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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

No split decisions

Every fiscal issue is social, and every social issue is fiscal

Are you a fiscal or a social conservative?

“Wait a minute!” you say. “That’s a fallacious question—on a couple of counts.” The distinction is superficial at best. At their worst, the terms may be phony and unhelpfully misleading.

For one thing, it’s possible for someone to land in both camps. For another thing, I know a handful of people who are credibly in both camps but would never call themselves “conservatives.”

I’ve stressed all this in this space before, but a highly charged political season suggests the need to remind ourselves. In both big political parties—but especially among Republicans, and among the media folks who cover them—it’s become commonplace to make distinctions like these even when such distinctions don’t really exist. (If there are still any conservatives left among the Democratic leaders, they’ve become harder and harder to identify.)

“The whole onion—all the way to the core—is made up of interrelated layers.”

For in God’s order of things, everything fiscal is also moral, and every social policy has fiscal implications. In God’s scheme, everything hangs together. You might say He was the original holistic thinker.

But among our “conservative” political leaders are still too many who think they can promote old-fashioned economic principles while ignoring social issues like abortion, no-fault divorce, homosexual “rights,” and radical gender matters—all nurtured and exacerbated in the friendly context of godless public school classrooms.

It is not, however, just our leaders. Sadly, they represent millions of soft-thinking Americans, all comfortable in supposing it’s just OK to try to divide what God has created to be all of one piece.

People who try to peel off the moral layers of the onion so they can concentrate on the “real stuff” of fiscal and economic issues should be ready to encounter this reality: The whole onion—all the way to the core—is made up of interrelated layers.

Here’s a vivid example: The relationship of abortion to the coming Social Security crisis has been far too little explored. Everyone knows that the great threat to the future of Social Security is that there are too few wage earners over the next 20 years to support those who will be retiring during that timespan. That may well have been true, of course, even in a pyramid scheme that was flawed from the beginning. But what was questionable way back then has now been exacerbated beyond repair by a society’s decision in the 1970s that it would be all right year after year to snuff out a third of all its pregnancies.

In a society where every tiny statistical nuance of every cause and effect known to humanity has been studied, and then restudied (recent examples are the Australia and California fires and the coronavirus), where is the public discussion of the actuarial impact of permissive abortion policies on the future of Social Security? Who took time to study the long-term effects of gender reversals? Why haven’t the media ballyhooed such issues at least as much as they have global warming?

But all this works just as well the other way around. Fiscal policies always have moral, ethical, and social implications. We humans are not just economic beings, as Karl Marx insisted. But it’s nonetheless true that we rarely make decisions in life apart from economic influences. So when a combination of governments at different levels steps in to take 40 percent to 50 percent of your income every year—which is not unusual—that has a profound effect on your ability to give to your church, to spend on education, or to give to the needy. In such a manner, tax policy affects whether you develop a generous or a stingy outlook on life.

Similarly, the decisions governments make now about spending the wealth of future generations minimizes the freedom our children and grandchildren will have to make those decisions for themselves.

So for anyone to pretend that he or she has discovered a neat way to cordon off the money issues from the moral ones is wishful thinking. It denies the very manner in which God has put us, and our society, together.


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  • D
    Posted: Mon, 03/16/2020 09:06 am

    Thank you for the reminder that God integrated His creation at every level.  And thank you, as well, for bringing out the economic reality of abortion.  I have often wondered why those who have no moral concern about abortion, but want to make it affordable, do not seem to have considered if our country can afford the long term costs to Social Security and health care.  We divide money and morality to our peril.

  • Paul
    Posted: Mon, 03/16/2020 01:03 pm

    And why did your generation Joel, allow government take over our retirement ?
    ( sure there were generations before that were deceived...)

    It is WORSE  than the madoff ponzi scheme !  and it continues....

    We fight vehemently for life - we should fight for liberty - leave us alone, quit stealing and redistributing our money.