The Real Erosion Causing the Fiscal Cliff

Fall is over. Winter is here. And the heat is on. The “fiscal cliff” looms.  But the talk in Washington and the rumblings in the Republican Party about election losses reveal that few understand what created the cliff in the first place.

Like the Grand Canyon, our fiscal cliff is the result of a gradual erosion in our economic landscape.  Sadly, a great many of the Democrats in Washington have supported the policies that caused that erosion.  And while some Republicans in Washington have joined them in the past, now even more seem to want to exacerbate the erosion by ignoring its cause.

Our politicians want to focus on changes in the tax code and tax rates, and whether and how much spending of our tax money stimulates the economy.  Those issues do need to be debated.

But to think that the tax code or spending created the “fiscal cliff” or that changes in tax policy and more or less government spending are sufficient to keep us from falling off the cliff reveals a fatal blind spot.  If the erosion that actually created the cliff isn’t addressed, the edge of the cliff on which we’re now standing will eventually give way regardless of these other changes.

Apparently we didn’t learn much from the recession of 2008.  It should have taught us that we cannot divorce economic prosperity from moral and ethical issues.  Greed, cheating, lying, imprudent spending by individuals and by government, and debt eroded our economy and contributed to where we are economically today.

But these are ethical issues, not just fiscal ones.  Our culture mocks the notion that there are such things as right and wrong and ignores the values of thrift, personal restraint, and sacrifice.  So is it any wonder that cheating and stealing in government and business now run rampant and we’ve piled up enormous debt on future generations?

But the erosion of these ethical values was caused by an earlier form of erosion, namely, the erosion of marriage, families, and the inherent dignity of Man as a bearer of God’s image.  To think married moms and dads are not important to the future well-being of their children, one has to ignore mounds of social science data and suppress common sense.  Even nature insists that there be a mom and a dad for the continuation of the species.

Parents provide the environment in which values are taught and, more importantly, modeled.

It’s not pleasant to say this, but it needs to be said: teaching our children by our  actions that we can break the promises made in marriage to a person we said we loved if it’s to our personal advantage bears a striking resemblance to the ethical conduct we now find in business and in politics.

The importance we place on personal affluence and the willingness to step on people or incur personal debt to secure that affluence manifests themselves in business ethics, political ambition, and our clamor for “things” from the civil government.

That Christians, on the whole, are often no different than our culture in these matters affirms to our culture what it already thinks.

And when the image of God is denied, life is cheapened.  And, in turn, people over time become nothing more than “resources” that the ethically challenged have no problem using up or as a “stepping stone” for the sake of their personal advantage.  Ever thought about why businesses have shifted in their terminology from having a personnel department to an office of human resources?  I submit it’s not just a matter of semantics.

A society that ignores the ethical realities of the social order will erode, and one consequence of that erosion is a fiscal cliff.  Addressing these ethical realities, not ignoring them, is part of the solution.

Without a return to sound ethics, we will lack the bedrock needed to stabilize the ground and stop the erosion that will otherwise collapse the cliff on which we now stand.