Monday, December 3, 2007

Not "What Shall We Do," but "How Shall We Do It?"

The ELCA has just released its 2008 Election Guide. The Election Guide tries to present non-partisan advice for Lutheran congregations to approach political decisions as people who value Christ's teaching. The specific issues that it addresses are:

Domestic Hunger

Domestic Housing

Domestic Healthcare

Global Poverty and Hunger

Global Warming


Peace and Conflict

Most of these issues are fairly straightforward on a superficial level. For instance, Jesus says to fed the hungry, according the U.S. Department of Agricultural, in 2005, 35.1 million people lived in American households considered to be food insecure, therefore it is important to vote for candidates who say they will use their position in office to help eliminate hunger in America.

Great! The problem for me, however, is that I have never heard of a candidate who claimed that he or she was not interested in helping eliminate hunger and poverty. Where politicians tend to disagree is not on the goal, but how to achieve it. The classic example of this is should government directly give aid to the needy, or should it foster a favorable economic climate so that there are jobs for people who are out of work and extra income for individuals who can then donate to charity. The ELCA's Election Guide does implicitly and explicitly favor a few economic and scientific models, but not many, and not in depth.

As someone who has been raised to respect academic institutions and intellectual specialization, I naturally turn to economists and people with abbreviations after their names to tell me which out a myriad of theoretical models will best achieve the goals that I value. Unfortunately, the experts disagree on most theories. And, as a recent New York Times article reports, the most influential experts can be disastrously wrong.

The New York Times reports that for the past few decades the economists at the World Bank had been advising the hunger stricken country of Malawi to encourage farmers to pull themselves out of poverty by growing cash crops for export in exchange for money to buy food. This system had been failing miserably, and after a horrible harvest in 2005, Malawi's president, Bingu wa Mutharika, ignored western economic advice and started subsidizing fertilizer for farmers to grow their own food. Mr. Mutharika's gamble paid off, and now Malawi is no longer accepting foreign food aid and even exporting food to other hungry nations.

I guess the point of all this is to ask how we as Christians decide which means are the best to achieve Christ's goals? How do we trust that the experts from whom we get our information are not overly biased (for surely they all are to a certain extent--and yes, I know the Word Bank is perhaps more biased than most)?

No comments: