To Forbear or Not to Forbear?

That is today’s question… While investigating last week’s issue of “jumping to conclusions,” we ran across a convicting passage in Calvin’s commentary on this all too familiar verse:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15 English Standard Version (ESV)

We’ve covered the mechanics of the confrontation–repentance–reconciliation process in “I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me.” However, Calvin points out that there is a step prior to confrontation in which many of us fail.

But if thy brother shall sin against thee. [Since the Lord had broached the topic of] bearing the infirmities of [brothers and sisters], he now shows more clearly in what manner, and for what purpose, and to what extent, we ought to bear with them. [Without such guidance in the] way of avoiding offenses, every man [is abandoned to] winking at the faults of others, and thus what is evil would be encouraged by forbearance.

I find myself caught in this trap at times: not wishing to offend but knowing that the other is at fault to their own harm (as well as mine.)

Christ therefore prescribes a middle course, which does not give too great offense to the weak, and yet is adapted to cure their diseases; for that severity, which is employed as a medicine, is profitable and worthy of praise.

Having taken on our humanity, our Lord knows our own infirmities in these matters and provides a solution:

In short, Christ enjoins his disciples to forgive one another, but to do so in such a manner as to endeavor to correct their faults. It is necessary that this be wisely observed; for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them.

Therefore, we see that we have an obligation to confront our brothers or sisters for their good.

Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure. But Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love, which is widely distant from flattery; only he enjoins them to season their admonitions with moderation, lest, by excessive severity and harshness, they discourage the weak.

As we said last week, we have a duty to hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and shall stand before the Judge. And, yet, we must hold one another accountable for our mutual well-being, neither deceptively flattering nor harshly rebuking one another. Rather, Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love: moderate admonition, that cures our diseases.

1280px-frederic_leighton_-_the_reconciliation_of_the_montagues_and_the_capulets_over_the_dead_bodies_of_romeo_and_juliet_auto_adjust

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets, 1854, Fredric Leighton (1830–1896), in the public domain in the United States

The Sky Is Falling

No, really, it is. And the bottom is dropping out too. At least that’s what Margaret Atwood says.

In her article for Medium: “It’s Not Climate Change; It’s Everything Change,” Atwood describes three possible outcomes for mankind’s response to climate change. The following is an excerpt from picture 2, her most dismal:

…It will quickly become apparent that the present world population of six and a half billion people is not only dependent on oil, but was created by it: humanity has expanded to fill the space made possible to it by oil, and without that oil it would shrink with astounding rapidity. As for the costs to “the economy,” there won’t be any “economy.” Money will vanish: the only items of exchange will be food, water, and most likely — before everyone topples over — sex…

Contrary to Atwood’s views, we’ve urged responsible action to avert disaster:

…We should reconsider our approaches [toward climate change] for the sake of the next generation…

We’ve got to stop trying to oppress and coerce one another because we think we know what’s best for everyone else. Change over time is possible if we’re willing to cast off the hard sell, and adapt.

But climate change isn’t humanity’s most pressing problem. Nor is it our biggest problem, yours and mine, individually.

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 17: “Use to be Made of the Doctrine of Providence,” he portrays the predicament of man living apart from God’s care under the dominion of chance:

Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay the nurse, of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with death.

For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal danger? Then, in what direction so ever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death.

After giving many particulars through which we are exposed to harm, he says:

Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one who, more dead than alive, with difficulty draws an anxious and feeble breath, just as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended over his neck?

It may be said that these things happen seldom, at least not always, or to all, certainly never all at once. I admit it; but since we are reminded by the example of others, that they may also happen to us, and that our life is not an exception any more than theirs, it is impossible not to fear and dread as if they were to befall us…

But, it is not so for the one who casts his lot with the Lord Jesus Christ, Calvin says:

…But when once the light of Divine Providence has illumined the believer’s soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God [Who actively protects him]…

The great American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, said that there is no security apart from Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. He said:

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Therefore, if you have not already, I urge you:

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God,” sermon reenacted by Ralph Green, October 30, 2012, Cloverhill4’s channel

The Fourth Revolution – The Nordic Future

In the fourth and last installment of our review and commentary on The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, we examine the authors’ contention that Sweden and the other Nordic nations represent the future for the West’s reinvigoration.

Before and After

For most of the twentieth century, Sweden embraced the Fabian ideal for their society. Marquis Childs called their social experiment the “middle way,” one between capitalism and communism. In the nineteen sixties, Sweden moved left as they broadened the meaning of equality in their society. They applied more government and higher taxes to every problem.

Then it ended. Their politicians did what most world leaders know they ought to do but fail because they lack courage. Sweden reduced their public spending in proportion to their GDP. The government required itself to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Swedish politicians reinvented the state while reducing its size. They gave their nation’s pension system a sound foundation, they adopted education vouchers, and revamped their health care system.

Sweden focused on reducing waiting times for hospital procedures and on speeding patients through their stays, which also reduced the frequency of hospital communicated diseases. They published data such as operation success rates in health registries for patients and taxpayers to evaluate. And they charged minor fees similar to those that Lee Kuan Yew initiated in Singapore to discourage healthcare system abuse through elective services overconsumption. Swedish health care is now one of the most efficient in the world. Swedes live longer than most in the Western hemisphere and their health costs have decreased too.

Other Nordic countries have improved to a more limited extent. Yet, all four have triple A credit ratings and debt loads below the Eurozone mean. Their economic experiments seem successful. Indices show that they have superior social inclusion, competitiveness, and well-being.

And they’ve done this by serving the individual, employing fiscal responsibility, promoting choice, and encouraging competition. They’ve eschewed state expansion, pump priming, paternalism, and centralized planning. The Nordic countries have extended the market into the state instead of the opposite.

From There to Here

The Nordic countries show what is possible. They had to change because they ran out of money and continued to change because they found they could provide a better state for their citizens.

In 1991, Sweden plunged into their “black of night crisis.” The banking system seized up, foreign investors abandoned their confidence in the third way, and mortgage rates peaked briefly at 500 percent.

In the early 1980s, the people of Denmark faced a “potato crisis.” It was called this because they felt that potatoes might be all they’d be able to afford for their subsistence. Not only was there a cash shortage but the industries which financially supported government programs were strapped.

Now, countries in the West find themselves at or near the same crises. Western states have promised their peoples benefits beyond their ability to provide. The Nordics prove that the state can be brought under control and can be improved for the betterment of their peoples’ future.

But Big Government

History over the last two centuries seems to show that governments grow larger as they accumulate power and control. The Nordic countries provide a counterfactual: government can be contained while its performance and efficiency increases.

The authors pose the question: “How far can you take [the Nordic experiment]?” They argue that neither diminishing productivity returns in the service and government sectors [Baumol’s disease] nor society’s accelerated aging can prevent success. They claim technology is a solution to both problems.

Baumol stated that systems which boost manufacturing productivity are not applicable to the service sector (of which government is a part). The authors suggest that his disease is simply technological lag. As an example, educational efficiency once depended on increasing class sizes.

Now, with the internet, students with drive and grit can access materials from world-class educators. This sort of teaching is even extending into formal classrooms. Accredited degrees are increasingly available online. As a result, universities are having to reconsider the wisdom of administrative bloat and building monuments.

Technology is delayering management and making workers more productive, disseminating health care and school performance data so citizens can make informed choices, and, increasingly, bypassing government by putting power in citizens’ hands.

Law and order, a very labor intensive government function, is also an example. Instead of harsh sentences, increased warehousing, or even a decreasing cohort of young men, the authors maintain that crime prevention is what led to a decrease in crime worldwide starting in the mid 1990s (but varying across the globe). And this decrease has most to do with technology (e.g., CompStat, increased video surveillance, monitored alarms, etc.). Although community policing (directed by CompStat), a hands on solution, is also necessary.

Technology is even reducing costs in the military. By replacing soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard and air men with automated hardware and software systems, lifecycle costs such as salaries, healthcare, and pensions are decreased. Operations, maintenance, and personnel costs are an overwhelming proportion of total cost of military systems when compared with initial development and procurement costs.

Technology, in the authors’ view, is taking out costs while increasing efficiency in many, if not all, public sector activities.

But Greying Demography

The authors’ ask: “won’t any gains from treating Baumol’s disease be wiped out by demography?” They note that the Nordics have changed the basis for their retirement systems from totally defined benefits to partially defined contributions. Swedes put some of their pension money into private plans. The government indexes the retirement age to life expectancy and decreases pensions during economic declines.

Delaying retirement increases worker payments into the system, reduces outlays, and enhances economic productivity of older workers through entrepreneurial activity and skills transfer. And Sweden made these improvements with cross party consensus: the “people’s home” survives only if finances are handled competently.

A Call to Action

There are many ways to improve the state that increase benefits to citizens while decreasing the cost of (and frustration with) government. While the Left argues cutting government will hurt the poor and the Right cries that expanded welfare will collapse the economy, the authors assert that it’s not a zero sum proposition.

Nineteenth century Victorian liberals went after “Old Corruption” in its various forms. Subsidies for the wealthy and middle classes at the expense of the poor are easy to correct via means testing, flat taxes, and repealing funds for government agencies that provide unfair aid where it is not needed (e.g., if I own suitable land that I have no intention of cultivating, should I be paid for not growing tomatoes or some other crop?). It only takes the will to do it.

Rather than take away from the poor, remedying this one situation actually helps the poor. Entitlement programs on which they depend will not run out if we fix who pays in, for how long, up to how much, and who gets to collect and when. There are many other substantive instances of waste, fraud, and abuse that we’re spending trillions on (i.e., not just shrimp on treadmill studies). Fixing these will make the country run more efficiently, benefit those who really need benefits, and increase citizens confidence in government.

Just as Sweden updated their “middle way,” using capitalist competition to efficiently provide socialist services successfully, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western states can shrink government, improve their economies, and restore confidence in Democracy (or the Republic, in our case) while providing the safety nets they’ve promised to those who need them for as long as they need them.

Halfhearted efforts rooted in selective interests just won’t do. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.

RSA Replay: The Fourth Revolution