I found three posts at the AEI Values and Capitalism blog authored by a recent graduate of Grove City College.
Here the 3 posts:
- Thomas Aquinas on Private Property
- Thomas Aquinas on the Role of Government
- Thomas Aquinas on Helping the Poor
I’m going to snip the most interesting parts from each of the 3 posts.
First post talks about the Bible and private property:
What, if any, role does government play in defining, bestowing and taking private property? This question underlies many modern-day political debates, but it’s actually an issue scholars have debated for centuries. At the heart of this debate is the tension between private property and government confiscation: Does private property exist? If so, does government have the authority to take it from the citizens it governs?
[...]“It is false to say that human beings are not permitted to possess their own property,” he writes, implying that individual human beings have a right to the external goods they own and no one else may possess ownership over their goods. The eighth commandment—”Thou Shalt Not Steal”—assumes the principle of private property. God, by commanding man to refrain from stealing from his neighbor, assumes that man can and does own material goods.
[...]In his book “Foundations of Economics: A Christian View,” Dr. Shawn Ritenour of Grove City College puts it quite simply: “Our property is God’s gift.” The socialist idea that property rights come from government is false. Property rights come from our Creator.
So that’s the first thing to get clear. The Bible assumes the concept of private property.
Second post talks about when the government is justified in taking the property of citizens:
Theft is not justified on an individual level or a state level. Stealing is stealing. But if this is true, does government commit theft when it taxes its citizens? According to Aquinas, not quite. “If rulers exact from their subjects what is due them in justice in order to maintain the common good,” he writes, “there is no robbery” (emphasis mine). Government may justly take from its citizens their God-given property only if it promotes justice for the common good of society.
But this criterion is vague. The common good may be defined in a variety of ways. But Aquinas does not leave the reader without qualifying his statement:
But public authority is committed to rulers in order that they may safeguard justice. And so they are permitted to use force and coercion only in the course of justice, whether in wars against enemies or in punishing civilian criminals. (emphasis mine)
Government may take from its citizens, i.e. taxes, for the two-fold purpose of defended them from foreign enemies and convicting domestic criminals.
So the government can take money from citizens for defending them from external threats and internal threats. But what about helping the poor? Who is going to help the poor, if it’s not government’s job?
Third post talks about whose job it is to help the poor:
We must help those in need directly, through private institutions and through the church, not allowing government to become a substitute for our individual responsibility of loving our neighbor. Aquinas writes:
But because many persons are in need, and the same things cannot assist everybody, the dispensing of one’s own goods is committed to each individual, so that each may out of them assist those in need. (emphasis mine)
Because of the magnitude and specificity of each individual’s needs, the government cannot adequately provide for every one of its citizens. As Christians, we must work to provide for our neighbors in accordance with the command in Scripture to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Property is a gift from God—not government—to his people for the purposes of self-preservation and assisting those in need. When private institutions, churches and individuals fulfill their mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves, no need for government involvement exists.
Just a helpful reminder to everyone about what one of the pillars of the Christian faith thought about fiscal policy and the role of government. By the way, if you’re thinking about studying economics and you’re a Christian, I recommend Grove City College.
Christianity and economics
Here’s an interview with Dr. Shawn Ritenour, economics professor at Grove City College. The interview is conducted by Dr. Paul Kengor.
Kengor: …it seems that the very foundation of economics, not to mention the American republic in some respects, is the right to private property. Do you agree? If so, is that Scriptural?
Ritenour: The foundation of economic activity and policy is private property. All action requires the use of property and all economic policy is about how people can legally use their property. To benefit from the division of labor, we must be able to exchange our products, which requires private property. Private property is definitely Scriptural. The Bible explicitly prohibits theft, fraud, moving property barriers, debasing money, violating labor contracts, as well as coveting. These prohibitions apply to both citizens and rulers. In my text, I apply this conclusion to issues such as confiscatory taxation, government subsidies, business regulation, and monetary inflation.
Kengor: I find it very telling that Karl Marx was first and foremost against private property, not to mention against God as well. In the “Communist Manifesto,” he wrote plainly: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.” And yet, there are some religious left Christians who claim that the Bible, especially in certain Old Testament passages, preaches a form of socialism and even communism. A student of mine had a teacher at a private Christian school in Ohio who instructed the class that as Christians they should be communists. Can you address this argument?
Ritenour: Communism can be condemned strictly on the basis of the Christian ethic of property (among other reasons). Nothing in Scripture either commands or implies that the means of production should be controlled by the state. There are passages in the early chapters of Acts that are often cited as promoting “Christian communism,” but, in fact, actually illustrate Christian sharing. The various Christians still owned their property, but were generous in sharing whenever they saw a need. When Peter rebukes Ananias in Acts 5, he explicitly says that both the property that Ananias and Sapphira sold and the monetary proceeds from selling it were theirs to do with what they wanted. That is not the gospel according to Marx.
Kengor: I like the way you turn the religious left’s thinking on private property on its head. You note that “God prohibits our coveting the property of others.” With that being the case, isn’t it wrong for the government to use the mighty arm of the state to forcibly remove property from one person to give it to another?
Ritenour: I see no other way around that conclusion, especially when we realize that, in our day of mass democracy, the state usually accomplishes policies of wealth redistribution by inciting envy and covetousness among the populace.
Kengor: What about profits? Reconcile the profit motive with the God of Scripture. We have people in this society who portray profits as greedy or unjust.
Ritenour: Profit is the reward entrepreneurs receive for more successfully producing what people want. This is no easy thing to do. Entrepreneurs must invest in present production of goods they sell in the future. Neither entrepreneurs nor government bureaucrats know exactly what future demand will be. Therefore, production necessitates bearing risk. If the entrepreneur forecasts future demand incorrectly, he will waste resources and reap losses. If he forecasts the future correctly, he serves his fellow man by producing goods people want. It seems only right that such producers are rewarded with profit. In a free market, the only way entrepreneurs earn profits is to serve customers better than anyone else.
If you would like to learn more about the relationship between Christianity and economics, then I recommend “Money, Greed and God” and “Indivisible” by Jay Richards. The former is about what the Bible says about economics, the latter is about developing a Christian worldview of fiscal and social issues. If you really want a comprehensive assessment of the Bible and politics, then I recommend Wayne Grudem’s “Politics According to the Bible“.
- Jay Richards on the religious left
- Acton Institute review of Jay Richards’ “Money, Greed and God” book
- The Cato Institute talks to Jay Richards about Christianity and capitalism
- Free e-book featuring Jennifer Roback Morse, Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann