All Commentary
Sunday, January 1, 1984

The Supreme Court (Economically Speaking)

The Reverend Mr. Watkins edits and publishes The Printed Preacher, a monthly gospel message, 303 North Third, Dayton, Washington 99328.

“The buck stops here,” read the plaque on President Harry Truman’s desk. He was aware of the fact that much of the machinery of the federal government would not turn a wheel until he “pressed the button” with his signature. In theory, the president is not the court of final appeal, but rather the Constitution is. And, even here, the past few decades have wrought quite radical changes. We now are told that the Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court of the United States says it means.

This conclusion, to say the least, is certainly debatable. Americans in greater numbers are beginning to realize the Constitution means what its framers intended for it to mean. Those men of two centuries past knew human government was a necessity, but they devised a Constitution for the purpose of restricting the powers of government to the bare necessities. In their effort to diffuse power they said the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government should not reside in the same hands. It was their thinking that the law would view all Americans as equals, that is, no man would be granted special privilege by the law. The Supreme Court was to study the Constitution to determine its meaning (what the framers meant), then the Court would measure legislation and execution thereof by the Constitution.

The most famous and popular section of the Constitution contains the first ten amendments, the laws of the land designed to spell out the rights of an American to life, liberty and property. It would seem that the intent of the Supreme Court would be to see that these rights are not infringed. It should be the duty of these jurists to test every action of government by these uncomplicated statutes, and all of us should be wary of any action by public servants which tends to abridge constituted freedoms.

Ancient Justice

Students of freedom throughout the centuries of recorded history have not been numerous. Impartial justice has been a scarce commodity. In the heyday of the Jewish economy King Solomon established himself early in his career as a just monarch, and quickly the fame of his wisdom spread to other lands, and people of other countries traveled for miles and days to meet him and ask him questions to test his sagacity. One of those making the pilgrimage was the Queen of Sheba, and she was astounded by what she saw and heard. “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe those things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard” (I Kings 10:6, 7). Nine centuries rolled by and Jesus of Nazareth arrived on the scene. He found the intervening years had apparently dulled the appetite for wisdom and freedom among his contemporaries. They wanted wonders (miracles) but not wisdom. They wanted security not opportunity. He denounced his generation with these words: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31). As a mature man Jesus returned to the scene of his childhood, stood up in the synagogue and applied the words of Isaiah to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). This incident culminated in his being forcibly escorted out of town.

Today it is quite generally agreed that none wiser than Jesus has ever set foot on the earth, and multiplied millions are studying his word every day. They believe the statement of the apostle Paul that Jesus “has become for us wisdom from God” (I Corinthians 1:30).

With qualifications like these we would expect Jesus to give us the right answers to any questions we might bring to him. Or, putting it another way, if there is a solution to the problem, he would surely have it. In connection with these thoughts, one incident in the life of Jesus caught my attention and made me think of the wide application it has to our lives, personally, nationally and internationally. “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:13-15).

I don’t doubt the ability of Jesus to come up with the right solution to the fretting brother’s problem. In fact, I think he was quite close to it when he introduced the subject of greed. With all the knowledge and insight possessed by Jesus his perfunctory dismissal of the case told the man: “There are laws, wills and courts. Either you have not explored these, or you are not content with justice.”

The man who developed this problem was like too many in our own society. He didn’t trust rule by law. He thought his was a special case, and the law should be set aside just for his benefit. He didn’t want justice; he wanted privilege. The number of such people in our time is legion. Not only are the courts full of cases where people are trying to break wills, but there is a steady stream of privilege seekers beating on legislative doors demanding special dispensations, grants, transfer payments, and the like, most of which would put them on easy street. They want to avoid the rigors of work that would be imposed upon them by free and open competition, so they call upon the “authorities” for a judgment in their favor. Often the “authorities” are politicians who think only in terms of the next election, and they are willing to sacrifice justice and principle in favor of expediency.

The Presumption of Rulers

Closer examination of this incident brings another concept into focus. If Jesus did not presumptuously settle a financial problem between two brothers, why in the world should I or any one of the rest of us assume we are so wise we can divide the wealth of the whole human race? Isn’t there something wrong with a system that takes a man who has demonstrated no particular proficiency in managing his own financial affairs, elects him to public of-rice, then supposedly endows him with the wisdom to manage the fortunes of all the rest of us? According to our Constitution he was not put into office for this purpose.

But this man, with his cohorts, looks at one segment of our society and arbitrarily decides it has too great a portion of the available wealth and resources. He sees an other group (always a “minority”) which has a relatively smaller percentage of the total wealth, so, by means of the police power vested in him, he takes from the first group and gives to the second. This is a rip-off which causes him no pain because he has no direct investment in the exchange beyond political expediency. If he ever had a conscience against stealing, it must have been dulled by the immorality of the past two or three generations. He makes valiant attempts to justify his theft by pleading the cause of the “poor,” but like Judas of old, his interest in the poor does not concern their ultimate welfare but rather the bag of votes which he carries.

The whole sorry system is immoral: 1) It is theft at the point of the government gun. 2) It promotes greed or covetousness in the hearts of the “have nots,” and this is just the thing against which Jesus cautioned: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” 3) It encourages superstition in that it transfers faith from Almighty God to Big Daddy (almighty government). 4) It discourages ambition in the otherwise industrious as they conclude, “What’s the use; they will take it away from us anyway.” 5) It destroys thrift in the “poor,” those who need such schooling so badly. 6) It removes the members of a large segment of the population from productive pursuits and embalms them in regulatory bureaucracies on high salaries at the expense of the taxpayers. 7) God has never blessed immorality, so the net result of the fiasco is a general decline in everything that has to do with the advancement and welfare of the economic community.

Government Welfare Programs Discourage Personal Charity

Another casualty of this kind of bureaucratic distribution of resources is real charity, a cardinal tenet of the Christian religion. When those who have the means or ability to relieve need and distress see the “needy” coming at them like vultures under the leadership of a vote-hungry bureaucrat, it has a chilling effect on the mercy motive. Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,” and he enjoined compassion toward them. But when the government says, “We will decide just who is poor, who will pay and how it will be done,” it leaves little opportunity for the exercise of a vital Christian grace. The real love and charity which are part and parcel of Christianity are not tax-deductible. If you want a government waiver for your gifts, they must be made to approved organizations or foundations, therefore the salutary benefits of a one-to-one relationship between the donor and donee are wiped out. Many who would otherwise do so just can’t afford to help a neighbor any more.

Then what man is wise enough to handle the problem? It would seem that the obvious answer is: No one, nor is there any committee of select men having this kind of wisdom. The solution to the problem of the production and distribution of scarce resources lies in the billions of uninhibited decisions of all the producers and consumers, acting according to their own needs, desires and char-itable instincts. Government can best serve the economic community by leaving it alone and punishing any attempt to thwart this divinely blessed process. The Supreme Eco nomic Court is composed of a jury made up of millions (billions, when taken worldwide) of buyers or customers. They vote in favor of a good or service when they buy it—if they are free to make a choice. They vote against a good or service when they turn it down in favor of something else. In a free and open economy “the buck stops here.”