Grizzly Bears and Biblical Economics

What can the President of the United States learn from the grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park? Let’s see if we can figure that out today on TruthCurrents.

For most of the 20th Century one of the most popular tourist attractions at Yellowstone National Park were called “Bear Feeding Stations.” They were essentially huge piles of garbage. And tourists would gather around at particular times during the day and the bears would come and rummage through the piles of garbage looking for food. In fact, tourists would arrive early and sprinkle different types of food in the pile of garbage. And it was fascinating to be up close and personal as they watched the bears rummage through the garbage trying to find something to eat.

That went on for decades until in 1970 the park leadership outlawed the practice of feeding the bears. What they had determined was that the bears were losing their capacity to hunt, to fend for themselves, to find their own food. So, in times when tourism was down and the feedings stations were not restocked on a daily basis, the bears were actually starving from an inability to take care of themselves. In other words, giving them free food was not in their best interests.

Well, what’s the lesson here? Well, we’re coming out of a pandemic in the United States. And the pandemic cost Americans their jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that there are 9.7 million people right now who are actively seeking work. And yet, businesses are reporting significant labor shortages and the inability to staff their businesses because they can’t find people to take their jobs.

The National Restaurant Association has said, “Staffing full-time jobs in restaurants is harder right now than it’s ever been before.” Taco Bell is looking to fill thousands of open roles and they are interviewing employment candidates on mass in parking lots. McDonalds has sighted the labor shortage as the reason why some of their dining rooms may not reopen until some time next year. In fact, I saw one McDonalds owner who’s offering $50 just to get people to come in and sit down and have an interview for a job. The Wall Street Journal writes this up as “Fear of the Pandemic.” In other words, they say people are afraid to go back into the work place for fear that they will contract COVID 19.

That’s one theory and some people think that. A more significant idea, I think, is that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which included first $600 a week extra beyond unemployment insurance, that’s now been reduced to $300 a week. But unemployment benefits have been extended through September 6th ostensively to help struggling Americans get through their financial troubles at least through the summer. While there are many lawmakers and political commentators who have applauded this provision as a much-needed relief for the pandemic, some economic experts are beginning to argue that these numbers are generous enough that they are actually discouraging unemployed workers from returning to the labor force. It’s interesting, the idea here is that people are making more money, these are unskilled people by in large, they’re making more money by taking government aide than if they were out actually working at a job.

Now there are other theories that some people have not returned to the work force because schools are not open and they have child care issues. So, they are staying at home. The estimates are that there are 6.3 million people in that boat caring for children who are still required to be out of school. There are another 2.1 million of our citizens who are at home caring for an elderly family member who cannot be in some sort of care facility.

Those are legitimate issues but I think it comes back to this economic explanation. Some companies, particularly larger companies, are responding to this shortage of labor by raising the minimum wage. Costco recently raised their minimum wage to $16 an hour, while Target and Amazon have raised their wages to $15 an hour, a number that Democratic lawmakers want to become the Federal Standard. The problem is, nobody in Washington seems to understand simple economics. When wages go up then prices go up in order for businesses to be able to afford their employees. When wages go up, prices go up. When prices go up, guess what? The minimum wage at the new level is now no longer a livable wage and the cycle continues. It’s called “Inflation.”

I find it interesting that there’s no talk of training or educating or giving people the skills so they can do jobs higher than minimum wage entry level positions. The only solution that the government ever suggests is more money. Let me suggest that President Biden throws around money like a teenager who stole his Momma’s credit card.

Well, what are going to do? Well, the States have begun to take this into their own hands. As of this week Iowa joined Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, and South Carolina as states that are discontinuing their involvement in the additional pandemic unemployment relief that is coming from the Federal government. They argue in these States that the U.S. economy is not going to recover fully or be able to sustain a recovery until people are back at work. The jobs report that was released this week was a disappointment. The White House promised that there would be 1 million new jobs gained. And the fact is, the numbers show that the economy gained 266,000 jobs. Now that’s a significant increase but it’s only a quarter of what was predicted. The data shows that the economy has still not recovered more than 8 million jobs of the 22 million that were lost at the height of the pandemic.

Montana recently reacted to its labor shortage by launching what they call a “Return to Work Bonus.” In Montana, if you accept a job and get off the unemployment rolls, the state of Montana will actually pay you a $1,200 bonus just to go back to work.

Well, how do we think about this Biblically? The fact of the matter is, helping people who are in a tight spot, that is a Christian value. That is something that Christianity has always been known for. And so, I want you to understand, I’m not against some level of assistance particularly in times of national crisis to help families get over the hump. What I’m concerned about is that the government has been so free with money that like the bears in Yellowstone National Park, we are creating a permanent dependency that will do damage to the individuals who are on government aide and do damage to the economy as particularly Mom and Pop businesses can no longer staff their employee rosters.

Let me give you some Biblical principles. In the book of Leviticus 19:9, here’s one of the things that God included for His people in the Old Testament economy. He said,

 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not to reap to the very edges of your field nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not glean your vineyard nor shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger; I am the LORD your God." (vv.9-10)

What God said was, when farmers went to harvest their fields, they were not to harvest all the way to the boundaries. They were to leave margins of unharvested grain. When vineyard owners or orchard owners went to harvest the fruit of their fields, they were not to take the fruit that had already fallen on the ground. They were not to go all the way to the edges of their field. The design was to leave intentionally enough food unharvested so that the poor and needy and stranger could come into the fields and harvest enough to provide for their family. Now, what happened here is God was designing a system where those who had plenty made available what was needed for those who didn’t have enough. But, the principle was those who didn’t have enough had to have the gumption to go out into the fields and gather it for themselves. In other words, they had to work.  God’s system guaranteed that there was available resources for the poor. But the poor did their part by working to receive those things.

When we get to the New Testament what we find is that the Apostle Paul, it sounds like he takes a hard line. But I want to share with you his principle. He writes to church in Thessalonica, in a letter we call 2 Thessalonians. There was a problem in Thessalonica and that was some of the Christians in that early church were convinced that the return of Jesus was imminent. And so, they had quit their jobs. They were waiting for Jesus to come back and in the meantime, they were living off of the charity of other people in the church who were still working. Here’s what Paul said. He reminds them of the model that he gave them, the way he lived when he was in Thessalonica planting the church. This is what He says in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother or sister who leads a disorderly life and not one in accordance with the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example because we did not act in an undisciplined way among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bead without paying for it; but with labor and hardship, we kept working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. Not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a role model for you so that you would follow our example.
Now here in verse 10, here’s his principle.

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not eat either.” For we hear that there are some among you are leading an undisciplined life doing no work at all but acting like busybodies. Now we command and exhort such persons in the Lord Jesus Christ to work peacefully and eat their own bread. But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary of doing good.

Is it ok for the government to offer assistance to help people who are in a jam economically? Yes. I think it’s an expression of our values and I’m not against that. But this idea of endless spending so that nobody has to work and they can fully rest on the largess, the generosity of the government, not only is that not best for the individual, it’s not best for our economy. It’s not best for our government. It makes people feel like the government is he source of all that we have. And it leaves the government to believe that they are God.

I’m all for helping people. But right now, what we need is to help people by getting them back to work. There’s dignity in work. There’s value and esteem that comes from labor. A system of welfare that is unbridled in its generosity is not a good thing. As much as we may have the impulse to help people, it’s time for America to work. That is our Biblical value.

This is TruthCurrents.

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