Seventy Two of Them

You get more of what you subsidize, and you get less of what you penalize. This is not just a good idea, it’s the law.

Different worldviews do not differ over this law — they differ over what is valued and which we therefore want “more of,” and over what may be justly reckoned as a subsidy or a penalty. But all worldviews work with the same structural understanding of incentives. For example, fundamentalist Muslims value killing the infidel, and so they offer magnanimous sexual rewards dispensed by black-eyed houris in the afterlife. The fact that a secularist doesn’t believe that this subsidy is really going to happen does not alter the behavior of the individual who does believe it. When it turns out that the afterlife is entirely different than what he expected, we can say that that he was defrauded, but we cannot say that he was not motivated.

This law is involved in all human behavior. It affects preaching, tax policies, advertising, academic honors and grades, and, as they say on television, much, much more.

The Christian faith does not offer an exception to this. The Christian faith, as a distinct religion dedicated to the worship of the true God, offers a different set of values and a different set of incentives. It does not offer “no values” and “no incentives.” The difference between Christianity and all the other contending faiths is not that we don’t have to obey the law of gravity while everybody else does. We share certain things with everyone else because we are all created.

The false and incoherent idea that human beings can function with no incentives whatever is a contradictory notion that developed within the Church (thinking that God is to be worshiped in a disinterested way, for “His own sake,” without any reference at all to what we might get out of it). Any attempt to argue this point can be easily represented as an argument for religious selfishness, and that the disinterested approach is obviously the “higher way.”

But it isn’t. The Scriptures constantly set blessings, rewards, honors, and glories before us in order to motivate us. It does the same with warnings, admonitions, chastisements, and curses to warn us away from certain cliff edges. The “do the right thing for its own sake only” approach is yet one more attempt by vain men to be holier than the Bible, which vain men always love to do. But though you can run, you can’t hide. Even these men are motivated by a desire to be seen as those who do the right thing for its own sake, which is their incentive.

This is a long introduction to a very simple point. This Christian second-tier heresy is something that political liberals picked up from the Church, and which continues today in their insane tax policies. There is no economic difference between a tax of 10,000 dollars and a fine of $10,000. So what sense does it make to fine a business 10,000 clams in order to discourage them from doing whatever it is, and raising their taxes by 10,000 dead presidents in the cheerful expectation that it will not discourage them from doing whatever it is?

Like I said, the whole thing is self-contradictory and incoherent, and depends on a false view of creation and human nature. At the same time, the realities of creation and human nature must manifest themselves in every system regardless. And this is why liberal tax policy, like every system, relies on incentives. But the liberals are trying to recruit suicide bombers by promising them the eternal blandishments of gap-toothed hags, seventy two of them.

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