Biblical Economics: The Divine Laissez-Faire Mandate

Public Eye Spring 2015 CoverThis article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In February, the culture warriors at Iowa’s “pro-family” group The Family Leader distributed personalized copies of The Founders’ Bible to every member of the state legislature as part of their lobby day—or as they put it in an invitation letter, the “war with Satan, who has taken many captive in Des Moines.”1 Greg Baker, Director of Ambassador Church Network, told pastors that the goal of “The Iowa Capitol Project” is to help legislators “do what God has asked them to do,” and The Founders’ Bible should help given its “compelling content pertaining to their job at the Capitol.” 2

Most of that “compelling content” —the non-biblical part anyway—comes courtesy of David Barton, the Republican Party activist and self-styled historian whose “Christian nation” revisionism informs the rhetoric of conservative pundits and politicians.3 But Barton’s essays go beyond his claims about the biblical origins of the U.S. Constitution; The Founders’ Bible, a New American Standard Bible translation, is also filled with Barton’s arguments that right-wing economic policies are divinely mandated.

Though Barton’s work has been repeatedly challenged by reputable scholars, including his fellow evangelical Christians, he is no fringe character, but rather a major player within the Republican Party and conservative movement. He was an active member of the GOP platform committee in 20124 and his rhetoric about America’s founding as a Christian nation is promoted by other religious conservatives, from Glenn Beck to Newt Gingrich.

A star-spangled David Barton appears in America: A Call to Greatness (1995). Photo credit: Paige-Brace Cinema, Ltd.

A star-spangled David Barton appears in America: A Call to Greatness (1995). Photo credit: Paige-Brace Cinema, Ltd.

Barton uses his essays and frequent media and public appearances to argue that the Bible, indeed God Himself, opposes minimum wage laws, capital gains taxes and progressive income taxes. He defines the free enterprise system—which he believes is “the economic system set forth in numerous passages in the Bible”—as “one in which ‘prices and wages are determined by unrestricted competition between businesses, without government regulation,’” and sees any policies that penalize productivity and profits as “a completely unBiblical system.”

To most readers, Jesus’ parable of the vineyard is generally understood to be about the gift of God’s grace, a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. In Barton’s exegesis, the story about the landowner who pays workers an equal amount no matter how many hours they worked is a literal handbook for God’s approach to employer-employee relations. Government, he writes, “certainly has no right to tell an employer what to pay an employee, including with a so-called minimum wage.”5

Yes, this is a Bible the Koch brothers can love.

Reconstructionism, the Christian Right and the Tea Party

Barton is one of the figures examined by religious studies professor Julie Ingersoll in Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction,6 forthcoming from Oxford University Press in August. Christian Reconstructionism is hardly a household word. However, its ideology has infused not only the Christian Right but also the Tea Party and the conservative movement in general. Those familiar with Reconstructionism may associate it most often with the idea that government should enforce Old Testament law and its harsh punishments. But, Ingersoll argues, what’s gone largely unnoticed is “The degree to which Christian Reconstructionists understand a biblical worldview to be rooted in economics.” For Reconstructionists, she writes, the very idea of God’s sovereignty is expressed in terms of property rights.

Christian Reconstructionism is grounded in the writing of R.J. Rushdoony, whose magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, was published in 1973. Rushdoony, who died in 2001, was also active in the homeschooling movement and founded the Chalcedon Foundation, a Reconstructionist think tank. His ideas continue to be promoted by acolytes, including his son-in-law, author Gary North, and Gary DeMar, president of American Vision.

In their book Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What it Isn’t, North and DeMar write, “Reconstructionists believe in a ‘minimal state.’ The purpose of getting involved in politics, as Reconstructionists see it, is to reduce the power of the State.”7 Sound familiar?

“Without a doubt, Reconstructionists have been advocates for, and activists within, the Tea Party,” Ingersoll notes. North is a former staffer for Ron Paul,8 and is currently helping Paul promote a curriculum for homeschoolers that North helped develop.9 That North-Paul connection, like the larger homeschooling movement—Rushdoony was an early advocate of homeschooling—is one of the streams by which Reconstructionist thinking has come to pervade the Christian Right and the Republican Party. And while Home School Legal Defense Association Chairman Michael Farris disavowed the application of Old Testament law in the U.S., he served with a number of Reconstructionists on the steering committee of The Coalition on Revival, a group founded in 1984 to bridge theological divides on the Christian Right. COR’s 1986 “A Manifesto for the Christian Church” proclaimed a dominionist message: that the Bible is the only measure of truth and applies to every sphere of life, including law, government and economics. “All theories and practices of these spheres of life are only true, right, and realistic to the degree that they agree with the Bible,”10 the Manifesto argued. Among the “social evils” that the Manifesto’s signers pledged to oppose was “Statist-collectivist theft from citizens through devaluation of their money and redistribution of their wealth.”

But the Reconstructionist influence has spread well beyond the COR. As Frederick Clarkson noted in The Public Eye back in 1994,11 dominionist thinking has proliferated even among evangelical leaders who might disavow the Reconstructionist label. Gary North, wrote Clarkson, claimed that “the ideas of the Reconstructionists have penetrated into Protestant circles that for the most part are unaware of the original source of the theological ideas that are beginning to transform them.” Reconstructionists have integrated their theology with Pentecostal and charismatic religious networks such as the New Apostolic Reformation and groups like International Transformation Network, as well as among religious leaders who embrace dominionist doctrines such as “Seven Mountains” theology, which holds that the right kind of Christians are meant to control societal spheres of influence such as education, entertainment, business and government.

Billy Graham himself told revival attendees that the Garden of Eden was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.”

Even in 1994, Clarkson argued, dominionism was no longer “the exclusive revolutionary vision of Christian Reconstructionist extremists,” but had “achieved virtual hegemony over many forms of Christian fundamentalism.” That certainly holds true 20 years later.

David Barton is a good example. Ingersoll says she considers Barton “Reconstructionist-lite”12: someone heavily influenced by Reconstructionist thinking even though he doesn’t publicly identify with the term and may depart from some of its more extreme positions. Barton’s rhetoric about biblical law applying to every aspect of life, including civil government, reflects that influence, as does his Christian-nation revisionism when it comes to American history. Barton has plenty of company, as evidenced by the prevalence of Reconstructionist rhetoric about the role of government at conservative political gatherings, such as the March 19 Pennsylvania Pastors Network gathering at which Barton spoke.

Barton’s insistence that the Bible provides authoritative instruction for every aspect of life, including tax policy, echoes COR’s Manifesto and Rushdoony’s insistence that “authority is not only a religious concept but also a total one. It involves the recognition at every point of our lives of God’s absolute law-order.” That includes economics. In The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony says, “The child has no right to govern his parents, the student their school, nor the employees their employer.”13

According to this “biblical worldview,” unions and the laws supporting workers’ rights and ability to organize interfere with God’s economic plan. Barton says the Bible disapproves of “socialist union kind of stuff.”14

There have been many examples of this playing out in current domestic politics. In 2012, dominionists associated with the New Apostolic Reformation’s Reformation Prayer Network urged “prayer warriors” to pray that God would “break the power and control” of California’s largest unions and that “financial contributions of unions intended to manipulate the voice of the vote would be shut up and shut down.”15

Christian Right leaders such as the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins have cheered on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s relentless attacks on the state’s unions.16 And in February, Gary North gloated over Walker’s anti-labor “right to work” legislation as representing what he called “a death spiral for unions in America.”17

The Deep Roots of Anti-Unionism

This hostility toward unions has been part of the Christian Right from the movement’s earliest days. Author Jeff Sharlet has written that Pat Robertson’s father was among the members of Congress who were told by Abraham Vereide, founder of the National Prayer Breakfast and The Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family), that God wanted them to break the spine of organized labor.18 And in a March 14, 2015 commentary in The New York Times,19 Princeton University professor Kevin Kruse places Vereide within a larger context of corporate titans recruiting religious leaders to evangelize on behalf of unrestricted capitalism in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. One of them, writes Kruse, was Billy Graham himself, who told revival attendees that the Garden of Eden was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.”

The Christian Coalition’s 1990 leadership manual quotes four biblical passages of the “slaves-obey-your-masters” variety, which president Ralph Reed, stunningly, used as a model for modern employer-employee relations.

Corporate efforts to push back against government regulation and to engage religious leaders as public spokespeople were reenergized in the wake of a 1971 memo by Lewis Powell written just months before his nomination to the Supreme Court. In the memo, Powell warned against the “attack” on the American free enterprise system coming from the nation’s campuses, pulpits, media and arts. Powell called for an aggressive long-term political, intellectual and cultural campaign by American business interests to attack their critics, resist regulation and promote the idea that economic freedom is “indivisible” from other rights.20

It is hard to imagine a memo having greater impact. Powell’s manifesto sparked a massive investment in right-wing infrastructure building by conservative funders and strategists, many of whom came to be called “The New Right.” Among them were Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips. These strategists started building the institutional infrastructure that still undergirds the right-wing movement, through powerful organizations like The Heritage Foundation. And, as political scientist Richard J. Meagher wrote for The Public Eye in 2009, they worked to bring conservative evangelicals into their political organizing, hoping that social issues and a “pro-family” platform could help secure their commitment to the Republican agenda.21

By the end of the decade, these New Right leaders had recruited Jerry Falwell and helped him launch the Moral Majority. From that national pulpit, Falwell argued that “the free enterprise system of profit [should] be encouraged to grow, being unhampered by any socialistic laws or red tape.”22 Rus Walton, the late former director of the Plymouth Rock Foundation, included a Christian political agenda in his book One Nation Under God that included abolishing minimum wage laws and compulsory education; instituting right-to-work legislation; ending social services; and applying anti-trust laws to trade unions.23

As Paul Weyrich wrote in the Conservative Digest in 1979, “The alliance on family issues is bound to begin to look at the morality of other issues such as…the unjust power that has been legislated for union bosses.”24

Weyrich’s prediction certainly seemed to be true. In 1990, the nascent Christian Coalition published a leadership manual for its local leaders, co-authored by its then-president Ralph Reed. In a section titled “God’s Delegated Authority in the World,” the manual says, “God established His pattern for work as well as in the family and in the church.”25 The manual quotes four biblical passages of the “slaves-obey-your-masters” variety, which Reed, stunningly, used as a model for modern employer-employee relations:

“Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man.”

The New New Right

Today’s equivalent of the “New Right,” one could argue, is the huge, opaque network of political organizations funded by the Koch brothers and their pro-corporate, anti-regulation allies.26 The Koch brothers, who describe themselves27 as libertarians uninterested in social conservatives’ culture wars, are more than willing to use Christian Right voters as well as mountains of cash to achieve their anti-government, anti-union ends.28

One of the Koch brothers’ many projects is the LIBRE Initiative,29 which was created to promote laissez-faire economics among American Latinos—this year LIBRE has been cheerleading30 for state passage of “Right to Work” legislation31—and to serve as a vehicle for deceptive advertising trashing Democratic candidates.32 Former National Association of Evangelicals official John Mendez, who directs LIBRE’s faith outreach, told ThinkProgress last year that his job is to put LIBRE’s free-market message “in a theological context.”33 As Mendez told ThinkProgress, “In Scripture it tells us of dependency on God, not dependency on Man…To whom you’re dependent on is who you belong to. So you should not be dependent on government.”

Mendez elaborated in an interview with the Pacific Justice Institute last year that, “we come in and inform them and teach them on those principles of economic freedom and free enterprise from not only a constitutional perspective, but also a biblical perspective.”34

Mendez works with both Tea Party35 and Christian Right groups who are organizing politically, offering advice on how conservatives can reach out to Latinos. Last year, for example, he participated in Ralph Reed’s “Road to Majority” conference and took part in a “Watchmen on the Wall”36 conference organized by Family Research Council and Vision America Action.37 In 2013, he led a “prayer gathering” in advance of a prayer breakfast to help “unite” Virginia’s clergy around their state legislature and inform the religious leaders “of their biblical role and constitutional rights in shaping Virginia.”38

One of the other right-wing organizations formed in the wake of President Barack Obama’s election is the Freedom Federation, a coalition of Christian Right political groups and dominionist “apostolic” ministries and organizations. Tucked among them is the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which preaches a small-government gospel.39 The presence of AFP may explain why the coalition’s founding “Declaration of American Values” included, in addition to predictably conservative positions on social issues, opposition to progressive taxation.

AFP’s Tim Phillips, a former business partner of Ralph Reed, spoke at the Freedom Federation’s Awakening conference a few years ago, along with anti-tax and anti-government activist Grover Norquist, in order to encourage religious conservatives to prioritize shrinking the size of government.40

The Man Who Doesn’t Work Doesn’t Eat

Perhaps even more central to the Reconstructionist philosophy than opposing unions is hostility to government social service spending. North and DeMar are not out to minimize the state simply to save money or prevent government overreach—rhetoric you might hear at a Tea Party function—but because they believe the Bible has delineated clear areas of jurisdiction for the family, church and government. And, they argue, the Bible leaves charity, like education, to the individual and the church, with no biblically legitimate role for government.41

A particularly clear example of what Reconstructionists call “sphere sovereignty”—the idea that God granted the family, the church and government authority over specific areas of life—can be found42 in the writings of Michael Peroutka,43 a former Constitution Party presidential candidate who runs the Institute on the Constitution. Peroutka was elected last year to the Anne Arundel County Council in Maryland as a Republican,44 despite the fact that he’s argued that the Maryland General Assembly is an invalid government body since it has passed laws that Peroutka believes violate “God’s law.”45 Peroutka also believes that, given the government’s only legitimate, biblically-sanctioned role is to protect “God-given rights,” then “It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give health care to…ANYBODY!”

John Lofton, the late right-wing pundit and spokesperson for Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution, had a similar message in 2012, writing that “it is crystal clear that in God’s Word He gives NO AUTHORITY to civil government (Caesar) to give health, education or welfare to ANYBODY. If people need help, it is the role of the Church—God’s people—to provide this help and NOT government.”46

David Barton sounds similar themes. Last July he appeared on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s “Praise the Lord.”47 In addition to promoting his theories about Jesus’s views on various taxes, Barton declared, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor and needy, it’s the church’s responsibility.” He added, “What we’re doing right now is for the first time in America we have ignored what the Bible says. The Bible says you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

If that has a familiar ring, it’s because some Republican lawmakers quoted that verse to support cuts in spending on food stamps in 2013. One of them was Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, who also said, “The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.”48 (His rhetoric equating taxation for social services with theft apparently did not apply to his family’s farming operations, which have received millions of dollars in federal farm subsidies.49)

Star Parker, a frequent speaker at Christian Right political gatherings, similarly equates taxation with theft. Like many conservative activists, Parker has a conversion story. Her shtick is to denigrate recipients of government assistance by describing herself as having once been lazy and dependent on government handouts until someone confronted her that her lifestyle was not pleasing to God. She suggests that anyone willing to work hard can make it like she did. Today, she calls redistribution of wealth “a violation of scripture.”50

Star Parker speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Star Parker speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Parker’s rhetoric goes beyond bootstraps hectoring. Like other Christian Right activists, she portrays concerns about income inequality as sinful covetousness. Noting that African Americans are traditionally a religious group, she asks, “Why does a people so inclined to turn to God so readily violate the Tenth Commandment’s prohibition on covetousness and measure themselves in terms of what others have? And then use this sin to justify violating the Eighth Commandment and give government license to steal what others have in order to redistribute?”51

“Perhaps more fundamentally,” she asks, “how can a church-going people buy into the materialism of socialism?”

It may not be surprising to hear this kind of language from people at the far right of the evangelical political movement. But similar rhetoric can be heard from people widely considered to be among the reasonable centrists of the evangelical community. Rick Warren is often held as the model of moderate, politically engaged evangelicalism (although PRA readers know to treat that notion skeptically52). Warren told NPR in 2012, “The primary purpose of government is to keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity. And when we start getting into all kinds of other things, I think we invite greater control. And I’m fundamentally about freedom.”53 More pointedly, as journalist Sarah Posner noted that same year, Warren has called the social gospel “Marxism in Christian clothing.”54

The Meaning of “Socialism”

“Socialism,” one of the chief rallying cries against health care reform, gets thrown around a lot by conservatives grousing about the Obama administration and progressive policies in general. Ingersoll offers a useful insight into the Christian Right’s use of the term:

“When scholars, or liberal activists and commentators, hear the label “socialist,” they understand it to mean a political and economic system where the government centralizes ownership and control in the hands of the state, eliminating private property. When the Reconstructionists use the term, they mean a system in which salvation (in its earthly historical manifestation) is thought to be found in government and in politics; a system that by its very nature seeks to replace God. In this view the legitimate role of government in the economy is limited to ensuring that people deal honestly with one another. Tea Partiers and Reconstructionists see socialism in the “government takeover” of major functions of other institutions. But it is also much broader than this, as socialism is understood as a systematic world and life view.”55

North, notes Ingersoll, sees the world as a binary: “either faith in God or faith in man. It is either Christianity or Marxism.”56 In this conceptualization, writes Ingersoll, “‘socialism’ is when the civil government usurps authority ‘legitimately granted’ to the individual, the family, and the church.”

The social gospel—a strain of progressive-minded Christianity concerned with the promotion of social and economic justice—particularly annoys religious conservatives. And that can play out even within the Republican Party. In January, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich cited Matthew 25, in which people facing the final judgment are asked whether they fed the hungry and clothed the naked, to defend his decision to accept Medicaid expansion in the state. Some conservatives and right-wing activists were beside themselves.57

Gary DeMar responded to Kasich by saying, “Jesus is not describing the development of government programs…Governments can’t legitimately be charitable and magnanimous with other people’s money.”58 He continued, “They are organizing politically to impose the covetousness prohibited by the tenth commandment.”

The notion that looking to government for economic assistance is a form of idolatry is an idea we have heard elsewhere in the public arena, notably in the ultimately unsuccessful Senate campaign of Sharron Angle, who said entitlement programs “make government our God.”59 Also a few years ago from then-Sen. Jim DeMint, who told The Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that many Tea Party members may have been motivated by “a spiritual component”:

“I think some have been drawn in over the years to a dependency relationship with government and as the Bible says you can’t have two masters and I think as people pull back from that they look more to God. …The bigger God gets the smaller people want their government because they’re yearning for freedom.”60

It’s not only Christian Reconstructionists and conservative evangelicals working to give right-wing economic policies a religious grounding. Catholic writer Michael Novak, formerly ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism back in 1982. Thirty years later, Rep. Paul Ryan defended the massive social spending cuts in his proposed budget in 20121 as a reflection of Catholic principles—a claim vigorously challenged by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the national Catholic social justice lobby group NETWORK,2 who continues to oppose Ryan’s approach to poverty and his interpretation of Catholic social justice teachings. READ MORE...

It’s not only Christian Reconstructionists and conservative evangelicals working to give right-wing economic policies a religious grounding. Catholic writer Michael Novak, formerly ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” back in 1982. Thirty years later, Rep. Paul Ryan defended the massive social spending cuts in his proposed budget in 2012 as a reflection of Catholic principles—a claim vigorously challenged by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the national Catholic social justice lobby group NETWORK, who continues to oppose Ryan’s approach to poverty and his interpretation of Catholic social justice teachings. Click here to read more…

DeMint now heads The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing marketing behemoth that is among the institutions that seek to merge the philosophies and organizing energies of the Christian Right and the economic right-wing. One manifestation of that work is “Indivisible: Social and Economic Foundations of American Liberty,” a publication and project devoted to convincing conservative activists that free-market conservatism and traditional values conservatism go hand in hand, as Justice Lewis Powell urged more than 40 years ago. Among the highlights are anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson, writing that the minimum wage is a form of coercion that “reminds me of slavery,” and WORLD magazine editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky, arguing, “Those who esteem the Bible should also applaud St. Milton Friedman and other Church of Chicago prelates, because their insights amplify what the Bible suggests about economics.”61

A Powerful Combination

Advocates for social and economic justice who watch with dismay as right-to-work laws take effect in formerly strong labor states,62 as Republicans propose savage cuts to social spending,63 and as inequality skyrockets in the wake of tax giveaways to the wealthy—what David Barton might call biblically-mandated rewards for profit-makers—are up against a brutally powerful coalition.

For more than half a century, groups of pro-business, anti-regulation, anti-social spending conservatives have built an infrastructure designed to gain and hold political power and have enlisted religious leaders as spokespeople for laissez-faire economic policies. Their efforts have been buttressed by the parallel rise and spread of dominionist theology, grounded in Christian Reconstructionist ideology that unrestricted free-market capitalism is mandated by the Bible and that God grants no role for the government in education or care for the poor. This ideology provided fertile ground for the anti-government zealotry of the Tea Party and the belief that a radically limited role for the federal government is not only a constitutional mandate but also a biblical one. Any long-term strategy for rebuilding progressive political power and reclaiming the legacy of the New Deal must grapple with the realities and motivating power of these intertwined economic, ideological and religious ideologies.

peter montgomery squaredPeter Montgomery is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor. He is a senior fellow at People For the American Way and contributes to its Right Wing Watch blog, and is an associate editor for online magazine Religion Dispatches.
 

End Notes

1 (2015). “The Iowa Capital Project.” The Family Leader. Online at http://www.thefamilyleader.com/the-iowa-capitol-project/.

2 Ibid.

3 “Barton’s Bunk: Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America.” People for the American Way. Online at http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/barton-s-bunk-religious-right-historian-hits-the-big-time-tea-party-america.

4 Peter Montgomery (2012). “Election 2014: 6 Right-Wing Zealots and the Crazy Ideas Behind the Most Outrageous Republican Platform Ever.” Alternet. Online at http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/6-right-wing-zealots-and-crazy-ideas-behind-most-outrageous-republican-platform-ever.

5 David Barton (2012). The Founders’ Bible. Edited by Brad Cummings and Lance Wubbels. Newbury Park: Shiloh Road Publishing.

6 Julie Ingersoll (2015). Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism (forthcoming). Oxford University Press. Online at https://global.oup.com/academic/product/building-gods-kingdom-9780199913787.

7 Gary North and Gary DeMar (1991). Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t. Institute for Christian Economics. Online at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/christian_reconstruction.pdf.

8 Adele M. Stan (2011). “5 Reasons Progressives Should Treat Ron Paul with Extreme Caution— ‘Cuddly’ Libertarian Has Some Very Dark Politics.” AlterNet. Online at http://www.alternet.org/story/152192/5_reasons_progressives_should_treat_ron_paul_with_extreme_caution_–_%27cuddly%27_libertarian_has_some_very_dark_politics?page=entire.

9 Sarah Posner (2013). “The Christian Fundamentalism Behind Ron Paul’s Home-school Curriculum.” The Guardian. Online at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/12/christian-fundamentalism-ron-paul-homeschooling.

10 Jay Grimstead (1986). “A Manifesto for the Christian Church.” The Coalition on Revival Online at http://www.reformation.net/COR_Docs/Christian_Manifesto Worldview.pdf.

11 Frederick Clarkson (1994). “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence.” The Public Eye. Online at https://www.politicalresearch.org/1994/03/19/christian-reconstructionism-part-1-theocratic-dominionism-gains-influence/.

12 Julie Ingersoll in discussion with Peter Montgomery, February 25, 2015.

13 Steven Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel (2009). Evangelicals and Democracy in America; Volume II Religions and Politics. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Online at https://books.google.com/books?id=3flSfjLfYNEC&pg=PA195&dq=the+child+has+no+right+to+govern+his+parents,+the+student+their
+school&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CzYxVamwJ5OSyQTXjoGQDw&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
.

14 Peter Montgomery (2011). “Jesus Hates Taxes: Biblical Capitalism Created Fertile Anti-Union Soil.” Religion Dispatches. Online at http://religiondispatches.org/jesus-hates-taxes-biblical-capitalism-created-fertile-anti-union-soil/.

15 Vicki Nohrden (2012). “California Fastforward Prayer Guide.” The Reformation Prayer Network. Online at https://web.archive.org/web/20120417223106/http:/www.usrpn.org/prayer_guides/single
/california_fast_forward_prayer_guide
.

16 Russell Berman (2015). “Scott Walker, Anti-Union Man.” The Atlantic. Online at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/scott-walker-anti-union-man/387283/.

17 Gary North (2015). “Public Sector Unions in Wisconsin Are Dying.” The Tea Party Economist. Online at http://teapartyeconomist.com/2015/02/23/public-sector-unions-in-wisconsin-are-dying/.

18 Jeff Sharlet (2009). “This Is Not A Religion Column: Biblical Capitalism.” Religion Dispatches. Online at http://religiondispatches.org/ithis-is-not-a-religion-columni-biblical-capitalism/.

19 Kevin Kruse (2015). “A Christian Nation? Since When?” The New York Times. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/opinion/sunday/a-christian-nation-since-when.html?_r=0.

20 Lewis F. Powell Jr. (1971). “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of America Free Enterprise System.” Reclaim Democracy! Online at http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/.

21 Richard J Meagher (2009). “Political Strategy and the Building of the GOP Coalition.” The Public Eye. Online at https://www.politicalresearch.org/2009/06/10/remembering-the-new-right-political-strategy-and-the-building-of-the-gop-coalition/.

22 Robert Scheer (1981). “The Armageddon Profit: Falwell with Reagan, and preaching at a Moral Majority meeting.” The Age. Online at http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19810318&id=0PFUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZZIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2299,750980.

23 Russ Walton (1993). One Nation Under God. The Plymouth Rock Foundation. Online at http://books.google.com/books/about/One_nation_under_God.html?id=lnYFDLpYzt8C.

24 Paul Weyrich (1979). “Building the Moral Majority.” Conservative Digest. pp 18-19.

25 Peter Montgomery (2011). “Jesus Hates Taxes: Biblical Capitalism Created Fertile Anti-Union Soil.” Religion Dispatches. Online at http://religiondispatches.org/jesus-hates-taxes-biblical-capitalism-created-fertile-anti-union-soil/.

26 Matea Gold (2014). “Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 elections.” The Washington Post. Online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/koch-backed-political-network-built-to-shield-donors-raised-400-million-in-2012-elections/2014/01/05/9e7cfd9a-719b-11e3-9389-09ef9944065e_story.html.

27 Paul Blumenthal (2014). “Koch Brothers Fund Group That Contradicts Their Ideology in 2014 Election Push. The Huffington Post. Online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/koch-brothers-gay-marriage_n_6035958.html.

28 Kenneth P. Vogel (2015). “The Kochs put a price on 2016: $889 million.” Politico. Online at http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/koch-2016-spending-goal-114604.html.

29 “The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ focus on Latino Voters.” People For the American Way. Online at http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/libre-initiative-koch-brothers-new-focus-winning-latino-voters.

30 The LIBRE Initiative. Twitter Post. February 28, 2015. 12:41p.m. Online at https://twitter.com/libreinitiative/status/571772077134364672.

31 (2015). “Press Release: “Right to Work” Laws Associated with Stronger Growth.” The LIBRE Initiative. Online at http://thelibreinitiative.com/press/right-work-laws-associated-stronger-growth.

32 Ed Morales (2014). “The Koch Brothers’ Latino Front.” The Progressive. Online at http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/10/187891/koch-brothers%E2%80%99-latino-front.

33 Alice Ollstein (2014). “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Multi-Million Dollar Campaign To Win Over Latinos.” ThinkProgress. Online at http://thinkprogress.org/election/2014/09/30/3573291/koch-libre-latinos/.

34 John Mendez, interviewed by Brad Dacus. Pacific Justice Institute. May 22, 2014. Online at http://www.pacificjustice.org/religious-freedom-minute.

35 (2013). “John Mendez of Libre Initiative speaks to MyLiberty.” MyLiberty. Online at http://mylibertysanmateo.blogspot.com/2013/01/john-mendez-of-libre-initiative-speaks_18.html.

36 John Mendez interviewed by Christian Post. (2014). “John Mendez on the Christian Post.” Youtube. Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4MqjZCuj5c.

37 (2014). “Join us tomorrow in Denver…” Family Research Council. Online at http://www.frc.org/watchmenonthewall/join-us-tomorrow-in-denver.

38 (2013). “The LIBRE Initiative Invites you to the Pre event Prayer meeting.” Facebook Event. Online at https://www.facebook.com/events/164354173747558/.

39 Kyle Mantyla (2009). “When The Going Gets Tough, The Rights Starts A New Group.” People For the American Way. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/when-going-gets-tough-right-starts-new-group.

40 Peter Montgomery (2011). “Tea Party Jesus: Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Sidles Up to Religious Right for 2012 Campaign.” AlterNet. Online at http://www.alternet.org/story/150622/tea_party_jesus%3A_koch%27s_americans_for_prosperity_
sidles_up_to_religious_right_for_2012_campaign
.

41 Gary North and Gary DeMar (1991). Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t. Institute for Christian Economics. Online at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/christian_reconstruction.pdf.

42 Michael Peroutka (2013). “Is Our Government Really “Broken”?” The American View. Online at http://www.theamericanview.com/is-our-government-really-broken/.

43 Frederick Clarkson (2015). “Roy Moore & Ron Paul: The Politics of Secession, Nullification, and Marriage Equality.” Political Research Associates. Online at https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/02/22/roy-moore-ron-paul-the-politics-of-secession-nullification-and-marriage-equality/.

44 Nathalie Baptiste (2014). “GOP’s Neo-Confederate Theocrat Wins Council Seat in One of Richest U.S. Counties.” The American Prospect. Online at http://prospect.org/article/gops-neo-confederate-theocrat-wins-council-seat-one-richest-us-counties.

45 Frederick Clarkson (2014). “Party-Switching Theocrat Wins Primary, Claims Maryland Legislature is Invalid and Talks Revolution. “ Political Research Associates. Online at https://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/06/27/party-switching-theocrat-wins-primary-claims-maryland-legislature-is-invalid-talks-about-revolution/.

46 John Lofton (2012). “God Gives Government NO Authority To Help The Needy…NONE.” The Christian Post. Online at http://blogs.christianpost.com/recovering-republican/god-sanctions-no-health-education-welfare-for-anybody-9538/.

47 David Barton interviewed by Matt and Laurie Crouch, Praise the Lord. July 10, 2014. Online at http://itbn.org/index/detail/lib/Networks/sublib/TBN/ec/RrcG51bjoRcfQnwzbKDLsESPOp09mvGC.

48 Sheryl Gay Stolberg (2013). “On the Edge of Poverty, at the Center of a Debate on Food Stamps.” The New York Times. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/us/as-debate-reopens-food-stamp-recipients-continue-to-squeeze.html?_r=0.

49 Andrew Kaczynski (2013). “These Republicans Who Votes To Cut Food Stamps Personally Received Large Farm Subsidies.” BuzzFeed News. Online at http://buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/these-republicans-who-voted-to-cut-food-stamps-personally-re.

50 Kyle Mantyla (2008). “Star Parker Brings the Crazy.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/star-parker-brings-crazy.

51 Star Parker (2011). “Why Do Blacks Still Let Obama Off the Hook?” Townhall.com. Online at http://townhall.com/columnists/starparker/2011/07/18/why_do_blacks_still_let_obama_off_the_hook/page/full.

52 Frederick Clarkson (2015). “Will Our Prisons Overflow with Christians?” Political Research Associates. Online at https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/03/01/will-our-prisons-overflow-with-christians/.

53 Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2012). “Christian Debate: Was Jesus for Small Government.” National Public Radio. Online at http://www.npr.org/2012/04/16/150568478/christian-conservatives-poverty-not-government-business.

54 Sarah Posner (2012). “That Not-So-Mystifying Rick Warren.” Religion Dispatches. http://religiondispatches.org/that-not-so-mystifying-rick-warren/.

55 Julie J Ingersoll (2015). Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism (forthcoming). Oxford University Press. Online at https://global.oup.com/academic/product/building-gods-kingdom-9780199913787.

56 Gary North (1987). Liberating Planet Earth. Dominion Press. Online at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/liberating_planet_earth.pdf.

57 Joseph Farah (2015). “John Kasich Defends Obamacare- With Bible!” WND. Online at http://www.wnd.com/2015/02/john-kasich-defends-obamacare-with-bible/.

58 Gary DeMar (2015). “Republican Governor John Kasich Says Bible Supports Obamacare.” Godfather Politics. Online at http://godfatherpolitics.com/20141/republican-governor-john-kasich-says-bible-supports-obamacare/.

59 Anjeanette Damon (2010). “Sharron Angle’s views rooted in biblical law.” Las Vegas Sun. Online at http://lasvegassun.com/news/2010/aug/06/angles-view-rooted-biblical-law/.

60 Jim DeMint interviewed by David Brody, The Christian Broadcasting Network. April 21, 2010. Online at http://blogs.cbn.com/thebrodyfile/archive/2010/04/21/senator-demint-to-brody-file-tea-party-movement-will-bring.aspx.

61 “Indivisible: Social and Economic Foundations of American Liberty.” The Heritage Foundation. Online at http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2013/pdf/Indivisible_Revised.pdf.

62 Mariya Strauss (2015). “The Religious Right Has Been Pushing Anti-Union Right to Work Laws For A Century.” Political Research Associates. Online at https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/03/17/the-religious-right-has-been-pushing-anti-union-right-to-work-laws-for-a-century/.

63 Paul Krugman (2015). “Trillion Dollar Fraudsters.” The New York Times. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/opinion/paul-krugman-trillion-dollar-fraudsters.html.

 

Neoliberalizing Public Higher Ed: The Threat of Free Market Ideology

When we talk about the privatization of public education, we often think of K-12 education. Certainly, the growth of charter schools and voucher programs and attacks on teachers unions indicate that the “education reform” movement poses a major threat to the traditional public school. As prominent education historian Diane Ravitch writes, “‘Reform’ is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy.” But discussions of the entrepreneurialization of public education institutions must also be understood within the context of higher education.

IMG_00301-e1321400465457

Image via Turnstyle News.

The current crisis within higher ed is often discussed primarily in terms of rising tuition and student debt, but the debt crisis is just one particularly ugly manifestation of a larger trend involving increased corporate investment in college campuses, the exploitation of adjunct faculty, and a de facto attack on scholarly and professional training that does not  directly lead to corporate opportunities for graduates. Taken together, these seemingly distinct problems in higher education, and public higher ed in particular, point to a common, underlying ideology that is consistent with that of the K-12 education reform movement: a rationale of neoliberal corporatization and privatization.

As Wendy Brown, a prominent political theorist based at UC Berkeley, writes, neoliberalism represents a “unique governmental and social rationality—one that extends market principles to every reach of human life”:

[Neoliberalism] formulates everything in terms of capital investment and appreciation (including and especially humans themselves), whether a teenager building a resume for college, a twenty-something seeking a mate, a working mother returning to school, or a corporation buying carbon offsets. As a governing rationality, neoliberalism extends from the management of the state itself to the soul of the subject; it renders health, education, transportation, nature, and art into individual consumer goods, and converts patients, students, drivers, athletes, and museum-goers alike into entrepreneurs of their own needs and desires who consume or invest in these goods (emphasis is mine).[i]

Neoliberalism is thus a turn away from collectivity and commitment to the public good and a turn toward individualism and an acceptance—embrace, even—of structural inequality. Such ideologies prepare students for life under the domination of large corporations.

But public universities should not act like corporations. They should train students to be great citizens; they should provide academics with resources and security to challenge convention by producing novel ideas and inventions for the public good; and they should be affordable and attainable to any qualified student, and particularly those who come from communities that have historically been isolated from higher ed. Unfortunately, the neoliberal corporatization of public universities is responsible for a number of dynamics that directly undermine these principles.

Rising Tuition = Supply and Demand

Contrary to popular belief, tuition hikes at public universities date back to the 1980s, far before the 2007 financial crisis. According to Salon reporter Thomas Frank, the rise in tuition took off in 1981, the same year that Ronald Reagan took the White House. While politicians and journalists have blamed students, professors, and the new demands for a diverse student body from a more liberal society, it’s now clear, Frank says, that the real culprits behind rising tuition are administrators and other decision makers who have long embraced a neoliberal, corporate approach to university administration. This shift was further exacerbated by increasing economic inequality. Indeed, tuition pricing became subjected to “market forces” at the same time that degrees were becoming ever-more important for middle-class employment and upward social mobility.

Donations with Strings Attached

Another reason why universities have increased tuition is the lack of adequate state funding—a trend that has only grown worse since the recession. Disinvestment in state universities has forced colleges to look elsewhere for funding sources, and the corporate sector has eagerly stepped in.

For example, John Allison, former chairman of BB&T Corp.,  has worked through the BB&T Charitable Foundation to provide schools with “as much as $2 million” under the condition that they “create a course on capitalism and make [Ayn] Rand’s … Atlas Shrugged required reading.” Former hedge fund manager Jim Simons has tried to privatize tuition practices within the SUNY system, wielding an apparently conditional pledge of $150 million at Stony Brook as a bargaining chip. The Koch brothers have also been widely criticized for their politicized contributions (particularly for funding economics professorships at Florida State University); the Charles Koch Foundation can rescind funding for professors’ salaries if their work is deemed “unacceptable.” These donations, which come with ideologically charged strings attached, use a not-so-invisible hand to influence university administrators and to promote development strategies and curricula lauding capitalism and the super-rich.

Squeezing the Workforce

Public universities have also sought to shift financial burdens onto faculty and staff. The rise in the percentage of contingent faculty, the precariousness of their positions, and the effect it has on academic integrity and teaching quality are all characteristics of what Claire Goldstein calls the “emergent academic proletariat.”

In 1970, “78% of faculty were permanent and full time;” now, says Goldstein, “close to 70 percent of all faculty appointments in degree-granting institutions are off the tenure-track, a number that includes over one million people.” Contingent faculty are more likely to be overworked, under-resourced, and left out of important decision-making groups. Lacking job security and other resources, contingent faculty may be less likely to include controversial course material, too. As law professor and free speech activist Marjorie Heins has argued, the dominance of corporate rationality recalls an earlier era of academia, before tenure was a well-established policy and professors could be dismissed for championing scholarship or causes that went against the outlooks of university boards. Now, the public university is again squeezing out those who might otherwise push for some much needed progressive thinking, teaching, and learning.

Entrepreneurializing the Public U

Given the landscape of public disinvestment, rising tuition, and a persistently weak labor market, many have called for the American university to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit they claim is required in an increasingly competitive global economy. As universities take heed—and follow the money—the “entrepreneurial university” is being born before our eyes.

Great public universities can certainly be centers for innovative and pragmatic partnership, and the production of quality goods and services that benefit the larger world should indeed be a part of the university’s activities. But in the long term, focusing exclusively on entrepreneurship and the development of “marketable skills” is a different and even dangerous project. Private investors and firms that support an entrepreneur are, by their very nature, interested first and foremost in the profitability of their investment. When an entrepreneurial profit motive is the driving force of decisions instead of a desire to make people’s lives better, the university stops being a center for the betterment of society and becomes another means of capital accumulation.

Under this paradigm, certain fields of knowledge yield a higher return than others—as do certain students, namely those who are willing to pay full tuition, accumulate assets of their own as well-paid professionals, and give back to their beloved alma mater. It just so happens that the kinds of learning and teaching deemed most useful—what Henry A. Giroux would call “instrumental pedagogy”—are not those that are essential to progressive social thinking: the critical orientation and self-reflexivity of the humanities and interpretive social sciences pose a threat to neoliberal rationality. And given the price, projects, and results that neoliberal education demands, students from historically marginalized backgrounds or who present points of view challenging corporatization are often shunted aside.

Conclusion

When the market rules, ordinary people and inclusive social structures do not. Instead, rigid hierarchical structures proliferate, free market ideology dominates, progressive and critical thought declines, and disparities among employees abound. Those who have money and influence—corporate billionaires and university administrators—accumulate more of it, while those who do not—students and their families, contingent academic workers— are further marginalized.

In the post-war era, a democratic project began to establish a widely and rigorously educated general public through well-funded and subsidized public higher education. It was an imperfect project at best—African Americans and other people of color were largely denied access to many of these programs—but we should do well to remember the democratic promise of the public university before we relegate it completely to the cold hands of the neoliberal market and corporatization.  The stakes are high: who and how we are educated forges us into the kind of society we become. A vigorous public education system, higher ed included, is the best defense against an ascending neoliberal plutocracy where democracy is deemed second to entrepreneurship and capital accumulation.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

 

[i] Brown, Wendy. Neoliberalized Knowledge. History of the Present Vol. 1, No. 1 (Summer 2011). University of Illinois Press. pp. 113-129

 

Following the Money: A Template for Oppression

David and Charles Koch Image courtesy of Forbes.com

David and Charles Koch
Image courtesy of Forbes.com

These days, it seems everyone is familiar with the billionaire conservative Koch brothers (to some level or another). Their influx of excessive cash into our political system has resulted in both the Tea Party as well as Citizens United. At their basic level, David and Charles Koch are libertarians who back measures which will allow them to conduct business with as minimal government regulation as possible.

So why have they spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the anti-choice cause? Especially considering they previously have donated large sums of money to stem cell research?

The answer is simple and shouldn’t be all that surprising: it’s good for business.

While the Kochs may not really believe in the rights of medically non-viable fetuses, by claiming this belief with organizations such as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, the Kochs gain access to far more support than they would if they limited their agenda to their primary cause of business deregulation.

A report by Adele M. Stan of RH Reality Check details the complex and secretive flow of millions of anti-choice dollars coming from the Koch brothers, which then go through pass-through organizations [also known as “secret banks” due to their 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) statuses], and eventually filter down to anti-choice organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), Americans United for Life Action (AUL Action), and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC).

Just as important as the investigative details provided by Stan are the overarching implications of such behavior. We would be mistaken to view this flow of money as an isolated problem, unique to the reproductive health realm of human rights. Rather, this one instance is indicative of a larger problem. From reports like Stan’s, we can begin to build a template that helps us better understand both the mobilization of conservative voters and the subsequent disenfranchising of women, children, and many types of minorities.

When “philanthropists” or any sort of big spenders give money to politically driven (and overwhelmingly conservative) groups in order to forward their own agendas, they unleash such groups’ ability to spend as freely as they care to. Such spenders enable organizations which might otherwise struggle to gain footing, allowing them to better mobilize, advertise, self-promote, donate, and support candidates and campaigns. This generally ensures their political message will be widespread. These organizations, already apt at appealing to the religious beliefs of prospective supporters, can now use their wallets to do so as well.

The Kochs and others are opportunists. As was observed during a recent phone conference centered on Stan’s report, “[religiously driven voters] are going to take their pound of flesh, and the Koch brothers are happy to enable them.”

The collateral of these practices is truly devastating. At the feet of the Koch brothers, we see women stripped of their basic right to healthcare. When looking towards other areas of social justice, we should consider this: virulently anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a 501(c)(4) and currently under IRS investigation; almost half of the National Rifle Association’s programs are 501(c)(4)s; and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS [also a 501(c)(4)] spent over $20 million on ads during the 2010 Senate elections.

This all leads to the question: what can we do to stop this? The IRS is already looking into many of these organizations, but their progress is slow due to accusations this past summer that they have specifically targeted Tea Party aligned groups.

There is still work that can be done outside of the IRS by the public.

Research
Investigative research and reports like Stan’s help inform the public about the inner workings and manipulative behavior of donors like the Koch brothers. We need substantive details in order to understand the larger picture. Every time behavior like this is uncovered and thoroughly researched, we have another opportunity to better understand the way the system is being used to both profit the abusers and harm others.

For example, an emerging consistency is larger organizations starting “action” arms that are specifically 501(c)(4), while the organization as a whole remains a 501(c)(3).  Among others, the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, Americans United for Life, and the Family Research Council do this.

Legal Fights
Organizations like Freedom Partners and CCAP have not always been able to keep their donors anonymous. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is the primary thing that allows corporations to file for tax-exempt statuses under which they do not have to reveal their donors. Applications for 501(c)(4) status more than doubled after this ruling. The 501(c)(4) Reform Act of 2013, which has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, would amend the 2010 ruling in hopes of ensuring that such corporations cannot heavily influence politics as they have been for the past three years. Urging support for this is essential.

Personal
Information is power. Ideally, people should look into a groups’ financials and inner workings before they give their money or any other form of support. This folds back into both the research and legal standpoints because the two are essential tools that promote the ability to make empowered decisions. It may be quite obvious, but the more widespread and available this information is, the more empowered people there will be.

Perhaps most important to take away from all this is to always remain curious and question the source of money—whether it is where it is coming from or where it is going, the devastating impact is undeniable.