Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
Our younger and non-U.S. readers may not be able to relate to the economic news that the U.S. economy is experiencing inflation, unlike anything we’ve seen in 40 years. Indeed, this period of “stagflation” (i.e., stagnant economy plus inflation) began even before my birth, noticeably during the Administration inherited by Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon’s resignation.
The genesis for this economic downturn started with the decision of President Nixon to take the United States off the gold standard in 1971. It was necessary to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts but was only a short-term solution. Had government become fiscally responsible, they could have gotten the nation out of debt and reinstituted the gold standard. But, rather than curb spending, the government began spending more since they could print more bills. And Ford was honest to a fault, from a political perspective, since he admitted the poor state of the Union in his address in 1975.
“I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good: Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow. This year’s Federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year’s probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion. Our plant capacity and productivity are not increasing fast enough. We depend on others for essential energy. Some people question their Government’s ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.”1
Looking to make a change, Americans voted for the Democrat candidate running against Ford in 1976. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger swore in President Jimmy Carter on January 20, 1977. However, instead of bringing positive changes to the economy, things grew worse under President Carter. Ironically, candidate Carter had successfully used Arthur Okun’s “Misery Index” in his campaign to highlight the miserable performance of Ford’s economy.2 Yet, it would not be long until the “Misery Index” became an albatross around Carter’s neck. Carter’s opponent in the 1980 presidential race, Ronald Reagan, even made a point to note that Carter was mum about the “Misery Index” of his tenure.3 I dare say that most laymen still associate the “Misery Index” with Jimmy Carter, not Gerald Ford.
The CPI (consumer price index) is used to gauge inflation. Unfortunately, it has risen to 8.5%.4 To curb inflation, the Federal Reserve Bank will inevitably raise interest rates. The simple explanation for this is that the Federal Reserve Bank wants to discourage you from spending money. So, with rising interest rates, that new automobile or house will cost even more, and you will decide to make do with what you have. As a result, demand will decrease and theoretically lower inflation. The only positive thing resulting from such an economy is that your savings account will finally accrue more interest. The bad news is that the money you earn will not have the same buying power if inflation is high.
I was but a child, but I recall the stagflation of the Carter Administration. My father preached for a domestic mission church in west Georgia. He received financial support from a congregation in Tennessee but still had to find other employment periodically to provide for his family. Briefly, my mother even tried to get a job as a seamstress at a Hanes factory outside of LaGrange, Georgia. We lived austerely and had more than one of Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” However, my father could parlay those savings into later real estate purchases when the economy improved. The point is that even Christians experience lean times, but they don’t last forever.
Would you believe that this is what Paul talked about with his financial supporters in Philippi? He told them he had learned to get along with much or little (Philippians 4.11-12). Paul said that even meant having to go hungry at times. Yet, he could do it because Christ gave him strength (Philippians 4.13). So, yes, that oft-quoted verse is about money. Though it is nice to think we can tap into our Lord’s power to accomplish difficult tasks, like quitting a bad habit, we should not lose sight of the context, especially in a terrible economy.
David said long ago that he had never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread (Psalm 37.25). Indeed, Jesus reminds us that God will supply the needs of those seeking Him and His Kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). But our necessities are just that, necessary. Beans and cornbread can sate hunger as effectively as filet mignon and mushroom Bordelaise. So, God is not promising you the “king’s dainties” (cf. Daniel 1.8 ASV). But you will receive enough sustenance to maintain life.
Moreover, as a Christian, you have the added blessing of your church family. The first Christians saw after one another’s needs, even selling their property to help support their brethren (cf. Acts 4.32-35). I am not suggesting that things will become bad enough today to necessitate such drastic measures, but it is still encouraging to know that we have others watching our backs. Indeed, they will help us with our burdens as we help carry theirs (Galatians 6.2,10).
Yes, things may get worse before getting better. The younger generations may not know what to make of these things. And we might see people sinning as the post-exilic Jews who robbed God by withholding their tithes to Him (Malachi 3.8-12). In these times, God encourages more generosity, not stinginess. As He told the Jews of old, He is more than capable of opening the portals of heaven to shower us with blessings. Do not lose that faith and trust that as we learn to do without, we might also learn how to properly conduct ourselves when we abound in this world’s goods.
1 Ford, Gerald. “President Gerald R. Ford’s Address before a Joint Session of the Congress Reporting on the State of the Union.” Gerald Ford’s 1975 State of the Union Address, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/750028.htm.
2 Phelan, John. “The Return of the ‘Misery Index’.” American Experiment, Center of the American Experiment, 27 Jan. 2022,www.americanexperiment.org/the-return-of-the-misery-index/.
4 McCormick, Emily. “Inflation Rises by the Most since 1981 as CPI Jumps 8.5% in March.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 12 Apr. 2022, finance.yahoo.com/news/consumer-price-index-cpi-inflation-march-2022-123202319.html.