Economist John Baden writes:
“Happy New Year” may seem an inappropriate cry as America balances on the edge of governments’ financial cliffs. We’ve been edging toward this danger for two generations. The reason is simple; politicians have strong incentives to provide current benefits and promise payments in some distant future. That future is ever closer.
The politics of this financial process are complex and uncertain but a few things are clear. First, governments have diminished financial flexibility as past promises come due. This means they lack sufficient funds to address new and current social and environmental problems.
This situation strongly implies that social entrepreneurs, individuals operating in the voluntary sector, will become increasingly important. America’s economic and social problems will surely grow while governments face ever-tighter constraints. Bankrupt cities and states near default have little discretion to implement new programs and difficulty funding existing ones.
People of strong conscience and good will increasingly look toward innovative solutions. We face tighter limits on governments, increased skepticism as to their efficacy, and greater knowledge of favoritism toward special interests. I predict we will see greater interest in and respect for social entrepreneurs.
He continues and says that
If we are fortunate over the next few years, and probably decades thereafter, the contributions of such creative individuals will be increasingly important. The primary reason is clear; governments will be ever more limited in their capacities to address problems. Here’s why.
America’s governments at every level are facing tighter financial constraints as bills, bonds, and promised benefits come due. Concurrently, accretions of dysfunctional regulations limit adaptive responses. Further, we see erosion of civic and cultural capital, especially among the former working class. Parasitic and opportunistic behavior follows.
Among socially responsible citizens conscience compels actions. However, the above problems strongly imply a shift toward the voluntary sector. The reasons, governments have diminished capacity and people have less confidence in them.
The conclusion Baden draws from this is interesting. He challenges his readers and asks that
As you consider your New Year’s resolutions please recognize the value of organizations created by social entrepreneurs. Then become a financial supporter or volunteer. You have many opportunities among a large number of organizations.
The successful social entrepreneur creates roads down which people deliver their good intentions.
(You can read the whole of Baden’s essay here.)
One of the (justified in my view) complaints of those who advocate a limited government is that as government has expanded it has (among other things) crowded out churches and other religious and fraternal communities who historically in America have worked to meet a wide range of human needs.
Any advocate of the free market will tell you, your competitors loss of market share is potentially good news for you. As government at all levels faces the loss of financial resources this frees up, as Baden points out, the philanthropic market place for religious and non religious social entrepreneurs. While the economic hardship and human needs are real Christians especially shouldn’t be blinded to the equal real opportunity we have to re-assert ourselves in education, philanthropy, health care and other areas where historically the Church has offered evidence for the truth of the Gospel.
The question now is whether we are will to take the opportunity offered us by divine grace and the economic situation. A willing and generous “Yes!” is especially important to hear from those Christians who (as I said above) have advocated for the smaller government that the economy will likely bring us.