MILWAUKEE (BP) — The moral implications of economic issues were among the topics addressed Nov. 10 at a Republican presidential debate involving the top eight candidates as determined by Fox Business.
Malcolm Yarnell, a seminary professor who formerly worked as a bank financial analyst and investment advisor, told Baptist Press Christians should care about economic issues “alongside our other necessary social concerns” because, according to Scripture, “human economies clearly have theological importance.”
No candidate mentioned abortion or same-sex marriage during the two-hour debate in Milwaukee until neurosurgeon Ben Carson noted in his closing statement that 200 babies had “been killed by abortionists” since the debate began. Throughout the evening, however, candidates said issues like taxation, banking regulations and the minimum wage involve ethical considerations.
One of the debate’s more lively exchanges occurred when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio characterized his proposal to expand child tax credits as part of “a pro-family tax code.” In 35 states, Rubio said, “child care costs more than college.” The tax code should support parents’ efforts to cover such costs because “if the family breaks down, society breaks down.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul responded that Rubio’s tax plan is “not very conservative” because it represents a “new welfare program” and overspends government money. Moderator Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal said the Tax Foundation estimated a similar child tax credit proposed by Rubio in the Senate would cost as much as $170 billion per year.
Rubio responded that he doesn’t understand why investing in business equipment qualifies Americans for tax write-offs but “if you invest … in your children, in the future of America and strengthening your family,” some politicians do not want “to recognize that in our tax code.”
Moderator Neil Cavuto of Fox Business mentioned Carson’s invocation of tithing as a helpful model for developing a tax system and asked whether God would “endorse” Caron’s flat tax proposal — under which all Americans would pay income tax at the same rate — or businessman Donald Trump’s graduated tax proposal — under which wealthy Americans would continue to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes.
Carson responded that “everybody should pay the same proportion of what they make” because he didn’t “see how anything gets a whole lot fairer than that.” Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz joined Carson in advocating a flat tax.
Cruz said “the current tax system isn’t fair” and noted “there are more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible, and not one of them is as good.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has presented a graduated tax proposal, said eliminating “a lot of deductions” is one key to reforming the tax system.
In discussing regulations for Wall Street investors, Ohio Gov. John Kasich referenced a contemporary, conservative Catholic theologian.
“Michael Novak, the great Catholic theologian, says that a free enterprise system” must be “underlaid with values,” Kasich said. Free enterprise and profits “are great, but there have to be some values that underlay [them], and they need a good ethics lesson on Wall Street on a regular basis to keep them in check so we, the people, do not lose.”
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina cited the health care industry as another sector of the economy in need of ethics reform. The fact that large pharmaceutical and insurance companies “helped write” the Affordable Care Act represents “crony-capitalism at its worst,” she said, arguing the law should be repealed.
A discussion of minimum wage occasioned a mention by Carson, the only black Republican candidate, of joblessness among African American teenagers. Increasing the minimum wage would decrease the number of jobs available to young job seekers in particular, he said, and would exacerbate the fact that only 19.8 percent of black teens seeking jobs find them.
Trump and Rubio joined Carson in opposing a minimum wage increase, with Rubio saying, “If I thought that raising the minimum wage was the best way to help people increase their pay, I would be all for it. But it isn’t.” Kasich referenced Ohio’s “moderate increase in the minimum wage” under his administration.
In post-debate analysis, Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, urged Christians to continue monitoring discussion of economic issues by both Democratic and Republican candidates for president. He noted that Scripture “speaks of God’s working out of His oikonomia,” the Greek word for management or administration, from which the English word economy is derived.
“Man, made in the divine image, was tasked from creation with work, too (Gen 1:28; 2:15),” Yarnell said in written comments. “So, human economies clearly have a theological importance. However, the fall of humanity introduced disorder into the world’s economy (Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8:20-22). This is where our economic problems are based.
“The practical difficulty for Christians,” he noted, “is in exactly how to address such economic matters as taxation, the minimum wage, etc. This requires diligence, consideration and sustained effort on our part, for there are no easy answers, and we must understand the disorders will continue until Christ’s Kingdom is established in its visible fullness. During this time between the times, economics should be dealt with wisely yet innocently toward human beings but ultimately for God and His glory.”