#109 Corruption and the Christian Worldview

the christian economist dave arnott

#109 Corruption and the Christian Worldview

Corruption is caused by the fallen nature.  The best way to limit it, on this side of heaven, is to give more free-market power to privately owned entities, not to fallen government bureaucrats.

Humpty Dumpty

When Willie Sutton said, “Because that’s where the money is,” he was answering two questions.  The first: Why he robs banks.  The second: Why the four richest counties in America are suburbs of Washington, DC.

The Wall Street Journal published an article this week titled, “Biden Administration Unveils Plans to Fight Corruption.”  Okay, let’s get past the easy and snarky proposed headline, “The Head of the Biden Family Syndicate Fights Corruption.”  But, as you will see in a few minutes, YOU could substitute YOUR name in that headline. 

The first line of the article reads, “The Biden administration unveiled steps to combat corruption globally.”  Globally?!  That’s quite a large windmill to tilt against, wouldn’t you think?  I’ve often mused about corruption and made the observation, “I’m not surprised that other countries have high levels of corruption.  I AM surprised that the US has such low levels.”  Why?  I think the Judeo-Christian value system has something to do with it.  But I digress.  Back to the WSJ article:  “The Biden administration wants to improve cooperation between federal agencies, including the State Department, Treasury, Commerce and the US Agency for International Development.”  Ok, that’ ‘s interesting: People don’t naturally cooperate, they naturally compete.  The Biden administration is trying to fight corruption GLOBALLY, but the 38-page plan is directed at internal bureaucracies.  

In his book The False Promise of Big Government, Patrick Garry, writes, “Instead of helping the average person at the expense of the wealthy, bigger government helps the politically powerful at the expense of the average person.  As government has grown so powerful in such far-reaching ways, it has become more aligned with the centers of power in society.”

Back to this week’s Wall Street Journal article.  Maybe the most interesting phrase is highlighted by the authors, “Changing embedded cultures of corruption requires significant political will….”  Ok, let’s think about that: Politicians are writing laws to prevent political corruption.  Good luck with that.  Another section of the article states that the Biden administration is trying to keep gate-keepers, like lawyers, from taking corrupt actions.  Lawyers are writing laws to control lawyers.  Brings to mind the old rhyme, “All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty back together again.”  You know why?  Because all the king’s men wrote the original law, and all the king’s men are those breaking the current law, and all the king’s men are now writing new laws.  You see, something OUTSIDE the system is required to fix something that’s broken INSIDE the system. 

Back to The False Promise of Big Government, where Patrick Garry observes, “Human freedom will further erode when government must pass even more laws and create even more bureaucratic programs to try to replace all the social guidance and support once provided by families, communities, schools, and religions.”

I’m not saying the Biden Administration should not be making attempts to lower corruption.  I’m simply stating that as The Christian Economist, I find the root of problems below the level of behavior.  They are at the level of the motivation for the behavior, which is the sinful nature. 

We’re all Fallen

In my recent podcast titled God’s Frameworks, I mention that perhaps the most important framework I’ve ever learned is the Christian Worldview: Creation, fall, redemption.  We’re all fallen.  

President Donald Trump is a good example.  There’s been so much written and spoken about this very controversial figure, but I think I’ve captured him in one sentence.  He was a bad man who did good.  That’s it.  One sentence.  Can a bad man do good?  Gee, I hope so, because we’re all bad men.  Except women, they are bad women.  Romans 3:23 reads, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”  That includes you, me, and Donald Trump.

A friend of mine said, “Character matters.”  Really?  Why?  Do you care about the character of the guy who fixes your air conditioner when it’s 105 degrees in Texas in the summer?  Do I care about the character of the guy who made this camera I’m staring into?  Ok, certainly I care if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, but that’s a very different issue than character.


The Fed is fallen

Here I am, agreeing with Senator Elizabeth Warren, again.  She wants details about the stock trading that took place by Fed governors and reserve bank presidents.  If you have not heard about it: The presidents of The Dallas Fed and the Boston Fed resigned after it was revealed they traded stocks in a way that was considered corrupt.  

Ok, since I’m in a snarky mood today, we are still waiting for full disclosure about how Senator Warren obtained a faculty position at Harvard where she filled a spot reserved for native Americans.  She falsely claimed she had Native American heritage.  But, you see the point, don’t you: All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  So how do we run an economy that’s populated with fallen people?  The answer is pretty simple: Competition.  Her false claim should have been revealed by her opponent in her last Senatorial race, giving the good people of Massachusetts the opportunity to vote her out of office.  That’s a competitive situation that is designed to reduce political corruption. 

Oh, another side note: I’m always astounded about Socialists who want everything distributed equally, except the votes they receive for office.  Think about it. 

In podcast #62 titled The End of Fed independence, I explain how the fallen nature has over-taken the Federal Reserve System, and the entire system has pretty much become an arm of the Federal Government.  I mention to my sophomores at Dallas Baptist University, that if they asked their roommate “Who owns the Federal Reserve Bank?”  The answer they are mostly to get is, “The Government.”  And unfortunately, they would be correct.  The Fed is owned by the banks, and the very delicate balance struck by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 has been abolished, essentially by three events:

  1. They kept the interest rate near zero during the eight years of the Obama administration to make him look good.
  2. Through the media, President Trump essentially yelled at Chairman Jerome Powell to stop raising the interest rate, and he did.
  3. Current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and current Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are on the page.  A recent article in the WSJ was titled, “Powell Catches the Fiscal Bus.” 

And…..we’re done.  The Fed has lost its independence because of corruption caused by the fallen nature. 

That elected officials are in charge of the economy is a recent phenomenon.  A hundred years ago, no one would blame the president for inflation.  But today, we do.  It’s because the fallen nature has encouraged presidents to centralize power in a way that was never intended by the founding fathers.  It’s not my topic today, but the centralization was mostly accomplished by Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.

Economic Humanism

The video titled The Commanding Heights has video of men staring at an old computer with the tapes spinning, and they state that Keynesians see the economy as a machine that humans operate.  Then Arnold Harberger stares into the camera and says, “The economy is a force of nature.  If you align your life with that force, you will do well.”  I stop the video and class and say to my students, “The Holy Spirit is a force of nature.  If you align yourself with that force, you will do well.”  But that’s at the heart of all economic debates: Is the economy a machine that’s run by humans, or a force of nature to which we align our lives?

That’s the old God vs Government argument.  The answer is easy for atheists, because, since they believe there is no God, there are only humans, and they must turn the dials of fiscal and monetary policy with great care, because the outcome depends on human behavior.  If you’re a Christian, or really, if you believe in any greater being, you believe that God has at least something to do with arranging the economy. 

The recent Roaring Lambs banquet honored Mike Lindell, “The Pillow Guy.”  Talk about an astounding story of redemption: His book is titled “What are the Odds: From crack addict to CEO.”  He said that we will look back and 2021 and see that every event was arranged by God.”  I hope so. 

At a recent meeting of the Christian Business Men’s Connection, we were asked to give a very short introduction of ourselves.  One of the attendees added to his introduction, “You think the world is falling apart, but it’s not, it’s falling into place.”   

Fallen humans try to mess up the world, but God continually redeems their actions. 

Competition is the answer

Maybe the most interesting phrase in the WSJ article is highlighted by the authors, “Changing embedded cultures of corruption requires significant political will, and achieving sustained progress can take decades”  Uh-huh.  Or maybe: Never.  I suppose if everyone on the planet accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, economic corruption would be lowered, but it would still be there.  

James Davison Hunter makes this important point in his book titled, To Change the World.  He assumes the fallen nature is inside each human and that’s where the change needs to take place.  The Biden administration assumes that the problem is at the societal level.  Hunter’s suggestion for solving the problem is more reasonable than the one proposed by the Biden Administration.  Because the Biden administration is assigning fallen humans to lower corruption among their fellow fallen humans.  Then, who’s going to regulate the regulators?  You can’t produce enough levels of regulation to end corruption. 

Patrick Garry, again in The False Promise of Big Government, “The only people who benefit are the progressive elite, who by controlling government gain more control over society.”

What is the answer?  Competition.  Corruption cannot exist in a competitive environment, because corruption raises the price to the consumer, who will choose to buy from their competitor.  In the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, this picture emerged.  There are 20,000 pallets of bottled water sitting on a runway, unused.  I didn’t say bottles nor cases.  I said pallets.  When this appeared, I asked my students, “Would Target or Costco lose track of 20,000 pallets of water?”  I sincerely doubt it.  That’s because the water is owned by a for-profit corporation, and losing about $10 to $20 million worth of product would harm their profit level.  Ok, the hurricane was a disaster, and we don’t expect perfect behavior during a time of crisis.  But there are many other examples of corruption in government that does not happen in private enterprise. 

We should fight corruption at every level all the time.  But, as Christian Economists, we have to understand that the fallen nature causes corruption, and the best way to limit it, on this side of heaven, is to give more free-market power to privately owned entities, not to fallen government bureaucrats.


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