#174 Never Let a Crisis go to Waste

#174 Never Let a Crisis go to Waste | The Christian Economist

Christians should not be fooled by the Machiavellian technique of using a crisis to gain political or economic power. 


The title of today’s podcast comes from Niccolò Machiavelli, known as one of the most devious of leaders.  Early in the 16th century, he wrote a book titled The PrinceHe claimed that his experience and reading of history showed him that politics has always been played with deception, treachery, and crime.  He also said that a ruler who is criticized for his deeds, including violence, should be excused when the intention and the result are beneficial to him.  Wow, not a nice guy.  So, even today, when we hear the phrase Machiavellian, we know the leader is assuming political or economic power for himself, at the expense of others. In more recent times, the quote was used by Rahm Emanuel when he was serving as chief of staff to President Obama.  So the phrase means that a leader is USING a current crisis to gain what they’ve always wanted: Political or economic power.

Julius Caesar saw a crisis in crime and told the Senate that if they gave him power, he would only keep it for a short time, then turn it back.  Perhaps there’s never been better proof of the fallen nature.  When awarded power, people seldom give it up.

I mentioned in a recent podcast that Chilean President Gabriel Boric had nationalized the lithium mines in his country.  You think he’s going to give them back to the public?  The only clear example of a political leader turning back economic power was when Margaret Thatcher privatized many leading industries in Great Britain in the 1980’s.  Oh, then there’s George Washington, who could have been king of the new United States.  When told by the American artist Benjamin West that Washington was going to resign, King George III of England said “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”  Think about it: Was there NOTHING going on at that time?!  You think Washington didn’t have the right to use the Machiavellian phrase, “Don’t let a crisis go to waste?”  Meaning: I just need to stay in power for ONE MORE term?!  I unpack this more fully in podcast #146 titled Power Corrupts.


Nothing New Under the Sun

That’s my point today.  Yes, there’s trouble in the United States, and in the world.  There always HAS been.  I’ve been reading a book by a distant family friend named Gilbert Fite.  Along with his co-author Jim Reese, they wrote a book titled An Economic History of the United States.  Guess what year they wrote the following:

“…… many middle-class Americans were troubled.  They resented the growing welfare costs, they were disturbed by crime and violence, they objected to increased taxes for themselves and tax loopholes for some of the wealthy, they were critical of undisciplined college students, and they disliked the bigness and inefficiency of government.  ……… tensions were high between the rich and the poor, between blacks and whites, between young and old, between liberals and conservatives.  There seemed to be little agreement among the people or their political representatives as to how best to deal with the nation’s problem and reduce conflicts and tensions.”

That quote is from the third edition of their book, in 1973.  So there’s nothing new under the sun, as it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9.


Cycles, not trends

Ginger and I attended a lecture recently by John Pinheiro.  He’s the new director of research for the Acton Institute.  As often happens, the most interesting observation was in the question & answer section.  When asked about how America seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, he responded that things cycle more than trend.  As Christians, we hope we are at the bottom of the cycle: In leadership, economics, and social culture.  Everything seems to be going in the wrong direction.  71% of Americans agree, according to the latest NBC News poll.


If you Don’t Work, you Don’t Eat

Things are bad.  Does this predict the return of Christ?  Every generation has thought Christ was going to return in their lifetimes.  That’s why people were not working in Thessalonica, and the Apostle Paul famously commanded, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

I’ll try to stay out of a comparative religion lecture, but perhaps the best book on the subject is called God is Not One, by Steven Prothero at Boston University.  His theme is that religions ARE different, and we are not simply different people climbing the same God mountain.  We are on different mountains.  And Christians ARE climbing a different mountain.  We have hope, because we believe God is in control.  We also believe that our work matters to God.  Come to think of it, that’s the title of a pretty good book on the topic, titled Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks.  So, instead of standing back and watching the world go to hell in a handbasket, we are called to DO something about it. 

In economics terms, we are called to serve our neighbor.  I’ve often told groups, “You were made in the image of God, start acting like it!”  And that doesn’t mean perfect.  It means using your creative nature to provide products and services that enrich your neighbors.  One of my favorite Christian economics sayings is, “If you love your neighbor, you will supply products and services she demands.  If you love yourself, you will make a profit while doing so.” 


Optimist or Pessimist

When I was a guest on Dennis Prager’s fireside chat, he asked if I was an optimist or a pessimist.  I said that the economist in me was a pessimist, and the Christian in me was an optimist.  “We’ve faced problems like this before,” I continued, “And the guiding and guarding hand of God has bailed us out.  God has not changed, and we still enjoy his guiding hand.  Mr. Prager responded that, as a Jew, he believes he has a duty to create economic flourishing.  My view as a Christian is somewhat different.  Most religions believe people behave to be saved, but Christians believe we are saved TO behave.  Dennis Prager and I end up performing pretty much the same, but from different motivations. That’s probably why the most viewed of my podcasts is #88 titled Don’t Fear the Future.

OK, if you’re a real conspiracy addict, you think the current Presidential administration is ruining the dollar, so it can be replaced with a Central Bank Digital Currency.  I spoke about that in podcast #147 titled, the Digital Dollar Deceit, and made the point that the populace loses privacy when that happens.  So, it would be a perfect application of the title of today’s podcast: Don’t let a crisis go to waste.  Meaning, when other countries stop honoring the dollar, they will revert to the Central Bank Digital Currency, that gives the government more control over your economic lives.

In his book For God and Profit, Samuel Gregg wrote about the historic control that the sovereign held over the currency.  “The King could call the money up or down, depending on whether he was a loaner or a debtor.”  That will become true again, if we are forced into CBDC’s.


Malthus is Still Dead

I will close with another quote from Fite and Reese, writing in An Economic History of the United States, third edition, 1973.  “Early in 1972, a research team from MIT released the results of an 18-month study call the Limits to Growth.  This study was sponsored by the Club of Rome, an international group of scientists, educators, and businessmen.  It was a computerized version of the Malthusian doctrine, which proved by means of systems analysis that the earth’s resources were not sufficient to sustain exponential population and industry growth.  If one assumes that resources are finite and that population will continue to expand, it is not difficult to conclude that at some time in the future the resource supply will be exhausted.”

Oh, another day, another Malthusian, this one from 1972!  Fite and Reese’s explanation makes the point very clear, that assumptions matter: If you assume the creative resource of humans is finite, then of course, we will run out of goods.  But, if you assume, as I do, that humans made in the image of God will continue to find new ways of producing goods and services to care for their neighbors, you see clearly that we will NOT run out.  Where you begin determines where you will end.  And with that faith, there is no need for the Machiavellian statement, “Never Let a Crisis go to Waste.”    





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