Friday, November 30, 2007

Supply-Side Jesus


I have to admit: this video makes me uncomfortable.

One of the ironies of human life is that greed and wealth are inherently at odds with Christian teaching, but it is only greed which creates wealth and only wealth that can give to the poor. Capitalism, as an economic system, does the most good for the most number of people, but is predicated on unChristian premises. I know of no resolution to this dilemma.

The Wesleyan solution is to earn all you can so that you can give all you can, but is not poverty greater where there is no capital investment?

Would a society where people did not invest their excess money but gave it away have more or less poverty?

Hmm. I need to ruminate over this some more.

Hat tip: Richard Hall

17 comments:

Jeff the Baptist said...

Capitalism is like democracy, it is the worst economic system ever except, of course, for all the other ones.

The clip has a lot of problems. Being rich is not a sin and being poor is not a virtue. Nor is being rich a virtue and poor a sin. The moral authority of these positions come out of stewardship of the resources God has given you, not from the size of the number after your income's dollar sign.

Rev. J said...

Thanks for posting the video. It is very interesting and I can tell that many people in my congregation probably agree more with SSJ than JC. I guess I have more preaching to do then.

Oloryn said...

it is only greed which creates wealth

I question this, primarily because I distinguish between the profit motive and greed. One aspect of the difference between the two is that a proper profit motive will accept moral, ethical, and social limitations on its operations, while greed does not, and will readily cross those boundaries when it thinks it can get away with it. It may give lip service to them, because a reputation of ignoring them will hurt its profits, but it doesn't regard them as real boundaries that it shouldn't cross.

You might say that if you regard "I'm in business" as a valid reason for doing something in business that you would see as immoral or unethical in your personal life, you've crossed the line from a proper profit motive to greed.

It's interesting to note that there's essentially two groups who conflate a valid profit motive and greed: those leaning towards socialism who see any profit motive at all as evil and inherently immoral, and hyper-capitalists who advocate the "Greed is Good" meme. What seems to have happened in modern times is we've let these two groups define the framework of the argument, leaving out the middle ground, with the result that we can't say to the one group "No, you're wrong, the profit motive can have good effects" and to the other "No, you're wrong, the profit motive by itself is not sufficient, it must be willing to accept moral and ethical limitations".

I do have my own questions, though, of whether the concept of fiduciary duty (or at least the way it's practiced nowadays) tends to push corporations over the line from profit to greed.

John said...

The clip has a lot of problems. Being rich is not a sin and being poor is not a virtue. Nor is being rich a virtue and poor a sin. The moral authority of these positions come out of stewardship of the resources God has given you, not from the size of the number after your income's dollar sign.

But if, for example, a person has a yacht while another person lacks food, how can that rich man be considered a good steward?

Jeff the Baptist said...

But if, for example, a person has a yacht while another person lacks food, how can that rich man be considered a good steward?

There is a difference between having a lot of money and living an extravagant lifestyle. SSJ was obviously justifying his extravagant lifestyle in terms of the minor benefits he gave to others. Most "wealthy" Americans got that way by being financially prudent. They don't don't own private jets or yachts and they do own used cars. The money they do make, they reinvest heavily which not only makes them make more money, but also helps others run their businesses.

I really think there needs to a balancing act between investment and charity. Charity gives people fish, but investment teaches people to fish. You must do both (and in balance) or you are just throwing money down a hole.

Keith Taylor said...

John,

I think Jeff makes two excellent points.

Abraham was a very wealthy man, and the Bible says that Abraham was a "friend of God".

Job was a righteous man, and Job was very wealthy.

The Bible has many of examples of wealthy heros of faith as it does examples of avericious wretches. Likewise, everyone who is poor or gives all their money away is not an automatic saint either. There are just as many antiChristians in that camp as well.

Larry B said...

As others have said, a capitalistic system seem to show itself to be more efficient over time at distributing necessary resources.

Here is an example of an innovative solution that blends elements of capitalism and stewardship together. Most notable the micro loan concept where the normal interest on the loans is forgone, and the amount of the loan is small and structured so that the individual purchasers can invest in the needed technology to improve their life while contributing back to a fund that can then be re-invested. It seems a good blending of capital management and stewardship.

http://www.mkeever.com/manning.html

jockeystreet said...

John, I like this post, and I think it's a good question, to which solid, satisfactory answers are hard to come by.

I do question, though, the line "capitalism, as an economic system, does the most good for the most people." That feels like a given, it's one of those things that feels for a long time like a no-brainer... but I don't know if it really IS a given. Put next to competing models that gets lots of attention-- communism, etc-- maybe it's easier to make that case. But is it really the best? Is it one or the other? Has it done the most good for the most people? It seems that there might be a lot of people throughout the history of modern capitalism (a fairly short history, when you look at the bigger picture), who would enthusiastically disagre with that notion (I'm thinking early North Americans, South Americans, Africans, etc). And, not to be a pain, but when it comes to "the most good for the most people," what do we mean by "good?" More durable goods? A higher GNP? Full employment? A thriving "economy?"

I think the reason the question is hard to answer is that it can't be answered satisfactorily as is, on it's own. There's so much other stuff tied into it, that any answer that doesn't address all that other stuff just seems too easy, seems to miss the mark.

My thoughts, anyway, for what they're worth. I liked the video.

John said...

Keith wrote:

I think Jeff makes two excellent points.

Abraham was a very wealthy man, and the Bible says that Abraham was a "friend of God".

Job was a righteous man, and Job was very wealthy.


New Testament teaching, however, seems to depart from this sense of the wealthy righteous. A few examples:

Mat 19:24: Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Mar 10:25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Luk 18:25: For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Mat 6:19-21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Mat 6:24: No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.

1 Ti 6:9-10: But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. Forthe love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 John 3:17: But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

John said...

Jockeystreet wrote:

And, not to be a pain, but when it comes to "the most good for the most people," what do we mean by "good?" More durable goods? A higher GNP? Full employment? A thriving "economy?"

How about, as an objective criterion, lifespan. And as a more ethereal one, freedom of choice. Would those be acceptable standards for evaluating the quality of an economic system?

Dan Trabue said...

The Bible has many of examples of wealthy heros of faith

John's already addressed this a bit, but I'd like to add that it might be more fair to say that the Bible has several examples of wealthy individuals who might be considered heroes.

Abraham, Job, David, some of the other kings (although more often than not, their wealth and power contributed to their downfall, I'd suggest), along with a few lesser examples in the NT.

Hardly qualifies as "many" to me. And, as John noted, even those few examples are less present in the NT - and John only quoted a fraction of biblical warnings against the trappings of wealth - how about James...

Are not the rich oppressing you? ... Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?...

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days.

Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.


Yowch. That's harsh. If some of our preachers today were to speak thusly, they'd be accused of class warfare and communism, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

Great post and comments. To me, there is no "morally superior" economic system. The smaller the social or economic unit, the more socialism makes sense. Don't each of us run our families on a socialist economy--each according to his needs, etc.?

So, if the economic system is morally neutral, it comes down to the individual. I think part of the "greater good" is the element of the individual maximizing his or her talents in a productive way.
I think a controlled capitalist model facilitates this to some degree. But in the end, every political and economic model has its flaws and it truly comes down to the individual heart, the individual conscience, and the individual soul.

pwned_by_her said...

i think basically what the animation is saying is that SSJ was simply concerned with his own wealth and keeping it instead of being a good christian and sharing his wealth with those less fortunate than himself. wealth is essentially neutral, whether or not you have money doesn't make you a good or bad person, it's what you do with said money that makes you the person people see.

jockeystreet said...

John,

Since I don't see long lines of people clamoring to have their life expectancy shortened, I suppose that that's a decent evaluative standard. On the other hand... if I came to you today and said I could increase your life expectancy by ten or more years, but the trade off was, say, that you would see your kids 15% less throughout their early years, and the place you used to go swimming as a kid would end up polluted before your own kids were old enough to go there, and you and your spouse would argue 15% more often, and you'd generally be carrying 5-10% more stress with you each day, maybe you'd say the trade-offs weren't worth it, that a life expectancy of 75 or so is pretty good all things considered, and more isn't necessarily better.

We wouldn't go back, we wouldn't give up those years we've already had "added," but I wonder what we would have said if the trade-offs were so black and white then. Basically, even that sort of obvious good isn't such an easy evaluative tool in and of itself (same with freedom of choice). There's the obvious "too short" expectancies in places where things are terrible, but once you're away from that, I don't know.

But even take that as an absolute standard... are you saying that capitalism is the only conceivable economic system able to maximize life expectancy and choice? Are you saying that the track record has been consistently good for the majority of people?

jockeystreet said...

Looking back at that... maybe I've gotten off track. I didn't want to try to argue that a particular economic system is bad (people with opposing viewpoints rarely convince each other of that sort of thing). I was looking at the conflict between two "givens," and I'm basically saying maybe the givens need to be examined more closely, maybe one or the other isn't so given.

John said...

Jockeystreet wrote:

But even take that as an absolute standard... are you saying that capitalism is the only conceivable economic system able to maximize life expectancy and choice? Are you saying that the track record has been consistently good for the majority of people?

Not consistently, but in general, yes.

Stephen D. Clark said...

Forget that "supply-side" stuff; Jesus made a demand.

He said, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me." Luke 19:27

"Supply-side" must yield precedence to demand.