April 18, 2014

Chris Banescu, Bp. Savas and the Dust Up

When ideas clash, they often clash hard. When Chris Banescu took Bp. Savas to task for a mistake he made in reporting the salary of an American CEO, his intention was not only to call Bp. Savas on the error, but to call attention to Bp. Savas’ economic assumptions.

The error was minor and we all make them. It was easily corrected. The assumptions rest deeper. Since Bp. Savas has entered the public square and unabashedly promotes the assumptions, challenging them is fair game. That is why I decided to publish Banescu’s piece.

Bp. Savas evaluates and prescribes economic policy exclusively through a Progressive political framework. His thinking differs little, if at all, from Jim Wallis, arguably the leader of what we can call “Christian-Progressivism.” Wallis has been a Progressive for as long back as anyone can remember, at least from the 1960s when he first became a political activist.

Progressivism has a storied history in American that we won’t enter into it here. In the last four decades however, it has grown increasingly statist. That means Progressives see the state as the source and enforcer of the policies that they think conform to the Christian moral imperative to love the neighbor.

In many ways the shift from early to contemporary Progressive ideology parallels the history of feminism (which today also falls under the Progressive umbrella). Early feminists were pro-life, modern feminists are the loudest voices for aborting the unborn. Clearly something changed from then to now.

Progressive ideology employs the language of the Christian moral vocabulary to justify its policy goals especially about helping the poor. This causes a considerable amount of confusion among the uninformed. It sounds like the Progressive policy goals and the Christian moral imperatives are one and the same.

The reality is entirely different. Progressive ideas have done more to harm the poor than help them. This first became apparent in Charles Murry’s ground-breaking work Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980 back in 1984 (read more here).

Murray’s book was a game-changer. His research showed that instead of helping the poor, the Progressive policies contributed to the break-down of poor families and created a cycle of dependency that institutionalized poverty. These policies were first formulated under the Johnson administration’s “Great Society” programs and were for all purposes well-intentioned. Their results however have been catastrophic.

For example, in Harlem (the first focus of the Great Society administrators), 70% of all children lived in intact two parent families and the trend was increasing. Thirty percent lived in a single parent household. Ten years after the onset of the Great Society, the numbers were reversed.

Further, the breakdown of the family has left many boys bereft of father figures leading to the increase of gangs as their primary unit of socialization. It is also the reason why young black men are over-represented in our prisons. In fact, single-motherhood has become the single most reliable determinate of poverty.

Murray’s initial research has been confirmed time and again, enough so that even the Democrats who first championed the Great Society ideals had to admit its failures. President Bill Clinton, to his credit, was the fist to roll back the reach of the Progressive welfare state when he ended “welfare as we know it.” You can find the research justifying the change and examining the results by searching the indexes of the Manhattan Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Thankfully there are other Orthodox Christians who recognize the harm that the Progressive ideas have fostered. The Fellowship of Christians United to Serve (FOCUS, an Orthodox organization) has launched a program to teach men how to become men and reverse the soul-denying patronization that they’ve suffered:

The Man Class

The Progressive economic assumptions have risen into view because the debt crisis threatens their dismantling. This was the reason why Jim Wallis organized the public signing of the document “The Circle of Protection” at the White House several months ago and why President Obama received them. (Full disclosure: I had a part in organizing CASE – Christians for a Sustainable Economy in response to Wallis’ efforts.)

These assumptions ride on the back of the Progressive social agenda. I mentioned above that Progressives borrow the Christian moral lexicon to justify their policy goals. This borrowing confuses many people because they assume Progressive ideas are the way that we fulfill our Christian obligation to care for the poor. It sounds like Progressive ideas and the Christian obligation are one and the same.

Ideas have consequences, and Progressive ideas have been catastrophic. Yet to many the catastrophe remains hidden because when Progressive ideas are challenged, they are met with more moral exhortations. These kind of responses never add any clarity to the discussion. They are meant to impugn the motives of the questioner and close discussion.

Our job is to think clearly. That means we should not take the Progressive borrowing of the Christian moral lexicon at face value. Just because a policy or idea sounds Christian does not mean that it is. Nor does it mean that when the Progressive impugns the critic’s motives in his response, that the response is authoritative. Most often it is not. Instead, call the response what it is: a deliberate misapplication of the Christian moral lexicon to avoid answering the criticism in any meaningful way.

Comments

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    macedonia74 says:

    I believe modern feminism as a movement has failed and is on it’s last legs. However, years upon years of damage have been done especially to the American Male. This movement was instrumental in helping to destroy the family structure, in overtaking our public schools and promoting a ‘sexual equality’ agenda that was based upon overblown and blatantly false statistics. Ironcially, the very institution (US Department of Education), which was the greatest vocal box for this movement houses its’ demise. One has only to look at the statistics that they produce on the truth of males in education to see that the feminist movement was deceiving the public.

    As it stands, males have to unlearn years upon years of manipulative education based upon women defining masculinity for men and return to the basics. I am estatic about the “Man Class” and even more excited that it is an Orthodox ministry. This is highly appropriate.

    A book that I am currently reading by Christina Hoff Sommers, “The War Against Boys” is one that I recommend because it spells out the false satistical assumptions by this movement and points out just how “nuts” feminists have become. And I stress NUTS…..

    Peace unto you

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    anon says:

    In what person who has represented the Orthodox conscience to any depth do you find any justification for the kind of unregulated market-centered philosophy that keeps getting defended here?

    I can’t think of a single one. What I can think of is the kind of revulsion that this evoked in our most penetrating minds – for example: Dostoevsky, the English laissez faire and industrialist philosophy invoked for him the image of the flesh god Baal (for those who have not read the masterful work of Joseph Frank on Dostoevsky’s intellectual history, it is a superb look at how utterly incompatible someone formed in Orthodox ethos would find these ideas to be with Christianity). Can one imagine superimposing the extreme libertarian ideas represented by the people behind CASE with Chrysostom? With the Cappadocians? With *any* of the Fathers? The closest I have ever seen is the “Austrian” line that laissez faire theory was first developed by Spanish Scholastics. While this is anachronistic, for us, that is for the Orthodox, its also irrelevant. The reality is that this kind of radically individualistic thinking is difficult to attached to even a deformed Christianity.

    Progressivism may be a heresy in that it is a secularized version of Christian ethics. But at least one can understand that as a Christian. One can understand why Christians might empathize with Progressive attempts to reach out to the down-trodden, the outcast and rejected in society. Progressives may be wrong – but at least we can recognize a distorted form of the Faith.

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    Helga says:

    For example, in Harlem (the first focus of the Great Society administrators), 75% of all children lived in intact two parent families and the trend was increasing. Thirty percent lived in a single parent household.

    75% + 30% = 105%. Please double check and source your statistics.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Progressivism may be a heresy in that it is a secularized version of Christian ethics. But at least one can understand that as a Christian. One can understand why Christians might empathize with Progressive attempts to reach out to the down-trodden, the outcast and rejected in society. Progressives may be wrong – but at least we can recognize a distorted form of the Faith.

    If Progressive ideology is a “heresy…a secularized version of Christian ethics,” why are you defending it? Because the motives of Progressives ostensibly conform to the Christian moral imperative to care for the poor? Aren’t you confirming my point about moral confusion?

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    ConservativeDefense says:

    Anon, regarding this nonsense from you:

    “justification for the kind of unregulated market-centered philosophy that keeps getting defended here?”

    This is a lie. No one here at AOI or other conservative Orthodox venues have ever defended or proposed that. You are just making stuff up and pointing your lying accusatory finger in our faces, instead of actually bothering to discuss the premise of Fr. Jacobse’s article. This sort of aggressive BS is tired and old. If you want to engage in meaningful discussion, drop the unjustified and screechy attacks, and debate the facts.

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    anon says:

    Father, I am frankly saying you are more deeply and more profoundly confused than they. This American libertarian market think ideology doesn’t even have discernible Christian roots. Harold Bloom got that 100% right in the American Religion.

    In any case, give me one – one – example of an Orthodox thinker of widely recognized importance and broadly respected in the tradition – of the Fathers, theologians or in our literary heritage – that can plausibly be aligned with reigning market think ideology that we’re dealing with here?

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Anon, did you read the part about moral exhortations? Look, the failure of the Progressive vision is clear. Check out the links and look for yourself. Coming up with baseless rejoinders doesn’t change this. Either we think clearly, or we don’t.

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      Geo Michalopulos says:

      Anon,

      you are creating a straw man. Just because Conservatives of a free-market bent have pointed out the problems with Progressivism (as has Fr Hans with impressive statistics btw –he didn’t pull them out of thin air) doesn’t mean that we are of the “Ayn Rand School of Anarcho-Capitalism.” First of all, we know from historical experience that there can never be a completely 100% free-market, non-state intevening society. That doesn’t mean that those countries that embrace economic liberalism (in the Classic sense) aren’t better off economically than those that embrace statism (and by statism I mean Marxism, Nazism, Fascism which are all forms of socialism). Clearly they are.

      Of course there are other things that go into the mix: adherence to the rule of law, a native work ethic, moral virtue, ability to delay gratification, etc.

      All things being equal, I’d rather live in America than Mexico, or England rather than Greece, or Germany rather than Zimbabwe. Am I happy with the moral collapse I see around me here in America? No. But all we are able to do in this life is pick our poison. Usually that’s the only choice most people have. That’s why millions of immigrants flood the US and Western Europe, not because they like the architecture or because they’re lazy, but because they want to know that when they work that they’ll get money and that that money won’t be debauched by a profligate government. (I’m thinking Zimbabwe here which has an astronomical inflation rate.)

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        Michael Bauman says:

        George, your comment that there is no 100% government free market is correct. Not possible, not even desirable. If we were to try some form of distributionism, that too would require government control of certain aspects just to keep the businesses local.

        As St. Paul pointed out, “Love of money is the root of all evil”. In practice that means that any economic transaction can and often is tainted with all sorts of sinfulness. The state has the resposibility to assure a level playing field as best it can. Otherwise many of the pre-conditions for healthy markets simply will not be met.

        One of the assumptions that anon makes, as do many of his persuasion, is that philanthropy can and should be forced. While the state has the authority to restrain and punish evil, I question the ability of the state to create goodness by force. State power ultimately rests in the state’s unique ability to use deadly force. It would be interesting to know if anon also tends to pacifism as part of his corporate morality. I have found that many liberal Christians who wish to use the force of the state to ‘take care of the poor’ also want to restirct the state in the use of military force. OK for the state to use force against its own citizens, not OK to use force against other folks. Very odd stance to take IMO, but not uncommon.

        Globalism is a problem and more aggressive and creative use of the anti-trust power of the state ought to be pursued. Without such an approach the political economy (called capitalism and even by some ‘free-markets’ incorrectly) begins to assume a more and more fascist character.

        If we could eschew the moralizing and really get to the heart of the matter we might find a greater level of agreement than it first appears.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Good response George. Moreover, if Anon had bothered to read the CASE site instead of reflexively responding with bromides borrowed from the storehouse of Progressive exhortation, he would discover that the social safety net is affirmed.

      The CASE group doesn’t tolerate slouches and certainly does not replace sound judgment with the sloppy moralisms that we see in the Progressive ranks. CASE also understands Hayek’s warning that any change has to be handled with discretion and care.

      Progressive thought and policy has handed us a social crisis of the first order and it will take many years to undo the damage, but a wholesale overhaul can make the crisis worse than it already is.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    There is an underlying assumption, I think, by those who wish to use state power to take care of the poor. That assumption is that God is not really with us, He (if he actually exists) is up there somewhere and we are left to our own devices “down here” . We are left alone to act as if we are God. Since we are not God, the best we can do is make sure that everybody has the exact same outcome, otherwise it is ‘unfair’. Unfairness often seems to translate into immoral in this scheme.

    At least that’s the way it seems to me.

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    Every single time conservatives try to critically analyze the negative consequences and the problems of many liberal/progressive policies currently in place and want to discuss ways that such policies can be corrected, revamped, and replaced with more effective, just, and reasonable approaches so they do not hurt the poor, institutionalize the innocent, and negatively affect society in general, the progressives IMMEDIATELY and shamelessly assert:

    (1) That conservatives are advocating for a free-for-all capitalist system with no government controls.
    and
    (2) That conservatives want to get rid of “child labor laws, social security, unemployment, medicare, disability, etc. etc.”

    These are wholesale LIES! This is simply not true.

    As George Michalopulos mentioned above, the left and the progressives constantly make up a Straw Man arguments and impute fictional ideas and comments on any conservative messengers or venues that dare bring up any sacred cow policy that progressives blindly and uncritically embrace and promote. Then they point an accusatory finger in our faces and call us evil for wanting to hurt the poor, throw grandma in the street, and starve children.

    According to men like Bishop Savas, George Soros, Jim Wallis, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, conservatives are not allowed to discuss, evaluate, or try to improve and reform any progressive/leftist policies at all, regardless of how inefficient, misguided, corrupted, and bankrupt they are. We must categorically accept and embrace them and shut up. Any attempt to diverge even a little bit from the party line and substantively look at ways that things can be corrected are met with a militant rebuke and a categorical condemnation that we are not true Orthodox Christians and don’t care about the poor.

    Who exactly are the radicals and the intolerant lemmings in this engagement?

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      macedonia74 says:

      Chris –
      I would support report remove some of these systems – especial those that are the responsibility of the Church in the first place. There is nothing immoral or anti-Christian about this.

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    Here’s just one example, of many, where conservatives warned that ObamaCare will have negative results for the people and the country and will lead to unintended consequences. Bishop Savas praised and embraced ObamaCare and still considers it an excellent progressive law.

    Have a look at what’s happened since:

    In 2008, when George W. Bush was president, according to Gallup, 14.9 percent of adult residents of the United States lacked health insurance coverage.

    That increased to 16.2 percent in 2009, the year that Obama was inaugurated, and to 16.4 percent in 2010, the year that Obama signed his law requiring that all Americans have health insurance.

    In the first half of this year [2011], according to data released by Gallup today, the percentage of adults in the United States lacking health insurance ticked up to 16.8 percent.
    http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/gallup-uninsured-have-increased-under-ob

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      Rob says:

      In 2008, the unemployment rate nationally was about 5.8%. In 2011, it’s averaging close to 9.1%. The average cost of health care for a family of four is around $13,375. That’s for a company plan when the employer is covering most of the expense. It’s most likely a bit more if you’re on your own. Now, if one is unemployed, paying $14,000 or so a year for health care is probably not going to be reasonable. I’m surprised the uptick in uncovered persons wasn’t greater.

      I’m not saying I support all of Obama’s healthcare initiatives, but let’s remember his plan hasn’t even gone into effect yet (it’s still being challenged in the courts in some states).

      You might want to check your facts before trying to make sweeping statements about how policy impacts reality.

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        Rob, the “plan hasn’t even gone into effect yet”? Really? Are you sure about that?

        Five Key Obamacare Provisions Implemented in 2010
        1. Spending caps on lifetime and annual benefits were prohibited
        2. Individual health plans and carriers were prohibited from canceling coverage
        3. Plans were required to cover preventative care at no cost
        4. Obamacare required coverage of dependent children on parent’s plans until age 27
        5. Obamacare mandated protections to children with pre-existing conditions

        The Unintended Consequences Unfolding in 2010
        * Major insurance carriers announce their plans to discontinue child-only insurance coverage.
        * Medical device manufacturers announced plans to cut jobs due to the new taxes on medical devices
        * Surveys indicate that 66% of Baby-Boomer aged physicians will likely leave their practice as a result of Obamacare
        * 222 companies and union groups received waivers from the government so they can continue to provide mini-med plans to low wage workers in the face of the new benefits-ration requirement imposed by HHS.
        * The 2010 enrollment period saw most employers reduce their plan contributions, raise co-pays and deductibles in anticipation of higher costs.
        * AARP, a staunch advocate of Obamacare and major companies such as Boeing, announced several cuts to benefits as result of higher costs and taxes from Obamacare.
        * SEIU, another staunch advocate of Obamacare announced that it will drop coverage for children of 30,000 low wage workers.
        * Texas announces its intent to drastically cut Medicaid benefits.
        * Arizona announced a 30% increase in state health care insurance premiums.
        * Major health insurance companies, such a Principal Group, announce plans to discontinue offering health insurance. Met Life announces that it will leave the Long Term Care insurance market.
        * Microsoft, for the first time, announced that employees will need to make contributions to its high end health care coverage and a reduction of benefits.
        * Employers announce their plans to reduce hiring lower wage workers due to the increased costs of providing coverage under Obamacare.
        * Drug companies began notifying children’s hospitals that they no longer qualify for major discounts on drugs used to treat rare medical conditions.
        * Major health insurance carries raise individual premiums an average 20%. Following this, HHS threatens insurers who raise premiums with exclusion from participation in the insurance exchanges.
        * Insurance companies anticipate insurance premiums for the young and health will increase by 17% to offset the caps on insurance for the elderly and sick.
        * HSA-High Deductible Insurance plan providers, such a nHealth, will stop offering these plans due to the stringent benefits-ratio requirements imposed by HHS.
        * Employers are now considering dropping their coverage of employees because it would be more cost-effective to pay the $2,000 Obamacare penalty. http://www.affordable-health-insurance.com/articles/obamacare-2010/

        And that’s just 2010. I don’t have time to list for you all the 2011 new rules, regulations, and unintended consequences, which include a 25% increase in insurance premiums for my own family.

        See here:
        Obamacare: The One-Year Checkup
        http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/03/obamacare-the-one-year-checkup

        Yes, clearly I need to check my facts more thoroughly. Got it!

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          Michael Bauman says:

          Link to Kaiser Family Foundation implementation time line: http://healthreform.kff.org/timeline.aspx

          The Obama Administration has forged ahead with full vigor in implementing all scheduled aspects of the plan despite the court challenges. Even if the whole thing is declared unconstitutional it will be difficult to unravel.

          My own state’s insurance commissioner, despite being an arden supporter of the plan has publically stated that the actuarial assumptions at the base of the plan, and therefore the purported cost of the plan are unsupportable and will require massive tax increases in the future.

          It will only get worse.

          The purposed exchanges and the mandate are the two worst parts of the bill.

          Insurance fact (as an insurance professional of 30 years)[Of course that makes me a greedy, lying, evil, SOB with no right to comment on anything]. Government mandated coverages ALWAYS increase cost and almost always result in fewer people insured. The government has no clue on how to do insurance. Not to mention providing incentives for increased fraud.

          Not to say that the insurance industry hasn’t shot itself in the head more times than I can count making the plan look good to a lot of folks.

          Many of the better aspects of the plan were already in place in my state and have been for years. A federal progam was/is simply unecessary.

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    cynthia curran says:

    Well, Orthodoxy was born in the Roman Empire, pre-modern market economy and it wasn’t that equal among people. There were in certain parts of the Empire large landowners. A very famous family of the 6th century was the Flavius Apions of Egypt. In fact, one of the coloni of the Apions who got into debt call Flavius Lord and he address himself as his slave. IT was a wage system that that had surety loans to get people to work for a longer period of time on the estate and sometimes the large estate owners had arm retainers to keep the workers in line. Also, the late Byzantine Empire also had problems with a large landowner class that had difficulty competing in the development of the modern market economy at the end of the middle ages. Yes, I prefer the US and Western Europe over the countries mention above and also over the Byzantine and Russian Empires that relied on large estates because of the heavy rural economy of the time.

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    cynthia curran says:

    Also, large ancient cities like Rome and Constantinople had huge unemployment problems. Not enough jobs available for the population, hence free and reduce grain. The jobs available were day labor jobs in both Rome and Constaninople and around Constantinople the ports. And the mansions of ancient Constantinople had several houses, fountains, and so forth in them. A huge gap between the rich and poor, more so than the US today.

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    cynthia curran says:

    Well, both left and right were against the right regulations when it came to the housing boom. The right wanted less regulation even if it stupid to ignore regulate income for qualifications for a house. The left wanted more and more of the lower middle class to own homes rather than rent, so they also were against income qualifications to buy a house. As for pacifism among the orthodox, they want to follow Basil’s idea that soldiers who killed during war should be ban from communion for 3 years. A lot of people in Byzantine history would not been able to take communion. In the West for example, the Byzantine commander Belisarius famous by people like the writer Robert Graves would not been able to have took communion since he was involved with killing at a young age in the Persian Front, the North African Front, the Italian Front and so forth. He also was a folk hero among the Byzantines in the middle ages as well as the west starting with Gibbon.

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    cynthia curran says:

    As George stated they are other factors in economic development. One is not to be too conservative, not in the modern sense but in general. Reading one factor of why the west started to take the lead going from medieval to the modern, farm technique developments like heavier plows that cut into the ground better, horse collars and a third cropped rotation. These developments took placed in the west because of the soil was harder in Northern Europe to cut and the seasons were different. Byzantium was still whether it was small peasant farms or large estates still using the farm equipment of the Roman Empire, lighter plow that wasn’t wheeled and a team of oxen. Thought for the orthodox here that with the problems with the west, the old east was frozen in time.

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    Andrew says:

    The GOA website is reporting that Bishop Savas has been elected Metropolitan of Pittsburgh. Now I hopped on over to his facebook page to see what was happening. I noticed there is now only one post on his wall that I can view. All of those other crazy posts on all things liberal and political are no longer viewable. In many ways the AOI blog is the only record of some of those crazy ideas we have come to know him for.

    One important point to point. Metropolitan Maximos was the only GOA bishop at the time to sign the Orthodox Amicus Curae bief against Abortion that was presented to the US Supreme Court. Pittsburgh has gone from having the lone GOA to speak out on pro-life issues to having a bishop who will not talk about the issue at all.

Care to comment?

*