#111 President Biden’s Sphere Sovereignty
President Biden admitted that there is no Federal solution for COVID. From a Christian economist’s point of view, he said that there are elements outside what Abraham Kuyper would call “God’s sphere sovereignty.”
President Biden had his “Abraham Kuyper moment” this week, when he stated about COVID, “There is no Federal Solution.” Without knowing it, he was citing the great Abraham Kuyper’s idea of sphere sovereignty.
I will try to resist the very easy example of a politician not keeping a promise, because this one is too easy. During the presidential campaign, candidate Biden promised, “to shut down the virus, not the country.”
On the back cover of the book On Business & Economics, it explains that Abraham Kuyper “Was a leading Dutch figure in education, politics, and theology. He was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, was appointed to Parliament, and served as prime minister. Kuyper also founded the Free University in Amsterdam, a political party, and a denomination in addition to writing on a wide array of subjects.”
The AbrahamKuyper.com website simply reads, “Abraham Kuyper was one of the most extraordinary individuals of his time.”
Joe Biden is not one of the most extraordinary individuals of his time. He is a career politician. He is not a leader in education nor theology. He is not a minister, and did not found a University, a political party, nor a denomination. He is the very definition of a follower, who never hired an employee, and seldom took a stand that he didn’t later retreat from. This podcast is about one of those many retreats. But in this retreat, he might finally be stating something that is true, as the Wall Street Journal title quotes him as saying about COVID, “There is no Federal solution.”
Kuyper is mostly known for the concept of common grace. But he’s also known for our subject today: Sphere sovereignty. Here’s how he wrote it, “If you allow society to be absorbed by the state, you will be putting the state in the place of God and destroying a divinely ordered, free society for the sake of the state. We Christians must uphold the view that state and society each has its own sphere. Each has its own sovereignty, and the social question cannot be properly resolved unless we respect this duality.”
From the introduction to the book: “The idea that every sphere of society, including business, is charged with the ordinances of God and has the task of discerning them and acting on them was fundamental to Kuyper’s social vision.”
The introduction of the book continues, “Each sphere of society has a fundamental moral purpose: From its divinely endowed moral purpose, rather than from any dictate from the state, each sphere of society develops a free life of its own….. Every sphere of society enjoys a certain freedom because its authority comes from God rather than from the state. “
Stay in Your Sphere
Perhaps the best-known example of sphere sovereignty is when the Baptist pastors of Danbury , Connecticut wrote to Thomas Jefferson, complaining that they were not allowed to preach because of a state church regulation. The same situation was true in neighboring Massachusetts, where the Congregational church was the state church. When the Baptist pastors appealed to Thomas Jefferson, he wrote them a letter stating “There should be a wall of separation between church and state.” He was essentially stating Kuyper’s idea, about a hundred years before he wrote it. He was clarifying that the state should not violate the sphere sovereignty of the churches.
Here’s an example of sphere confusion. Some years ago, a candidate for mayor of Dallas ran on a platform of improving education. The reason it’s called the Dallas Independent School District, is because it is independent from city control. Education is not in the sphere of the mayor’s purview.
Harvard’s original mission statement was that Every man should find Jesus Christ as his personal savior. They ventured out of their sphere, and most recently, a Harvard alum shared with me that the University has hired a Chaplain who is an Atheist. The point is: Harvard’s sphere has changed.
In his book Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville made many insightful comments about America in the 1830’s. Perhaps the most quoted of those insights is his observation about associationalism. Toqueville noticed that in his home country of France – and virtually every other European country – problems were solved only by the Monarch. But, he noticed that in America, when people found a problem, they formed an association to solve it. Benjamin Franklin’s first public library is just one example. Today, Toqueville would be impressed by the work of the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, and a hundred other very effective associations that help solve human problems. He would be sadly disappointed to see how the US Government has tried to solve so many problems.
Ronald Reagan may be the last politician I’ve heard say anything like, “The government is not the solution to our problem, the government IS the problem………..” Oh, by the way, according to Thomas Sowell, writing in his book Wealth, Poverty and Politics, Ronald Reagan is NOT the author of the trickle-down theory. No one is. It’s a straw-man made up by progressives who want to tar conservative economists. There is no trickle-down theory. I won’t take time to make the case today that the Reagan economic plan is a direct descendant of the tax-cutting practices of John F. Kennedy.
Another example of a sphere violation: While traveling in West Texas this week, I saw a billboard for Don Huffines as Governor. It read, “Deport Illegals.” Perhaps Mr. Huffines does not understand that people are not in Texas illegally, they are in the United States illegally. Deporting illegals is not in the sphere of the Governor of Texas.
The other course I teach at Dallas Baptist University is Strategic Management. The most common mistake made by students is to misunderstand the level of analysis. The course is easily understood, when students understand that there are essentially three levels of analysis: corporate, business and functional. What we have in today’s discussion about sphere sovereignty is a confusion of level of analysis. Or, as I’ve often quipped as a grandfather, “It takes two people to make a child, because it takes two to raise one.” God had something in mind for each sphere of our world, and when we get it wrong, we violate what Abraham Kuyper called “Sphere sovereignty.”
First, it’s the government, not the “givernment.” The government has no money. Our seven-year-old grand-daughter commented this week, “They say the COVID vaccine is free, but the government pays for it.” Aha! So, it’s NOT free. As my co-author of Biblical Economic Policy, Sergiy Saydometov likes to say, “It can be provided for free, but it can’t be produced for free.” Both Sergiy and my grand-daughter are quoting one of the most famous phrases in economics, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Milton Friedman even wrote a book about it.
The US GDP is about $23 trillion. The US government forcibly takes about $3 trillion of that and redistributes it. At $3 trillion, the US government would have the 6th highest GDP in the world. Do you understand what I’m saying? The US government is bigger than the entire GDP of all but five countries. It’s larger than the GDP of India, France, Italy, Canada, South Korea and Russia. But the government has limits. As I’ve pointed out in so many of these podcasts, the government has no money. It must take before it can give. There IS a Biblical command to give. There is no Biblical command to take. The government should learn from President Biden this week, when he accidentally quoted one of the most knowledgeable Christian theologians, Abraham Kuyper, about sphere sovereignty.
Scriptural Sphere Sovereignty
The Bible has something to say about WHO should do WHAT.
The Government’s ten highest expenditures are:
- Unemployment benefits: In our book Biblical Economic Policy, Sergiy Saydometov and I found ten Biblical Commandments of Economics. One that we refer to often is Work is Good. Unemployment benefits discourage work, as I explain in podcast #95 titled Paying People not to Work and #80 Incentivizing Sloth.
- Social Security: The Bible tells us that elder care is in the sphere sovereignty of churches and families.
- Medicare and Medicaid. I’ve pointed out in podcast #15 titled Healthcare is not a moral right.
- National Defense: This is in the sphere of government’s purview.
- Debt: The Bible has many warnings about debt, and I’ve unpacked the Biblical view on this in podcasts #102 The Debt Ceiling, #8 titled simply, The National Debt.
- Housing: This is in the purview of the family and church.
- Education: Pretty much all education was done by the church until the Protestant Reformation in 1517. While the government has a role, it’s clear that people should have a choice to seek private or public education. I attempt to explain the Christian worldview of education in podcast # 74 titled The Wall of Separation between Education and State.
- General Government: Art Lindsley at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics says, “Government should punish evil, but not do good. The church should do good, but not punish evil.” This expense for the general government seems to be in the Biblical sphere, because we assume the government is governing.
- Veterans Benefits: As a part of national defense, this is in the government’s sphere.
- Transportation: This is probably in the government’s sphere.
Analyzing all the government’s expenditures as scriptural or non-scriptural is more than a podcast, it’s an entire book, and I’m not going to write that book today.
Here’s the point I’m making in this podcast: This week, President Biden stated that the US Government should return to its sphere of sovereignty, relative to COVID. Let’s pray he makes the same statement about other spheres in which the US government violates its Biblical sphere sovereignty.
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