Now I have outlined in a previous post the fact that incentives are inescapable. It is not whether finite creatures will have them, but which incentives they will have. They will respond to various incentives according to their nature, according to the moral condition of their heart and head. You cannot lure a hungry horse over to the fence with bacon. Those who are interested in pursuing the theology of this (as you ought to be) should check out John Piper’s work in Desiring God, and C.S. Lewis’ great argument in Reflections on the Psalms. This really is a fundamental issue in all human ethics. Grasping this theological point is foundational to a right understanding of economics.
My point is a step beyond this, however. I am arguing that because we have not learned what true human desire should look like (in its pursuit of God), we do not and cannot know what human desire should look like anywhere else. If we do not understand love for God, then how can we understand love for our neighbor? The two go together, the Scriptures remind us. We are all screwed up when it comes to questions of desire, hunger, want, ambition and tax incentives because of our apostasy. We don’t know how to want anything righteously anymore.
And the nation doesn’t know what to do in these matters because the Church has led the way in this folly — acting as though righteousness consisted of taking good things away, instead of really wanting the really good things, passionately, devotedly, more than anything else. Lewis says, rightly, that our problem is that our desire is simply far too anemic. We are far too easily pleased.
And this is why, at the end of the day, people (grown-ups, with drivers’ licences and everything) can seriously propose policies with glaring disincentives printed in block letters on the first page of the bill, and then be surprised when people act in accordance with those disincentives. The problem is not “math stupidity” — the problem is moral, theological, and personal. It is not an IQ problem; it is the result of believing lies about God. And the world believes lies about God because the Church preaches lies about God. But if we turn back to Scripture, we should discover that this was not our assigned task.
In the meantime, politicians will continue to jack up the taxes on corporations, and be surprised when those corporations relocate to another state without those taxes. The federal government will require them to cap carbon emissions, and will lecture them sternly when they move their factories to those nations which the federal government expressly exempted from those caps. They will levy a hefty fine (excuse me, I meant to say tax) on those who earn over “enter amount here,” and then be astonished when people refuse to go over that line (or refuse to report that they have done so). They will create an enormous industry dedicated to the eradication of poverty, not realizing that they have created an industry the existence of which depends upon the continuation of poverty. And so on.
They do not understand incentives. They do not understand incentives because they do not understand blessings and curses. They do not understand blessings and curses because they do not know that God is triune, and that at the Father’s right hand is a torrent of pleasure forevermore. They do not understand that we are not going to run out.