Thursday, 25 March 2010

The very air we breathe is statist

In Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, Dr. Murdo Macdonald (policy officer for the Church of Scotland’s Society Religion and Technology Project), writes on the subject of defence spending.

One sentence in the article jumped out at me:
“Many in the developed West have been rightly critical of developing countries which spend significantly larger proportions of their budgets on military hardware than they do on more benign expenditure such as health and education: for example, the governments of Ethiopia, Yemen and Sri Lanka all allocate more than 15% of their budgets to military expenditure.”
Most people will see that as an uncontroversial statement. (So would I, a few years ago.) But probe a little deeper. This is all about government expenditure. It simply assumes that governments will spend money on health and education, because the state is responsible for health and education. This is taken as a given.

In actual fact, as recently as 200 years ago, no-one assumed that the state was responsible for health and education. The view that the state was responsible for education largely arose in the 19th century, and the view that the state was responsible for health was unusual before the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, for most of the history of human civilisation, people (in this country and elsewhere) assumed that the state was responsible for defence, but not for health and education.

The same, in fact, is true in the Bible. Dr. Macdonald begins his article by citing passages of Scripture in which Israelite kings (i.e. the state) took responsibility for (rightly) building up the defences of their country. The Bible never, however, suggests or even hints that health and education are the responsibility of the state. One suspects that the ancient Israelite prophets would not have seen any problem with the state spending more money on defence than on health and education.

The truth is, that while Dr. Macdonald begins his article by referring to Scripture, the assumption behind the sentence which I have quoted owes far more to the political culture of the past century than it does to the teaching of the Bible.


Anonymous said...

Hello, YMB.

Just checking that you are okay. It has been a while since your last blog posting.


Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello indigomyth,

Thank you for your concern, and I hope that you are thriving.

Yes, I'm fine. My posting has been fairly sporadic over the past few months - partly due to being busy, partly due to blogging fatigue! Some folks can rattle off blog posts with great ease. Alas, I find that writing a post takes some effort. In fact, not only have I not been posting much, I've not been reading other blogs much. As you know, it can get time-consuming!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been away on holiday, and am now catching up on various things.

I hope to get a post or two out soon.

Anonymous said...


Well, it is good to know that you are okay.

I can appreciate how hard it is. My blog has one entry, from 6 months ago!

//I hope that you are thriving.//

Oh, you know me. Wandering around, shouting at Stewart. Fun times, fun times.

Still, I look forward to your next post! You have to do the obligatory "General Election post! Either that, or the General Election commiseration post.