Truth and Morality in Krugman’s Observation

On Friday of last week, Nobel Prize Laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote an interesting piece titled, “A Tale of Two Moralities.” I have long admired Krugman, not simply because we tend to agree in matters of political and economic policy, but because he is certainly a brilliant thinker who often has a compelling point to make following a richly insightful observation.

Such was the case two days ago when his NYT column noted what Krugman believed to be at the heart of the divisive quality of our political discourse marked as it has been in recent years by increasingly polarizing rhetoric and disrespect. For, as Krugman opines, the problem isn’t policy-oriented nor is it simply a matter of partisan politics, but instead he suggests:

For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

The point that Krugman is making is that what is essentially at the core of the divide is really a difference in worldview and values, not just petty politics or policy squabbles. Later in the column Krugman makes an analogous reference to the issue of abortion and how each side of the Roe vs. Wade case views the opposing side as morally wrong, not simply politically affiliated in a different association. 

This, he asserts, is the case with economic policies of political import. One side (the so-called conservatives, generally associated with the GOP) see a moral right to keep what is ‘earned’ and feel that people should not have to involuntarily give of their financial gain no matter how worse off others in society are. The other side (the so-called liberals, generally associated with the Democratic Party) see the plutocratic hoarding of money by disproportionately small group of the wealthy while others barely survive as unjust.

It is a difference between theft and greed. And neither side will budge.

Krugman is easily forthcoming about which of the two sides he is aligned. He wrote:

Regular readers know which side of that divide I’m on. In future columns I will no doubt spend a lot of time pointing out the hypocrisy and logical fallacies of the “I earned it and I have the right to keep it” crowd. And I’ll also have a lot to say about how far we really are from being a society of equal opportunity, in which success depends solely on one’s own efforts.

His alignment is not expressly based on religious principles, but I believe that as a Christian — and particularly a Franciscan — I must overtly state on which side I find myself standing, in it should be no surprise to those who have ever read the Gospels. The side that sees the requisite sharing of its profit for the aid of the poor and marginalized as ‘theft’ have no leg to stand on when it comes to Christian morality.

Whether it’s Matthew 25 or the entire Gospel of Luke or Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, whatever passage from Scripture one wishes to invoke about discipleship will ultimately lead the honest believer to the side of the divide that sees it as everybody’s obligation to take care of the least among us. No one has the right to excess wealth when others are dying of hunger, illness, war or any of the other consequences of poverty.

Krugman is correct, I believe, in his assessment of the divide relating to a difference in moral outlook. But, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, there is a right and wrong moral outlook and only one of the two is right. I should say, only one is right for those who hold the Bible to be Sacred Scripture.

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