Sunday, February 21, 2010

Generationally-Neutral Fiscal Policies

Our nation is facing a day of reckoning of debt. The costs of programs such as Medicare, Social Security and federal pensions will overwhelm any reasonable projection of future GDP in the next 20 or 30 years. While it is questionable if the Baby Boomers actually contributed enough over time to fund their anticipated golden retirement, even if they have done so this money, held in trust, is gone. President Obama recently convened a bipartisan commission to look at these “third rail” political issues, and though I commend the effort I am skeptical of the outcome.

In order to avert what will surely become a generational divide, we need to add another term to the budgeting lexicon. We talk at times about revenue-neutral policies and legislation. We need to speak of generationally-neutral fiscal policies as well. The current post-boomer generation is going to be saddled with trillions of dollars of national debt, and a legacy of unfunded, underfunded and looted mandates. They will refuse, as well they should, to support this burden, and they will have the growing political power to do so. Politicians are demonstrably unable to address this growing problem and be re-elected, and so a non-elected, broadly representative body of multi-partisan financial policy experts needs to vet legislation for generational neutrality. If the cost of a program, other than monies needed for national defense, exceeds the projected revenue of the generation benefiting from and implementing it, then that legislation goes back to Congress. I am ashamed of the fiscal situation that my children are inheriting from my generation and the one just before me, and we need to make the hard choices now to remedy this. If not, we will be passing down “the sins of the fathers unto their children to the third and forth generation. . .” This is not the legacy I want to leave for my children.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Children and Fathers

Daaaaaddeeeeeeee!!! The scream rang out through the fellowship hall as a 2 year old bundle of pigtails, pink cheeks and sneakers came barreling into the room, oblivious to the meeting in progress. Maggie caught my eye on her way to the nursery, and having not seen me all day, she was off like a shot. I sat at the back of the room, expecting her to come in with Kate and the rest of the kids anytime, and so I was ready for her. I met her halfway across the room and caught her up as she jumped into my arms, a wiggling, giggling bundle of unbridled joy. She rested her head on my shoulder and hugged my neck as I carried her back to the nursery and we got her settled in. Only a pulseless rock wouldn’t be moved to tears at a greeting like that. The guileless, reckless and unfettered love of a young child is a wondrous gift of God.

Mary Kay Dyer, our Children’s Minister, had just been teaching about one of her two favorite scriptures, Mark 10:13-16:

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

This episode got me thinking about one of my favorite passages too, Hebrews 4:16:

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Now Maggie is not perfect. She is a skillful 2 year old schemer, schmoozer, stinker and stomper, who realized young that wallflower is not the preferred posture when the youngest of 4. It is even remotely possible that she had been naughty earlier in the day, though to look in her eyes you would hardly believe it. If so, nothing could have been further from her mind when she saw me and ran for my arms. She hesitated not a moment with the thought I might turn away or shush her up because of some meeting. It never entered her mind I might stop her before she jumped into my arms to question her about her behavior that day. I was her daddy and she my little girl--end of story. She approached me full tilt, as a little child, absolutely confident of my unconditional love. She knows charm only goes so far, and that I will discipline her when needed and appropriate; still she runs to me with abandon, knowing deeply things about her father's love I am still learning about my heavenly father's.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bill of (granted?/protected?) Rights

In an informal poll of friends and acquaintances as to the purpose of the Bill of Rights, I found that most people believed these amendments granted specific rights to citizens. I found that only rarely did people use language that described the Bill of Rights as a document protecting unalienable human rights from acts of Congress. Yet the language of the founding documents makes it clear that a chief concern of the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights was to protect the rights of citizens from the power of government. The Declaration of Independence is absolutely clear about the derivation of the rights outlined in the Constitution and the first 10 amendments:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed. . .

These rights therefore are basic human rights, and the role of government is to secure and protect them, but never to grant them. While the founders clearly saw the importance of a strong federal government in securing an environment where basic human rights could be protected and flourish, they were equally concerned about the propensity of governments, once established, to begin to limit the rights of citizens. The ringing tone of the first five words of the First Amendment could not make this point any clearer: "Congress shall make no law. . ."

In every discussion of the legitimate role of federal government it is important to remember that the framers of our government were as concerned about the tendency of any government or institution to overreach its power over the lives of the governed as they were concerned about protecting the free exercise of unalienable human rights from threats both foreign and domestic.