Economic Policies are Moral Issues

COMMENTARY Markets and Finance

Economic Policies are Moral Issues

Jan 7, 2005 3 min read

Visiting Fellow

"All too often, bad news accompanies good news. And people usually want the good news first, so here it is: Economic freedom is expanding around the globe. Now, the bad news: It's not expanding here in the United States."

This heart-stopping quote is from an op-ed by Dr. Ed Feulner, president of The Heritage Foundation, written upon the release this week of the 11th edition of The Index of Economic Freedom produced jointly by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Feulner goes on to say,

"The 2005 Index marks a watershed for the United States. For the first time, our nation doesn't make the list of the top 10 freest economies. This isn't exactly unexpected, though. The U.S. has been treading water for a decade, as our competitors around the world improved steadily. Our government is conceding leadership on the very thing that has been the foundation of American strength: economic freedom. In recent years the U.S. has allowed higher government spending and protectionist measures to drag our economy into a trap. As the Index shows year after year, without persistent commitment, economic freedom fades."

How can it be, that in a time when "conservatives" are running the country, the United States is losing it's grasp on any kind of freedom...let alone economic freedom? How can it be that while the greatest nation on Earth stays stagnant in terms of economic freedom, we are surpassed in the ratings by Iceland, Chile and Australia? The sad reality is that government spending, presently at a whopping 35.9 percent of GDP, is out of control. And, although there has been some tax relief recently, the beast continues to rob the pockets of hard-working Americans and businesses in the form of a tax system that is unjust and immoral.

Could it be that grassroots conservatives around the country are partially to blame for the run-away spending that even many of their "conservative" elected officials have become addicted to? Could it be that while many in the movement understand the importance of securing moral positions on social issues, we have failed to understand that economic principles are also "values"? The conservative movement, as a whole, must understand that economic policies are at their very core, moral issues. Economic questions are questions about what we value, what we treasure, what we spend our lives working for.

Economic decisions are about priorities. What is important to us? What behavior do we seek to reward? To discourage? What role does our personal conduct play in determining economic outcomes? What should government stand for? What rules should it use to devise policy? Will government reward hard work....or punish it through higher taxes? Will the man who, by the sweat of his brow works long hours to care for his family, continue to have his earnings pilfered by politicians to pay for their petty "pet" projects?  Aren't economic waste, fraud and misuse issues of morality?

You bet they are. According to Crown Financial Ministries, the Bible contains more than 2,350 verses about money and possessions, and Christ said more about money than he did about almost any other subject.

Good men and women around the nation - some that don't even identify themselves as "conservative" - sent an unmistakable message to the world in the last election that we care about values. Americans voted overwhelmingly to protect marriage. We showed we care about faith and the preservation of religious freedom. Isn't it time we also recognize the dangers and immorality of a government that is sentencing our children to massive debt and bankrupting their futures through failing systems of Social Security and ever-growing "entitlements" that will only cause them to keep less and less of what they earn? Isn't it time we proclaim the ills of government economic abuse?

Joseph Loconte, a research fellow who specializes in religion and civil society at Heritage, has written eloquently about how virtuous citizens enable the moral culture to influence politics and the economy. Loconte points out that business can't operate in a moral vacuum, that absent some sense of decency and trust, commerce breaks down.

"Allow business to operate beyond the moral realm, and what do you get?" Loconte asks. "The corporate scandals."

And so it is with government. Those who value and understand morality must put pressure on government to exercise self-control, to value free enterprise, to - for crying out loud - stop the irresponsible and reprehensible spending spree. The pressure on our elected officials must come from those who compose our "civil society" -- from watchdog groups, religious organizations, and the honest hard-working men and women who want to do right by their children.

It is crucial that social conservatives join hands with economic conservatives and stand up for what is right and just and moral on the economic front. To do otherwise is to doom our children to a future of government dependency and economic enslavement - and there's nothing moral about that.


Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the Heritage Foundation.

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