer money from one group of citizens to another, it divides society into two classes, taxpayers and tax consumers, punishing the former in order to reward the latter.

Such a policy is not merely misguided, it is immoral -- indeed, it is sinful, as I told the Christian homeschoolers -- and by displaying the spectacle of government engaging daily in legalized theft, the welfare state tends to corrupt the morals of its citizens.

THAT LONG-AGO SPEECH came to mind yesterday as the Senate prepared to vote on the mortgage bailout plan. Why, after all, are so many Americans so fiercely opposed to this plan, even though bailout proponents warn that the alternative is a complete meltdown of the economy?

The president has told us that "the government's top economic experts" believe the bailout is necessary to avert an economic collapse. The plan is supported by leaders of both parties in Congress, and endorsed by both John McCain and Barack Obama. One eminent pundit has denounced bailout opponents as "nihilists."

Yet I cannot escape the conclusion that the bailout is wrong. Not just wrong as a matter of politics or policy, but wrong as a matter of morality. And I suspect that the same moral instinct fuels the fervor of many citizens who have been burning up the Capitol Hill switchboard with calls demanding that lawmakers vote against this bill.

Ordinary Americans cannot ignore the "still small voice" telling them that what is being proposed is nothing less than government-sponsored grand theft, and that in a government "of the people, by the people, for the people," this crime is to be carried out in their name.

The fact that similarly massive expropriations -- from farm subsidies to Medicare Part D -- have been official federal policy for decades does not deter these opponents of the welfare state from rising up to shout "no!" when, as on this occasion, the proposition of a new swindle puts the fundamental issue into stark relief.

SOME SUPPORTERS of the bailout have said that it is "irresponsible" to oppose the plan, since failure to pass it would lead to a financial panic, a deep recession and economic hardship for millions. Supporters insinuate that opponents are ignorant of these potential consequences, having been whipped into a know-nothing frenzy by demagogues. If ordinary Americans were properly informed, say the bailout proponents, they would support the plan.

Those who suppose that ignorance motivates widespread resistance to the bailout may be underestimating the common sense of common people. Isn't it possible that grassroots opposition is both fully informed and completely sincere? Has it never occurred to bailout proponents that many of their fellow citizens would perhaps prefer an honest recession to a false prosperity?

Although much opposition seems to be driven by class-warfare resentment of a "bailout for billionaires," at least this brings into focus the underlying redistributionist principle. If it is right to give "disability" payments to winos and Social Security checks to affluent retirees, why is it wrong to give $700 billion to Wall Street financiers in their moment of need? Perhaps someone should put that question to left-wing bailout opponents like Michael Moore and Dennis Kucinich.

Most of all, the bailout debate ought to remind Americans exactly who foots the bill for the "compassionate" gestures of liberal politicians. During Friday's debate, Obama defended his tax proposals and health-care plans by saying, "I think those are pretty important priorities. And I pay for every dime of it."

You pay for it, senator? Don't you mean we pay for it?

Of course, the Illinois Democrat was not offering his own substantial wealth to pay for his proposals -- even Obama's lucrative book royalties would be just a drop in the bucket to defray the cost of his multi-billion dollar plans for Change.

Rather, Obama was speaking the language of those who've spent decades endeavoring to delude Americans into thinking that federal giveaway programs are funded by the generosity of politicians, rather than by expropriations from the pockets of taxpayers. Why worry what "affordable health care" will cost, if Obama is offering to pick up the tab?

The something-for-nothing promise of "free" benefits is the corrupting Big Lie of the welfare state. As I told those Christian homeschoolers years ago, this false promise is a temptation to sin.

EVER SINCE that unexpected question prompted my epiphany about the fundamental immorality of liberalism, I have wondered why I'd never heard this idea proclaimed from any pulpit.

No theologian or televangelist informed my conviction that redistributionist policies violate the Eighth Commandment. Indeed, if one had to name an author who showed the keenest perception of this issue, it wouldn't be the evangelical bestseller Rick Warren, but the atheist Ayn Rand. As the apostle Paul explained in the first chapter of Romans, however, moral truth is "manifest" even to pagans, "so that they are without excuse."

Yesterday, so-called Christian conservative columnist Michael Gerson accused bailout opponents of being blinded by "ideological purity." He would have hit closer to the mark had he blamed their opposition on moral clarity.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.