General Revelation

Why don’t Christians have all the truth? Because non-Christians are smart and attend well to creation. Some highlights of recent revelations from people not explicitly illumined by the Holy Spirit or committed to Reformed Protestant epistemology:

First, a great piece on the films of Whit Stillman which includes this:

Though certainly a contemporary filmmaker and not in any sense a stranded nostalgist, Stillman nevertheless displays qualities that, while once common, are now so rare that they put him in stark relief against nearly all of his contemporaries. Perhaps most pronounced is his distinctive affection for his uniformly well-born characters. If revulsion for bourgeois hypocrisy seems an obligatory quality in American independent filmmaking these days, Stillman will have none of it. He offers instead a gentle satire of his characters’ foibles combined with a frank sympathy for their principles. While quite natural in Austen novels and RKO comedies of the 1930s and ’40s, this is rare today. Thus is it all the more striking that Stillman continues to receive critical acclaim from disparate publications and institutions, from a Vanity Fair photo spread for the 25th anniversary of Metropolitan to a volume of effusive essays from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Second, the short-sightedness of suburban growth:

Since the end of World War II, our cities and towns have experienced growth using three primary mechanisms:

1. Transfer payments between governments: where the federal or state government makes a direct investment in growth at the local level, such as funding a water or sewer system expansion.

2. Transportation spending: where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.3

3. Public and private-sector debt: where cities, developers, companies, and individuals take on debt as part of the development process, whether during construction or through the assumption of a mortgage.

In each of these mechanisms, the local unit of government benefits from the enhanced revenues associated with new growth. But it also typically assumes the long-term liability for maintaining the new infrastructure. This exchange — a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation — is one element of a Ponzi scheme.

The other is the realization that the revenue collected does not come near to covering the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates the cost at $5 trillion — but that’s just for major infrastructure, not the minor streets, curbs, walks, and pipes that serve our homes.

The reason we have this gap is because the public yield from the suburban development pattern — the amount of tax revenue obtained per increment of liability assumed — is ridiculously low.

Last, the folly of an all volunteer military:

When the Gates Commission set up the rationale for the AVF in 1970, it did so at the behest of a president, Richard Nixon, who had come to see the conscript military as a political dagger aimed at his own heart. One could argue that the decision to abolish conscription was a foregone conclusion; the Commission simply provided a rationale for doing it and for volunteerism to replace it.

But whatever we might think of the Commission’s work and Nixon’s motivation, what has happened in the last 16 years—interminable war—was never on the Commission’s radar screen. Like most crises, as Colin Powell used to lament when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this one was unexpected, not planned for, and begs denial as a first reaction.

That said, after 16 years of war it is plain to all but the most recalcitrant that the U.S. cannot afford the AVF—ethically, morally, or fiscally.

Fiscally, the AVF is going to break the bank. The land forces in particular are still having difficulties fielding adequate numbers—even with lowered standards, substituting women for men (from 1.6 percent of the AVF in 1973 to more than 16 percent today), recruitment and reenlistment bonuses totaling tens of millions of dollars, advertising campaigns costing billions, massive recruitment of non-citizens, use of psychotropic drugs to recycle unfit soldiers and Marines to combat zones, and overall pay and allowances that include free world-class health care and excellent retirement plans that are, for the first time in the military’s history, comparable to or even exceeding civilian rates and offerings.

A glaring case in point is the recent recruitment by the Army of 62,000 men and women, its target for fiscal year 2016. To arrive at that objective, the Army needed 9,000 recruiting staff (equivalent to three combat brigades) working full-time. If one does the math, that equates to each of these recruiters gaining one-point-something recruits every two months—an utterly astounding statistic. Additionally, the Army had to resort to taking a small percentage of recruits in Mental Category IV—the lowest category and one that, post-Vietnam, the Army made a silent promise never to resort to again.

Moreover, the recruiting and retention process and rich pay and allowances are consuming one half of the Army’s entire annual budget slice, precluding any sort of affordable increase in its end strength.

All of these pieces relate to the United States’ growth as a world power and the way we pay (or don’t) for it. Stillman’s movie, Barcelona, is an amusing take on the convergence of economic interest and Cold War policy. And none of it will you (nor should you) find in New Horizons.

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5 thoughts on “General Revelation

  1. I would like to know if Dr. VanDrunen considers the overthrow of King Charles the First to be a good example of Reformed thinking and action? He cites it somewhat positively in his New Horizons article without any evidence at all which would help me and maybe others to think it was justified. Cromwell’s subsequent
    dominionist regime based upon Christendom was arguably a disaster from England to the Caribbean.

    More recently, supposedly Reformed claims upon the province of Northern Ireland’s aspects of civil government such as the police and indeed territory contributed to shameful discrimination and years of thuggish civil warfare. The points in the blog about debt and military recruitment are great ones for discussion, but for the life of me I cannot see how a Reformed input to such governmental issues can even exist.

    Yet while the U.S. can legitimately ponder it’s military capabilities, be at least grateful for what you have. Here in the ‘ship of fool’s’ UK we are now so pathetic we are considering being part of a European military set up which means in reality being Franco-German led. What would Churchill have thought of this?

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  2. Darryl,
    I have VanDrunen’s book but need to read it. My question is one I would like David to answer about Cromwell’s Commonwealth being better than the reign of Charles; Cromwell was a complex figure who could arguably labelled a dominionist. He was authoritarian and ended up as king in all but name.

    I don’t have a link on UK military plans I’m afraid. I sift through the media and normally find the web site Westmonster is helpful if not in depth. Mainstream media is pretty apathetic about the UK military. I often think our £13 billion given annually to foreign aid would be better spent back home, but that is a thorny issue. Why do we give aid to India which has a space programme and owns a decent number of UK companies?

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  3. DGH:

    The NATO website outlines all of Europe’s military plans to spend less than 2% of their GDP on national defense. The U.K., Greece, Poland and a few others are living up to their pledge.

    Re: the insustainability of the all volunteer military force, perhaps if the U.S. were disabused of the “only/mostly Americans in combat” notion, all over the world at all times, AVF may actually work.

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