Bankruptcy and Brimstone
Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell.
-Frank Borman, former American Astronaut, former CEO of Eastern Airlines
This quote is quite popular with people on the right and on the left when talking about bankruptcy. Its potency comes from the association with Christianity and a belief in hell. Metaphysically, a belief in good necessitates a belief in evil. Within Christianity, a belief in heaven necessitates a belief in hell. Not that this without controversy, but it is generally accepted as orthodoxy.
Americans—Christians and non-Christians—have been led to believe that one has to choose between grace and truth. Liberal Christians promote an understanding of scripture, Christianity and life in general that emphasizes grace. For liberal Christians, this means they feel uncomfortable talking about such concepts as the fallen state of mankind, Biblical teachings about hell, etc. For liberal American voters and taxpayers, this means they feel uncomfortable having to discuss the harsh realities of living in a world of scarcity, tragedy and uncertainty. They feel uncomfortable talking about the consequences of bad economic decisions.
But as Mr. Borman's statement reflects, if people are truly going to be free, they must have the option to make the wrong choice.
Mr. Borman is echoing the sentiments of great thinkers from Adam Smith and Bastiat, to Arthur Brooks and Thomas Sowell. Mankind needs limitations. We need to know that there are both positive and negative consequences for our actions. Whether it be a business venture or the way someone conducts themselves in life, people will behave differently and with more risk if there is nothing on the line. If we were playing a poker game and we knew that we could bet without limit and in the end would not have to pay our debt, we would play the game with a reckless, careless abandon.
So here is a question for liberal Christians, those religious advocates of "social justice:"
If you believe in hell and that only a decision to place one's faith in Jesus Christ can save your soul, why do you believe in an ever-expanding, all-encompassing social safety net that protects people from the consequences of their decisions?
To focus the question, lets clarify. While these "advocates of social justice" talk in terms of absolute destitution, human trafficking and basic human rights, the programs for which they often advocate are expansive welfare programs, debt forgiveness for college loans (think OWS), universal health care, etc. These types of programs aren't designed necessarily to help the poorest of the poor, but the less-well-off.
Again, this isn't about the poorest of the poor. When they say they are fighting homelessness, slavery and starvation, most everyone is in agreement and supportive of those efforts. But it usually isn't the poorest of the poor that benefit from "social justice" programs. It’s important to stress the difference between what most “social justice advocates” say they are for and what they actually end up supporting.
This is about the people who are drawing welfare checks because they chose to drop out of high school. This is about the people who chose to go to college to get a degree in something frivolous, and now find themselves unemployed with six figures of debt. This is about people who have chosen to participate in unhealthy behavior, or in another sense of the healthcare issue, small business owners who have chosen to not offer healthcare to their employees and the individuals who have chosen to work for them.
Our parents taught us that our actions have consequences. But the support of sweeping social safety net programs seeks to prove that untrue.
Wanting to aid those who are truly destitute is absolutely a Christian ethic. Wanting to help those who are even slightly less fortunate than oneself is also perfectly ethical. What is not ethical, and not even Christian, is to use the government as a tool to sever people's choices from their consequences.
Liberal Christians engage in some serious “stage-one thinking” as Thomas Sowell would put it. Essentially they have participated in the redefinition of what it means to be successful, of what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to create wealth and prosperity.
In conclusion, choices have consequences. As a result of the fall, people's choices make the difference between heaven and hell. In life, people's choices must make the difference between success and failure.
Bad business ventures should fail. Lazy employees should be fired. Bad investments should lose money. People who get college degrees in a less profitable industry should make less money. Because actions have consequences.
But also, good business ventures should succeed. Hard-working employees should be promoted. Good investments should make money. People who get college degrees in a profitable industry should make more money.
That is capitalism. And capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell.
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