Campus News

Poverty conference focuses on big picture

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Bethel College received a strong injection of free market capitalism when speakers Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., and Anne Rathbone Bradley, Ph.D., came to the Everest-Rohrer on Oct. 2. The speakers were the main focus on the first night of Bethel’s conference series, “Repair, Rebuild, Restore: a Conference on Overcoming Poverty.” Students, faculty, and others with an interest in economics were scattered across the E.R. to listen in. Richards, who was the chapel speaker on the morning of the conference, gave a speech entitled “Why Good Intentions Aren’t Enough.” He was introduced by Associate Professor of Economics Aaron Schavey, Ph.D. “When it comes to political and economic policy, the intended purpose does not determine the effects of the policy,” said Richards, outlining the central theme of his talk. “There can be actions that are well-motivated that can harm people, and there can be actions that are poorly motivated that can help people.” He gave this point to describe how we can use our knowledge of economics to help alleviate poverty in the correct ways, instead of exacerbating it. Richards gave many controversial examples on how laws with good intentions can have staunchly negative effects. One of those was child labor laws. While Richards said that it was “uncomfortable to discuss” for him, he discussed a proposed law in the 1990’s called the Child Labor Deterrence Act.  At this time, many American’s were discovering that a multitude of things they bought were made in foreign countries by children who worked long hours, and many politicians wanted to take advantage of this “moral frenzy”. While this law was never put into place, it struck fear into businesses, which followed the law anyway to protect their image. This led to around 50,000 less children working in sweatshops. While this may sound like a good thing, Richards says, we still have to ask the question “Where did these children go?” According to Richards, most of the children worked in sweatshops due to economic necessity, and when they were forced out, they ended up in “rock crushing, street hustling, and prostitution.” “Intentions are likely to mislead us and provide disastrous results,” said Richards. “Our goal (is to) integrate descriptive truths and theoretical insights on economics with the normative principles of ethics and relative truths of theology.” In simpler terms, Richards wants you to be knowledgeable about how the world works, and about how you are supposed to act based on scripture. Another chunk of time in Richards’s speech was dedicated to the United States financial crisis in 2008. He used data to argue that, while most think that the private sector greed, mainly on Wall Street, caused the mortgage market debacle, it is actually based more on government interference into free enterprise. Around two-thirds of “sub-prime loans”, also known as high-risk loans, given to people with low-down payments and little chance of being paid off in the future, were either given by or sponsored in some way by the federal government in the 2000’s. This government competition led private companies to take on more risky loans as well, leading to the mortgage meltdown we saw in 2008. Richards went on to argue that many of our economic and political policies could be solved by asking the question, “And then what will happen?” as opposed to focusing solely on trying to do what sounds right. The second speaker for the night, Bradley, focused more on the issue of income inequality in the United States, which was the main focus of the Occupy Wall Street movement. She argued, similarly to Richards, that the best way for the poor move out of the low-income bracket is through a stronger free market. “A great misunderstanding is that the rich get rich because they exploit the poor,” said Bradley. “People get rich because they create value.” “I’m happy that Bill Gates is rich,” said Bradley, as she went on to say how both parties benefit when we buy products that help us in our daily lives. Bradley was willing to admit that income inequality “is trending slightly upward,” with the rich gaining in income more than the poor, but still maintained that quality of life has only increased over the years. Christian’s also have a role in helping the less fortunate, said Bradley, and can help in two ways. In the short-term, we are called to help those that we come in contact with, and do all we can to aid those in need. In the long-term, she agreed with Richards that we need to foster and celebrate creativity in the free market. “If we care about the poor, we have to care about economic freedom,” said Bradley. Both speakers ended their talks with extended question and answer sessions, where they covered a range of student concerns, such as Obamacare, raising the minimum wage, high student loans, the debt and deficit spending of the federal government and the government shutdown. Neither speaker spoke too positively on any of these issues. On sign-in to the event, guests were given a copy of Richards’s most recent book, “Infiltrated: How to Stop the Insiders and Activists who are Exploiting the Financial Crisis to Control our Lives and Our Fortunes.” “You are obligated to write at least a one line review on Amazon,” joked Richards. If you are interested in hearing more about American economic policy and what you can do to help the poor and less fortunate, you can attend the next session tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Everest-Rohrer. Speakers include Amy Sherman, Ph.D., and a panel from the local community.
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