June 30, 2011
Thank you Johathan for this insightful post. I hope many American Christians read this and understand there is nothing wrong with Church/Government cooperation. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr was a strong Christian (readÂ StrengthÂ to Love if you need convinced of this fact) who advocated government help to eliminate segregation. At the same time he held his all blackÂ congregation responsible for make sure they followed their biblical mandate to love others andÂ improveÂ the local community.
The problem is that this assumes that the government is a charitable institution, you can't be charitable with other people's money.
The assumption that it's "other people's money" to begin with is fascinating to meâ€”because it really calls into being a number of other assumptions about the world, assumptions that only aid the status quo in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.Why do some people have money right now, while others don't? I'm not a poor man by any means, but I'm also not rich; I work hard for the money I make, and I make enough to not only support myself but have a certain amount of financial security on top of that.Â However, I have to admit that while I've worked for what I have, I was put in a position where my hard work pays off more than, say, the guy who comes through my office at night with the vacuum, primarily because I was born to a white, middle-class, financially-secure but not rich family and college-educated parents who valued education and not just hard work but smart work.Â Those who were born with more advantages than meâ€”say, a large trust-fund inheritance, or a family with connections in the finance or political worlds, or a pedigree that could have gotten me into elite universities or opened more doorsâ€”tend to find that their hard work pays off even more than mine.Â Those who were born with fewer advantages than meâ€”say, to an immigrant family for whom English is a second language, where the parents are working multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads and wouldn't have time to help their kids with their homework even if their own education prepared them to be able toâ€”tend to find that their hard work doesn't pay off as much as mine.Certainly there are exceptions, which is why those are tendencies rather than hard-and-fast rules, and many Americans don't want to admit something that runs counter to the "American Dream" myth of absolute class mobility, but statistic after statistic bears out this basic fact: Far and away, the single most significant determinant of a person's present or future financial standing is where, when, and to whom they were born.So, if the value of a person's hard work is determined, in large part, by the circumstances into which he or she was born, in what sense can it be said to be "their" money? Inasmuch as I'm able to "earn" money in my job, I'm in this position because of a whole lot of things I didn't earnâ€”things that were given to me when I was born, through absolutely no merit of my own but just due to either pure circumstance or a divine plan, depending on how you look at it.(I would also suggest that particularly for Christians, even those of us who aren't Reformed would hold with the CRC that all the world belongs to Godâ€”including the money in it. No true Christian thinks that the money in their bank account is "their" money any more than the assets in Bill Gates's portfolio are "his"; it all belongs to God.)Further, I think there are some bigger assumptions at work hereâ€”the biggest of which is, I think, the assumption that the American version of the laissez-faire financial, commodities, and resource marketplace is something akin to a "state of nature," a condition that occurs naturally unless interfered with by some other force (with the further assumption that such interference tends to upset the equilibrium and hinder the supposed natural efficiency of the market).This assumption obscures the sense in which the American version of laissez-faire consumer capitalism is, like every other economic system, a human construction, something that is built and maintained by people. And as such, it behooves us as citizens of a democratic republic to claim the legitimacy through our governmental institutions, which purport to represent our will and our desires, to build and maintain the economic systemâ€”and, concomitantly, the effects of that economic system are our responsibility as citizens of a democratic republic.Â As someone who believes the Old Testament prophets when they say that God will judge the nationsâ€”and will do so primarily on the basis of how those nations treat the poor, the workers, the immigrants, the widows and orphansâ€”that thought sends a bit of a chill down my spine.Who is our current economic systemâ€”which, remember, is no less a construction and no less our responsibility as citizens before God than any other system would beâ€”set up to benefit? Who benefits when regulations on the banking industry are decreased, or when taxes on the wealthy are cut? Who gains when programs that put ordinary Americans to work are decimated in order to give so-called "job creators" another tax cut? Who loses when tax hikes for the wealthy are taken off the table, and the only other choice left to us is to cut medical care for senior citizens or the poor, to cut pensions for people who spent their careers serving the public, to cut salaries for teachers and firefighters and police officers?Â In short, are the people who benefit from these choicesâ€”and yes, no matter what is chosen these are choices that are consciously made, not returns to some kind of preexisting a priori state of natureâ€”the people whose economic and social conditions Jesus tells us we should be concerned about? Do the choices our representatives make about how to structure our economy result in more hungry people being fed, more thirsty people being given drink, more naked people being clothed, more sick people receiving treatment? Do our choices result in the wealth God has given our nation and our planet being spread among all its inhabitants, or in that wealth being concentrated in the hands of a very few? Do our choices result in the squandering, waste, and destruction of the gifts God has given us, including the planet itself, or do they result in the stewardship and preservation of that planet's sustainable resources for our children and our children's children?Â Our nation and those who control itâ€”that means all of usâ€”will be judged on the basis of how we used the gifts God gave us, how we set up the economy that distributes and manages the gifts God has given us, to benefit everyone and particularly the "least of these." Do you think our choices about our current economic systemâ€”or the more laissez-faire direction it's currently headed inâ€”will be positively judged by God? Because I sincerely doubt that God views the choices we're making as a societyâ€”to ask the poor and the elderly, the workers and the middle class, to make significant sacrifices of their own well-being while the wealthy gain even moreâ€”with any kind of gladness, pride, or approval. In fact, I believe God views them in exactly the opposite way.For some reason, my line breaks keep getting randomly removed by Disqus.
I don't know the answers but I do wonder about the cost of the bureaucracy associated with delivering help. I can give a struggling mother in my community $100 or I can pay $40 in taxes, donate $10 to my charity, $10 to my church, and give her $20. Of the $80 that went through other channels, some of it went to pay people to administer the funds and get help to the mom. I get that.Â But then, with government more of that money is syphoned off to pay people to make sure I paid my share in the first place, to pay the people who to decide who gets the money, how much and to make sure recipients use it the way other people, who also had to be paid, have decided is appropriate use. And, a good portion of my $40 is used to fund projects and programs I don't have a choice about funding decided by people who are also being paid by my taxes.Â I submit to government authority, but I'm going to have to pray about my cynical attitude.
This reminds me something I like to refer to from John Stott's Basic Christianity. He explains God's order for our lives, which is 1) God 2) Others and 3) Self. If we lived our lives in this order we would be righteous, God-fearing people. But as it is, we have managed to completely flip the order on its head so that our order is 1) Self 2) Others and 3) God. When we spend all our time on the first two we will find it near impossible to devote as much time as necessary to God. We spend too much time on selfish objectives and searching for someone else to blame.
The principal of private capital and private property and private charity is a core principal of Old and New Testament thinkingÂ â€œAnanias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You werenâ€™t lying to us but to God!â€. Tithing was given individually and directly to the poor (the temple did not re-distribute it) or to the Levite priest that had no ability to raise food. Taking other people's money through paying interest, taking property or taxes was akin to theft. Samuel warned the Israelites about the pain of taxes when they begged for a king.Â â€œHe will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.â€ No wonder the tax collector was held in such low esteem. I agree with Brian, you can't be charitable with other people's money. Maureen describes the system perfectly.
And yet, Israel was also told in no uncertain terms that they were to forgive all debts every seven years, and every 50 years they were to redistribute all the land equitably among the people.That meant that indebtedness didn't cripple a person for life, so that they were never able to dig out of the hole they were inâ€”which is an all too common occurrence in today's America.That also meant that exorbitant wealth really couldn't be passed on for more than two generations at a time, since the land was by far the most significant source of wealthâ€”and it meant that no more than two generations would live in poverty either, since every second generation would be given an equal share of land again, the means to start building a new life.Land was not only a vast majority of a person or family's wealth (with the exception of stored grains, etc., which wouldn't last two generations in storage anyway), but was also the main means by which more wealth was generated.Â So, what we're seeing as a very clear intention from God is that every second generation, the vast majority of the nation's wealth and the vast majority of the means for generating more wealth are to be completely and equitably redistributed among the nation's people.What do you think that would look like today? For all the people who seem to want to govern the nation according to the Bible, I very rarely hear them advocating that we take most of the nation's land and wealth and redistribute it equitably among everyone.Let's face it: Our entire economic system of laissez-faire consumer capitalism is reliant on the charging of interest (the entire banking industry), the permanence of debt (the entire bond market), and indefinite land and asset ownership as an absolute right (real estate, commodities, stocks, futures, etc.).Â Those three things are completely contrary to God's clear intentions for Israel; God made it more than clear that for a nation to be moral, they would not permit the charging of interest, they would completely forgive all debts several times in every person's lifetime, and they would completely redistribute the nation's wealth and the means of producing wealth every second generation.If you'd like to keep talking about the Bible's view of the economy, let's do thatâ€”but let's admit that in the U.S. and Western Europe, even the most radical of liberals isn't promoting anything that comes remotely close to God's economics.
With all due respect, I think Mr. Downie misses the important distinction. The main question for me isn't government vs. society or government vs. church: it's charity vs. justice. When people talk about non-profits they talk about donations. The assumption is that the money you rightly give (to feed the poor, to provide counseling for rape survivors, whatever) is yours and you relinquish control over that money because you believe in the cause.Government social programs are making a different point, I think. The person on food stamps is not a beneficiary of another person, reliable on his charity. Rather this is a recognition by society that through no fault of their own this person cannot live as a human being ought. If the economy actually worked to distribute resources so that everyone's needs were met, there would be no need for government programs to meet those needs. But if the well-off are profiting too much and the poor's needs aren't being provided for through wages (or if institutions like education are not preparing them for jobs, or if the jobs just don't exist), there's a since in which that person doesn't need "charity." They need justice - as a member of society they are entitled to the food, clothes, housing, etc. they need to provide their basic needs. Somewhere along the line, society has failed them.Of course, not all poverty is like this. Some poverty is due to bad decisions, and in those case the poor are morally culpable. Society does not owe them; those people should be asking for charity. But if you are making the right kind of choices and society is making it impossible to provide for your needs - if the resources are going to other people for reasons not in your control - then I tend to view those resources as not the other person's to begin with. And in that case, government should compel everyone who can afford it to meet the need.
I agree with most of what you wrote, but terms like "moral culpability" for poverty rub me the wrong way.Â Of course, not all poverty is like this. Some poverty is due to bad decisions, and in those case the poor are morally culpable.It's true that many who are poor are in their current circumstances because of choices they've madeâ€”but I would add two major caveats to that which, I think, make it impossible for us mortals to assign any kind of "moral culpability" for poverty.My first caveat would be to problematize notions of "decisions" and "choice." I think we've got blinders on when it comes to the extent to which the things we ourselves do are choicesâ€”and even more so when it comes to determining whether others chose to do what they've done.Is it a "choice" for a person living in Ward 4 of DC to eat mostly fried foods from restaurants or processed "foods" bought from bodegas? Ward 4 is what anti-poverty activists call a "food desert"â€”a place where there aren't any grocery stores or other sources for fresh food. If this person develops diabetes or has any of a number of other health problems that can stem from obesity or bad eating habitsâ€”which can, of course, lead to poverty and debt, particularly given our nation's rather abysmal attitude toward the notion of health care for allâ€”is it a result of the choices they made, or choices that were made for them?Similarly, things like staying out of debt, holding down a job, getting educatedâ€”on one level, these are choices, yes, but I'd caution you not to look at it through the eyes of a middle-class person* who'sÂ been told that you could do just about anything you wanted to do from day one, andÂ taught how to live the middle-class lifestyle from the earliest moments in your life. Middle-class folks are also steeped in a culture where they see that all those things they're told about what they can be are truly possibleâ€”they see people they know taking advantage of thrift and education and hard work and making a good life for themselves by doing that. For someone who doesn't get those lessons in the home or at schoolâ€”or who might even get them at school, but who looks around themselves and sees those messages undercut by people who've tried to do the right thing and been stuck right where they areâ€”to what extent can we say it's a "choice" when they follow the unspoken messages they've been receiving all their lives?My second caveat would be to problematize the assumption that bad decisions lead to poverty; even if we take as a given that these are choices for which one can be morally culpable, there's still a huge element of privilege and inequality involved that I think we overlook at our peril.Â That's another advantage of having wealth or privilegeâ€”in that there's a direct correlation between the amount of wealth and/or privilege one has and their margin for error.If I quit my job, went out to Atlantic City, and gambled away every penny in my bank account, I have a network of peopleâ€”including family, college friends, business connections, etc.â€”who would be able to help me out, either by putting me up (I could always move back in with the folks or couch-surf with friends for a while) or connecting me to resources and/or jobs that could help me get back on my feet.Â I'd also still have my college and graduate degreesâ€”which would open a lot of doors for me that might not be open to othersâ€”and the knowledge that's come out of them, including critical thinking and writing skills that could come in useful in any number of jobs.Â In short, I'd be more equipped to get back on my feet and out of poverty than someone who doesn't have a financially-stable family to lean on for help, family and friends who could connect me to jobs or resources, or an education that opens doors.Similarly, those who have a great deal of wealth can make much more significant mistakes and not end up in poverty. Is the alcoholic or drug-addicted homeless man on the street any more "morally culpable" for what he's done than an alcoholic or drug addict who's pulling in seven figures working on Wall Street? A poor man robs a bodega for the $150 in the cash register and he's looking at 15 years in the slammer and ex-con wages for life if he can even get a job at all, because that was the best deal the overworked and underpaid public defender could get; Wall Street executives bilk all of us out of billions if not trillions of dollars through credit default swaps, false foreclosures, or fraud, and if anyone's charged or convicted at all they pay pricy lawyers to "settle" for a hefty fine or probation and keep on doing what they were doing before. If we judge those who are poor because of bad decisions as "morally culpable" because their choices have led them into to poverty, how do we judge those whose wealth means they can make bad decisions and remain wealthy?In summary, I think there's a serious problem with suggesting that those who are poor because of their "bad decisions" are morally culpable for their poverty; just as Jesus loved and served even the worst of "sinners" in his society, so we too should endeavor to love and serve everyone by doing what we can to help them into sustainable and secure lifestyles.* Please do excuse the assumption here about your background, particularly if it isn't accurate. However, in my defense, even if I'm wrong about your background, I think that "growing up middle class" describes most people who post to this board.Please excuse any readability issues - Disqus has a habit of randomly removing line breaks from my posts.
You talk about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer...this isn't exactly true. Perhaps the difference between the rich and the poor is more profound, but I'd submit that everyone is getting richer.Either way, it is other people's money. Government gets money by taking it from other people.Â I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't help the poor, but rather than we should do it on an individual basis. Acting like Robin Hood isn't noble. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor isn't noble. The rich giving to the poor is real charity.Â Also, just because you are rich doesn't mean you are at an advantage, perhaps materially, but that isn't everything. They have to fight materialism and other vices that could keep them from knowing God, which is far more important than material wealth. Although, at the same time this could happen to poor people who envy what the rich have.
Or perhaps no one meets those needs because they look and say the government will take care of it. Perhaps some people on welfare and other programs like this don't go looking for a job because the government gives them free money.Not everyone is like this, but you can't deny that there are people that are.
You talk about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer...this isn't exactly true. Perhaps the difference between the rich and the poor is more profound, but I'd submit that everyone is getting richer.Except that they're not; advertising companies, which are hardly bastions of leftism, are suggesting that people market only to the top 10% because they dominate in purchasing power. Real income for the US middle and working classes has decreased, even if the dollar-sign numbers are getting marginally bigger. Even given the trickery of the banking industry in making numbers get bigger and be worth less, our society still has only so many resources and so much wealth; if more of that is in the hands of the rich, it must follow that less of it is in the hands of everyone else.Either way, it is other people's money. Government gets money by taking it from other people.As I demonstrate above and below, that perspective on money runs pretty well counter to the Biblical witness and to the historical Christian witnessâ€”which both state that money, like everything else in our world, belongs to God. We are tenants, not owners. And God makes it pretty clear in the Law, which the Prophets call us back to and Jesus proclaims a reality, how God intends for God's wealth and resources to be handled: Every seven years, all debts are forgiven; every fifty years, a Year of Jubilee, and even redistribution of all the nation's wealth.Even if one doesn't hold to that view, I'm forced to wonder exactly who got to decide that the coal underneath the West Virginia mountains or the sunlight hitting the Mojave Desert should be owned by a single entity for their own private gain, rather than by the nation as a whole for the good of us all. Again, in what sense does one have a "right" to ownership of such things in perpetuity? From where does that "right" derive?And finally, you still seem to be holding to the assumption that the laissez-faire consumer capitalist market is some kind of preexisting, a priori entity that exists in the natural world, and that government is an imposition on that natural orderâ€”rather than understanding that both market and government are human constructions. I will ask you one question: Do you think the market should serve all of the people, or just the wealthy? Answer that question, and the scales will fall off your eyes.I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't help the poor, but rather than we should do it on an individual basis. Acting like Robin Hood isn't noble. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor isn't noble. The rich giving to the poor is real charity.And if the rich took their wealth from the poor, or from the nation as a whole? If the wealth of the rich derives from their taking perpetual private ownership of what should be considered the nation's assets and resources? Returning the wealth to the people, when the rich have been greedily hoarding it for themselves, is an act of justiceâ€”not charity.Also, just because you are rich doesn't mean you are at an advantage, perhaps materially, but that isn't everything. They have to fight materialism and other vices that could keep them from knowing God, which is far more important than material wealth.You know, I'd be willing to wager that if I asked one of the less-fortunate people in my neighborhood if they'd rather be rich and be tempted toward "materialism and other vices," or where they are right now where they're worried about where their next paycheck is going to come from or what's going to happen if their little boy gets sick, I've got a pretty good idea what their answer would be.When you're worried that your lack of material advantages might mean you Â can't pay the heating bill over the winter, can't take care of your parents as they age, or can't get your child the medicine they need, that material advantage sure does seem like everything. When being born into a position of less privilege means that you're not qualified to apply for most of the want-ads because they require a college degree, or that you're one paycheck away from being evicted, or that you're passed over for the job when the employer goes with someone who networked with them a few weeks back at a private party, that material advantage can mean the difference between living and dying.But you're right, in a wayâ€”wealth makes it all but certain that a person won't know God. Jesus made that all too clear when He told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor, saying that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom; it's a miracle akin to shrinking a camel down to a millimeter if a rich person is capable of knowing God and entering the Kingdom, something extraordinary and noticeable. So why is the church not prophetically telling the wealthy that no matter what government does or doesn't do, the wealthy are called by God to sell all of their possessions, live modestly, and give the rest to the poor, for the sake of their immortal souls?
more of that is in the hands of the rich, it must follow that less of it is in the hands of everyone else.Wealth is not a constant.Â As I demonstrate above and below, that perspective on money runs pretty well counter to the Biblical witness...like everything else in our world, belongs to God.Â We are tenants, not owners.Not really, the Bible also says thou shall not steal, that implies ownership. How can someone steal something from me if it isn't mine?Â Of course everything belongs to God, but God entrusts the resources to certain people. To envy thoseÂ resourcesÂ is sin. To lobby the government to take more money from people and give it to others is stealing, if only in your heart.Do you think the market should serve all of the people, or just the wealthy?The market does serve all of the people. Everyone interacts according to mutual consent. You don't want to pay that much, you don't buy the product.Â You charge too much for your product, no one buys it.Â You don't like the price you buy something else. The market is impartial. You think someone is making too much profit then stop buying their products.The market as it currently exists cannot serve all the people because of government regulation and protectionism. The government protects big businesses and keeps them from competition. If anything government is guilty of serving only the special interests. Then they create welfare programs to "help" the poor. When you pick and choose who you help when it comes to economics you end up hurting someone else. The market is impartial.And if the rich took their wealth from the poor, or from the nation as a whole? If the wealth of the rich derives from their taking perpetual private ownership of what should be considered the nation's assets and resources? Returning the wealth to the people, when the rich have been greedily hoarding it for themselves, is an act ofÂ justiceâ€”not charity.In some cases the rich do take money from the rest of the nation when they are in collusion with the government. That however is not always the case. If I decide to create a product and sell it to millions of people and become rich I have not stolen anything from "the people", they have freely given it to me in exchange for my product. They paid what I asked, they agreed to it."The nation" and "the people" are just arbitrary constructions, as if rich people don't fit into those categories.Â You know, I'd be willing to wager that if I asked one of the less-fortunate people in my neighborhood if they'd rather be rich and be tempted toward "materialism and other vices," or where they are right now where they're worried about where their next paycheck is going to come from or what's going to happen if their little boy gets sick, I've got a pretty good idea what their answer would be.It is sad that people don't have things that many of us take for granted. But, does being poor justify envy?
Before we decide who is supposed to fix things, shouldn't we look at the track records of those entities?Â Just like you would find the best mechanic to fix your car, based on how well he had fixed other people's cars.The US Government has shown itself to be one of the most fiscally irresponsible and wasteful organizations in the country.Â The stunning amount of debt that is carried and pure repetitive waste in its bureaucracy is astounding.Â The traditional Church, depending on which ministry we are looking at, has its share of excess and waste.Â While there are tremendous churches doing fantastic amounts of work and distribution of resources, there are also many churches where much of the money goes back into the church, rather than addressing the needy.Individual ministries based in the Gospel and with proper accountability have a much better chance of success.Â They are able to tackle a specific need, direct resources to those in need with as few administrative stops as possible, and have a larger and more immediate impact than a large organization.I would also question whether the role of government is to address all of society's ills.Â The true purpose of government is to establish legal order, judicial structure, legislative representation, protect basic freedoms and provide for the common defense.Â If the government stuck to these purposes alone, there would be countless more money available to fund the individual ministries that can do the most good.
Wealth is not a constant. Resources are a constant. There's only so much sunlight hitting the ground, so much land for sowing crops, so much wheat or soy or whatever that can be grown, so much water, so much ore in the earth etc. There is only so much labor a person can perform, and thus so much labor that we can perform aggregately.I agree that we have more than we need of all of these thingsâ€”so why is it that we tolerate a condition in which so many don't have what they need, while others have well more than they would ever need in a hundred lifetimes?Not really, the Bible also says thou shall not steal, that implies ownership. How can someone steal something from me if it isn't mine?Â Of course everything belongs to God, but God entrusts the resources to certain people.And God makes it more than clear that those resources are to be be redistributed with every second generation. God makes it more than clear that no debt is to last for more than seven years. God takes an absolutely and completely unequivocal stance: The resources God gives us are for everyone's benefitâ€”not just for the people who won the genetic lottery and happened to be born into ownership.To envy thoseÂ resourcesÂ is sin. To lobby the government to take more money from people and give it to others is stealing, if only in your heart.Only if you presume that their right to individual ownership of God's resources and God's planet is absolute, irrevocable, and indefinite in term. I have shown time and again that such a belief is completely contrary to the Scriptural witnessâ€”as seen in the Law, the Prophets, and in Christ's own ministry.The market does serve all of the people.No, it doesn't. I don't know where you live, but where I live, every single day I see people who aren't being served by the market as it currently is set up. I see people who are out of work, people who don't have enough to live on, people who are homeless. You can't possibly tell me that the market is serving their interests in any meaningful way. And given the increasing gap between rich and poor, and the decreasing amount of purchasing power for the bottom 90% of the country, it's clear that the market, as it is currently set up, is really doing a lousy job of serving the vast majority of the people.Everyone interacts according to mutual consent. You don't want to pay that much, you don't buy the product.Â You charge too much for your product, no one buys it.Â You don't like the price you buy something else. The market is impartial. You think someone is making too much profit then stop buying their products.That's an overly sanguine and idealistic view of "the market"â€”particularly in that it presumes that all parties in the equation are completely knowledgeable, completely honest, completely disclosing, and that there is a condition of perfect competition in place. Even a cursory look at history demonstrates that not only are such perfect conditions not evident under the pure libertarian laissez-faire consumer capitalist system you seem to favor, but such a system proves deleterious to such conditions, as there is considerable incentive particularly on the part of gigantic corporate interests not to disclose, to obfuscate or lie, to eliminate competition through monopolization or the establishment of trusts.Furthermore, your view still carries with it the capitalists' assumption of unlimited and indefinite property and capital ownership rights, a notion that I've shown to be completely incompatible with a worldview that takes the whole of the Biblical witness seriously.Finally, your view of the market has absolutely no space for the commons, for anything that isn't commodified, quantified, and owned by an individual or group of individuals. The common interest, the common good, resources that belong to the nation as a wholeâ€”where are these in your vision?The market as it currently exists cannot serve all the people because of government regulation and protectionism.And yet, as "government regulation and protectionism" were steadily decreased between 1993 (NAFTA) and 2010, more and more Americans were left in the dust. The track record of reducing "government regulation and protectionism" for the interests of the vast majority of Americans does not help your case.The government protects big businesses and keeps them from competition.Well, can't disagree with you there. You're right. Our current government is completely corporatist. It was, even before 2010, almost entirely bought and paid for by giant corporate interests. And in the wake of Supreme Court decisions supporting the ideas that money is speech or that corporations have rightsâ€”contentions that would be laughably ridiculous if their results didn't completely annihilate any chance of government of the people, by the people, and for the peopleâ€”it's only going to get worse.If anything government is guilty of serving only the special interests. Then they create welfare programs to "help" the poor.I'm not entirely sure why you put "help" in quotation marks there. Are you going to tell a mother whose son can see the doctor because he's covered by SCHIP that it's not really "helping"? Are you going to tell the families I see at the farmer's market every week using their food stamps and WIC benefits to buy food that they're not being "helped"? Are you going to tell the elderly that the "help" they're getting from Medicare and Social Security is false, that it's really just a crutch keeping them from pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps?When you pick and choose who you help when it comes to economics you end up hurting someone else. The market is impartial.No, the market isn't impartial. If one thing has been made crystal clear over the past 30 years of neoconservative and neoliberal "pro-market" rule, it's that an impartial market is a complete impossibility. Any system in which the circumstances into which a person is bornâ€”not their innate talent, not their work ethic, not their intelligence or character or charisma or anything elseâ€”are the single most significant determinant of their economic future cannot in any way be described as "impartial." Our system is incredibly, grossly, demonically partial toward those who already have wealth, already have privilege, already have advantages.There is no such thing as a morally-neutral market. There is no such thing as impartiality. As Bishop Tutu put it, "if an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." This is the exact problem with the assumptions I've been discussing with you all along. There is nothing natural about the market. It is a human construction, no less so than government. The market is not neutral. The market cannot be neutral. It will either work to decrease inequality and increase opportunity for all, or it will function to make things less equal and further disadvantage those who are already disadvantaged.In some cases the rich do take money from the rest of the nation when they are in collusion with the government. That however is not always the case.I think it's the case in just about every circumstance. There are so many externalities to business that are borne by the people as a whole that it's mindblowing. You'd recoil if you had to pay the full price of a gallon of gasoline.If I decide to create a product and sell it to millions of people and become rich I have not stolen anything from "the people", they have freely given it to me in exchange for my product. They paid what I asked, they agreed to it.Depends on how you've done it. Was your advertising in any way dishonest? Is it a necessity of life, of which you are the only provider in a given area or region (in which case there is nothing "free" about the choice to purchase it)? Who owned whatever raw materials you pulled out of the earth to build that product? Did you pay your laborers a fair and living wage, benefits, due process protection, and a pension for their work, and respect their right to organize and collectively bargain? Did mining and refining the raw materials, producing the product, transporting the product, advertising the product, or the product throughout its lifecycle all the way to its final disposal, put even a gram of pollution into our air, water, or land, for which you didn't pay for 100% of the cleanup? Does the production, use, or disposal of the product add more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change, which you haven't paid to offset by other means? Did you pay 100% of the wear and depreciation value of public resources like roads, rails, waterways, and Â bridges throughout the entire production cycle, and pay 100% of the personnel costs proportionate to your company for police and fire protection throughout the product's production cycle? Did your mining operations, your factories, your transportation and logistics infrastructure interfere with the normal functioning of any community, for which you didn't compensate the community? Only if each and every externality is built into your cost for the product, can you truly say that you have not stolen anything from "the people.""The nation" and "the people" are just arbitrary constructions, as if rich people don't fit into those categories. Wealthy Americansâ€”whom Republicans laughably call Â "job creators"â€”are, despite paying their lowest marginal rate in taxes in more than six decades and despite the least amount of regulation on business or commerce that we've had in place since before Teddy Roosevelt's presidency in some instances, still finding new reasons to ship American jobs overseas instead of giving their fellow Americans a good day's pay for a good day's work. They are now, thanks to our corporate Supreme Court, able to buy and sell elected public offices at will.Â If American businessowners and oligarchs put their own profits over their country's best interest, if they subvert our democratic republic by drowning out the citizenry's voice with their money, in what sense can they really be said to be part of "the nation"?The oligarch class as a whole doesn't seem to consider the interests, needs, wants, or desires of "the people"Â anywhereâ€”their brothers and sisters in humanityâ€”as in any way morally or ethically binding on their actions.Â If they pollute the people's land and water, ignore their hunger and thirst, steal the resources out of their land, pay them less than they can live on, lower labor standards worldwide, and in general ignore or stamp out the people's basic human and civil rights, in what sense can they really be said to be part of "the people"?"The nation" and "the people" are not just arbitrary constructions; they are communities, collectivities we have rhetorically imbued with inherent value and worth, whose members have not only certain rights, freedoms, benefits, and privileges, but also certain responsibilities and moral claims. We see this not only in constructions of positive law, like our own Constitution and network of laws, but also in our codifications of what we understand (as Christians and in general revelation) to be natural or higher laws, like the UN Declaration on Human Rights.Â In the nation and as a species, we understand that each one of us has a responsibility to the whole, and the whole makes a form of moral claim on us. Failure to uphold those responsibilities or fulfill those moral claims justifies sanctions and punishments against those who violate the community's rules; through their actions they place themselves outside the community and are thus understood to forfeit (whether temporarily or permanently) some of the rights and privileges of membership in that community.If the rich make it clearâ€”as I think they haveâ€”that they don't think the community's responsibilities and moral claims are in any way binding on them, then they have chosen for themselves to place themselves outside of those communities.
Jonathan,You are, of course, right. Â Government and the variousÂ societalÂ institutions each have differentiated and complimentary roles to plays in addressing the needs of society --- all of which is part of the broad creational mandate for each. Â Governments are called first and foremost to do justice. Â Churches have a broader mandate that includes the work of mercy. Â Similar things can be said for families, individuals, businesses, and so forth.But that kind of structural thinking is not part of American pragmatism (though some of the Founders understood it from the perspective of civic republicanism) andÂ chafes against the karmic pietism of the American Religion. Â Rather, we ask, "How can we get this done faster/cheaper?" and rely on our biases aboutÂ institutionsÂ to tell us which single one is "best." Â Likewise, we ask, "Do these people or institutions deserve this?"Â in determining whether anything should be done at all. Â Combine that with our firm belief that money is somehow "ours" rather than a trust we hold as part of that large differentiated system --- a notion which we arrive at by confusing the small percentage of wealth due to our efforts with the large percentage due to fortune of birth --- and this is a hard won point.js
Brian,Frankly, I do not agree with you that the money you earn is somehow exclusively yours and that government somehow "takes" what is yours. Â Our country provides the framework in which it is possible to work and earn at the rate that we do. Â In this sense it is very much like a flea market charging its vendors a fee or percentage of sales. Â Were those vendors not to have a venue in which to do business, they would not be able to earn at the rate they do. Â As such, they make an economic choice and choose to pay certain fees or taxes in return for increased earnings.A little thought experiment reveals that, for most of us, the United States offers a similar earning advantage. Â I imagine that the idea that money belongs to the one who earns it comes from the calculation: I work a certain amount and for that I am compensated a certain amount, therefore what I am compensated is due to my work alone and those earnings are mine alone. Â Now suppose your are a teacher. Â In the US you might earn $45000. Â In Estonia you might earn the equivalent of $9000. Â In parts of Africa, you might earn far less. (cf. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.... Â The nature of work and amount of work is basically the same, but the pay is rather different. Â In fact not only the pay, but the standard of living afforded by that pay is different (as computed by, say, purchasing power parity). Â That means that the teacher in Estonia lives like someone in the US making $9000 per year.I would ask then, is the work itself earning a certain amount ($45000) by virtue of its merit? Â No, the wealth of the US and advantages afforded to its citizens is also responsible for that $45000, perhaps most of it. Â Thankfully, even at the very top tax bracket, no one is paying a tax rate anything like that. Â In some ways the price we pay to government for theÂ privilegesÂ afforded to us is quite low.js
Countries which have a strong,social safety net are doing just fine during these hard times.None of the Scandinavian countries or Canada are facing a government shut-down.The US has been brainwashed by messages from conservative radio and Fox News into thinking government is bad.I find it hard to believe that the Repbublican party battled so hard to remove the rights of health care to all the citizens of America.When floors of hospitals are used for billing purposes,instead of helping people with affordable health care.What is Gods economics anyway? Could you please clearly definedwhat "most radical of liberals" means
I discussed it above in my dissertation-length post :-) ... God's economics are the economics of Jubilee, springing from the idea that the wealth and resources of the world belong to God and are given to us for us to use for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor, not for our own benefit or gain at their expense.God's economics, as seen in the Old Testament, suggest that every fifty years, the vast majority of the nation's wealth and resources are redistributed equitably.In God's economics, labor, not capital or ownership, is the primary engine of wealth, the charging of significant interest is strictly forbidden, and all debts are forgiven every seventh year.In God's economics, both poverty and wealth are impermanent states that last no longer than a few generations; even in the poorest family, either the parent or the child will at some point in their life have land and the means to a better life, and there's no incentive for the rich to hoard their wealth since either the parent or the child will have to give it all back for redistribution.The complete redistribution of wealth and resources twice every century, the complete elimination of debt as we know and understand it, re-rooting notions of wealth not in capital but in laborâ€”in other words, truly orienting our view of economics and resources around the idea that the world does not belong to us, and cannot belong to any individual... these aren't positions advocated by any political movement of any significance in the West that i'm aware of.
James, the process of Jubilee was exactly the opposite of redistribution. Every 50 years land was returned to the original deed holders whom God had given it to. In that sense it is kind of a frozen society of inherited land owners, not exactly the marxist utopia. The forgiveness of debts was akin to our bankruptcy laws. Un-designated land not covered by Godâ€™s original deed was open to purchase and did not fall under the jubilee laws. The path to wealth most often followed the proliferation of livestock and the accumulation of money (Abraham, Jacob etc). The virtuous woman Solomon describes is a land speculater, accumulates capital, launches a for profit vineyard, hires employees and sells fashion items in the city market. Of course she is generous, but she clearly has incentives to acquire wealth. As Peter later says, â€œThe property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You werenâ€™t lying to us but to God!â€ The disciples did not sell their land and give away their wealth. Peter, James, John and Andrew owned a very successful fishing business. They owned several boats which the ministry used from time to time. John owned servants. Peterâ€™s comfortable house became a kind of center for ministry. Even Jesus ancestral home was available, remember his mother and brothers begging Him to come home? We shouldnâ€™t impose a 20th century utopian economic theory on a unique ancient culture.
In our present world,sorry to say,our debts will not be cancelled anytime soon.The hard fought victories that brought the earth a middle class are slowly being taken away by greedy companies backed by greedy governments.Unions and Civil Servants are the new scapegoats in our current society.These conflicts distract the people while the CEO`s make more money and governments spend billions on weapons and war. It never comes true when buisnessmen say "money will trickle down in a free market."When Jesus comes back to earth,all of this will not matter anymore.Only he can provide the pefect system,like you guys are talking about.
Dear all,While I have found some of the comments interesting and the discussion itself has been enlightening, I do wonder whether much of it is barking up the wrong tree. After all, while noone could deny that the right to own property is there both in the New and Old Testaments, surely the higher law is that EVERYTHING we have has been entrusted to us by God (see the parable of the talents and the parable of the minas, the Mosaic covenant and Abraham's words to Melchizedek). If this really is the case then even "our" money is no more "ours" than our next breath or our next heartbeat. Both are given to us by God and with both we are asked to glorify Him.So let's get back to this poverty thing. One thing I unfortunately did not cover in that post was that the Church is duty bound to help the poor no matter what the government does. We are commanded to look after widows and orphans both in our families and in the wider church. The Bible makes it clear that we can talk all we like but unless we actually DO something our love means nothing (see the book of James).Perhaps the real problem is not even poverty itself but people. It is much more comfortable to debate the causes of poverty than to roll up our sleeves and do something about it. It is easier to criticise than create. However, and I speak to myself too when I say this, the reality is that when we die, God is not going to ask about the debates we got into or the philosophies we dreamt up. He is not going to ask about our political affiliations or even how we voted. When we read the parable of the sheep and the goats, we realise that, God is going to ask how our so-called "worship" and love for Him actually made a difference to those in need.Can any of us honestly say that we are confident that we can stand before God and not tremble at that prospect?
Jonathan, of course, everything in existence belongs to God and has been given by God including, as you say, our next heartbeat. How does that impact our discussion about responsibility for the care of others in our society or the right of the government to demand higher taxes from all of us in order to redistribute your income? Godâ€™s ownership of existence sounds nice to say, but what are the implications? For James the implications seem to be that private property and the accumulation of private capital are immoral constructs, all goods and services should be divided equally among all members of society. After all, it all belongs to the Father. Sounds like the plot to Dr. Zhivago.I believe the Father gives good gifts to his children. My father shopped carefully for my first bicycle. He chose a color and style that he knew would please me. He intended it for me and did not demand the bicycle back two weeks later to give it to another neighbor. My father is happiest when he sees me enjoy a possession that he gave me. He is also happy when I allow others to occasionally and responsibly ride that bike. The principal of stewardship requires personal custodial ownership and responsibility. As with everything in the Bible, â€œperhaps the real problem is not even poverty itself but people.â€ Iâ€ˆheartily agree with your statement. It is our character, not our form of government that is ultimately the problem. Authorizing a bureaucrat at a distance to take money from one person to give to another person evades my own responsibility to take care of the widow next door or the needy within our church family. I absolutely agree with â€œthe Church is duty bound to help the poor no matter what the government does.â€ This is something the Mormons seem to get better than we christians do. Amy Semple McPherson and the Foursquare Church took this responsibility seriously during the great depression, keeping millions in Los Angeles alive, and we need to take it seriously today.We donâ€™t have recorded any words that Abraham said to Melchizedek. Though Abraham said to the King of Sodom that he would not keep any of the loot captured in the raid on the kings of Babylonia. Abraham gave Melchizedek a one time gift of 10% of the captured loot and the rest was given to Abrahamâ€™s allies.
Add your comment to join the discussion!