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Fiscal fundamentalists (The Economist)

Fiscal Fundmenalists (August 12th, 2010) is the title of an article in The Economist that tracks the debate between two economists Lawrence Kotlikoff and James Galbraith. Kotlikoff has developed a method of generational accounting in which he compares the forecasted outlays of government with its forecasted income and shows in the process that baby-boomers have voted themselves benefits that far, far exceed any possible hope of their realization, which would come at the expense of their children and grandchildren. Galbraith disputes the methodology, in particular, the lack of inflation in Kotlikoff’s models. But, as The Economist notes both men share the same concern.“Mr Kotlikoff fears that fiscal entitlements allow the elderly to make outsize claims on the young. He denounces “gerontocracy” and “fiscal child abuse”. Mr Galbraith fears that in the name of fiscal restraint, taxpayers will shirk their responsibility to the country’s most vulnerable citizens, who rely on public pensions and health care. For both, then, the chief fiscal danger is inequity not insolvency, as normally understood. The question is not whether the government can pay its bills, but who pays what, when.”

The point that I made in my last post and will continue to be making is that at heart their concern is one of ethics and morality, of justice, and of our responsibility for one another. It is a question of our common humanity. My reading of the gospels, and of the Bible generally for that matter, is that these are issues the should concern people of faith. But this is not what churches are tackling. G. Jeffrey MacDonald makes the point in a column in the The New York Times (August 7, 2010) entitled “A nation of worshipers gone wild” that “congregations want sermons that entertain, not offer counsel” and points to examples where members of a congregation left en masse when the pastor took a stand on a particular issue. This is not good news for folks like me who believe that the church should be taken a stand on equity issues in the world.

Of course, it is not only the churches that are intellectually bankrupt. Mark C. Taylor in an article entitled “Academic Bankruptcy” in The New York Times (August 15, 2010) notes that our universities and colleges are in dire need of reform. His point is that they are spending money hand over fist on buildings while making college too expensive for all but the very privileged. His article goes along with recent reports that America has fallen to 12th in the world in the percentage of students going to college. And, it parallels my own concern that the ongoing recession was largely the fruit of what we teach in business schools — what we continue to teach in business schools as though nothing had happened to dampen our ardor for teaching the patently wrong.

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