Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where Economics and Faith Meet (2)

In my previous post, I began to address Spencer's prediction that the Collapse of Evangelicalism will occur to great degree because "money will not be flowing towards Evangelicalism in the same way as before." While I disagreed with what seemed to be the thrust of Spencer's argument -- that the cause of this drying up of funds will be mainly due to a generational shift from the "greatest generation" to the more selfish contemporary churchgoers -- I do not disagree with his conclusion.

The money will dry up, but not because evangelicals will be less giving. The real reason the money going into evangelical coffers will dry up is because American wealth in general is evaporating. And the reason I am discussing it here is because the cause of that evaporation is directly related to faith issues -- specifically to a proper view of the nature of man and how that human nature serves as the foundation of liberty and capitalism.

Want proof? Look across the Atlantic.

Mark Steyn has become well-known for his analysis of sociological and demographic trends by which Islam is in the process of swallowing Europe whole. Recently, he made the case that America has chosen to follow suit, if not in its capitulation to Islam (yet), at least in its acceptance of socialist policies that will accelerate our financial decline. Europe has a head start but we're doing our best to catch up. Here are a few facts that buttress his case ("Prime Minister Obama," National Review, March 23, 2009):
  • In Sweden, state spending accounts for 54% of GDP
  • In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, state spending accounts for 72 -78% of the economy
  • In 1999, U.S. government spending was 34% of GDp ... Today, the U.S. spends about 40% of GDP
Key word: "today."

If you've been watching the news at all since ... say, January 20, 2009, you may have noticed that we will soon look back on the 40% of GDP we're spending now as a time of governmental spending restraint. Being that we are accelerating in the European direction, it is instructive to see what these economic policies have brought to Europe.

Germany was an economic powerhouse in the 1960s and 70s. At that time its workers and American workers put in almost identical hours on the job. Today the average American works 1,800 work hours per year, while the average German works about 1,350 (25% less!). As a result, Germany now sports an anemic economic growth rate of 1.1%. This, we are told, is due to more "family friendly" policies that include 35-hour work weeks and lots of vacation time. But, as only Steyn could put it, "for a continent of 'family friendly' policies, Europe is remarkably short of families."

Steyn goes on to tie economic reality with a far more daunting, but related, development. While the U.S. fertility rate (so far) remains at replacement level, "seventeen European countries are at the 'lowest low' fertility rate of below 1.3 -- a rate from which no society in human history has ever recovered!" Where countries of the European Union used to have 4 workers for every retiree a century ago, by 2050 Germany will only have 1.1.

I'll spare you the rest of the statistics and numbers. The point is this: Europe is in a decline that stems from the notion that the "caring hand" of the government is the utopian answer to all our wants and needs, and that it is our right to drink from its bottomless source of plenty. As Steyn has pointed out elsewhere, the Continent will be unrecognizable within a couple of generations from lack of an ability to sustain itself either demographically or economically. Islam is on the march there and the Christian church has declined to the point of a farce. Some of the most beautiful cathedrals on Earth have become echo chambers for a faith as vacuous as the economy that has followed them into the abyss.

As Steyn quotes Charles Murray writing in his book In Our Hands:
Give people plenty and security, and they will fall into spiritual torpor ... When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do, ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.
Is this the way we want to go? I hope not. But we are going there because we have forgotten, or don't want to admit, that the foundation of our wealth, prosperity, and liberty is grounded in the Christian faith that has evaporated from Europe much as Michael Spencer believes Evangelicalism will implode here.

More on that next time ...

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