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How the heresy of inherent human goodness created the heresy of socialism

A few Democrats in California found themselves voting for Republicans for the first time in their lives this year as homelessness and crime soared. Violent crimes were up 60% in LA since 2019. Having to vote for a Republican was distressing and confusing. Why had the Democrat policies they had faith in for decades made life worse?

This is an article about economics, not crime, but economics is not only about markets and prices; economics is a social science and touches on many aspects of life. That’s why pastors should study it. Democrats in California were confused because the spike in crime damaged their most cherished belief in the goodness of humanity: people are born good and turn bad only because of oppression. The government can rid the country of oppression and return everyone to a state of innocence.

Socialists first introduced the idea that people are born good in early 19th century France. Before then, even atheists like David Hume would have thought such an idea to be silly. The pagan Greek and Roman philosophers understood that people aren’t naturally good. Christianity taught the doctrine of original sin which says that we are born with a strong tendency to evil. Even deists like Thomas Jefferson held to that doctrine. The writers of the U.S. Constitution kept the doctrine in mind and built-in safeguards to protect the nation against evil politicians. That was the purpose of the separation of powers and strictly limited government.

Then socialists began preaching that people are not inherently evil, that we are born good and turn bad because of oppression. Property oppresses the most. If they could rid the world of property, everyone would become good again. If you find that hard to believe, read the second half of F. A. Hayek’s book, The Counter-revolution in Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason or Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World

Today, according to a survey by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research, most evangelicals have become suckers for that socialist silliness. 71% of Americans and 65% of evangelicals agreed with the statement, “Everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God.” The report concluded,

“It is unsurprising that most U.S. adults believe that humans are born innocent, given the influence of humanistic philosophies and worldviews that teach self-determinism and a view of humankind as basically good….The fact that almost two-thirds of evangelicals believe that humans are born in a state of innocence reveals that the biblical teaching of original sin is not embraced by most evangelicals. God’s Word, however, makes clear that all humans are ‘by nature children of wrath’"Eph. 2:3

What does this have to do with economics? The belief in the basic goodness of people causes us to search for the oppressors who drive others to crime and then for someone more powerful than the oppressors who can rid us of them. We look to government to save us.

That’s why national conservatives blame crumbling communities and drug addiction on trade with China and want the federal government to end such trade. It’s the reason the Federal Register of new regulations on businesses has grown an average of 75,000 pages each year since 1970. It’s why politicians ignore the federal budget deficit and gargantuan debt while using a fire hose to flood the country with handouts, and the Federal Reserve issues tsunamis of new money to rescue us. It’s the reason we spend more on trying to eliminate poverty than anyone in history, and the 50-year long war on drugs, while failing at both. It’s the justification for welfare programs, grants to poor families, universal income, paid parental leave, and all the money politicians want to throw at problems. It would be a mistake to think politicians really care; they a merely trying to buy votes.

How has that worked out? Socialists and conservatives are unhappy. Both blame capitalism for every problem, from flat tires to broken bed springs. The poverty rate remains stubbornly stuck at 10% despite the trillions of dollars the government hurls at the problem. Drug addiction is worse than ever, and increasingly rapidly. Poor single mothers head most households with children. Communities are dying. Crime is rising in Democratic states. Real wages are virtually stagnant, thanks to inflation. And the economy goes through regular boom-bust cycles that destroy the livelihoods of the working poor.

Somehow none of these failures dent the belief in the basic goodness of humanity and the ability of the government to solve every problem. Democratic voters in California will vote for Republicans until things calm down, then return to voting for the policies that have failed for a century, everywhere they have been tried, because the belief in the goodness of humanity is their religion.

This is why we can’t have nice things like freedom, or even a reduction in poverty. As long as most Christians believe in the basic goodness of mankind, we will look to the government to intervene in markets and solve problems. But that intervention leads to worse problems, and then calls for more government intervention to solve problems the government exacerbated (or even created), as Ludwig von Mises wrote in his classic book, Interventionism: An Economic Analysis.

Most Americans would be insulted to be called socialists, but by accepting the socialist view of human nature, we have embraced the heart of socialism and its most dangerous tenet. All other socialist doctrines spring from this one. Before we can turn the country around and recover a modicum of rationality, Christians must return to a Biblical theology of human nature. That means a return to the doctrine of original sin: that everyone is born with a tendency to evil, that only Christ can change.

Roger McKinney is the author of Financial Bull Riding and God is a Capitalist: Markets from Moses to Marx.

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