by Jefferson Pinto
VIEW Issue 13, Apr. 2009: When the economy is in the tank (or for that matter the bowl) there are four things that consistently happen: local law enforcement agencies start cracking down on minor infractions to help the municipalities’ replenish their coffers, movie theater ticket sales increase, consumption of alcohol increases, and the churches fill up with people. This month, I’m getting outside my comfort zone to address a different and more “whole-istic” approach to public policy economics.
Well folks, anthropology (the science of human beings) teaches us that every society/civilization has a few things in common: Language, Art, System of government, Music, Religion, etc.
What’s great about this country is our right to choose individually what works best for each of us. (Church, Synagogue, Mosque, Airport reservation chapel, community group, etc.)
If religion is common to almost all cultures, it seems “holistic“ to ignore it as it is an integral and inseparable part of public policy. Hold your horses cowboy; I do not advocate dispensing with the “Separation of Church and State.” Nor am I suggesting we ought to put the next American Mother Teresa on the government payroll. Read on.
Consider this: Why is it that many people are horribly offended when someone knocks on their door to evangelize them? However, when a salesman knocks peddling brushes or frozen foods it doesn’t muster the same degree of negative reaction?
Yeah, yeah I know. My favorite oxymoron is Holy War. No single religion perfectly appeals to all people, but is it worth going to war over the five to ten percent that’s “different”? Take the Wisdom where you can get it Whether or not you believe everything someone else believes, doesn’t mean all their beliefs are without merit. Put another way: Why not take in wisdom in any form from any source. The challenge is to separate the content from the delivery and personality.
It matters not the size or shape of your house of worship or what you call your deity. (God, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Budha, etc.) What does matter are the basic universal teachings. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the substance of religion is the same; it is the form that varies. Each religion has pieces of the truth. That “substance” is the sole ambiguous source of morality, ethics - right and wrong.
Ironically, most governments are formed with the substance of the bonafide religions in this world. (Sorry Jim Jones, hold the cyanide cool aid.) So what’s so good about Religion and Religious Organizations anyway?
At a very high level, the failure of our financial markets/government is due to a collective abandonment of those basic values espoused by our religions. (Bernard Madhoff, corporate leadership, property appraisers, auditors, loan officers, mortgage brokers, etc.) Where’s Jiminy Cricket when you need him? You know, that integrity, due diligence fiscal responsibilities sort of stuff. I’m thinking the line between ignorance/stupidity and immorality isn’t all that thin.
In this country, bona fide “religion”, organized or not, helps stabilize and forward the advancement of society. It takes into account human compassion, spirit and intent of the law (with a lot of explanation/education), virtues, you know stuff like that. It invites self reflection – to ask ourselves the difficult questions – not whether we’ll be caught (Oh yeah conscience – there you are Jiminy). Moreover, these virtues cross-pollinate amongst us citizens, via personal example. There is true (I hate this over used word but I’ll make an exception here) synergy.
Laws, rules, and regulations have their limitations. Lacking perfect information they and are often very difficult to enforce. Many of our laws lack deterrent power because many bad guys don’t think they will ever get caught. Many laws only help prosecute someone, after the fact. Laws tend to be transactional in nature; religion tends to focus more on patterns of behavior and higher level concepts. It’s easy to determine if someone didn’t put coins in the parking meter, but it’s more difficult to determine if someone is greedy or lazy.
Take the Ten Commandments for a moment. (Not to be confused with the ten suggestions) Isn’t there at least one corresponding law on the books for each of these?
As evidenced in the Supreme Court ruling against Dred Scott that “slaves are property”, the source of morality is a much higher order than the U.S. government. Almost all Americans now accept that humans are, and never were property.
Organized Religions and Community Organizations do things really well that the Government can hardly do at all
If Uncle Sam can’t get it done, step aside and let the more capable do it. As evidenced by four generations of families on welfare, the current system (both the policy and implementation) doesn’t work well. It is inefficient, demotivates voluntary giving, and is breaking the backs of working citizens.
Well folks, the old saying goes: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world starts looking like nails.” My point: Governmental policy isn’t the only tool in our tool box. In certain situations, government is poorly equipped to address matters of human well-being that require compassion, judgment, and a personal relationship.
Furthermore, it doesn’t make sense to tax the living daylights (I’ve always wanted to say that although I’m not exactly sure what it means) out of the citizens so they don’t have the economic means to voluntarily contribute to the cause or organization of their choosing.
The Sun and the Wind
In Aesop’s Fable, The North Wind and the Sun, were arguing over who could get the man’s coat off. The North Wind used force to try and blow his coat off and the man resisted. The Sun used persuasion, changed the weather into a nice spring day and the man quickly voluntarily gave up his coat. With the issue at hand, the government is the North Wind and other non-profit/community/religious organizations are the Sun. The citizens of this country have proven to be very generous with causes in which they believe. Save Save Save: Where’s the motivation in that?
In a society that is told to save gasoline, save electricity, and save water, it’s no wonder when we come across some passion and enthusiasm we hurry up and save that too. Helpful hint: You can’t save passion or enthusiasm. Jefferson’s hypothesis: Allow us citizens to vote with our dollars and follow our passion; it will come back to us many times over. Contrast this random unplanned unstructured passion based approach with the opposite end of the spectrum – the planned communist economy.
Here’s the cruel irony: This country was built on the Puritan Work Ethic – work hard, and get ahead. In its simplest form, capitalism rewards individuals proportional to their effort that is fueled by their passion.
These days, the government doesn’t fuel anyone’s passion; there’s sort of this parasitic relationship between the government and the citizens at large. In this case the parasite (our government) gives host (citizens) barely enough to survive. Nice theory, but will it work?
This sort of begs the question: Before the government stepped in, before Income Tax and Social Security, where did the folks go that needed help. They went to their families, worship communities, orphanages, and community organizations and the likes of the Salvation Army, Ojai’s Little House, YMCA, Masons, The Shriners, March of Dimes, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, etc. When you don’t have Uncle Sam to prop you up, it’s sort of amazing how quickly you find religion and learn how to apologize to your family and make amends.
A 1997 study, published by the University of Michigan, cites “Even though Americans worship only once a year, weekly church attendance is higher in the United States than in any other nation at a comparable level of development…”
Church Attendance in the U.S.
Fully 44 percent of Americans attend church once a week, not counting funerals, christenings and baptisms, compared to 27 percent of people in Great Britain, 21 percent in France, 4 percent in Sweden, and 3 percent in Japan, according to the study. 1.
“Why America is an exception to this global trend is uncertain, although (Ronald F. Inglehart) Inglehart suggests several possible explanations.… It could also have a more contemporary cause: a social welfare system less developed than those of most Nordic or European countries.”
If it’s not obvious, “religion” in this country is what makes us different and better. All Government and no Religion makes for crowded schools, hospitals and orphanages.
Whether or not you believe in organized religion, religious organizations are an integral and inseparable part of America. While the classification and tax treatment are debatable, these organizations are privately funded. However, make no mistake, if all religious schools, hospitals and orphanages closed down, their government funded counterparts would collapse.
Aspects of the Current Policy that don’t work Anonymity: The clerk at the welfare office doesn’t know you. It’s too easy to tell a good story, fill out a bunch of paperwork. The clerk doesn’t have a personal relationship with you and probably doesn’t live in your community. The money is quietly deposited directly into your bank.
Have some guy who lives and works in the community ask his fellow worshipers for assistance. If his plight is legitimate, first of all they’d know it and secondly they would be extremely motivated to help him financially, mentally, socially, and spiritually – holistically. If he were faking, it wouldn’t take him long to reveal himself. Hey how’s Johnny? I haven’t seen him at church in a few months. Oh he’s fine, I saw him on the golf course the other day.
Lack of Verifiability
Outside the obvious cases, who is to say somebody is disabled? How many physicians does it take to screw in a disabled light bulb? My father posed this riddle: Two guys were betting on who owned the slowest car. What is the best way to determine the winner? Answer: Conduct a race and let the owner of the car drive the other guy’s car. Effectively, each driver is motivated to make the other guy’s car go as fast as it was capable. This ensures a high degree of propriety to the process. If each driver drove their own car, they would be motivated to manipulate the car’s performance to appear less than its potential and skew the bet.
The current system has two types of failures: 1) helping people that don’t need help and 2) Using bureaucratic stall tactics to stonewall people who really need help. It ought not to be a surprise that there are attorney’s that specialize in suing the government to get benefits or increase existing benefits.
The recipients are harmed in the longrun
Many recipients of the welfare and disability system are incented to stay home do nothing, not improve their skills or seek alternative forms of employment. Their growth as humans is stunted. They are robbed of their dignity and self respect.
People who know you and really care about you will give the help that you need not the help that you want.
The Current System Incents more Dependence/Dependents
Have more children, get a bigger check. See, these folks do understand economics. Why would you pay someone to expand the problem?
Don’t believe for one minute I think the entire system has no merit. Au contraire, it has some merit. It helps some people.
Jefferson’s Editorial: Unfortunately, the fraud and abuse has gone unchecked for decades; the current system is clearly broken and the rest of the taxpaying citizens are getting fatigued from pushing the entitlement train. (Don’t look now, the poorly run corporations are waiting to board at the next stop. Somebody better call the conductor and remind him there is no more room on the train.)
The demographic reality is that the fastest growing sector of impoverished people in this country are single mothers.
Conclusion: I have met many good people that have no affiliation with or participation in organized religion. They too have the same “religion”, passion and ethical standards that are common amongst the institutional religions. It’s the “substance” that’s common and organized religion isn’t the answer for everyone.
So it seems, there is no shortage of quick fixes that don’t work. The use of a non-government approach is a suggestion, something to commence the discussion, to work out the specifics. As a former manager/mentor of mine used to say, “The devil is always in the details.” My underlying assumption is that taxes will be substantially reduced.
If there were another approach that would really solve the problem and cost less, who would object? Aye, here in lies the rub. Everyone is for change, just so long as someone else is doing all the changing.
When there aren’t complete or perfect rules in effect to make something function, and somehow it seems to work anyway, there are typically other unknowns at play beyond the stated rules. Jefferson espouses the use of one or more deities; ie, education, accountability, and humble pie to do the rest of the job.
Jefferson Pinto is a retired CPA, holds an MBA from one of the finer accredited universities in this country, and is the VP of corporate operations for his day job.
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