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Cedarville University's American Dream Conference: Christian Perspectives on the Economy

On October 25th and 26th, Cedarville University welcomed Dr. Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute, Dr. Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Dr. Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute, Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, Dr. D.C. Innes of The King’s College, and Dr. Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, to speak at its American Dream Conference. The conference is a part of the school’s Critical Concern Series, a program that aims to blend scholarly input on current events with biblical integration. Thursday evening’s keynote address was delivered by Barry James, chief economist and founder of James Investment Research. Mr. James gave an overview of the sheer enormity of the United States’ national debt, as well as the macroeconomic implications of the impending fiscal cliff. Friday morning opened with a panel on Christian responses to the national debt with Dr. Richards and Dr. Sider. While many Americans view raising taxes on the rich as an attractive option to raise additional revenue, Dr. Richards asserted that tax hikes would not reward risk-taking and will ultimately shrink the economy. Contrary to Dr. Sider, he stressed that cuts to entitlement spending are necessary to incentivize lower-income Americans. Dr. Brooks then took the stage to present his research on the moral case for free-enterprise, derived from his most recent book, “The Road to Freedom.” Equal parts passionate and factual, Dr. Brooks highlighted his research on the satisfaction one receives from “earning their success,” rather than accepting handouts. AEI scholar Dr. Andrew Biggs then presented his findings on the brokenness of the nation’s Social Security program. He articulated the differences between defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans, saying that a switch to defined-contribution may be the prescription for our ailing “legacy debt.” Dr. Biggs also asserted that making private, defined-contribution plans the default option for new retirees, with an opt-in alternative, may be the best way to stabilize this large entitlement program. The conference’s final session was a panel offering Christian responses to poverty, which discussed capitalism’s role in restoring prosperity to the poor. Lisa Sharon Harper asserted that we have a biblical responsibility to care for the poor, and she advocated for higher marginal tax rates as well as increased capital gains taxes, which she said would raise additional revenue for programs to support them. Dr. Innes cited the fact that more federal money (per capita) is spent on anti-poverty programs than most poverty-stricken families make in a year, as a call for greater efficiency and possible cuts if more progress is not made. Both panelists agreed that Christians are called to help the poor, but each arrived at different conclusions about the role government should play in the matter. Students were abuzz with lessons they took away from the conference. A group of pre-seminary students could be overheard working through the biblical basis for capitalism, and how capitalism appears to account for humankind’s sinful nature. A cluster of social work students could be seen prodding speakers for a better understanding of how the nation’s Social Security program can be fixed. The most talked-about presentation seemed to be Dr. Brooks’s. His moral case for free enterprise seemed to capture the missing link between Christianity, concern for the poor and economics. Attendees agreed that while most of the presented data favored conservative economics, the more liberal speakers were more passionate about their biblical integration. A senior student noted that Dr. Brooks “didn’t shy away from the moral argument like many proponents of free enterprise do today.” Guests and students left the conference with a better understanding of economics, its integration with biblical commands and important knowledge about the United States’ current fiscal situation.