A Creed We Can Believe In

Tony Sig
Halden shares something that Jason shares; a pretty incisive creedal formulation for the modern church from Andrew Bradstock:

We believe in one Market, the Almighty,
Maker of heaven on Earth,
Of all that is, priced and branded,
True growth from true growth,
Of one being with the Economy.
From this, all value is added.

We believe in Deregulation, once and for all,
The only way to prosperity.
For us and for our salvation,
Reagan and Thatcher were elected
And were made gods.
In their decade they legislated
To take away our economic sins.
They were crucified by the Liberal Media,
But rose again, in accordance with their manifestos.
They ascended in the polls
And are seated at the right hand of Milton Friedman.

We believe in the Invisible Hand,
The giver of economic life.
It has spoken through our profits.
It proceeds from the Law of the Deregulated Market,
And with the Market is worshipped and glorified.

We believe in one Globalised Economy.
We believe in one key business driver
For the increase in Gross Domestic Product.
We acknowledge one bottom line
For the measurement of wealth.
We look for the resurgence of executive compensation packages
And the life of the financial years to come.

Amen.

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63 Comments

  1. How does this still hold in the age of Obama? Surely our trust has shifted from the evils of “the corporations” to the perhaps less-moral but certainly more-incompetent government? If our faith is in institutions and not with God, what does it matter if that faith is misplaced in one or the other?

    Of course, this [s]creed begs the question: what alternative is there to the market for organizing and distributing property in a society? Name one that works – otherwise this is all a Marx-induced fog of no value, except sarcasm (which in the postmodern psyche is merely nihilism masquerading as analysis).

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  2. Pastor Mack,

    I’m ok with you being as disillusioned about trusting the government under the Obama administration as much as we are disillusioned with trusting corporations, the market economy, etc., but were you this sardonic about the Bush administration? Quite frankly the man took a dump on the Sermon on the Mount, and the fact that many evangelicals believed him to God’s vicegerant on earth only proves the sad fact that they were used as tools of the republican party.

    As far as economic alternatives that work, I have no interest in pragmatism. The Kingdom of God is not realistic in worldly economic terms and that (for me) is part of the point of this post. Despite what absurd prosperity gospel theology may say, following Jesus does not make sound economic sense. All worldly economies are based on selfishness and Christianity is based on self-sacrifice, on being more concerned for the “least of these” than you are for yourself. What this post is saying (at least to me) is that many sectors of the modern church have forgotten about the centrallity of selflessness and preference for the poor in the Gospel and have instead made church into a sorry mimicry of a business enterprise at best, and at worst an accomplice to the oppression of the poor.

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  3. Upon further reflection (afer I had submitted the coment the above) I decided to slightly moderate my use of the vulgar tongue. I apologize if anyone who read the original version of the post found it a little too “strong.”

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  4. pastormack,

    I’m no economic expert as far as systems are concerned. I agree with James above, that the Kingdom of God is not economically convenient. Mind you, I’m no St. Francis of Assisi. I’m not claiming to have clean economic hands.

    I have found two systems that I’ve looked into that give possible visions to “just” economic exchange.

    1) G. K. Chesterton advocated something called “Distributionism” whereby everyone would own land and have available to them the means of production etc..

    2) Christian Socialism, as advocated by many in the “Radical Orthodoxy” movement. It is different than “liberation theologies” highjacking of Marxism as it brutally condemns Marxism as a secular nihlism. They advocate a system of “gift.”

    Don’t ask me to explain them too deeply ’cause I just won’t be able to say much. Thanks for commenting though

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  5. Tony,

    If I can be transparent (a dangerous thing on the interwebs, I know), I have always struggled with an ambitious “monster” that lurks inside of me. I don’t know if it comes across on the internet, but many have told me that I am very good with and in front of people (something I am confident is true, as well). As such, I literally have to beat back this urge within me to worship “mammon.” It might be self-delusion, but I am quite sure that I could take what I do as a sacrifice/service in a ministry context and make A LOT of money in the secular context – and sometimes, I am on the verge of doing it.

    All of that for this, I went to church on Sunday and quoted the Nicene Creed with my church family. Afterward, I came home and read this fine piece of satire. Those things in tandem have helped to beat the “beast” of ambition that prowls in my heart back for a while longer. In short, this actually ministered to me. Thank you.

    Shawn

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  6. George: For me, its a bit of Smith, Hayek, Friedman, and the (unnamed) Tom Sowell.

    Adhunt: I’m not familiar with either of these two options; I suppose I was looking for something that has succeeded on a large scale. I’m not a fan of the Radical Orthodoxy folks, and I fail to see how central planning can yield “gift.” If you have no choice in the matter it is not Christian charity, it is mere coercion.

    Jstambaugh: if you are no pragmatist, then why does it matter if Bush trampled on the Sermon on the Mount? If the Kingdom of God is not economic theory and you do not expect it to be, then why should the Sermon on the Mount be a foreign policy guide? That being said, I’d love to know of a President who, in the course of his duties, has not had to “trample” on some aspect of this. Even Obama (praise be his name) has continued many of Bush’s foreign policies (radically revising his campaign rhetoric… shockingly) since taking office, but no one cares because the enamored electorate has given him carte blanche.

    Of course there is immeasurable distance between the Kingdom and our world, but we have a duty to work that middle ground and, some days, we may get lucky and glimpse at the inbreaking kingdom. My main point is that God’s Kingdom cannot be brought about by our political processes; that is, if we let our institutions do all of our morality for us, we are just modern liberals and not Christian disciples. The market has many vices, but one of its virtues is that it allows people to accumulate the excess wealth to make charity possible. As John Wesley advocated, one can “Make all you can; save all you can; give all you can.” If we fail to follow through on this Biblical principle, surely we are as much to blame as the system.

    And as for my take on Bush, not that it matters at all, I was much more capable of critiquing Bush while he was in office (though I voted for him twice) than the typical Obama or Clinton voter was for their men of choice. I was never in love with Bush, I just did not blindly loathe him like so many of our academic, political, and ecclesiastical elites.

    I still fail to see how this post is valuable at all to the church. It does not point to the Kingdom. It has no christological content, and it is only vaguely liturgical in form. I suppose some people appreciate adolescent, college-sophomore-i’m-clever-because-i-wear-a-CCCP-shirt satire, but I do not think it gives us resources for dealing with the ways the free market can and does distort our desires. I only wish you folks that get so bent out of shape about capitalism were as wary of central planning.

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    1. Pastor Mack,

      Thank you for engaging. It’s good to get some fresh meat on the comment sections.
      RE: being “sophmoric”
      – I don’t know whether to congratulate you on your accuracy as I am a sophmore, or to be frustrated with being called immature; I’ll just say that sometimes satire is satire and not meant to save the world, spread the Gospel, point to Christ, or answer all of life’s deepest problems.

      RE: “central planning”
      – I wonder how much political radio you listen to when you use scare phrases. I don’t believe in “central planning” so much as I do the economics of a society being built on a telos for the society rather than the maximization of individual “freedoms” and “rights” so that what we end up having are a bunch of oversized squirrels hoarding and building mini-empires with an increasing lack of care as to the welfare of their neighbor. We see this vividly in the current debates over health care. I actually had a conversation with a guy who said “My insurance is fine. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” – I was shocked!

      Considering your insistence that we should be glorifying Christ in these posts and our lives I find it silly, your comment that piling wealth leads to charity, or is actually necessary for charity itself! I guess the poor widow in Jesus’ parable didn’t get that memo, you know, the one who gave more than the rich guy?

      In the end I don’t buy political “pragmatism” anymore. To me, that is what warmed over liberalism is. Not that I think political machines will usher in the Kingdom of God -au contrare- The Kingdom of God has already arrived as Jesus is risen from the dead, therefore he already is Lord and the world needs to get on like this is the case.

      RE: Obama
      – Trust me, I am thoroughly disappointed in much of what he has done and has not done. I don’t fawn the way I did during the race.

      btw- what’s the CCCP?

      George,

      Welcome back! As you know I haven’t read much in the way of economics. This was supposed to be a throw away satirical post but it has garnered more attention than I thought it would. Though, I don’t think one must have a competing economic theory to critique the fundamental basics of Capitalism which fail to be entirely Christian.

      Shawn,

      I’m glad it ministered to you. George showed up I think because I guilted him on Twitter.

      Reply

  7. Pastormack,

    “Of course there is immeasurable distance between the Kingdom and our world, but we have a duty to work that middle ground and, some days, we may get lucky and glimpse at the inbreaking kingdom.”

    I’d be interested in hearing the specifics of what you mean here. Is this a statement restricted only to our discussion of economics, or does this represent your “whole thinking” on the Kingdom of God?

    Shawn

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  8. Pastor Mack,

    My point (admittedly unclear in the first post) is that the Kingdom of God is paradoxically unpractical, yet real and inevitable: everything must be given away if anything is to be kept, the last shall be first and the first last, enemies are to be loved, cheeks are to be turned, debts forgiven, grudges forgotten, and on and on and on. The Sermon on the Mount is one big mound of impracticality. Yet, I believe it should be taken seriously as economic and political reality for those who follow Jesus. But according to worldly economics and politics the economics of the Kingdom of God are impossible. I choose to believe in God’s reality of the humanly impossible, and attempt to act accordingly. This does not mean getting in bed with politicians or the powerful, but it does mean a pre-eminent concern for the weak, the poor, the widow and orphan, etc. Historically the economies of the world including and especially capitalism have not shown this concern. Inasmuch, I am critical.

    As to Obama and Bush:

    A. I told you upfront I was ok with you being critical of Obama. I, like Tony, am disappointed with his presidency, though I am more disappointed that many of my Christian brothers and sisters are adamantly against what is called Obama’s socialism, but never batted an eye at Bush’s policy of torture and human degradation.

    B. I took the chance, which you must admit, statistically speaking, is a good one, that an evangelical Christian who takes a satirical post concerning economics and drags Obama’s Healthcare debacle into it would be highly supportive of Bush’s policies. But, nonetheless, it was assuming of me, and unfair, and I apologize.

    As to satire, be careful that you do not besmirch it too much! It plays an important role in the history of human affairs. Besides, our own beloved St. Paul used it to great (and hilarious) effect in 2 Corinthians, but then again I’ve secretly suspected for some time that St. Paul would wear a CCCP shirt to church if he were around these days. 😉

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  9. Thanks for welcoming me back, guys! I check in from time to time, think about posting something, and then realize I don’t feel like fighting, so I end up deleting what I’ve written.

    I’ve been reading theologian Paul Heyne’s collection of essays: “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion. In one of his essays, he basically concludes that theologians don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to economics. Which is somewhat ironic since he’s also a theologian, although he’s done graduate work as an economist too. As far as I can tell, he’s a free-market Yoderian, which may not be as farfetched as you think.

    Tony:

    Regarding central planning, when you say, “I don’t believe in ‘central planning’ so much as I do the economics of a society being built on a telos for the society rather than the maximization of individual ‘freedoms and ‘rights,'” you’ve pretty much conceded that you believe in central planning too.

    Individuals build economies with a variety of ends; central planners build an economy (singular) with an (also singular) end. Individual freedom, in this case, simply means the right to disagree with others and choose a life that you want to live, rather than living a life someone else thinks you should live.

    Most free-market economists begin with a fundamental distinction between societies based on coercion and societies based on cooperation. Societies based on coercion are almost inevitably centrally planned ones. At the extreme, they are totalitarian. Societies based on cooperation are almost inevitably chaotic since different people choose different things and choose whether or not to cooperate with others, and to what degree that cooperation should extend.

    You also wrote, ” I don’t think one must have a competing economic theory to critique the fundamental basics of Capitalism which fail to be entirely Christian.” But how–in the absence of some competing “Christian” economic theory–can you tell whether “the fundamental basics of Capitalism…fail to be entirely Christian”? From my point of view, you’re trying to have it both ways: critique markets without actually bothering to name alternatives.

    Which brings us to economics as “gift,” the preferred mode of Radical Orthodoxy. Presumably, the economics of gift is opposed to the economics of greed. So when a union laborer goes to work at a car factory, how does your gift-economics work? Does he give his labor to GM? Or when a consumer goes to a store to purchase an item, does he pay a higher price for an item rather than ordering it online so his economic practices can be a “gift”?

    Typically, when people talk about the fundamental problems of market economies, they talk about the greed of companies seeking profits. But one never hears a criticism of the “greed” of workers asking for higher wages or the “greed” of consumers seeking lower prices. Why? Probably because it’s easier to critique big corporations than to critique your neighbors. But here’s my problem: There’s very little difference between the one and the other. Economically, every person engages is self-interested behavior. I want to get paid for my work. I want to save money on what I purchase. Companies want to maximize the profit they earn on products. And they want to lower their manufacturing costs to do so. If you can point out to me the relevant moral difference between the two, I’d love to see it.

    As for the economics of the “gift.” Gifts are voluntary, right? A gift is not a gift if it’s coerced or obligatory. That being the case, would you want to maximize the voluntary character of economic transactions between people in a “gift” economy? How, then, would that be different than a free-market economy, which strives to maximize individual freedom and minimize government coercion?

    George

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    1. George,

      That is an interesting article. I lack the time right now to respond more fully (I am balancing a toddler, and infant, Attic Greek, Latin, a reading-heavy English class, and my wife is opening a salon) but I will when it becomes available.

      If indeed the theologians that Heyne is thinking about are unknowledgeable about economic theories that is most certainly not true of the RO crowd (I’m not trying to blow an RO horn. I don’t want to be a “movement” guy) who interact extensively with the sources. Or to turn to a non-RO guy, Oliver O’donovan is a Christian political thinker who treats these topics (cf. his “The Desire of Nations).

      This is “the” RO book to look at for this stuff. Not read it yet but have heard great things.

      I’ll get back to you,
      Tony

      Reply

  10. If everyone was given a million dollars, then there would be no more employees. There would be no more clerks in any stores, there would be nobody to run public services, no electricity, no water, etc.

    I am no expert on economic theory. But, I do know that people will not work without an incentive.

    Taking from the rich and giving to the poor sounds great when we are poor, but there are limitations on that idea. At some point, people need an incentive to work.

    There are numerous abuses of America’s welfare system. I am interested to see how a new economic theory would avoid abuses and motivate people to work.

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  11. I don’t have much more to say on the matter, except that I appreciate being heard and responded to in a civil manner. George, I think I made your point about gift and coercion above. I want to pick up Heyne’s book now, too. I think theologians should read more economics if they want to be taken seriously while reflecting on that area. I actually had a professor say in a lecture that Adam Smith was responsible for “trickle-down” economics, which is a gross misrepresentation that went unnoticed in a classroom of 30 graduate students.

    That being said, simply reading economists is not enough. Kelly Johnson, who wrote ‘Fear of Beggars’, a book I loathed in seminary, has read a lot of the Dismal Science against Francis simply to look for a whipping boy. She actually takes a bat to Wesley’s model of Stewardship, calling it essentially a tool of the upper crust. Of course, one can only say this if they know very little about what Wesley actually taught and how he actually lived.

    Oh, and CCCP stands for the Soviet Union. Sometimes clever young folks wear shirts with that lettering to be funny or clever. Sadly, I went to a seminary where the mere presence of the United States flag was ridiculed (fair enough), and yet the Soviet flag could be warn without so much as an sideways glance. Academia is indeed a strange environment.

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  12. A sample from Heyne:

    “If I were asked to explain why so many Christian thinkers continue to prefer socialism to capitalism, I would say that their religious beliefs have led them to read anti-market economics too much and too uncritically and pro-market economics too little and too unsympathetically. The fundamental flaw in all the successive versions of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ so-called pastoral letter on the economy was its utter neglect of the pricing system. The authors of the letter had obviously not given any sustained thought to the coordinating functions of the price system in a modern economy characterized by an extensive division of labor and continuous change. Why? Because economics of this sort provides no grist to their mill. Since there were plent of economists not especially interested in microeconomics, they felt no obligation to study those who were. ONe of the great advantages possessed by those who enter a discussion without knowing its context is that they can employ weak arguments with a clear conscience.”

    Or here’s this:

    “…the pacifist stance to which [John Howard] Yoder’s narratives bear witness supports the preference for uncoerced exchange that is rooted in my economics. Yoder’s animus toward all-encompassing systems that lead Christians to prefer intellectual consistency to a lived-out faithfulness nurtures the hostility toward general equilibrium and macroeconomic fine-tuning that I have developed through my work as an economist.”

    If either of these quotes resonate with you (and they’re taken from obverse pages in the same essay), then by all means by this book.

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  13. George,

    Over the course of my highschool and AG college education I’ve recieved the dumbed down versions, and the adapted essays of the major free-market economists such as Smith, Hayak, Keynes, etc. I’ve never heard of Heynes though he sounds interesting (I’m a big fan of Yoder). What does Heynes have to say about the endemic problem of poverty? What is his solution?

    I’ve read Jeffery Sachs on the question of poverty and his final answer seems to be in simplistic [and slightly jaded] form that the poor just need to grin and bear it while we oppress them for a few more generations and finally at some point the invisible hand will reach down into the ghetto, pull them up, and make them into good American style middle class consumers. When I compare this to Jesus’ vision for the poor in the Gospels or the scathing remarks concerning the oppressive rich in James chapter 5 it falls completely flat for me. Can Heynes (or you) add to the conversation?

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  14. Reed,

    If I can “piggy-back” on your comment, those things have alwyas bothered me too. Also, there seems to be a serious egocentric worldview occuring within those same countries that have such wealth. I see a correlation between individualism and national wealth; and I know it is probably unwelcome in an economic debate, but is bringing the most possible wealth to the greatest number of people really what the Church wants to pursue?

    Shawn

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  15. James:

    You seem to be working under the impression that the world’s poor are poor because they have been oppressed. That may be true in some circumstances, although I would generally locate the oppression in government rather than markets. The Soviet Union was not poor in spite of the best efforts of its government, to take one obvious example; it was poor precisely because of them.

    Deng Xiaoping recognized this in China when he took poor, famously exclaiming that he didn’t care whether it was a capitalist or socialist cat, as long as it got the mouse. Liberalizing Chinese markets has lifted tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Chinese people out of poverty.

    Reed:

    You somehow forgot to mention the communist countries, which also practiced socialist policies, were officially secular, and yet merely served to immiserate their own people. You also forgot to mention that Scandinavian countries have mixed economies, vibrant democratic polities, and state churches. So, I would say that Scandinavia does not match the New Testament ideal, and that those states that do match its ideal (common ownership, etc.) don’t help the poor.

    Shawn:

    IF the church shouldn’t pursue bringing the most wealth to the greatest number of people, what’s the point of the criticism of free-market economies? Do you want to raise the standard of living of the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day or not? Isn’t this simply bringing more wealth to a greater number of people?

    George

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  16. George,

    I can freely admit my ignorance on economics. In fact, it is a profound ignorance. Nonetheless, I cannot help but notice you changed a couple of my terms in order to better serve your point. You said:

    “Do you want to raise the standard of living of the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day or not? Isn’t this simply bringing more wealth to a greater number of people?”

    But I asked whether the church wanted to focus on:

    “bringing the most possible wealth to the greatest number of people…”

    Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I see a difference between wanting to raise the standard of living for all poor people and giving carte blanche approval for the mindset that makes profiteering so prevalent in industrialized nations. I don’t think that the Church should endorse a “get all you can” mentality (though, I can see how it may be advantageous to promote such an attitude within capitalism – hence, my overly simplistic notion that maybe the Church doesn’t want to endorse capitalism, just like it probably didn’t want to endorse imperialism).

    Now, to answer your direct question: Do I want to raise the standard of living of people who live on les than $2.00 a day? Simple answer: yes. However, that assumes /1/ their $2 per day has less purchasing power than my $140 per day (no, I am not making myself the standard of poverty – I just want to compare apples to apples) /2/ I have no problem if a free market economy accomplishes it (or if a communist system accomplishes it, for that matter).

    My problem is not wealth; it is the fact that there is such disparity between the wealthy and the poor. I’m just not sure that it is even an economic problem. I think it is a “heart” problem on the part of both the poor and the wealthy. The poor are not virtuous just because they are poor, and the wealthy should not be demonized just because they are wealthy.

    Shawn

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  17. Shawn:

    Personally, I don’t see the difference between what you said and what I asked, other than the difference between a comparative and a superlative adjective. But, whatever. I want to bring the most possible wealth to the greatest number of people, including the poor, the middle class, and the rich. I don’t see any way to raise the standard of living for the world’s poorest poor without at the same time raising other economic classes’ standard of living too. A rising tide and all that…

    Your rhetoric is interesting. You question profiteering, as if managing your business efficiently so that you can have greater revenue than expense is somehow morally suspect. Isn’t that the way you manage your household budget? Is there something morally suspect about making more than you spend at a household level. No. So what is the relevant moral difference when it comes to business? And anyway, how else do you think wealth will be created to help raise the living standard of the poor?

    You’re absolutely right that the church needn’t endorse capitalism. Of course, that’s about as jejeune a point as saying that the family shouldn’t endorse capitalism. The relevant question is whether politicians and the busines community should practice capitalism. Family economies are, almost by definition, gift economies. But the state is not a family.

    You say that the problem is not wealth per se but the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. From my point of view, there will always be some kind of disparity, if only because older people have had a longer time (on average) to accumulate wealth than younger people. For me, the relevant issue is not income differential but income mobility. I don’t realy care if someone is more wealthy than I am, as long as I can improve my wealth through hard work.

    The problem facing the world’s poor is that their work does not result in a rise of a standard of living. And, if I understand the reasons correctly, most of them are political and legal in nature. Hernando de Soto, for example, has documented the byzantine legal structures in place in poor countries that keep the poor from accumulating capital and hence wealth. Legal reforms could change that. One could point out any number of countries in which politics dominates who gets what, with wealth flowing to favored interest groups and away from groups out of political favor.

    Interestingly, the collusion between big government and big business is a point at which progressives and libertarians meet. The difference is that progressives want to change out big government favor for big business with favor for big labor, while libertarians want government out of the favor-granting game entirely.

    George

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  18. George,

    You said:

    “Personally, I don’t see the difference between what you said and what I asked, other than the difference between a comparative and a superlative adjective. But, whatever. I want to bring the most possible wealth to the greatest number of people, including the poor, the middle class, and the rich. I don’t see any way to raise the standard of living for the world’s poorest poor without at the same time raising other economic classes’ standard of living too. A rising tide and all that…”

    Oh, how I have missed that, “But, whatever.” Again, I wasn’t sure you were depending on any difference in meaning, which is why I asked. I agree that it seems that groups are going to experience a “rising of the tide” as their economy improves, but I am not sure that places like America would NEED to see unilateral increase in standards of living across all classes. Here, again, my ignorance may be speaking, but do you really think that our country’s rich are going to suffer any change in lifestyle if the poorest among us receive a higher standard of living? So, I guess I am asking, you think our economy won’t work unless the rich become uber-rich when the poor become middle-class? Isn’t that just maintaining the same class distinction?

    “Your rhetoric is interesting. You question profiteering, as if managing your business efficiently so that you can have greater revenue than expense is somehow morally suspect. Isn’t that the way you manage your household budget? Is there something morally suspect about making more than you spend at a household level. No. So what is the relevant moral difference when it comes to business? And anyway, how else do you think wealth will be created to help raise the living standard of the poor?”

    I feel a little awkward saying this, but “No, that isn’t how I run my household.” The reason I feel awkward saying that is because I know you won’t believe me for some reason. I am seeking only to earn what my family needs to spend. Now, admittedly, that is going to include things like being able to afford school loan payments, private school tuition, etc., but I have never made a household/career decision based on how much more money would be in my pocket at the end of the day. If this is what you meant, then I apologize for not understanding. You’ll understand my reaction, though, comes from your comparison to the profiteering of businesses within the American capitalistic system to an individual’s household – an environment in which the largest profit margin possible is the only justifying principle needed. In which case, my answer is still, definitely – No, that isn’t how I run my household. Perhaps, my problem is with your innocent characterization of profiteering as a simple desire to have greater revenue than expenses. What justifies a multi-national conglomerate in earning 40+ billion in profits?

    “You’re absolutely right that the church needn’t endorse capitalism. Of course, that’s about as jejeune a point as saying that the family shouldn’t endorse capitalism. The relevant question is whether politicians and the busines community should practice capitalism. Family economies are, almost by definition, gift economies. But the state is not a family.”

    I’m not so sure I would sanitize any economic system so readily. Perhaps this part of the conversation should be taking place in the relationship of the Church to the State?

    “You say that the problem is not wealth per se but the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. From my point of view, there will always be some kind of disparity, if only because older people have had a longer time (on average) to accumulate wealth than younger people. For me, the relevant issue is not income differential but income mobility. I don’t realy care if someone is more wealthy than I am, as long as I can improve my wealth through hard work.”

    :0) – who does this work on? Are you really saying that you think that the disparity between the wealthy and the poor belongs to an age gap? I will say that if you have two upwardly mobile, middle-class, white men to compare – the older will have accumulated more wealth. Where do the non-upwardly mobile fit in? Where do those devastated by health problems fit in? Where do those who have been restricted by race or gender fit in? If this is the world you live in, then I am moving to SoCal – it sounds pretty sweet. Now, sarcasm aside – I do understand the point of this statement (at least I think I do) – you don’t want the argument to be centered around the fact that there are rich people co-existing with poor people as the crux of the problem, because, as you have stated, that disparity will exist even when people all have the same earning potential due something as simple as age. However, I am suspicious that it doesn’t serve some other rhetorical purpose in your thinking, because I cannot imagine the disparity ever being as great as it currently is when everyone has the same earning potential.

    “The problem facing the world’s poor is that their work does not result in a rise of a standard of living. And, if I understand the reasons correctly, most of them are political and legal in nature. Hernando de Soto, for example, has documented the byzantine legal structures in place in poor countries that keep the poor from accumulating capital and hence wealth. Legal reforms could change that. One could point out any number of countries in which politics dominates who gets what, with wealth flowing to favored interest groups and away from groups out of political favor.”

    Well said, and I believe that I agree with the entirety of what you have said here. I told you, I don’t really have an axe to grind against capitalism, free markets, socialism, or communism.

    Shawn

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  19. Shawn:

    “So, I guess I am asking, you think our economy won’t work unless the rich become uber-rich when the poor become middle-class? Isn’t that just maintaining the same class distinction?”

    I’d put it this way: In a market economy, I don’t see how there can be a general rise in the living standard of the poor that does not also positively affect the living standard of the middle and upper classes. In a communist economy, theoretically anyway, one could raise the standard of living of the poor by forcibly redistributing the wealth of the rich. But in “real, existing socialism” (to turn a communist cliche on its head), wealth redistribution actually served to lower the standard of living for everyone. It also had the perverse effect of creating a new distinction between those with absolute political power and those with absolutely none.

    My point: There will always be distinctions between the rich and power, powerful and powerless. The question is how relative those distinctions are. In my take on political economy, I’m okay with distinctions between poor and rich as long as (a) the disparity isn’t based on injustice, (b) the system maximizes mobility between income groups, and (c) the general standard of living is rising for everyone.

    Regarding profits: “Perhaps, my problem is with your innocent characterization of profiteering as a simple desire to have greater revenue than expenses. What justifies a multi-national conglomerate in earning 40+ billion in profits?”

    What makes such profits suspect? If you have the oil industry in mind, you should remember that it experiences boom/bust periods. Averaged out, the profits of the oil industry are about on par with the average profits in other industries. But rather get in a specific argument about whether a $40 billion profit is unjustifiable, let me ask you to specify what percentage rate or what dollar amount does constitute a justifiable profit: $1? $1 million? $1 billion?

    You can run your household economy any way you want to. I guess I would ask two questions: (a) What is the morally relevant difference between a householder maximizing revenue over expenses and a business doing so? And (b) what makes your household economy morally superior to someone who runs their household economy with an eye toward increased savings and wealth?

    “I’m not so sure I would sanitize any economic system so readily. Perhaps this part of the conversation should be taking place in the relationship of the Church to the State?”

    Who’s santized anything? All I’m saying is that the justice and/or utility of the economy in a mixed nation is beyond the purview of the church and the family and belongs instead to the broader political community. The New Testament nowhere dictates what the economy of the empire should be; it outlines what the oikonomia ekklesia should be.

    “Are you really saying that you think that the disparity between the wealthy and the poor belongs to an age gap?”

    Uh, no. I used the words “if only” in my formulation to imply that if you took out every other possible cause of wealth disparity between people, you would still have disparity based on age. There are any number of reasons for wealth disparity, to wit: age, inheritance, hard work, spendthriftiness, laziness, bad investments, injustice, oppression, etc. (Those are not listed in any particular order of importance, by the way). What frustrates me about the wealth inequity debate is the assumption that the inequity arises from injustice when there are often far less morally suspect causes.

    For the record, I don’t have a problem with disparities of wealth per se. Some people are better at making money than others. Some people start out with advantages that others don’t have. Some people play the lottery. Whatever. To the extent that the disparity can be traced to morally innocent causes, it shouldn’t be condemned. To the extent that it arises from morally questionable causes, it ought to be corrected. Is that really a controversial point for you?

    ” believe that I agree with the entirety of what you have said here. I told you, I don’t really have an axe to grind against capitalism, free markets, socialism, or communism”

    If you agree with what I said about the problems of capital formation, you can’t not have an axe to grind against socialism, since socialism is usually the root causes of the byzantine legal structures that keep the poor from accumulating capital.

    George

    Reply

  20. George,

    The ‘rising tide’ theory is based on one of two assumptions 1) There is an unlimited amount of resources in the world. As I’m sure you would agree that’s an asinine assumption. Or 2) Human civilization will always have the ability to make up for dwindling resources through the utizilation of ever increasingly complex technology. My problem with assumption #2 is that a) it is taking a pretty optimistic view about our ability and our desire to create better technology, and b) even if there was no limit to the technology that we COULD create, there is a limit to the technology that we SHOULD create.

    So, let’s apply all of this to your example of China. Yes, China’s reliance of a free-market system has lifted millions out of poverty. China is on track to consume as many goods as the US does in a few decades. The problem is that if the population of China lives like the population of the US, the Earth’s ecosystem would buckle under the strain, then we’d all be screwed. Not even our ingenuity in creating better technology to clean up our own messes can keep up with the sheer waste and ecological destruction. So, the answer is not lifting everyone up to the same level of wasteful consumption as us, the answer is for us to consume less.

    You say you are frustrated with the assumption that wealth inequality arises from injustice. I am frustrated with those who ignore it. What about Africa? How do explain why the continent which is the world’s most well-endowed with natural resources is also the world’s poorest? You of course know the answer: injustice. Can you name a political or economic problem on that continent which cannot be traced to hundreds of years of Western (European and American) oppression? It is morally comforting to blame all the world’s problems on the laziness of the poor, but at the end of the day injustice is the world’s single biggest economic, political, moral and religious problem. And blind faith in an economic system is not going to solve it; only God’s program of justice, love, self-sacrifice and forgiveness (aka the Gospel) is going to solve it. Are the Church and its members too busy accumulating wealth to carry this program out?

    Reply

  21. James:

    We agree that the major cause of contemporary African poverty is injustice. We disagree about its source. You blame it on “hundreds of years of Western (European and American) oppression.” I blame it on those country’s utterly corrupt governments. Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is a good example. Under the corrupt and brutal rulership of Robert Mugabe since independence from England, Zimbabwe is now actually poorer than it was under the Crown. Colonialism was bad enough. For many African nations, independence has been a cure worse than the disease.

    Regarding your comments on the “‘rising tide’ theory”: Free market economics does not assume that resources are unlimited. Rather, it assumes that they are scarce. What it assumes to be unlimited are the variety of human desires and the ingenuity of the human mind. (Hence the title of Julian Simon’s book, The Ultimate Resource.

    I would also quibble with your second premise. “Human civilization will always have the ability to make up for dwindling resources through the utizilation of ever increasingly complex technology.” Since you’re only 26, you probably don’t remember the “population bomb” theories of 60s, 70s, and 80s–most commonly associated with entomologist Paul Ehrlich. In 1968, Ehrlich predicted that population growth would put so much pressure on the consumption of the world’s scarce resources that there would be mass starvation in the 1980s. There were famines in the 1980s, of course, though only in lands ruled by Marxist leaders (such as Ethiopia). Since then, the population has grown larger (both numerically and girthwise), and people are still yammering on about population bombs and the pressure on scarce resources. You write, “The problem is that if the population of China lives like the population of the US, the Earth’s ecosystem would buckle under the strain, then we’d all be screwed.” Yeah, that’s what Ehrlich said 41 years ago, and he’s still wrong.

    Why am I not worried? Because prices for many goods are so low. Recall the comments by Paul Heyne I quoted above regarding theological economists’ basic ignorance of microeconomics. In microeconomics, prices signal the availability of resources. Low prices signal abundant goods(or unwanted goods). High prices signal a scarcity of goods relative to demand. If the price of goods rises, that indicates that a good is becoming increasingly scarce. Or, alternatively, it signals that a government is artifically pricing a good out of the market in order to depress demand (e.g., taxes on cigarettes) or that a cartel is reducing supply in order to increase profits (e.g., OPEC in the 1970s).

    Once prices become consistently high, consumers begin looking for less expensive alternatives. That’s one of the reasons why alternative fuel vehicles haven’t sold well yet. Crude oil is still relatively plentiful, especially if we drilled in Alaska, and therefore gasoline is relative inexpensive. That’s why environmntalists want to tax gas at high rates; it will depress demand for gas-powered cars and increase demand for alt-fuel vehicles. Of course, since there’s not much of a market for such vehicles, they cost more. Which is why government wants to subsidize their use through tax credits, industry CAFE standards, etc.

    Okay, getting a bit far afield here. The point I was trying to make is that prices signal whether a resource or a good is scarce or abundant. Unless, of course, the government or some cartel comes along and fixes prices artifically high or artifically low. Then all hell breaks loose.

    So far, if prices are indicative, we’re not seeing a scarcity of many resources.

    And I think you underestimate the degree to which human ingenuity can solve the scarce resource problem. Take Norman Borlaug, for example. He died this past Saturday. Prior to his breakthrough discoveries in agronomy, most people assumed that you couldn’t increase the average yield of planted acreage. Borlaug changed that, as well as introducing pest-resistant strains of wheat. Some estimate that he saved as many as a billion lives from starvation through these discoveries.

    Frankly, as Julian Simon correctly put it, the ultimate resource is the human mind. (Simon was a secularist, as far as I know, but his appreciation of human ingenuity is consonant with a strong doctrine of the imago dei.) Before the human mind figured out how to use coal, it was just a bunch of rocks in the ground. Before it invented the internal combustion machine and figured out how to refine crude oil into gasoline, petroleum was just so much sludge in the ground. Before it figured out how to harness the power of photosynthesis through solar cells, the sun was just a gassy star up in the sky.

    Will this ingenuity solve every future problem we face? No way to know unless we give it a try.

    George

    Reply

  22. Here are some books I would recommend reading:

    Michael Novak, Will It Liberate?: A critique of liberation theology from a theologically informed economic perspective.

    Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource

    Anything by P.T. Bauer, who debunked a lot of economic/trade myths about the relationship between Europe and its former colonies

    Friedrich von Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism: The title speaks for itself. Another good one is The Road to Serfdom, which explains why state economic planning tends to decrease individual freedom and increase the power of the state. The chapter, “Why the Worst Get on Top,” is about as useful an explanation of why socialist ideals so often produce thuggish governments as you’ll find.

    Johann Norberg, In Defense of Global Capitalism: This book offers statistical evidence of improving standards of living in formerly poor countries as well as a theoretical explanation of this improvement based the availability of free markets, the rule of law that promotes the private accumulation of capital, etc.

    Reply

  23. George,

    At the risk of sounding contrary, do you think that there will be a disparity between the rich and poor, the weak and powerful in the Kingdom of God?

    Shawn

    Reply

  24. Liberals have often accused conservative Christians of desiring to “legislate morality.” However, isn’t that what this thread is about? Aren’t we suggesting that our nation should legislate an economy that is based on moral principles? If so, aren’t we trying to “legislate morality”?

    Reply

  25. Shawn:

    Having cited Matthew 25:14-30 above, and to forestall a line of criticism that some Theophiliac is bound to assert, I must admit that I have no idea what heaven will look like or what its relationships will be like. We know in part, and all that.

    The Bible hints in several places about differing levels of reward (Matt. 10:41-42, 16:27, 25:14-30; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; Rev. 22:12). Or, to be more precise, it hints at reward according to desert, to being rewarded according to what one has done. And this seems to indicate disparate reward, since people perform disparate deeds.

    My personal opinion, which I think I stole from C.S. Lewis, is that everyone in the kingdom of God will be as happy as he can be, but that people’s capacities for beatitude will differ. My guess it that Mother Teresa will have a greater degree of beatitude than me, but I won’t notice because I’ll be as happy as I can be.

    But who knows. Heaven will be different.

    I’d like to turn the question back on you. Since the kingdom is the gift of God and can be brought about only by his power, isn’t the attempt to impose equality by force (through socialist politics, for example) an act of idolatry? It reminds me of a line I think I read in Joshua Muravchik’s history of socialism, that those who attempted to build the kingdom of heaven on earth succeeded only in turning it into hell.

    Or something like that.

    George

    Reply

  26. Roger,

    From my perspective this thread is about the economy of the Kingdom of God, and how that should affect our perspective on human economies. I don’t want to legislate anything, I just want to affect change through just and merciful living and be a participant in the building of the Kingdom of God.

    George,

    Don’t patronize an entire country by denying that Zimbabwe’s problems don’t lie with British colonialism. What perceived need would there be for marxist revolutionaries to fight a civil war if there hadn’t been 200 years of white oppression? The wounds caused by 200 years of forced labor and the systematic raping of a land’s natural resources, not to mention the strife caused by the arbitrary drawing of a country’s borders are still open and bleeding today. Mugabe and many other African leaders have responded (wrongly) to the horrors that have happened to their people by inflicting more horrors. Colonialism started the problem. Violent revolutionaries added to the problem. The only solution is forgiveness. But forgiveness can’t happen without truth, and the truth is that the blood of millions of Africans is on the hands of the West.

    The parallel you draw between my comments concerning China and Peter Ehrlich is not a fair one. I’m not talking about simple population growth, I’m talking about over a billion people who want to live like we already do. We use 19.5 million barrels of oil a day. Like I said, if the continue on the trajectory they are on China will be using 4x times that in a matter of decades. The fact is no one knows if there’s enough oil for that, but there certainly too much green house gas for that, and too much air and water polutants, etc., etc., etc. This is only one of dozens of commodities like this.

    I don’t deny the good Norman Borlaug had done and intented to do, but his new technologies and farming techniques are not sustainable. Sure there is more wheat in the world now, but his farming technique (and that of much of agri-industry) is destroying resources that cannot easily be replace and does not show up in rising prices: top soil, dirt, the stuff the world is made of. That was my point about their being a limit to the technology that we SHOULD create. As corn-ethanol producers found out, it’s really hard to save the world, especially by inventing new ways to use a ton of resources and be wasteful, when it would be easier, healthier, and happier if we’d just consume less. That’s also the point I was trying to make with the China thing.

    Reply

  27. George,

    “I’d like to turn the question back on you. Since the kingdom is the gift of God and can be brought about only by his power, isn’t the attempt to impose equality by force (through socialist politics, for example) an act of idolatry? It reminds me of a line I think I read in Joshua Muravchik’s history of socialism, that those who attempted to build the kingdom of heaven on earth succeeded only in turning it into hell.”

    I was hoping you would. :0)

    I had hoped that you would recognize that I have made no attempt at saying that secular governments ought to employ any kind of economic strategy. I want to know how I should live as one who ought to be bringing about the Kingdom. I know this can be a very dangerous idea when it is seized upon by an entire institution (I am thinking here of the shameful murdering that took place in the “theocracies” of Reformation Europe). Nonetheless, I don’t think the Kingdom of God is built by a government. I think the Kingdom of God is built by the Church, and only as the holy catholic and apostolic Church submits itself to the Spirit of God and the corrective measures of its internal constituency. If we have no hope of bringing all Christians onto the “same page” in this life, why did Paul seize so many opportunities to preach the unity brought by the Spirit? As to whether it is an act of idolatry, I would ask which example you are talking about. Was the theocracy that Calvin sought in Geneva idolatry? You bet. Does that necessitate that all efforts would be?

    For the record, I think socialism as a government institution is a bad idea. Where has it worked? I believe that elements of socialism have worked within other systems, but not an entirely socialized government. Now, I do believe that when Christ returns and institutes the Kingdom of God in full, it will be “socialism done right.” Does that mean it will resemble the socialism we have seen in any way? Who could say? HOWEVER, I still cannot get over the fact that Christ has called me to live out the Kingdom in my life. So, who cares whether capitalism or socialism is successful? I should only concern myself with living the life Christ has called me to live as part of the community that he has called me into, and I, consequently, will not live a life chasing material wealth as a result. “It is hard for a rich man to enter…” I already have enough problems making my way difficult without adding another.

    Incidentally, I also agree that there will be varying degrees of reward or experience of beatitude, but does that constitute a disparity like we see here?

    Peace,

    Shawn

    Reply

  28. James:

    I didn’t (and don’t) deny that colonialism caused problems. I almost included a paragraph on South Africa to make that point, but chose not too. Evidently, I should have. But don’t blame Zimbabwe’s post-colonial decline of living standards on the Brits. It is Mugabe’s fault.

    The comparison between you and Ehrlich is apt precisely because you two are making the exact same point. Like you, he denied that consumption vis-a-vis population growth was sustainable. Like him, so far, you’re wrong.

    It’s been 50 years since Borlaug’s techniques were introduced. They’ve been sustainable so far. Certainly more sustainable than the farming practices they replaced.

    “It would be easier, healthier, and happier if we’d just consume less.” Consume less of what? And who’s “we”? And how would our lesser consumption negatively affect the developing world, whose economies often rely on developed countries’ patterns of consumption?

    George

    Reply

  29. George,

    As is usually the case – I think we just have to “talk around” the issue in order to make sure what the other means. I appreciate your willingness to go through the process. I don’t have a problem with capitalism per se. I have a problem with the abuses of capitalism (like I would with all other economic systems). I guess I am just better versed in the abuses of capitalism than the abuses of other systems, so I am able only to articulate those points.

    Shawn

    Reply

  30. George,

    One of the differences between my comments and Ehrlich’s theory is that I am not talking about population growth per se, but rather a growing number of the world’s already existing population who desire to consume at the same level as we do. I am talking not about people’s ability to consume at all in the face of over-population, but people’s desire to over-consume which has and will continue to cause ecological problems, not the least of which is this thing called global climate change, you may have heard of it.

    As to Borlaug’s farming techniques not showing any signs of unsustainability, you should try telling that to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. They claim that along with other economic and political factors (almost all injustice related or human-made environmental problems) the replacement of traditional farming techniques (as in small-scale practices that have been working for ten thousand years) with modernized and industrilized farming techniques is responsible for mass desertification on the African contient turning places like North Africa which were once verdant farmlands into jejune and sterile deserts (if you’ll forgive my triple redundancy). Borlaug’s insistence on planting vast amounts of one crop (his wheat) in one area season after season after season is partially to blame. Crop rotation: it’s in the Bible.

    Reply

  31. James:

    The ecological problems were also on Ehrlich’s agenda.

    Question: Has desertification taken place in those areas where Borlaug’s practices have been tried? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps you know.

    One final question: Would you please let me know exactly how much I can consume. I keep hearing criticisms of “consumerism” and even “over-consuming.” What I don’t hear are actual guidelines as to what I can consume. Perhaps you know.

    George

    Reply

  32. We had all of the popular books by Ayn Rand (a strong capitalist) defending selfishness; attacking the idea of self sacrifice; and arguing that Christianity is incompatible with capitalism. I believe she is wrong on all three counts.

    Add that fact to the way that the church has been flooded with the wealth message since the 1970’s brining greed into the church telling Christians, “God wants you to prosper and be rich.”

    I am certainly tired of hearing the message that greed-is-good.

    On the other hand, for the last few years the Public Broadcasting Network has been trying to tell us that “compassionate” big government liberalism is a good thing. I don’t buy that either! I believe the compassion needs to come from the people and not from the government. I also think that people will have less and less opportunities to be compassionate when the government takes more and more of their money. Add to that, the fact that the people who run our government do not always exhibit the character of Mother Teresa, and we have a real problem when we give them more and more of our money.

    Americans ought to be generous because it seems that we have more than anyone else. Christians need to be generous because we have a mandate from God and an example to follow.

    Reply

  33. George,

    That’s Ehlrich’s real problem isn’t it, he belongs to the secretive and highly dangerous conspiracy to preserve the beauty and diversity of the earth. With such a despicable agenda, its no wonder you’re not a fan. 😉

    The Borlaug thing needs some research.

    As to your final question: I so glad you asked! In order to tailor my answer just to you I’ll need a little bit of information: how much money do you make a year, which bank do you use? Account number? You can go ahead and tell me about your Swiss bank account, the IRS is going to find out sooner or later.

    More serioiusly, you know that’s a question only listening to the Holy Spirit can answer. In terms of my argument you could say that I am arguing for the importance of taking that question very, very seriously, and seeking the will of the Holy Spirit in everyone aspect of one’s economy (oikonomy).

    Here are some books that have deepened this question in my own life:

    Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher

    Living the Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing

    Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin

    As well as more generally the essays of Wendell Berry, and popular theology and ethics books by the USUAL SUSPECTS: Compolo, McClaren, Claiborne, Wallis, etc., etc.

    Reply

  34. Roger,

    It is interesting that all the major economic systems of the world have experts in the form of immenent philosophers who claim the economic system that they champion is incompatible with Christianity. I always used to ignore them, though chuckle at the Christians who would denegrate Marx for calling religion the opiate of the people and then turn around and quote Ayn Rand left and right (I thinking specifically of a guy and North Central who would always do that). Maybe we should start taking these people seriously. Was Ayn Rand was right about Christianity and capitalism?

    Of course, there’s always conflicting opinions among experts. Latin American Jesuit sociologists claim socialism/marxism/revolutionary communism to be partially compatible to Christianity, while the German (or was he Austrian) sociologist, Max Weber, claims that capitalism and protestantism go together like vanilla ice cream and chololate syrup (I think those were his exact words).

    So who to listen to the political philosophers or the sociologists?

    Reply

  35. James:

    One wonders how many trees Elgin, the Nearings, Campolo, McLaren, Caliborne, and Wallis consumed through the publications of books on simple, non-consuming lifestyle. And energy. And petroleum products as they jetted or drove hither and yon promoting their books. Not to mention the use of computers, with their non-recyclable parts and high energy consumption.

    It sure does seem to require a lot of consumption to lecture people on consuming less.

    George

    P.S. So even the Holy Spirit doesn’t have objective metrics to tell us how much to consume? He just makes it up on a case-by-case basis?

    Reply

  36. Ayn Rand was basically a hedonist. She claimed to be a realist and an objectivist, but all of her leading characters in all of her stories were basically hedonists to the core. Capitalism that is run by hedonists is not a good thing. But capitalism is a lot like guns. The old saying is, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” If they didn’t have a gun, they would use a knife or something else.

    If hedonists don’t have capitalism, they will fight their way to the top in socialist and communist economies. They will become tyrants no matter what system they are in. I believe pure capitalism allows or permits the greatest expression of Christian compassion because it does not force us to give our money to the poor. It allows us to give from the heart.

    However, capitalism also provides hedonists with a vehicle for their selfishness and bigotry. It is not surprising that Any Rand would prefer capitalism over communism because it provides the best opportunity to promote selfishness.

    If we are going to legislate morality, then we need to move towards socialism and force people to take care of the poor. If we are not going to legislate morality, but allow people to give from a good conscience, then capitalism seems to be the best method.

    Reply

  37. I can’t hope to really get into this ongoing conversation. So I’ll try to make a broad statement and hope that it fits in well.

    Any Christian “support” for an economic idea ceases to be Christian when it takes as it’s telos anything other than theosis. Now we can be convinced of the ability of Capitalism to “rise” the most tides but I believe that there is a fundamental part of Capitalism which inevitably forms a “City of limitless desire” to which any Christian should be opposed. Being built on consumption and competition, it is ontologically opposed to the Imitation of God which demands our human exhanges be one of “gift” and all our desires directed toward Peace.

    It is, again, the unbelief in the Resurrection which transposes all hope of peaceful action be postponed until the Eschaton. The moral pragmatism of Capitalism, which supports “throwing some under the bus” for the time being until such time as their “turn” comes is sub-Christian. There are other options, not least among them ridding ourselves of the desire to have the lowest price possible, because that lowest price is bought on the backs of the poor so long as “competition” is fundamental to our economic theories.

    Now George you chide James for not having strict objective guidelines for how to behave economically. This is one more instance in our various conversations where you demonstrate that you continue to see our moral relationship to God and one another strictly in legal terms. I know you want the ad hoc nature of ethical action in the NT to support the Law framework but I don’t think it works. The “law of Christ” is love and NOT A NEW BUT DIFFERENT LAW. It is not Law at all, it is Spirit, from which flows discernment not Law. Unless you think Christians still need a tutor other than Christ?

    I know this was short and quippy but it can be summed up by “Any Christian “support” for an economic idea ceases to be Christian when it takes as it’s telos anything other than theosis.

    Reply

  38. Tony:

    My short and quippy response to your comment is this: You’re a fine theologian and a lousy economist.

    All economies concern themselves with consumption. And all economies have elements of competition. If you don’t believe that, then why were communist countries so threatened by free trade unions? Because they knew that a competition to worker loyalty would result in their own demise.

    The unique element of free-market economies is not consumption and competition, but cooperation versus coercion.

    Regarding capitalism being a “City of limitless desire”–which is a nice phrase, by the way–I would like to ask precisely which desires should be limited. I would also like to point out that prices function as a free-market limit on desire.

    Regarding capitalism’s support for throwing people under the bus, what free market advocate have you gotten that from? I don’t know of any free-market economist or friendly theologian who says that we ought to screw the poor. I have read economists point out that if you subsidize socially pathological behavior, you will get more of it (e.g., Charles Murray). But that is usually prologue to an argument for better social policy, not no social policy at all.

    I don’t see our moral relationships in strictly legal terms. What cracks me up is that you and James routinely denounce disparities of wealth and patterns of consumption but can’t tell me what an acceptable disparity is or an acceptable level of consumption. You and James have this feeling that something is wrong but can’t provide any further guidance other than “love” and “listening to the Holy Spirit,” respectively. Fine, I love the poor and think capitalism will help them. Plus, I’ve listened to the Holy Spirit and settled on giving away around 13% of my gross income.

    You got a problem with that?

    George

    Reply

  39. George,

    Have I ever told you you’re whip smart? I really enjoy our discussion because it causes me to work out my bold assertions.

    I pretty sure I borrowed the phrase “Cities of Limitless Desire” from somewhere but I don’t remember where. You should assume if I say anything wicked cool like that, I didn’t come up with it myself.

    And no, I don’t have any problems with your finances.

    I’ll be back when I think a bit about what you said.

    Tony

    Reply

  40. Tony:

    I feel the same way about the Theophiliacs as a group and you in particular. That’s why I occasionally comment here. Even when I get my butt kicked, I came away all the wiser.

    And I hope you know I was laughing when I wrote my post, not gnashing my teeth. Or, to put it somewhat differently, I enjoy arguing with you guys. If I make points strongly, it’s because I was about where you are ideologically/theologically when I was your age. Whether I “saw the light” or “fell away” thereafter is up for grabs. Depends, I suppose, on one’s theological perspective.

    One of the things I’ve learned since graduating from college is that theology doesn’t always translate neatly into the so-called “real world.” That’s why I didn’t respond to your central point about theosis. At the level of idea, I agree with it. At the level of practice, I’m not so sure. How does theosis apply to the idea of marriage or of having a job or of listening to the Scandinavian band you all seem to like so much? It applies somehow, but not very neatly.

    My guess is that the “not very neatly” arises from the now/not yet character of the kingdom of God. The kingdom has been inaugurated in the midst of this age. This age is tainted by sin. But this age is also the creation of God. So, some institutions of this age continue on as durable goods awaiting the consummation of the kingdom. They are, of course, tainted by sin and in need of redemption. And some (marriage, for example) won’t even survive as an institution in the eschaton despite their essential created goodness.

    That’s why I’m not sure how theosis applies in the present age. Paul advised celibacy in the face of the coming kingdom, and Jesus practiced it. But marriage was created by good and is good while this age lasts. I feel similarly about markets. There has to be some form of exchange between peoples, some kind of commerce. They can be corrupted (in terms of what they sell and how they sell it, e.g., pornography in the first case and fraud in the latter). But still, they serve a useful purpose.

    Rambling, so I’ll quit.

    George

    Reply

  41. George,

    You pulled the oldest rhetorical/polemical trick in the book, didn’t ya. You ask me exaclty how much I think you should consume. If I were to tell you exactly what I think you should do with your money, you could a) Call me a judgmental prick or b) try and make the point that I’m being hypocritical in some fashion, etc.

    If I give the correct but admittedly vague answer about listening to the Holy Spirit (an idea I still cherish from my upbringing in the AG,)you go on to accuse not only me but also Tony of not knowing what acceptable levels of disparity and consumption are.

    I of couse, tried to avoid the trap by giving you an idea of the reading material that’s influenced me, which was a mistake since I should have known that you already had the “it sure consumes alot of resources to lecture people about consumption line” in the barrel.

    This is all well and fine but I do wish you’d give Elgin, Nearing, Berry and Schumacher the respect they derserve. I certainly spent some time looking at the economists you mentioned in your posts (though I’m still working out which one(s) care about the poor), you could at least pretend to take my ideological underpinnings as seriously (besides Schumacher and Berry especially are serious Bad Asses), but, to quote a certain somone I know, “but, whatever.”

    James

    Reply

  42. PS. Nearing, Schumacher and Berry don’t/didn’t use comptuers, McClaren pays to offset his carbon emissions, and Claiborne goes on book tours in a bus that runs completely on vegetable oil.

    Reply

  43. Roger,

    I’ll be honest, I’m slightly skeptical of a someone who is charging between $130-230 for a service that is provided by numerous non-profits for free. Content-wise, I am not sure what to think.

    James

    Reply

  44. James:

    In debate, a person who can’t answer a question calls it “the oldest rhetorical/polemical trick in the book.” That’s probably the reason why it’s so old. I would think that answering the question of how much we should consume would be an easy question for you guys who are so critical of consumption. The fact that you can’t makes me wonder about the theoretical underpinnings of your position.

    Typewriters were made in factories which consumed electricity and were presumably fueled by petroleum products. That’s not to mention the smelting of the metal (if they are old typewriters) or the manufacture of the plastic. Carbon offsets were designed by alternative energy companies such as Ken Lay’s Enron in order to increase their profit share in the energy market. That doesn’t make them bad, but it is an interesting use of capitalism for ecological purposes. The bus was manufactured, and if everyone used vegetable oil to power their cars, two things would happen: (1) Food prices would rise because vegetables would be a scarce resource. This has already happened with ethanol, which has put a squeeze on the corn market, raising food prices for the poor in South America and elsewhere. (2) And vegetables would become a scarce resource.

    Of the four authors you mentioned, which would you like me to read the most? I’m traveling to Springfield this week, and I’ll read it on the plane.

    George

    Reply

  45. George,

    Would you really like me to asnwer the question specifically? There are plenty of things I think all of us should be doing, I just a) didn’t want to be accused of a typical liberal who is trying to run everyone’s life, and b) am still in the process of implementing my “rule” into my own life.

    So, here are the consumption things I am passionate about.

    /1/ I think every Christian should spend at least 5% of their budget for consumer goods on fair trade items. When Christians in America throw their money around, people listen, it would be revolutionary to the clothing and farming industries in the global economy.

    /2/ I think the 10% tithe that many churches talk about should be reserved for the poor, and that churches should run on budgets funded by offerings, gifts, etc. If that means program cutbacks and poor pastors, so be it.

    /3/ I think everyone should take a greater interest in where their food comes from and how it was produced.

    /4/ I think we should implement more used consumer goods into our life rather than buy new things. I think we should go on fasts from buying new clothes and only buy things from thrift stores, and that as a Christian community we should take more steps to borrow, share and give things to each other within the community.

    I could go on, but I am sure that’s enough fodder for you. Keep in mind though these are things I think Christians should do, because I think they are things that point to the now/not yet Kingdom of which we are citizens.

    I think you’re secret motivation for the whole computer/typewriter thing is to make me into a luddite, so I’ll get rid of this computer, so you won’t have to argue with me anymore :). I have to go to church, maybe we could argue about this later?

    What I meant when I said Claiborne used a veggie oil bus was that the bus was run on USED veggie oil from fast food restuarants. That’s why if you ever see Shane Claiborne he’ll probably smell like french fries.

    Have a good Holy Day!

    James

    Reply

  46. Almost forgot, read: Wendell Berry’s *The Unsettling of America* or EF Schumacher’s *Small is Beautiful*.

    Reply

  47. James:

    Believe it or not, I actually think these are pretty good suggestions.

    I would add several: (1) Christian consumption should always be structured around tithing and savings so that they are supporting churches, charities, and not becoming dependent on the state in retirement. (2) Christian should tailor food consumption–both qualitatively and quantitatively–with an eye toward long-term health. Much of national health care budget could be reduced if Americans generally and Christians specifically weren’t so fat and didn’t eat so much crap. (3) When it comes to cars, homes, etc. (in other words, the big ticket items), Christians should buy used or, if they buy new, it should be with the goal of driving the car into the ground, not keeping up with the Joneses. (4) Christians should try to work where they live, reducing commutes and gas consumption and enabling them to spend more time with their families and neighborhoods.

    I use the word “should” here, but I’m thinking more in terms of counsels than commandments. This is what I would advise, not what I would require. I think each of these assertions could be backed up with biblical precedent and common sense. And the added benefit is that they’re frugal.

    George

    I would add this list:

    I think Christian consumption should be tailored around these outcomes: (a) 10% of their gross income should be given to church/charity. (b) Some percentage of their income

    Reply

  48. I’m sure there’s a prophecy in Revelation about this.

    I, too, appreciate your suggestions for counsel. You are really spot on with #2 and 4.

    Reply

  49. James wrote:
    I’m slightly skeptical of a someone who is charging between $130-230 for a service that is provided by numerous non-profits for free. Content-wise, I am not sure what to think.

    RESPONSE:
    I think most people can afford $130 if it helps them get their finances budgeted properly. For some reason, people don’t seem to follow through on budget systems that are free. They seem to pay better attention when it costs them something.

    Personally, I am not familiar with Dave Ramsay or his product. I have seen several people on George’s blog that recommend Ramsay’s seminar.

    I believe family economics are more important than national economics. Our only opportunity to change national economics is in the voting both. OTOH, we all have some personal control and some personal responsibility in our family finances.

    Reply

  50. That’s a good point about family economics vs. national economics. Look at us all agreeing. It must be time for Tony to start another really controversial thread so we can fight again!

    Reply

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