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Economic news was eventful last week. The weekly jobless claims report, at 210,000, was the lowest in 49 years. The consumer confidence index, at 130.8, was the highest in more than 17 years. But the big news was the announcement by President Trump on Wednesday that he would impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum. Details are scarce, but it currently appears that it will apply to all countries with few exceptions. In response, the S&P 500 stock index fell each day for the balance of the week losing more than $600 billion. President Trump listed national defense, the need to protect the American worker, and unfair trade practices (China in particular) as reasons for the decision.

In a mid-February report, the Commerce Department documented the crisis situation of the U. S. steel and aluminum industries. Since 2,000, 10 steel furnaces have closed and employment has fallen by 35 percent. From 2013 to 2016, the U.S. lost six of its 11 aluminum smelters, and three of the those remaining were not operating at full capacity. Employment in the aluminum industry fell 58 percent during that period. The U. S currently has 169 anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders in place on steel (29 against China) and two in place on aluminum (both against China). There are 25 ongoing investigations on steel and four on aluminum.

Are the stock markets throwing a tantrum?  Was the $600 billion loss in stock prices justified?  Stephen Gandel, for Bloomberg, wrote an article that pointed out some of the logical inconsistencies of the loss.

Total imports of steel and aluminum total about $40 billion per year. A 25 percent tariff would add about $10 billion. Even if China were targeted with a 25 percent tariff for all of their imports, it would only be a little over $30 billion. Imposition of a tariff, always risks a trade war. But exports only account for about 12 percent of the U. S. economy. If the entire world retaliated against all U. S. exports (very unlikely), and the economy slowed because of their action, approximately $550 billion would be at risk. Citing Michael Gapen of Barclays, the steel and aluminum tariffs can be expected to lower GDP 0.2 percent and increase prices by 0.1 %.

Should we support raising tariffs for steel and aluminum?  The answer depends on priorities. Economists have proven that trade increases the economic well-being of both parties. Tariffs reduce trade and hence will dampen economic growth. But defense can be a valid reason for tariffs. Since steel and aluminum are necessary for many military weapons, is a strong and viable industry necessary for defense in case of war?  Also, are tariffs a necessary tactic in combating unfair trade practices? Could a more level playing field actually increase trade in the long run?

Believers who wish to accomplish their God-given purpose must establish and honor a set of personal priorities. Our priorities should be based on biblical values and mandates such as loving God and others and seeking the kingdom and His righteousness. Following our priorities requires discipline. The Holy Spirit empowers us with discipline, power, and love.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"

 Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:36-39).

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you" (Matt. 6:33).

"For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control" (2 Tim. 1:7).

Every decision and action contain our priorities. In this world, resources (including time) are limited. In contrast, wants and needs are unlimited. When we make a choice, we are inherently deciding not to choose something else. The pattern of our decisions and actions reveal our priorities, and to a large extent, our future and the degree to which we fulfill our purpose.

As believers, we need to prayerfully establish our priorities. Failure to give adequate thought to our priorities will result in someone else establishing them for us. Many who love the Lord will not accomplish what they should because they spend too much time in activities that are not important and/or urgent. The following questions should help us to reorganize our priorities according to God's direction.

  • Have we taken the time to prayerfully consider our current priorities?
  • Have we truly decided to serve the Lord?  If we have not dedicated ourselves to His purposes, eventually other demands will take precedence.

"... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15b).

  • Are our goals and dreams in accord with biblical principles and promises?  Do we consult the scriptures to evaluate them? Are they in accord with what would please Jesus?
  • Do we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in establishing priorities?
  • Are we willing to sacrifice short-term pleasure or gain for long-run significance?
  • Do we value and steward our time?  Are we concentrating on important activities?  Are we wasting too much time?

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom" (Ps. 90:12).

  • Will we be pleased with our current priorities at the end of our life?
  • Are we willing to prayerfully reorganize our priorities?  Are we willing to implement God's priorities into our lives regardless of cost?

God's priorities should be our priorities. God's priorities are blessed. God's priorities are significant. God's priorities are funded. God's priorities have the support of heaven. What are our priorities?

Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.

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