April 19th, 2014

How the government destroys everything: Regulations

All Americans have been bombarded with the narrative from about the time they could talk: there are evil businessmen out there everywhere, so we need government regulations to protect us from them.  This is taught in various ways at all levels of government schools, and almost as ubiquitous in mainstream entertainment as the regulations themselves.  (When isn’t the villain in a Scooby Doo mystery the evil businessman?) The narrative is rarely examined because it makes sense to most people at face value.  Therefore we let the various levels of government regulate everything, from the precise chemical composition of our motor vehicle fuel, to the size of our toilet bowls. Government regulators tell employers who they can hire (child labor regulations, regulations about labor organization, immigration regulations) for how much (minimum wage regulations), and how long (occupational safety regulations).  But the narrative making sense at face value is not an adequate substitute for taking a critical look at it.  What if in practice the regulations actually accomplished the opposite of what the average person thinks they do?  What if those regulations, and all regulations dating back beyond the so-called “Progressive Era” were actually crafted by agents of the evil corporations to advance their own ends?  After all, what’s more evil than using force and coercion to achieve your business goals?

The Validity and Place of Regulations

The Bible has all kinds of regulations and commandments for how people ought to live their lives in obedience to God.  Here are a few examples of these regulations:

  • Work six days and rest one (Exodus 20:8-11)
  • Do not lend with interest to the poor (Leviticus 25: 35-38)
  • Do not wholly reap the corners of the field when harvesting. Leave the gleanings for the poor and the stranger. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
  • Do not use unjust weights and measures (Deuteronomy 25:13-16)
  • Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain. (Deuteronomy 25:4)
  • Give a tithe of your increase. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27)

With the exception of Sabbath-breaking in Israel, none of these regulations carried a civil penal sanction.  Rather, those that failed to keep God’s commandments fell under the judgment of the Triune God.  You will reap what you sow, and unlike a petty bureaucrat, God won’t look the other way and take a bribe.  Because God will judge all men and women on the last day, the primary form of regulation in the Bible is self regulation, not coercive external government regulation.  If you believe (like I do with good reason) that the God of the universe is sovereign over every aspect of history, including the uncertainty of entrepreneurial activity, the fact that God has revealed the right way to do things is enough.  There is no need or value for the government to add additional coercive regulations to God’s law.  The remainder of this article will be devoted to convincing other people who don’t share my biblical absolutism that government regulations do more harm than good, and that the unhampered free market provides the best regulatory system.

Who is doing the regulating?

Most people support or reject legislation based on the title of the bill and the sound byte of a politician being carefully and wilfully distorted through the lens of pro-regulation media.  I will link here to a recent example of a typical letter written by the Food and Drug Administration to 23andMe telling them to cease and desist selling their product.  The letter is saturated megalomaniacal (and since it’s coming from the FDA, absurdly hypocritical) disdain for all things not the state.  For those of you who don’t feel like reading the letter let me translate it: That’s a nice company you got there.  It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.  How’s about you pay us some protection money? Because, you know, unfortunate things like FBI raids happen to businesses all the time.

These are the people who are doing the regulating.  The libido dominandi (lust to dominate) is as old as sin and the people with the greatest lust for power are the ones who get elected to political office and appointed to government positions.  Even if you don’t have the first-hand experience of living in a neighborhood with a home owners’ association, the concept of a home owners’ association president on a power trip is one that is almost universally identified with.  If the local home owners’ association can bring out the worst in people and invariably attract the most power-hungry busybody in the neighborhood, imagine what kind of sociopaths the prime positions in a world-dominating empire attracts.

Now, I know there are individual counter-examples who nobly refuse to act according to the incentives of political power (Ron Paul being chief among them), but these people are rare and they must have a general fear and mistrust of political power to refrain from using it to further their own ends or the ends of those that hold their purse strings.  Another well known tendency of government regulatory agencies is the “revolving door” relationship government regulators and officers of large corporations have.  Hank Paulson’s famous jump from Goldman Sachs to the Secretary of the Treasury is regularly mirrored by smaller fish jumping back and forth between the corporate and regulatory ponds.  And this shouldn’t surprise anybody because…

Who Is Actually Helped and Harmed By Government Regulations?

Who is helped more by government regulations, giant corporations or the guy trying to start a business out of his basement?  Let me ask some questions to see if we can figure it out:

1. Who is more able to afford an army of lawyers to staff necessary to maintain regulatory compliance?

2. Who has more power to be able to buy politicians via campaign contributions and political action committees?

3. Who has greater ability to hire an cadre of lobbyists to ensure that the actual words in the regulations (not the titles of the bills, mind you, the actual content) promote their interests at the expense of everybody else?

The answer to all three of these questions is obviously giant corporations.  This should come as no surprise.  These snake oil salesmen have been at it for quite some time.  Who funded the so-called Progressive Era?  Were the little consumers that the laws claimed to protect the ones providing the huge grants to universities and the campaign contributions to the people who took power?  No, the Progressive Era with all its anti-business rhetoric was financially backed by the very same people who were allegedly going to be  hurt by it.  It worked out pretty well for the J.P. Morgans of the world.

The Toughest Regulator of Them All: The Free Market

Another part of the standard narrative is that the free market doesn’t work because it favors the corporations at the expense of the average person.  The establishment asserts the following:

1. The free market ends in monopoly. You need the government to step in and regulate the size of corporations and ensure fair competition.

2. The government must enact regulations to protect the consumers.

Given the previous section about who actually writes, funds, and lobbies for regulations, the reader should already be suspicious about this.

In a market economy free of coercion, the consumer (not the producer) has the power.  The consumer is always looking for the best product at the best price.  Even the brands with the best loyalty have to prove themselves anew to their customers or they will lose business to competitors.  Let’s use the example of the fanatical Apple Zealot. Apple has more leeway with the Apple Zealot than the average firm does with its customer. Apple doesn’t need to worry about losing the Apple Zealot to Microsoft, but if Apple rested on its laurels and didn’t improve its product much (like in the 1990s)  while some start-up out of his garage (say, the next Steve Jobs) develops a better product and sells it at a better price, all except for the True Believer would consider abandoning Apple for the hypothetical product.

The free market does not tolerate complacency from entrepreneurs.  If you have a profitable business, other entrepreneurs will enter the field to compete with you. The higher the profit margin; the more competitors enter the field.  If you don’t continue to improve your offering to the marketplace, those sales will go to competitors. Those profits will turn into losses and the free market will regulate you out of business.  It is difficult to stay on top in a free market.  That’s why the robber barons resorted to regulation.  If you have legal, coercive barriers to entry, it takes much less work to maintain your place on top because fewer people can enter the field to compete with you.  It is far easier for someone with inherited wealth to buy a bureaucracy than it is to please a customer.

A true profit and loss system rewards those who love their neighbors as themselves in the marketplace. Continued and sustained success in the free market is actually an application of the golden rule.  Absent coercion, voluntary exchange can only take place when both parties value what they are receiving in the exchange more than they are giving in the exchange.  Moreover a pure profit and loss system incentivizes civility.  If you have the choice between two firms for a product or service that are otherwise equal, you will choose the one that treats you better.

A pure profit and loss system helps curb the wickedness of man whereas a meddlesome government amplifies it.  One of the primary criticisms of the free market is that it is utopian.  The criticism goes something like this: “Sure, I’d be in favor of a free market if all men were saints, but because there are wicked and evil people in the world we need government regulation to keep these wicked people in line.”  The widespread acceptance of this narrative doesn’t make it true or valid.  Given the wickedness of man, a system that rewards evil people for being civil and providing useful products and services to others can use will tend to mute the evil tendencies that people have.  Evil people will try to press for every advantage they can get, but if they are limited to voluntary exchange they have no choice but to at least pretend to be good people.  I’ve already covered above (see Who is doing the regulating?) the incentives that cause the most vile and evil people with the greatest lust to power to pursue political power. A coercive regulatory system doesn’t keep the wicked people in line; it gives the wolves the keys to the hen house.  The bigger and more powerful the government, the more vile the lot of thugs and mountebanks that run it will be.

Summary and Conclusion

In this article, I have argued that the existing system of regulation in the modern state does not actually achieve what its proponents claim that it does.  The most effective form of regulation is self regulation before the eye of Almighty God. The regulatory racket helps large, well connected corporations and bureaucrats at the expense of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and ultimately consumers. Government regulations inhibit the ability of the market to adapt to the changing conditions affected by supply and demand, creating (hopefully) unintended consequences that tend toward the impoverishment of the average person.  The alternative, the free market consists of voluntary transactions. It rewards those who are of the most service to the consumer and causes those who cannot provide adequate goods and services to go out of business, which in turn frees resources up for other entrepreneurial efforts. The free market is a far stricter regulator than any man-made law could ever be because each day the entrepreneur must seek to satisfy customers at the risk of losing them to the competition. The free market also tends to foster voluntary cooperation and competition over against government regulation where the biggest scoundrels always seem to find themselves in charge and use force and threats of force to get people to bend to their will.

The narrative in favor of government regulation and against the free market, when examined critically, turns out to be nothing but propaganda.  The idea is to have enough people who are seen as experts (preferably with Ph D. at the end of their names) repeat the lie over and over again with room for debate or dissent. At the end of the day, unless you are an influential member of a government agency or large corporation all these regulations don’t help you, they hurt you. Even if you are part of one of the special interest groups that directly benefits from regulation in your occupation, you are hurt enough by the regulation of everything else that you still lose out overall. Don’t just think of the known affect that this has (fewer more expensive choices) but think of the opportunity cost of regulation.  How many things have not been invented or improved upon (or have been invented but never made it to market) because of the stifling regulatory environment?  The regulatory environment in the United States is not a net boon to society; it is a severe drag, crippling entrepreneurship like the Handicapper General in Harrison Bergeron.

July 13th, 2013

How the government destroys everything: Immigration

This post is hopefully a series of posts on how the government destroys everything.  The overriding thesis of this series is that individual people can run and plan their own lives far better than the coercive agency of government can do it for them, and that whenever government intervenes in any aspect in our lives beyond the very narrow biblical scope of punishing crime (not sin, crime), it fails to solve the problem it claims to be solving and creates several other problems and distortions that turn people who could otherwise peacefully coexist into enemies.

Immigration and the Correct Attitude of the Christian Toward the Alien

In the Old Testament, compassion was commanded toward the alien.  This was in spite of the fact that aliens were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12 KJV).”  What was the correct attitude of Israel toward these aliens and sojourners? The covenant people were free to trade with aliens and sojourners, were commanded to provide hospitality to them, and were to be a kingdom of priests that the aliens might know the LORD was God.  The people of Israel were commanded not to be led astray by foreigners to serve false gods.  They were also not to trust in alliances with foreign governments.  While many of the warnings against disobedience stated that aliens would inherit their possessions and rule over them, the correct solution was not xenophobia, but faithfulness.  Jonah knew that the repentance of Nineveh was a precursor to the judgment of Israel because he was familiar with the blessings and curses of the covenant and knew that Israel was deserving of the curses.  Rather than repenting, Israel (led by her tyrannical and unbelieving government) “cracked down” on immigrants, aliens, and sojourners (Malachi 3:5).  They did the exact opposite of what was commanded by adopting the false gods, trusting in alliances with foreign powers, and oppressing the alien and sojourner.

In the New Testament, those who were afar off have been brought near.  Christianity is truly an international religion.  In an important sense we are all aliens and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11).  We wait for a city that has foundations, whose maker and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  Our primary allegiance must never be to the borders drawn by some sociopath more than a century ago, but to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  There is no room for nationalism or xenophobia in the church.  Just as war should be abrogated because there are Christians on both sides that are unwilling to take up arms against other Christians, xenophobia and animosity toward immigration should disappear because many of the people trying to come to your nation would be fellow Christians.

Human Action and Relocation

Moving from one location to another is a costly ordeal.  In order to move from one location to another, a person must value their appraisal of his situation at his destination more than his appraisal of his current situation plus the cost necessary to relocate and the risk that things won’t work out as he plans.  If you value the two equally, you will not take the action to relocate; you must value the “after” (as appraised in advance of taking the action) more than the “before” in order to act.  This often means leaving behind family, friends, loved ones, and a culture and/or language that you are familiar with and the risk of facing hate, discrimination or oppression at your destination.  Property that is too expensive or impractical to move must be left behind or sold.

Think about what it would take for you to move across the country or to another country.  It’s the same for people who leave other countries to move here.  In 2006, I left my life in New Hampshire to move to North Carolina and marry my wife who lived there.  I gave up a lot.  I don’t see my family or friends from home more than a couple of times a year.  However, I knew that my wife would have needed to make a similar sacrifice and it was cheaper to live in North Carolina. I valued the life I was gaining more than I valued the life I was leaving behind.

Why do people relocate?  It depends on the person.  These valuations are subjective which allow for trade to be possible.  Some might relocate in hope of a better job or business opportunity.  Others might relocate to flee oppression or famine.  Some people relocate for religious reasons, either as missionaries or to be a member of a particular church or religious community.  Some people value the lifestyle of being a transient or vagabond more than putting down roots in a single location, but even transients need to make decisions about which place to go next and when to make the move.  In all cases the person relocating needs to believe that his life will be better in the new location as he subjectively values the situation in advance of making the move.

How Government Involvement in Immigration Destroys Correct Attitudes Toward Immigration and Encourages Animosity and Distorts the Incentives for Relocation

If you think moving within a country is a hassle, just try it if your intended destination is across an arbitrary line that some sociopath bureaucrat drew over a century ago.  The conservatives and Republicans (many of whom are Christian) glibly state that people should just follow the immigration laws.  Either these people are disingenuous when they say this or they don’t realize that the agencies that control immigration are like the DMV on steroids.  If you are politically connected, you go to the front of the line.  If not, you get to wait and wait and wait.  This is just the direct involvement in government in immigration.  All the “immigration reform” in the world won’t solve the problem.  The best thing that the government could do is admit that they can’t regulate immigration for people better than they can regulate it for themselves.

The greater problem in government involvement in immigration is the problem of incentives created by the myriads of other programs.  Let’s contrast two societies.  In one of them, people are free to come and go as they please, but they need to pay their own way or rely on voluntarily provided charity.   In the other society, you are not allowed to relocate there, but if you do manage to smuggle yourself in, you are promised a free lunch at somebody else’s expense.  Free education, welfare, medical care, you name it.  Now think about how this affects people’s valuations in whether they choose to relocate to that nation or not.  Because people make their decision to relocate subjectively, the populations who would relocate to society A and society B are very different.  To transform a familiar aphorism, it’s the socialism, stupid.

There are other incentives that affect immigration.  The minimum wage law forbids people from legally working at a rate below the rate decreed by government.  Let’s hypothetically [heh] state that you have a large adolescent and young adult population that is unemployed and you have another large population of people who believe their lives would be so much better working at a sub-minimum wage that they are willing to risk crossing a border contrary to government edict to work a black market job. Then in the classic government way, those in power use immigration to drive a wedge of division to pit people against their neighbors.  The frustration felt by the people who are upset that money is being taken from them by force and given to people who came to the country for a free ride is understandable, but it is misdirected.  The anger and frustration should be directed at the government itself, but instead most of these people look to the government to pass a law and save them by legislation.

Less understandable is the person who seeks to get laws passed against immigration because they are afraid that foreigners are going to come in, work for lower wages and steal [sic] their [sic] jobs.  Most of these people simultaneously give lip service to the idea of capitalism and the free market and don’t get the irony.  In the 2012 and (especially) 2008 Republican primary debates, it seemed like 40% of total debate time was occupied by the candidates arguing about who will build the biggest wall to keep people in, er, I mean, out.  Even Ron Paul, whom I admire greatly and is right on just about every political issue got caught up in the confusion over immigration.

The Opportunity Cost of Immigration and Relocation Barriers

In economics, opportunity cost is the value you miss of the best alternative being forgone by the choice you actually make.  Because you don’t know the results of the best alternative, opportunity cost is a hidden cost and is often overlooked in analyses of hypothetical situations.  The opportunity cost of government intervention will be a running theme in my series on how the government ruins everything.  The sad truth is that none of us even know how badly government intervention has lowered our standard of living – we can only imagine what things might have been like.  Your opportunity cost of immigration and relocation barriers are all the inventions, products, and services that you never see because people can’t relocate as they see fit.

Let’s use an example of somebody from history (when you had more freedom than today in this area) who was in the right place at the right time but could not be under today’s conditions.  Steve Jobs’s biological father was Syrian.  Right now Syria is under OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) sanctions from the United States government, meaning that you cannot do business with Syria.  Imagine all of the products and services that Steve Jobs has had a hand in (Apple and Pixar will be the most notable).  If the sanctions against Syria were timed differently, you don’t get Steve Jobs – he doesn’t exist because his parents never meet.  Steve Jobs’s very existence was a product of greater freedom of movement than we have today.  Just try to imagine the inventions, products, and services we do not have today that we would have if we had greater freedom to relocate for ourselves instead of having government try to control and manage it for us.


What Immigration Would Look Like In a Free Society

If people were able to come and go as they pleased, provided that they relied solely upon their own money or the voluntary charity extended by others, then there would never be such a thing as an immigration “problem” anywhere.  If a bunch of people flocked to a certain place prices of real estate would adjust to the influx of immigration.  Some people currently living in the destination area would sell their land for a profit and go live elsewhere on the profit gained from the sale of their land.  There is a natural equilibrating tendency here.  If the cost of moving to a certain location changes, it will affect how many other people believe it is worthwhile to relocate there.  Because you never truly realize equilibrium, there will be other factors (inventions, new businesses, climate changes, etc.) that will cause people to readjust their valuation of where they want to live and whether they wish to relocate.

How would the life of the average person be improved under immigration freedom?  Even the person who never moves in his life would be better off, and here is why.  If you have freedom of movement, people can relocate to where the entrepreneurial opportunities are.  Relocating is in its essence a form of entrepreneurship.  When there are fewer barriers to the freedom of movement, the average person gets more and better products and services to choose from at better prices because the freedom of movement allows for greater flexibility in the labor market.  Relocation “entrepreneurs” are able to get where they need to be with less cost and red tape.

Which Society Would you Rather Live In?

Earlier in this post, I contrasted society A (the free one) and society B (which is essentially the one we live in now).  Which one would you prefer to live in?  Remember back to my discussion of opportunity cost.  We have many people today who think that the solution to the “immigration problem” is to become even more like East Germany than we already are.  Do you want to live in a society where you are frequently accosted by people with guns and demanded to produce your papers (comrade)?   Do you think that some petty bureaucrat would do a better job planning where you live your life and whom you associate with better than you can do it for yourself?  I didn’t think so.  How about we apply the Golden Rule and afford others the same freedom that we would want to have granted to ourselves?

March 18th, 2013

Polygamy, slavery, and crusaderism

I’m in the midst of following a rather interesting exchange between Thabiti Anyabwile and Doug Wilson regarding Doug’s book Black and Tan, which I read about five years ago, enjoyed and agreed with.  I hyperlinked to the first post of each participant and assume that you are able if interested to follow and navigate to subsequent posts on your own if you wish to do so.  For those of you keeping score, I’m only drinking a Guinness while writing this due to the unavailability of a pale ale at my disposal.

I would say that there are three main things that were at least semi-common practices of the old testament saints that are not inherently sinful in all cases but are a result of the fall and are not ideal in the created order which have been subverted by the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  These things are (in no particular order) war, slavery, polygamy.  There are obviously others but I would classify the three mentioned above as the main ones.  I think evangelicals are tripped up by all of these topics and that understanding one of them helps you understand the others.  I’m not the first person to bring up polygamy, as it has come up at least a couple of times in the comments of Doug’s blog posts, but I might be the first one to associate war here.

These are subversions in principle.  These institutions in various forms will continue until Jesus Christ comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.  There will always be polygamy, slavery, and war (c.f. Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7).

1. Polygamy: I think this might be the easiest of the three to deal with but still causes its share of stumbling.  A lot of people who think it is settled try to use it incorrectly, especially in debating other sexual issues like homosexuality.  There was an amendment to the North Carolina constitution last year that passed in spite of my opposition to it.  The amendment defined marriage constitutionally as only being between one man and one woman.  The subtext of this is as a referendum and a defensive act against the legalization of homosexual marriage.  I voted against the amendment because of the unjust prohibition of polygamy that it implies.  Now before you jump to any conclusions, let me affirm that marriage between one man and one woman is in every way superior to marriage between one man and several women.  The Bible is clear on this (Ephesians 5, Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and several other places).  Marriage is a picture between Christ and the church and the nature of your marriage (even unbelieving marriages) is always a reflection upon and a statement about Christ and the church.  Sometimes we in our sexual relations preach truth about Christ and the Church, sometimes we preach falsehood, and sometimes we preach preach heresy.   I would put polygamy in the falsehood category and not in the heresy category (like overt adultery or homosexuality).

By and large, this was the first of the three to be subverted in Christendom because polygamists are banned from church leadership as elders and deacons.  This was not just a subversion of polygamy as such, but a subversion of ancient society.  The polygamists were, by and large, the rich, the wealthy, and the powerful in society.  Now the converted poor guy with one wife whom the converted polygamist was in many cases the superior in society was the inferior in the church.  Notice how this subversion is accomplished.  It is not in or by the state.  It is not a political solution.  It is a church solution.  I didn’t research it but as far as I know polygamy is illegal in every one of the fifty states.  One of the arguments that Christians erroneously make against state sponsored homosexual “marriage” is that this will open the door back up for legalized polygamy with the assumption that legalized polygamy would be a political retrogression.  This is a settled and closed issue just as slavery allegedly is.  On the contrary, I as a postmillennialist believe that as the church matures and grows in size and Christlikeness that all of the laws making polygamy illegal in the civil/political sense will be repealed.  There will still be laws governing and requiring how polygamists would provide for their wives, but there would be so few polygamists that it would be irrelevant.

Our current cultural situation is not superior to one where technical polygamy is legal and widespread.  How many people practice serial polygamy by shacking up with various people or multiple divorces and remarriages?  The Bible is a lot clearer that divorce is worse than polygamy.  We, thinking that we are wiser than God, have made polygamy illegal and divorce widespread in the political/civil realm.  What do we have to show for it?  How many children grow up in broken families without fathers?  The functional widow and the fatherless are an ever-growing portion of the population.  The state, with its anti-polygamy laws and its “war on poverty” openly subsidize and create fatherlessness.  Is it any wonder that we are now dealing with widespread sexual deviation in this culture to the point where it is seen as a right, if not a virtue, to sin sexually?   We are muddled because of a “crusader” mentality that thinks there “ought to be a law” for everything.  If polygamy is bad, then it needs to be illegal; if drug use is bad, then drug use needs to be illegal; if slavery is bad then it needs to be illegal.  Such goes the reasoning.  But this is a muddled confusion between sins and crimes.  The Bible says that drunkenness is a sin.  The solution is the gospel, not prohibition.  The Bible says that lending money to poor people is a sin.  The solution is not some arbitrary anti-usury laws or regulations of usury.  Passing laws that try to turn sins into crimes is believing that you are wiser than God.  If God does not have a criminal punishment for it prescribed in the Bible, then it is wrong to have one in your political order.

2. Slavery: With the prior discussion on polygamy as a backdrop, perhaps we can now look at slavery.  This is especially complicated in America because it was the only nation in modern history that “ended” slavery with a war.  Even now, 148 years after the end of the war, this is still a touchy subject.  The propagandization of the war and the history leading up to it by the victors, muddles the water even more.  Even more than this is the fact that the war is seen through the horrific lens for post war relations between those of African descent and those of European descent.  (Note that I did not use the word “race” in the previous sentence.  There is only one human race all descended from Noah.  The idea of multiple races implies some sort of evolutionary polygenesis that I wholeheartedly reject.  I’m not going to go any further down this tangent, but I encourage you to look up Answers in Genesis on the topic.)  Like polygamy, there are circumstances where slavery is not inherently sinful.  You could legitimately have slavery be part of the enforcement of a broken private contract where the party breaking the contract does not have funds to pay restitution.  Like polygamy, our civil and political treatment of slavery is a result of believing that we are wiser than God.

Our contemporary prison system is more horrific on average than southern slavery and possibly ancient slavery.  In fact our contemporary prison system is slavery, but all of the slave masters are the worst of all possible alternatives, agents of the state.  We need to not pat ourselves on the back and think that we have ended slavery.  A war and a constitutional amendment saying that slavery is ended do not end slavery.  Lincoln used conscription (which is clearly a form of slavery) in order to defeat the confederacy.  In fact, if I were a diabolical monster who wanted to enslave a population, the first thing I would do is write a law formally stating that slavery was illegal.  Then I would have sycophants in the judiciary (whatever form it would take) who would rule in every case that whatever the state is doing to people is not slavery.  Forcing you to work in compulsory schools for ten years: not slavery.  Giving a substantial portion of your income (as much as 90% at some points in U.S. history): not slavery.  Being forced to fight wars all over the world via conscription: not slavery.  Telling businesses what they had to produce and what price they had to sell what they produced for in order to wage said war: not slavery.  Sending people in your country to concentration camps and detaining them against their will for several years: you guessed it – not slavery.  Amazing, isn’t it?  What a racket!  These examples aren’t from Lenin (who was a master of this and self-conscious disciple of Abraham Lincoln).  These are examples from post-civil war, post 13th amendment US history.  Thinking that we have somehow ended slavery on a national or worldwide basis is beyond naive.  In the “non-slavery” 20th century, hundreds of millions of people were killed by their own governments.  The slavery of the modern state is more barbaric than southern slavery and more barbaric than ancient slavery, while apparently being subtle enough that the average person experiencing it doesn’t even see the problem.

There were certain atrocities of the antebellum southern slavery system.  There were laws and regulations prohibiting free market competition with the plantation system.  There were laws prohibiting teaching your slaves how to read and write (thereby keeping those who were slaves as slaves indefinitely if you were to unrighteously follow said laws).  There was a racial element to antebellum southern slavery.  There was kidnapping and manstealing where people who were kidnapped and shipped halfway around the world.  Everybody American knows the story.  If you are a product of the “non-slavery” compulsory government educational system who doesn’t have enough intellectual curiosity to read minority reports, that’s all you know.  All you know are the horrors of the southern slave system.  Just like all you know are the horrors that the Nazis committed.  You are not taught about the greater horrors of the North or of the pre-cold-war Soviet Union (America’s allies during the second world war).  Southern slavery is supposed to justify Sherman’s murderous and rape-filled march to the sea and the Holocaust is supposed to somehow justify the bombing of Dresden and the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nazi ally Japan.  I’m not going to focus much more on slavery.  I’ll leave that to Doug and Thabiti.  As you might surmise from the end of this paragraph, my focus is going to be on the third (and most horrific) of these categories: war.  I’m going to poke my fellow evangelicals in the eye on this and I’m going to do it hard.

The way that slavery will end (note this is future tense and not past tense) will be by the gradual spread of the gospel.   One important effect of the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church will be the emergence of a free market economy.  As ably pointed out by Ludwig von Mises in his magnum opus Human Action is that slavery can never compete with free labor in a free market economy.  (See Chapter XXI Work and Wages section 9 “The work of animals and slaves.”)  In a free market slavery is a losing proposition, so even slavery among profit-seeking unbelivers will end.  Indeed it was the industrial revolution that caused formally legal slavery to be ended in every country except for the United States.  It’s easy to write a law ending slavery or to have a subsidized compensated emancipation when your slaves are already providing you with an operating loss.

3. War: War is no less subverted by the advent of Christ than polygamy or slavery.  I believe it will be the last of the three to fall in practicality.  This may be due to the particular culture that I live in, but I think the subversion here is more subtle than the other two.  There have been two thousand years of Christianity, and by my reckoning a majority of Christians are still pro war.  It doesn’t matter what the war is about; we’re for it.  We love our crusades and we will crusade over the most trivial of things.  There have been good guys and bad guys in church history on this, and there will continue to be good guys and bad guys.  While not perfect, Augustine’s just war theory was a big step in the right direction.  Because Christianity has spread throughout the globe, you are not going to have a war today that does not have Christians on both sides.  Christians should be the last ones to buy the propaganda and nationalistic fervor that leads to war.  Is our allegiance to the political district we happen to dwell in or to the international kingdom of Jesus Christ?  (It’s supposed to be a rhetorical question.)  If Christians refuse to fight against other Christians in armed combat, war will be subverted.  The Bible is clear about the global nature of the church.  Here are a couple passages that illustrate this:

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?” -Acts 2:1-12

“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” – Revelation 5:8-10

Like slavery and polygamy, participation in warfare or membership in an army is not inherently sinful.  Like polygamists and slaveholders can be converted and aren’t required to send their extra wives or slaves packing, so members of armies can be converted and aren’t required to desert.  “And the soldiers likewise demanded of him [John the baptist], saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. (Luke 3:14)”  However, just as I wouldn’t encourage an existing Christian to go out and get more wives or buy some slaves, I would also not encourage a Christian to enlist an army.  Governments do capricious things and get involved in stupid wars.  It’s what they do.  War is the health of the state.  You do not want to be voluntarily enlisted in an army when an Austrian dignitary gets assassinated in Sarajevo.  If you join an army in the world today the odds are pretty good that you will be ordered to commit acts of warfare against other Christians.

With the advent of the firearm and its dissemination to the people, the military model of defense became obsolete for all intents and purposes.  Now all you need is a well armed citizenry trained in marksmanship.  This is the Swiss model of defense.  Nobody is going to successfully invade and occupy a country where every inhabitant is a potential sniper in a guerrilla resistance.  If you have a free market and self-defense is included in that free market, the ability to defend yourself from an aggressor nation without the use of state-sponsored warfare and armies will not be lacking.

I’m going to quote Thabiti Anyabwile verbatim on this, because if the paragraph quoted below applies to not enslaving others, how much more does it apply to not killing them for the sake of national or ideological vainglory?

“What texts am I speaking of? I would privilege all the biblical texts that command love for neighbor (Matt. 22:35-39), love for enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and especially love for brothers and sisters in Christ. This, our Lord teaches us, is the second greatest commandment. All the Law and the Prophets hang upon this command and the command to love God above all (Matt. 22:40). Jesus teaches us that love is the distinguishing mark of true discipleship, a mark that should be so evident that the world will know we’re His disciples (John 13:34-35). The apostle John elevates love to almost a synonym for the gospel itself—”This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” He continues, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us” (1 John 3:11, 23). John tells us we have no right to regard ourselves as Christians apart from love for the brothers (1 Jn 4:20-21).”

Both the North and the South were wrong to resort to warfare.  Both sides invaded each other.  (The Battle of Gettysburg occurred in the North.  If the South had fought the war in an entirely defensive manner on its own soil, this would have been very different.) The reasons for the war are broader than slavery, and I would contend that while slavery surely was a factor, but I don’t think that it was the primary factor.  However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that slavery was the only factor.  Was ending slavery worth waging war over?  Was it deserving of the “conquest of Canaan-style” total war march to the sea?  The Northerners were the crusaders in this war.  Convert or die.  It’s fairly safe to say that most American Christians are Northerners now in this sense.  Subsequent American warfare has been universally in-line with the crusader mentality, whether it’s the slaughter in the Philippines, the World Wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, or the current middle eastern wars (complete with the almost universal American Christian sentiment that we will bomb the hell out of anybody who even looks at Israel funny).  All of these wars have had widespread Christian support.

The “culture wars” will always be a losing proposition for Christianity if we approach it with a crusader attitude.  I would also contend that the culture wars will continue to be a losing proposition until we as Christians reform our perspectives on war.  We might even want to rethink the name “culture war” itself.

Can you be taken seriously when you talk about how sacred life in the womb is when you support United States wars that bomb foreign civilians (including pregnant women and the unborn babies they carry)?  Are we only pro-life within the borders of the United States?  Is the pro-life movement just a smokescreen to get Christians to vote Republican (cough, National Right to Life, cough)?  If you are bloodthirsty in your foreign policy, these questions are on the table when you’re talking about abortion with unbelievers.  American Christians should not let their warmongering be an excuse (albeit an illegitimate one) for unbelievers to continue in their unbelief.

I would contend that our witness is compromised when Christians support, endorse and vote for pro-war candidates.  What if both major party candidates were pro-war?  Don’t vote for either.  You’d do the same thing if they were both pro-abortion, wouldn’t you?  Nah, you’d probably still vote Republican anyway with some convoluted lesser of two evils logic.  If you voted for “Bomb, Bomb Iran” candidates John McCain or Mitt Romney, then shame on you.  You deserve Obama.  I am ashamed to say that I voted for war criminal and general all around tyrant George W. Bush twice.  I deserve Obama.  I didn’t come around entirely on the war and peace thing and repent of voting for Bush until sometime in 2005.

But, you may say, there hasn’t been a pro-life anti-war candidate in my lifetime.  What do I do?  Five years ago, I would have said vote your conscience and leave the parts of your ballot where there isn’t a good choice blank.  I’m less convinced of the merit of that today than I was then.  Today, I would say don’t waste your time voting at all.  Vocal non-voting and protest of the establishment non-choices provided is more effective than voting.  It is still not the complete answer though.  Like polygamy and slavery, the solution is not the state; it is the church.  The state is the problem, not the solution and will continue to be the problem until it acts in such a manner that it only intervenes in situations that the Bible defines as crimes and only intervenes using Biblical due process.  Your vote won’t get the state there; spend your time doing something more productive.