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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Fate of the Welfare State

“An absolute principle of economics,” the late Larry Burkett wrote in his 1992 # 1 best seller, The Coming Economic Earthquake, is that, “no one, government or otherwise, can spend more than he or she makes indefinitely. At some point the compounding interest will consume all the money in the world.”

Saddled by staggering debt, governments all over the world are in fiscal disasters and are teetering on bankruptcy. A financial reckoning unseen since the Great Depression appears to be looming for the welfare and entitlement societies that are so prevalent in the western world.

Every advanced society has some form of welfare and entitlement programs. As such, according to Robert Samuelson, “Almost every advanced country -- the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Belgium and others -- faces some combination of huge budget deficits, high debts, aging populations and political paralysis.”

In the U.S., decades after the start of welfare and entitlement programs brought on by FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society—to quote Jeremiah Wright—“America’s chickens (financial, that is) have come home to roost.”

Of course, nowhere in the U.S. is there more “roosting” going on than in California. In June 2002, the liberal magazine American Prospect hailed California as a “laboratory” for Democratic Policies. The author of the story, Harold Meyerson, boasted that “with its Democratic governor, U.S. senators, state legislature and congressional delegation, California is the only one of the nation’s 10 largest states that is uniformly under Democratic control.” In California, Meyerson said, “the next New Deal is in tryouts.”

We all now know that California’s “New Deal” was no deal at all. “California is deeply in debt,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. “You could say that it's bankrupt,” he added. (Technically U.S. states cannot declare bankruptcy.)

Of course, California is not alone in its financial struggles. Nearly every U.S. state is seeing declining revenues and facing ever increasing budget shortfalls. However, generally speaking there is a trend among the states that are struggling the most. Forbes recently noted that the “bluest states (are) spilling the most red ink.” The article declared that “The five states in the worst financial condition--Illinois, New York, Connecticut, California and New Jersey--are all among the bluest of blue states.”

“Why do Democratic states appear to be struggling more than Republican ones?” Forbes asks. “It comes down to stronger unions and a larger appetite for public programs, according to Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political studies and public affairs at the University of Illinois' Center for State Policy and Leadership.”

Part of the Forbes formula in calculating the financial health of each state included unfunded pension liabilities. The insatiable generosity of many, especially “blue,” U.S. states (and cities) with pensions and with free, or almost free, healthcare, is perhaps the largest millstone around their necks. In the last two weeks alone, states such as California, Virginia, and Illinois, along with cities such as Atlanta, have made news because of their pension woes. “Doomsday is here for Illinois,” stated one pundit. In Virginia they are preparing for “the coming war over public sector pensions.” And in Atlanta a lawsuit has been filed, which the AJC declared as “the first shot of the pension wars.”

Of course, along with generous pension and health care plans come higher taxes. Unsurprisingly, according to the Tax Foundation, the top ten for state-local tax burdens in 2008: 10.) Rhode Island 9.) Wisconsin 8.) Vermont 7.) Ohio 6.) California 5.) Hawaii 4.) Maryland 3.) Connecticut 2.) New York 1.) New Jersey. Notice the “blueness” here?

There is another common link among liberal societies that is greatly compounding their financial despair: low fertility rates. You see, it isn’t just the financial folly of liberalism that has set their house of cards to tumbling; it is their foolish social views as well. In their lust (literally) for sexual gratification, liberal cultures have all but abandoned any moral boundaries when it comes to their libidos.

Marriage, family, and good parenting have taken a back seat to this lust, which is a cornerstone of modern liberalism and feminism. For example, virtually all of Europe has a fertility rate below the replacement rate of 2.1. Greece, along with all of its other troubles, has a fertility rate of 1.36. Spain and Italy are at 1.30. Germany is at 1.41. Not to be left behind by the Europeans, Japan is at 1.22.

In the U.S., states with the lowest fertility rates are generally, again, the “bluest of blue.” Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, along with D.C., are all in the bottom 10 when it comes to fertility rates in the U.S. As Mark Steyn recently put it, “The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to.”

U.S. spokesperson for the entitlement society, Nancy Pelosi recently said, “Imagine an economy where people could change jobs, start businesses, become self-employed, whether to pursue their artistic aspirations or be entrepreneurial and start new businesses, if they were not job-locked because they have a child who's bipolar or a family member who's diabetic with a pre-existing condition, and all of the other constraints that having health care or not having health care places on an entrepreneurial spirit.”

There you have it: the classic example of the worldview of modern liberalism. If government would only provide yet another entitlement, then more people would be free to do what whatever they want. Contrast this with the words of President Grover Cleveland near the end of the 19th century:

While taking a stand against government aid involving a very deserving orphanage in New York City during a severe economic crisis, Cleveland, a Democrat, said, “I will not be a party to stealing money from one group of citizens to give to another group of citizens. No matter what the need or apparent justification, once the coffers of the federal government are opened to the public, there will be no shutting them again…It is the responsibility of citizens to support their government. It is not the responsibility of government to support its citizens.”

In 1887, after vetoing a bill that appropriated $10,000 to buy grain for several drought-stricken Texas counties, Cleveland stated, “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

If only today’s Democrat Party were in the same solar system with Cleveland. Ben Franklin said, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” Never have we been closer to such an end than we are today.

Copyright 2010, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Resurrection

At this time of year Christians celebrate Easter, or as I prefer, Resurrection Sunday. As one scans history, no other date put such a mark in time as when Jesus Christ shed His grave-clothes and departed the tomb.

Of all the religions of the world, only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its founder. The physical resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. British theologian Michael Green said it well when he noted, “Without faith in the resurrection there would be no Christianity at all.” Noted biblical scholar, professor, and author Wilbur M. Smith said that, “The resurrection of Christ is the very citadel of the Christian faith. This is the doctrine that turned the world upside down…” Indeed it did.

According to C.S. Lewis, “In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection,” or more accurately, a witness of the resurrected Christ. He adds that, “to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection.” And preach they did.

The transformation of the disciples of Jesus is one of the greatest evidences of His resurrection. For decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection they preached His “good news.” Biblical references and strong extra-biblical sources have almost all of the disciples dying martyrs’ deaths. James, the son of Zebedee, according to Scripture was, “put to death by the sword (probably beheaded).” According to early church historians Peter was crucified in Rome, and Paul (of course not one of the original 12, but an apostle nonetheless) was beheaded there. Strong church tradition has Thomas, the “doubting” disciple, being run through with a spear.

The manner of martyrdom of the other disciples is less clear, but strong evidence suggests all, save John, died horrific deaths because of their faith. Their unwavering efforts spread the gospel to many regions of the world, including Rome, Greece, Armenia, Persia, Syria, India, Egypt, Libya, Arabia, and North Africa.

The faith of Jesus’ Apostles spread to thousands upon thousands in a relatively short period of time. Many of the early believers suffered intense persecution as well. Fulton Oursler, in The Greatest Faith Ever Known, notes that “Thousands of these men and women would die themselves in the arena, burning on pitch-soaked pyres, crucified, they would die for Jesus Christ, and for the Faith, the Church that Christ founded.”

The persecution of the church continued for centuries. After Constantine’s conversion in the year 312 the church passed from persecution to privilege. Councils were called, the Scriptures were translated into various languages, and missionaries carried the gospel to ever farther reaches of the world.

The impact that Christianity has had on the world can be measured in practically every facet of life. Everything from the family, to science, government, medicine, art, literature, business, and so on, has felt the impact of the message of the Resurrection of Christ.

The world’s first university, birthed in 1088, was The University of Bologna in Italy. It was founded to teach canon law. The second oldest university, The University of Paris, grew out of the cathedral schools of Notre-Dame and soon became a great center for Christian orthodox studies. Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt, in his book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, points out that every college established in colonial America, except the University of Pennsylvania, was founded by some denomination of Christianity. He adds that, preceding the Civil War, 92 percent of the 182 colleges and universities in the U.S. were established by some branch of the church.

Many of the greatest artists in history: Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Donatello, Da Vinci, and Salvador Dali were Christians. This is evident in that many of the great works they produced were scenes or characters from Scripture. Beethoven, considered by many to be the world’s greatest composer, composed some of the most profound Christian masterpieces in musical history. Additionally, Johann Sebastian Bach was, as one scholar put it, indeed “a Christian who lived with the Bible.”

Take note of the number of influential charities inspired by Christianity. Among them are The Salvation Army, Campus Crusade, Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, and the YMCA. Also, about 25% of U.S. hospitals are Christian.

The great nation that we inhabit was founded almost exclusively by Christians and upon Christian principles. The United States has become perhaps the most influential nation in world history. Standing for freedom and justice and operating out of love, this nation, whether through its government or private citizens, has come to the aid and rescue of billions of people around the world.

The current year is 2008. This is not 2008 years from Caesar, Buddha, or Mohammed, but from the birth of Jesus Christ. Dan Flynn notes that, “The attempt to replace Anno Domini (AD) and BC (Before Christ) with BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) is yet another exercise in futility. Doesn't this Common Era, after all, begin with the life of Christ?”

The impact of Christ’s resurrection can be seen in institutions and nations, in virtually every facet of life, as I said earlier, but I think it is most noticeable in the lives of individuals. We may measure our years from His birth, but our hope is in His resurrection.

Copyright 2010, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Science of Couponing

In the current economic climate, most people are looking for ways to stretch their dollars. About a year ago, through a friend at our church, my wife Michelle (who contributed greatly to this column) discovered what is commonly referred to as “couponing.” Through Michelle’s efforts, we have accomplished almost unbelievable things in our personal budget.

For example, we have not “paid” for toilet paper, toothpaste, razors, paper towels, shampoo, band-aids, etc. in nearly a year. And I’m talking about name-brand products, not store ones. Our grocery budget has been cut almost in half. For a family of six, this is no small feat.

The practice of couponing comes down to this: using manufacturer and store coupons paired with store sales, rebates, and store loyalty programs, to drastically reduce the overall price of everything from food to toiletries to household items. This is usually accomplished by shopping at the large chain grocery stores and drug stores.

One goal of couponing is to “stockpile” things when they are at their lowest prices so you never have to pay full price for them again. This practice has resulted in our basement resembling a small convenience store. Thus, we have been able to share much more than we otherwise could with those struggling during these trying financial times. It is nothing now for us to fill up several bags with food and toiletry items for a family in need or to bless a new mom in our church with a gift basket of fun items.

In addition to saving money with couponing, we’ve found ways to help our family thrive in this depressed economy. Many companies offer mail-in-rebates so that you can try their products for free. Other rebate offers, combined with an item being on sale, have allowed us to buy many products and make a small profit on them.

Another pleasant outcome of couponing is when “overage” occurs. This is when the value of the coupon exceeds the price of the item. Some stores will apply the overage amount to the remainder of your bill, thereby reducing the cost of other items.

Here’s one practical example of how couponing can result in free (plus sales tax) products: Say that at a drug store (large chain only), an item is on sale buy one get one free, and there is a manufacturer coupon on the same item that is also buy one get one free. Because of the way the item rings up at these drug stores (first item rings up full price; second one rings up zero), using the manufacturer coupon results in your having to pay only the sales tax to purchase both items.

It is somewhat rare when such a deal occurs, but we’ve done this several times on various products in the last year. Cashiers, and sometimes even store managers, can be somewhat dumbfounded at such a result, but most stores have official coupon policies explaining how they are to handle such, and any, transactions. Be sure to check with your store for their policy. (Michelle has become as well versed in official coupon policies as most anyone.)

Planning and coordinating when it comes to couponing is a feat made much easier by Web sites such as southernsavers.com (Michelle’s favorite), couponmom.com (mentioned frequently by Clark Howard), moneysavingmom.com, and others.

There are some nuances to be aware of when practicing couponing. Different stores have different coupon policies, so you must familiarize yourself with these to make sure you are conducting your business properly. For example, some stores do not accept Internet coupons.

Remember always to be nice as you go about your couponing. As I mentioned before, many store employees may not be as familiar with their own coupon policies as you are. Also remember that coupon fraud does exist, so don’t be surprised if sometimes you are given a suspicious eye. After developing a sound relationship with your stores, your transactions will almost always go very smoothly.

According to southersavers.com, coupon use in the U.S. rose 27% in 2009 with $3.5 billion in coupons redeemed. Yet companies issued over $520 billion in coupons in 2009. This means that less than 1% of the value of all coupons issued last year was redeemed.

As the economy continues to flounder, taking advantage of the wonderful and abundant opportunities that coupons present is an excellent way for anyone to combat declining income and shrinking budgets. If you have further questions on this practice, feel free to contact us at tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com.

Copyright 2010, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World