The Proverbial folly behind our debt crisis


The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, like all Scripture, has ultimate reference to Christ. But as wisdom literature, it speaks also to the business of life, including politics and economics. Consider Proverbs 13:7: "There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches" (NKJV).

Here we see the wayward sinner and the gracious Savior. People who are strangers to God grasp at the goods things of Creation-wealth, pleasure, honor-and make themselves rich in these things, but they have nothing of lasting value. The glorified Christ told the church in Laodicea: "[Y]ou say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17, ESV). Jesus, by contrast, though He was God, "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Or, as the hymnist put it, following 2 Corinthians 8:9, "Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, / All for love's sake becamest poor."

Yet, in addition to warning against worldliness in general, this Proverb has counsel for people who live beyond their means so they can give the appearance of wealth they do not have and enjoy what they have not earned. The English Standard Version brings out this sense: "One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing."

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You may think your friends and neighbors are doing much better than you are, with their SUVs, their nicely appointed homes, and their fancy vacations. In fact, they may be dancing at the end of a debt branch that is about to break. How much of our present economic crisis (certainly not all of it) is traceable back to this overreaching. The average credit card debt for households with at least one credit card is more than $10,000. People have purchased as much home as they could get with little or no money down only now to find themselves owing more than their homes are worth.

But people can also live large for charity's sake on what they do not have. Just because someone is quick to pick up the tab, provide generously at church suppers, or come to the aid of those in need doesn't mean he isn't drowning in red ink. But if you are living far beyond your means for the sake of helping others-pretending to be generously rich-your generosity is tragically shortsighted. You help neither yourself nor, in the long run, those you are trying to bless.

Nations can indulge in this same folly. I hear people opposing any curtailment in government entitlement spending simply because they think it is good to provide these services along with many more they have in mind. But whether or not you raise taxes on "the rich" and cut the defense budget, we cannot finance the welfare state as it is without going deeply into debt. Our debt crisis is a largely entitlement-driven crisis. It is doubly a crisis because politicians are deathly afraid to touch that sensitive area.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the U.S. national debt will be twice our gross domestic product (GDP) by 2035. President Reagan, in his effort to spend the Soviet Union into the grave of history, pushed it over 50 percent. George W. Bush brought it from about 58 percent to 74 percent of GDP. But with the recent debt-ceiling increase, we exceeded 100 percent of GDP.

Some might call this "just generosity." Others might more reasonably call it just well-meaning, financial suicide. Even the widow who gave her last penny to the temple gave what she actually had. What is good for individuals is, in this case, also good for nations.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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