Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

A Jewish rabbi explains what the Bible teaches about capitalism

A Jewish rabbi explains what the Bible says about economics, in the Wall Street Journal. (H/T Tom)

Excerpt:

More than any other nation, the United States was founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective. We call this the Judeo-Christian ethos, and within it resides a ringing endorsement of capitalism as a moral endeavor.

Regarding mankind, no theme is more salient in the Bible than the morality of personal responsibility, for it is through this that man cultivates the inner development leading to his own growth, good citizenship and happiness. The entitlement/welfare state is a paradigm that undermines that noble goal.

The Bible’s proclamation that “Six days shall ye work” is its recognition that on a day-to-day basis work is the engine that brings about man’s inner state of personal responsibility. Work develops the qualities of accountability and urgency, including the need for comity with others as a means for the accomplishment of tasks. With work, he becomes imbued with the knowledge that he is to be productive and that his well-being is not an entitlement. And work keeps him away from the idleness that Proverbs warns leads inevitably to actions and attitudes injurious to himself and those around him.

[...]At the opening bell, Genesis announces: “Man is created in the image of God”—in other words, like Him, with individuality and creative intelligence. Unlike animals, the human being is not only a hunter and gatherer but a creative dreamer with the potential of unlocking all the hidden treasures implanted by God in our universe. The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation.

Capitalism makes possible entrepreneurship, which is the realization of an idea birthed in human creativity. Whereas statism demands that citizens think small and bow to a top-down conformity, capitalism, as has been practiced in the U.S., maximizes human potential. It provides a home for aspiration, referred to in the Bible as “the spirit of life.”

The Bible speaks positively of payment and profit: “For why else should a man so labor but to receive reward?” Thus do laborers get paid wages for their hours of work and investors receive profit for their investment and risk.

[...]Many on the religious left criticize capitalism because all do not end up monetarily equal—or, as Churchill quipped, “all equally miserable.” But the Bible’s prescription of equality means equality under the law, as in Deuteronomy’s saying that “Judges and officers . . . shall judge the people with a just judgment: Do not . . . favor one over the other.” Nowhere does the Bible refer to a utopian equality that is contrary to human nature and has never been achieved.

The motive of capitalism’s detractors is a quest for their own power and an envy of those who have more money. But envy is a cardinal sin and something that ought not to be.

God begins the Ten Commandments with “I am the Lord your God” and concludes with “Thou shalt not envy your neighbor, not for his wife, nor his house, nor for any of his holdings.” Envy is corrosive to the individual and to those societies that embrace it. Nations that throw over capitalism for socialism have made an immoral choice.

I think that Christians are sometimes attracted to socialism because they think that the only way to help the poor is by state-controlled redistribution of wealth. Socialists might have the right goal of helping the poor (I actually believe that socialism is just the happy-face on fascism, but let us be charitable), but capitalism is the right way to achieve that goal of helping the poor.

Here is an article by Jay Richards for the American Enterprise Institute.

First, his introduction:

If you’re like me, when you think of wealth and poverty, you picture its material manifestations. To have wealth, we imagine, is to have money, stocks, real estate, or valuable commodities, which, in turn, gives us the means to achieve various material ends, such as food, clothing, cars, housing, and healthcare. Poverty, in contrast, is the lack of such goods, which, in turn, leads to a lack of food, shelter, basic medical care, and other such items. These mental associations can make it hard to discover the preconditions of wealth creation, many of which are immaterial, even spiritual, rather than material.

For most of human history, discovering the sources of wealth creation would have been devilishly hard, since most economies, such as there were, tended to be static. If a Mesopotamian farmer or Greek shepherd in the second century BC ever asked, “Where does wealth come from?” he would have assumed that wealth came from rain, common labor, good luck, or some combination of these. He probably also would have assumed that to get really wealthy, you need to plunder other people.

But we now have concrete examples of cultures that have created vast new wealth, moving the majority of their citizens from poverty to relative prosperity. And when we look at these cultures retroactively, we discover answers that, for most of us, are counterintuitive. I’ve argued elsewhere that we’re able to discern ten crucial features allowing such cultures to alleviate poverty and create wealth. The more of these a culture has or does, the more likely it is to be prosperous.

The Top Ten Ways to Alleviate Poverty

  1. Establish and maintain the rule of law.
  2. Focus the jurisdiction of government primarily on maintaining the rule of law, and limit its jurisdiction over the economy and the institutions of civil society.
  3. Implement a formal property system with consistent and accessible means for securing a clear title to property one owns.
  4. Encourage economic freedom.
  5. Encourage stable families and other important private institutions which mediate between the individual and the state.
  6. Encourage belief in the truth that the universe is purposeful and makes sense.
  7. Encourage the right cultural mores.
  8. Instill a proper understanding of the nature of wealth creation and poverty.
  9. Focus on cultivating your comparative advantage rather than protecting what used to be your comparative advantage.
  10. Work hard.

There is a striking correlation between societies that exhibit these traits, or some subset of them, and the large-scale wealth creation. But notice that only one of them describes a material good. All the others are intangible, immaterial, spiritual. You can’t find economic freedom or cultural mores on a map or put them in a safe. You can’t bottle diligence or weigh the ingredients for stable families and voluntary institutions on a scale. These goods involve beliefs, social conventions, institutions, commitments, virtues, and creativity. Having listed them in brief, now I want to hold each of the ten immaterial ingredients up to the light and consider how each helps a society move from poverty to prosperity.

If someone has a spiritual or moral sickness that is preventing them from working, then the solution is not to hand them someone else’s money. That’s not going to make them happy. They need to earn their own pay and be responsible for their own independence.

Jay Richards on Christianity and Capitalism

Jay Richards actually wrote the book on Christianity and capitalism: “Money, Greed and God“.

To understand what capitalism is, you can watch this lecture entitled “Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem” by Jay W. Richards, delivered at the Heritage Foundation think tank, and televised by C-SPAN2.

If you can’t see the Richards video, here is an audio lecture by Jay Richards on the “Myths Christians Believe about Wealth and Poverty“. Also, why not check out this series of 4 sermons by Wayne Grudem on the relationship between Christianity and economics? (a PDF outline is here)

And you can listen to Ron Nash’s course on Christianity and economics.

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Christian professor of economics discusses capitalism, socialism and the Bible

Here’s an interview with Dr. Shawn Ritenour, economics professor at Grove City College. The interview is conducted by Dr. Paul Kengor.

Excerpt:

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.

I’m a fan of Paul Kengor’s work. If I had married and had children, I would have wanted them to go to Grove City College for their undergraduate degrees. Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez is at Grove City right now, directing a program in astronomy.

Should Christians study other areas of knowledge like economics?

Here’s a quote from McKenzie’s Facebook page that explains why I think Christians need to understand economics.

Quote:

“If inviting nonbelievers to worship matters, then so does preserving the freedom to worship. If ministering to the needs of the poor is a mandate, then changing the policies creating poverty is very much within that mandate. And if building shelter in developing countries is part and parcel of a Christian’s burden, so… is the destruction of the power of tyrants who oppress peoples around the globe.”

It’s from Hugh Hewitt’s book “In, But Not Of”. The book is about how Christians need to make good decisions early on in life if they hope to influence the world in effective ways. This is an excellent book for young people in high school and university, or for those (like me) who dream of raising children in a careful way, so they can impact the world for Christ. My hope is to raise Michele Bachmann and Jennifer Roback Morse clones.

By the way, you can be my friend on Facebook. My Facebook page is here. And you can also follow the blog here, you have a Facebook account. (Although we get about 1000-1500 page views per day, I have only a small number of Facebook friends and followers).

Further study

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OAS report details violence and lost freedoms in communist Venezuela

Story from the Washington Post. (H/T Red State)

Excerpt:

THE ORGANIZATION of American States has failed to respond to the steady deterioration of Latin American democracy during the past few years, even though the defense of democracy is supposed to be one of its primary missions. Now the OAS — and governments throughout the region — have been shamed by one of its own branch organizations. Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a searing and authoritative report on the destruction of Venezuela’s political institutions and the erosion of freedom under President Hugo Chávez.

[...]In meticulous detail, the 300-page report documents how Mr. Chávez’s regime has done away with judicial independence, intimidated or eliminated opposition media, stripped elected opposition leaders of their powers, and used bogus criminal charges to silence human rights groups.

[...]Particularly shocking is the commission’s account of the role that violence and murder have played in Mr. Chávez’s concentration of power. The report documents killings of journalists, opposition protesters and farmers; it says that 173 trade union leaders and members were slain between 1997 and 2009 “in the context of trade union violence, with contract killings being the most common method for attacking union leaders.” The report says that in 2008 Venezuela’s human rights ombudsman recorded 134 complaints of arbitrary killings by security forces, 87 allegations of torture and 33 cases of forced disappearance. It also asserts that radical groups allied with Mr. Chávez “are perpetrating acts of violence with the involvement or acquiescence of state agents.”

There has been no accountability for these acts.

Here’s a picture of two socialists, Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez.

Hey, Chavez! Nice job on that torture!

I wonder why Obama and the people who voted for him oppose waterboarding interrogation of mass-murdering terrorists for national security purposes, but sanction actual torture against innocent civilians by Democrat socialist regimes?

But maybe violence isn’t an essential part of the political left’s plan. Neil Simpson has a nice post up about how the socialists can take over the world without using violence. I wonder if they will take him up on that?

Relate posts

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Chavez marches Venezuela down the road to serfdom at gunpoint

CNN reports that Chavez has devalued the Venezuelan bolivar.

In the wake of his decision to devalue Venezuela’s currency, President Hugo Chavez on Sunday said he would put the military on the streets to ensure that business owners don’t raise prices.

Speaking on his weekly television program, “Alo Presidente,” Chavez railed against merchants who re-price their items in reaction to Friday’s announcement that the Venezuelan bolivar currency, which had been fixed at 2.15 to the U.S. dollar since 2005, was devalued to 4.3 to the dollar. For food and medicine, Chavez announced a second fixed exchange rate for these “necessity” goods at 2.6 bolivares to the dollar.

“I want the national guard in the streets, with the people, to fight speculation,” Chavez said, calling re-pricing a form of robbery.

[...]He encouraged people to publicly denounce businesses where prices increase and threatened to expropriate businesses that do.

The government would transfer ownership of such businesses to the workers, Chavez said.

Yes, attacking and nationalizing businesses with the Venezuelan army will do a lot to create jobs and increase competition among product and service providers. Surely lower prices and increased quality will result from this consumer-friendly policy. And foreign investors will be rushing to Venezuela to invest so they can take 700 million Euro losses in a split second.

Investors Business Daily explains the result of devaluing a currency.

For starters, it’s a tax. “The government has decided to recognize the massive accumulated inflation in the country and is trying to increase the purchasing power of the (dwindling) dollars it has . .. (by selling) dollars to the private sector at a higher price,” explained Hausmann. “In the short run, this is like a tax on the sale of dollars.”

[...]“The poor have no way to protect themselves from devaluation,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Steve Hanke, who has advised previous Venezuelan leaders about currency. “Their only means are awkward and inefficient.”

Meanwhile, the “tax” on dollars “means a transfer of resources out of the private economy to the government’s coffers,” said Hausmann. “As a consequence, the rest of society will have less income.”

Teachers and doctors, already in short supply among the poor, will likely be hard hit, along with small businesses.

Worse, inflation’s likely to surge, another burden for the poor.

Inflation was already on its way to 30% before Friday’s devaluation. Food, which makes up 80% of what the poor buy, has been hit with a 20% immediate increase in price. This effectively lifts inflation for the poor to a devastating 50%.

Costs for other goods, such as car tires, will rise by 100%. A banker in Caracas tells IBD this will push average inflation to 60% — adding to accumulated inflation of 600% over the past decade, a brutal tax on poor Venezuelans.

The very complexity of the new currency scheme will be a nightmare for the poor, says Hanke.

“More regulations will lead to repression,” he said, citing the weakening freedom to spend money. More controls mean shortages.

I think that people who elect communists like Chavez need to be more careful about listening to honeyed words about the benefits of wealth redistribution. When you attack the rich, they stop hiring workers. And if you attack them enough, they leave your country. Communism causes poverty and famine. It always has, and always will. If you want to know where it ends, look at Cuba and North Korea. That’s where Venezuela is headed.

More on this story from Fausta here and here. ECM sent an article about scheduled blackouts here.

Is Obama any different from Chavez on economic policy?

Here they are shaking hands:

Is there such a thing as a secret handshake for communist dictators? Just asking. Not saying that Chavez or Obama are communist dictators. Just wondering if communist dictators have a secret handshake. A communist dictator handshake conducted by communist dictators to congratulate themselves on how well their ignorance of economics “helps” the poor to starve to death.

Here is the currency graph of the US dollar versus the Canadian dollar. A decline of about 20% in 12 months. (The current exchange rate is 1.03301)

How many Canadian dollars is 1 US dollar worth?
January     1.22664 CAD   (21 days average)
February    1.24684 CAD   (20 days average)
March       1.26275 CAD   (22 days average)
April       1.22697 CAD   (21 days average)
May         1.15311 CAD   (21 days average)
June        1.12458 CAD   (22 days average)
July        1.12350 CAD   (23 days average)
August      1.08796 CAD   (21 days average)
September   1.08182 CAD   (22 days average)
October     1.05427 CAD   (22 days average)
November    1.05978 CAD   (21 days average)
December    1.05366 CAD   (22 days average)

I wonder which one knows the least about economics. Chavez? Obama? Or my keyboard? Hmmmmn.

Here is my previous story about energy rationing in Venezuela.

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Communist Venezuela introduces energy rationing in 2010

Story here from Breitbart. (H/T ECM)

Excerpt:

Oil-rich Venezuela ushered in 2010 with new measures rationing electricity use in malls, businesses and billboards, as Hugo Chavez’s government aimed to save power amid a crippling drought.

The new regulations came into effect January 1, with businesses required to comply with reduced consumption limits and authorities warning of forced power cuts and rate hikes if the measures are not followed.

[...]The power crunch is expected to have an impact on a wide variety of businesses, including cinemas, casinos and bingo halls.

Establishments failing to comply with the measures could face outages for a period of 24 hours, and up to 72-hour suspensions “in case of recidivism,” according to the decree.

The regulation also orders businesses to institute savings plans aimed at shedding consumption by at least 20 percent, a measure that will be evaluated monthly by the newly-created ministry of electricity.

Tariff surcharges of up to 20 percent could be imposed on violators.

Rationing is also to apply to lighted advertisements.

[...]In 2009 there were four nationwide blackouts, with daily failures common in several cities.

Communism produces economic decline by encouraging entrepreneurs to flee or to stop producing, since the state views what these producers produce as something to be seized and distributed to buy votes. If no one wants to start any businesses, then there won’t be any jobs for the people. People end up depending on the state for bread, with all that that entails. The left wants equality of life outcome regardless of choices, (except for themselves).

I don’t see any difference between the intelligence and policies of Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama. Hugo is just further along the road to serfdom, in my opinion. Obama just has more capitalism and Judeo-Christian morality to undo. After Obama passes government-controlled rationing of health care, he’ll probably move on to government-controlled rationing of energy. By then, Chavez should be rationing births, housing, food and water.

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