Monday, October 06, 2008

Charity Through Capitalism

Carl at ChicagoBoyz has an interesting post up about how increasing costs for utility companies (e.g. legal fees) are ultimately passed on to the poor:

Ever wonder who pays for all those law suits the environmentalists come up with to sue the local power company? The customer. Ever wonder who pays for all the emissions clean up (scrubbers, clean coal) and for the more costly technologies like natural gas against plentiful US coal? The customer. Who pays for the fact that it takes 20 years of red tape and permits to build a transmission line? The customer.

Not only that, but the grants that fund all these non profits usually come from cities, counties and governments. How do they pay for this? Tax revenues, and utility taxes make up a sizable portion of their take from the public. Look at any utility bill and you can see that it is riddled with tax after tax, and you can’t even see the impact of other taxes levied on the utility (property and sales taxes) because these are built into the rates.

Thus I would love for all those doe-eyed environmentalist believers to go to a utility and volunteer THERE at the customer service window for a while and watch the poor decide whether to pay the power bill or buy medicine. They can watch people decide on back to school clothes and supplies or the gas bill. These are real choices, and they will become more and more evident should the economy go into a spiral.

There are no two ways about it - 17% of the income of the poor goes to energy bills which are VASTLY inflated by taxes and regulation, without which the cost of energy would probably be 50% lower (or more… we are the “Saudi Arabia” of coal). Think of this next time they volunteer at a soup kitchen or go on a clothing drive… couldn’t they accomplish the same exact thing by working to lower the costs of energy for the poor so that they’d have more income in their pocket?

We need to remember that when a company is attacked, the person who really gets hurt is the poor schmuck making $6 an hour at the bottom of the financial food chain.

Previous thoughts here and here.


Steve Heyduck said...

-gooder protestors would just leave the utility companies alone, they (the utility companies would act responsibly, respect the world God created, and treat customers fairly?

Steve Heyduck said...

sorry - the first part of my comment got lopped - Does this article mean to say that the PROBLEM is the protestors, and that if they would just get out of the way, the utility companies would do the right thing?

I'm skeptical of that!

Larry B said...

I think the referenced post is spot on. In a proper competitive market it is 100% clear that added costs such as taxes and lawsuit costs will get passed on to the consumer and that hits the low income guy the hardest for sure.

Abuse occurs when markets aren't properly competitive. The government and it's regulations usually create these conditions and in the end hurt the people they presume to help.

John said...

Steve -- no. I think that the article reminds readers to bear in mind the Law of Unintendent Consequences.

It's important that activists and protestors have the right motives. But it's equally important that their actions have a positive, rather than negative effect on the people that they advocate for.

Rich said...

It's a given that the costs of necessities (food, energy, housing, etc.) require a larger percentage of the resources of the poor than of the wealthy.

This is a great argument in favor of a progressive tax policy (by "progressive" I mean taxing progressively higher income at progressively higher rates).

The fact that taking appropriate steps to care for God's creation might have greater impact on those with less money is not an excuse to not care for God's creation--it means we must define policies that also care for all of God's children as well.

John said...

Rich, is it fair for us Christians to force our values upon non-Christian taxpayers like that?

Rich said...


You seem to be questioning the legitimacy of democracy itself. Is it fair for any group to "force" their values upon others? If you think not, then democracy is not for you.

Of course, we don't have a pure democracy (I wouldn't want one). The constitution lays our some protections against the dictatorship of the majority. In theory, our representative democracy helps prevent abuses as well. But I don't leave my Christian values at the door when I vote.

And it's worth noting that caring for the needy is not an exclusively Christian belief. Judaism, Islam, and many other world faiths have similar emphases on caring for the needy. Even secular humanism upholds this idea.

I don't at all agree with the argument that we, as Christians, should not support policies that reflect our beliefs. I do understand that, living in a secular world, we may sometimes have to live with laws & policies that we don't agree with. But to remain silent...?

John said...

Rich, how do you distinguish between Christian values that you implement into public policy and those which you do not?

Jeff said...

The article is overly simplistic. Perhaps the medical treatment that the person is choosing is caused by the utility plant that the person is getting his/her power from? Given the rise in respitory disease as a result of industrial pollution, it's a likely scenario.

Rich said...

(Sorry for the late reply...)


First, there's a difference between "advocating" and "implementing". I do not implement anything, but I do advocate for Christian values, hoping that through the democratic process these values find expression in the laws and policies that are actually implemented.

As for which Christian values I advocate for, and which I do not: My hope is that I advocate for all Christian values that have relevance to governance (though I suppose I have my own biases and blind spots).

By "relevance to governance", I exclude such things as the Christian value that frequent prayer is important. I certainly urge people to have a flourishing prayer life, but this is not a item for governance--even if a law were passed that "all people must pray daily", that would not actually help people have true prayer lives, and would probably have the opposite effect.

Yes, I know this is an extreme example--I'm hoping to use it to illustrate my point. As a related, but more relevant example, I support laws that prohibit teacher-led prayer in public schools. There are a variety of reasons, but one is that governance applies (as I see it) to how people relate to one another in community, not to how people relate to God.

Of course, *my* understanding of which Christian values should be expressed in laws are tainted by my own biases and blind spots (sin). The democratic process allows my ideas to be weighed against others. There are some Christian values (if we were truly following Christ's teaching and example) that will never gain acceptance in a secular world. But that's no excuse to cease advocacy for Christian values.

Again, care for the needy is a *core* teaching of Christ and of the Hebrew prophets. It has wide support from other world religions and from many people of no faith. In the so-called "marketplace of ideas", it has wide support.

My question is, on what basis can any Christian fail to advocate for laws and policies that express this core Christian value?