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How Conservative Politicians Wait for God to Fix the Economy, With Frightening Results

The theology embraced by American religious conservatives may render them immune to evidence and reason when it comes to economic management.
 
 
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Is it merely partisan politics and the misguided ideology of "austerity" that leads conservatives to reject commonsense fixes for this miserable economy? Or is something else going on?

It may well be the latter. A study released last fall suggests that the theology embraced by American religious conservatives may render them immune to evidence and reason when it comes to economic management. The study found that a sizable minority share a uniquely faith-based view of how the economy functions, believing that both good and bad outcomes are an expression of God's will, and are therefore beyond the reach of mere mortals.

This may help explain the disconnect between the gravity of our economic crisis and lawmakers' – especially conservative lawmakers' -- decided lack of a sense of urgency in addressing it. Consider for a moment three related facts that, taken together, cast what appears to be the sheer madness of our nation's economic stewardship in sharp relief.

First, we have an “infrastructure gap” of over $2 trillion. According to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the nation’s “deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure,” if not upgraded, “will cost the American economy more than 876,000 jobs, and suppress the growth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product by $897 billion by 2020.” That doesn't speak to energy or communications infrastructure – just roads and bridges and the like. 

Second, the construction industry was absolutely devastated by the bursting housing bubble. While the overall unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, it's still at 13.5 percent for construction workers. The Architechtural Record estimated that 20-30 percent of the nation's architects were jobless as of last fall.

Finally, in effect, investors are now willing to pay the United States government to lend it money. That's right, after factoring in inflation, the real interest the government must pay on five- and seven-year bonds is currently in negative territory.

So we face a huge gap between our potential and actual output. People and equipment are standing idle, we have deteriorating infrastructure which, if left unrepared, the civil engineers tell us will cost the average American household $1,600 per year in higher prices and lower incomes, and the government has access to what is essentially free money to repair it -- a move that would get a lot of unemployed people back to work in the process.

Within the reality-based community, this situation represents a true no-brainer. As economist Dean Baker writes, “We know how to get out of this mess, we have known how for 70 years. We just need the government to generate demand. That means spending money."

But, according to the study -- commissioned by Baylor University, the National Science Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation -- only about one in five Americans adhere to a purely secular view of the economy. Almost three in four say, "I know God has a plan for me," and within that group, about half believe the government is “trying to do too many things” that should be left to the private sector, eight in 10 believe "able-bodied people who are out of work shouldn't receive unemployment checks” and more than 90 percent believe in the myth that the American economy represents a pure meritocracy in which people are limited only by their innate talents and appettite for hard work.

Within that larger group is a subset representing about 20 percent of the population who, as USA Today reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman put it, “combine a view of God as actively engaged in the daily workings of the world with an economic conservative view that opposes government regulation and champions the free market as a matter of faith.” Sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor study, told USA Today, "They think the economy works because God wants it to work. It's a new religious economic idealism," with politicians "invoking God while chanting 'less government'."

 
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