Solving the China Trade Problem

President Trump is right to confront China on the trade issue.  China has long been dumping materials such as steel on the American market, and it has been acquiring technology we have developed by means open and surreptitious.  Together, China’s predatory trade policies have devastated American manufacturing and largely destroyed our blue collar middle class.  Here in Cleveland we have seen whole factories bought by Chinese, torn down, and re-erected in China.  What were good-paying American jobs became Chinese jobs.

At the same time, America needs China at the grand strategic level.  To meet the threat posed by Fourth Generation war, we need an alliance of all states.  The core of such an alliance must be the three greatest powers, Russia, China, and the U.S.

Nor should we wish to damage China’s economy.  The world is teetering on the edge of a global debt crisis.  Such a crisis is most likely to begin in China, whose recent prosperity is built on a $15 trillion mountain of debt, much of it bad.  A debt crisis in China will quickly spread.  It is likely to end in a world-wide depression to rival that of the 1930s.  America, which like China continues to pile up both public and private debt, will not be exempt.  America tomorrow will be Greece today, with the added nightmare of hyperinflation as the federal government seeks to pay off its debts with worthless money.  That is a future we should do our utmost to avoid. 

I think there is a way out of this seeming dilemma.  What is it?  Managed trade.

Managed trade is where two countries sit down and negotiate in detail what each will export to the other and import from the other.  The objective is a trade balance, where neither runs a large and continuing trade surplus with the other, as China now does with us.  Each country will have natural advantages over the other in certain products.  The objective is to balance the advantages of each with the comparative weaknesses of each.

Managed trade is possible with China because China has a state-controlled economy.  China’s economy today is neither Marxist nor socialist.  Instead, it is mercantilist.  Mercantilism is the economic model followed by Japan, then South Korea, and now China in transforming themselves from poor countries into prosperous ones.  Though ideological free traders loath the fact, mercantilism works.

Mercantilism was the predominant economic model in 17th and 18th century Europe.  For the most part, it relies on a regulated free market domestically.  But the state intervenes in the economy in order to promote its objectives.  Those objectives include full employment; the ability to meet most if not all needs domestically, which leads the state to finance industrial development aimed at import substitution; the use of tariffs, quotas, and other restraints on trade, again to promote domestic manufactures; and a positive balance of trade.

While free trade has benefitted Wall Street, it has done massive damage to Main Street.  One of America’s proudest achievements, a large blue collared middle class, is now largely gone as a consequence of free trade.  The white collar middle class’s neck is now on the block as companies seek to cut their cost by importing white collar workers from places such as India and outsourcing white collared jobs overseas.  A mercantilist federal government would stop both practices by denying visas to foreign workers coming here to displace Americans and by putting a large export duty on jobs shipped overseas.

Mercantilism on China’s part makes a deal based on managed trade possible.  Mercantilism here at home, instead of free trade, could rebuild the American economy we had in the 1950s and ‘60s, where prosperity was not limited to the 1%.

Barren Metal, a Book Review

barren-metal

Having read E. Michael Jones’ work Libido Dominandi, where he exposes how global elites have used sexual “liberation” as a tool for political enslavement, a brilliant book, I was looking forward to reading Barren Metal which is a history of usury.  Sadly I was disappointed. This work is inferior to Libido Dominandi. I will first discuss the positive elements I found in the book and conclude with where I thought it failed.

The basic premise of the Barren Metal is that usury is the extraction of surplus value from the laborer and that capitalism is state sponsored usury. Jones here is a bit confusing as he distinguishes between two kinds of capitalism (1) free-enterprise and entrepreneurship  and (2) state sponsored usury. When most people of think of capitalism, at least on the political right, they think of definition one. What he calls state sponsored usury I really don’t think is capitalism. Obviously we have state sponsored usury in the ancient world under Greece and Rome and yet nothing like the dynamic markets of modern capitalism was seen.

This over simplification mars the book. Jones has a penchant for reductionist thinking; capitalism is usury, Protestantism is a looting operation of the Catholic Church, etc.

Jones begins his work by challenging the Weberian thesis that capitalism arose not out of Protestantism, but out of Catholic Renaissance Italy. He then spends the better part of 1000 pages blaming Protestantism for capitalism and only at the end of the book does he return to his original position. This kind of confusing and contradictory view is a major weakness of the book.

Prior to the Reformation/Renassiance, the Catholic church in the Benedictine Order valued labor over alchemy/usury in producing wealth. Together with the civil arm of the Holy Roman Empire, the German-Catholic order of anti-usury pro-labor was maintained. From here on out the basic narrative of the book is that the rise of pagan thought in the renaissance in Catholic Italy coupled with the great Schism brought on by Protestantism destroyed the Church’s ‘policy power’ to enforce laws against usury. For Jones the Protestant looting of Church property in England, in order to get the initial startup capital for economic development, was the original sin of capitalism. He argues that the rise of liberalism and its grounding of morals in human sentiments was the perfect justification for the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist elite. This breach made by English capitalism and the Reformation was compounded by Napoleon and his emancipation of the Jews. The German rationalists were the one bright spot in this period. From Kant to Hegel the Germans developed a new economic outlook based on the national economy rather than pure individual interest. This view of economics he sees carried into the Catholic social teaching of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This German-Catholic fusion is his alternative to Jewish capitalism.  The Jews and the English Protestants conspired to spread capitalism, ergo usury, throughout the world. He ends his work by discussing the implications of usury in the great 2008 economic crisis.

Jone’s critique of Empiricism is decidedly excellent. His account of the Jews bears repeating. He argues that the Jews, a diasporic people, treated gentiles as aliens and that is why they extracted usury from them. When capitalism internalized this Jewish practice it made each individual an alien to the other, destroying social cohesion. He argues that capitalism and communism are two sides of the same Jewish coin. He argues that Marx rendered the working class as a rootless cosmopolitan force, just like the Jews. The Marxist solution of abolishing property was worse than the problem of usury.

Jones’ argument is hampered by his clear ignorance of the Reformation. He argues that the Anabaptists were Lutherans, and even states later in the work that they invaded churches and smashed images. With the noticeable exception of Munster the Anabaptists were pacifists and such a bizarre falsehood seriously damages Jones’ credibility on this issue. His monomania with Protestantism is also flawed since Protestant Scandinavia and Germany did not develop the radical individualistic capitalism he condemns, ergo something other than Protestantism was the driving cause, thereby discrediting his narrative.

Jones acts as if the Catholic church would have had an alternative to Capitalism; he is quite favorable of the Jesuit Experiment in Quebec and Paraguay. Yet he never demonstrates that there was a viable Catholic alternative. The Catholic kingdoms of Portugal, Spain, France, and Austria were all as debt and usury ridden as the England he so condemns. The fact is that usury ran apace in Catholic as well as Protestant nations.

His anti-Protestant monomania is further compound by his monomaniacal fixation on Henry VIII’s nationalization of the monasteries. This, for Jones, is the original sin of capitalism; the confiscation of a thousand years of accumulated value and his justification for reducing the Reformation to merely a looting scheme. This of course is absurd. I could just as easily say the Reformation was the Roman Catholic chickens coming home to roost. During the 4th century the Catholics running the Roman Empire destroyed Pagan images and confiscated pagan temples, not unlike what Henry VIII would do 1100 years later. Given that the Catholic church was built on the accumulation of a 1000 years of classical labor it was nothing more than a looting operation. This double standard is further highlighted when he complains that English pirates, such as Sir Francis Drake, were raiding Spanish galleons, without even so much as a mention of the massive looting of Mexico and Peru, probably one of the greatest looting operations in history and far grander than Henry VIII’s. We see that in the 4th and 16th centuries the Catholic church was built on loot and plunder of an unimaginable scale, but it would be absurd to conclude from that the Catholic Church was merely a looting operation of pagan goods, as Jones implies with the Reformation.

In short Barren Metal is a deeply flawed though expansive work that leaves much to be desired.

Towards a True Economic Third Position

There are at present many efforts to create a third position in economics, most of which go from the spectrum of kooky voodoo economics such as Social Credit Theory on the right and Participatory economics on the left, and essentially socialists in third position clothing such as syndicalism and fascism. The goal of this essay is not to deconstruct these false third position models, but to offer a true third position. This will essentially be similar to distributism, though I have some objections to distributism as it is now popularly formulated. For more on that see my essay “Rethinking Christian Economics.”

The Biblical Economic Model
When we discuss what economic model we should have we first need to discuss what is the nature and end of man. If man has no nature and/or no end, then any old system should work since man would be infinitely malleable and able to fit into any system with sufficient conditioning, ergo none would be better than another. This I reject. I agree with the Shorter Westminster Catechism that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” I will not attempt in this article to give justifications for this assumption, merely assume it as the first principle of anthropology.

If we accept this basic principle of anthropology, we then look to the Bible to see what end God directs us to. If we use biblical principles we see that many forms of economic action are condemned as sin. The most significant change would be the outlawing of usury. We see prohibitions in Leviticus 25:36-37; Nehemiah 5:7-10; Psalms 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8-17; Ezekiel 22:12. We see in Psalms 28:8 and Ezekiel 22:12 that God views usury as akin to extortion. There was an exception for Jews to lend money to gentiles at usury in Deuteronomy 23:20. I believe that Christ in his Parable of the Good Samaritan where the term neighbor is expanded to include not only Jews, but also gentiles closed that gap, since exchanging usury is not a form of love. We see in Luke 6:35 that Christ demands we do not lend expecting anything in return. With such evidences I think that the Gentile loophole has been closed to a complete prohibition on charging of usury.

We see in Psalms 24:1 that God owns the earth which implies that property taxes are immoral since the government has no right to extract profit from what it does not own. Eminent domain (legalized state theft of property) is immoral where we see Ahab and Jezebel in 1st Kings 21 first murdering Naboth and then stealing his property, which was given to him as a trust by his father. As we see in Proverbs 13:22 that one should leave an inheritance for one’s children which would imply that the death tax and inheritance tax is immoral. We see in Numbers 36 the right of women to inherit property. From 1st Timothy 5:3-16, in which Paul exhorts families to take care of their elders and if the widow has no family or their family is unable to care for them then the church should do so, we can derive the principle of subsidiarity: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” Socialism is fundamentally evil in that, insofar as it destroys private property and establishes a welfare regime, one is correspondingly less able to maintain one’s elders.

Private property is the bedrock of civilization, as Aristotle observed, men take better care of what they possess and that private property facilitates two virtues: continence and liberality. Based on the principle that no man can live in isolation for only animals and gods can live self-sufficiently in isolation, Aristotle argues that people come together to form families and families come together to form states (in his case city-states). We see that in capitalism the individual is the focus of the economy, in socialism the collective, and in distributism the family. The family is the smallest self-sufficient unit in society and thus is the wellspring of society. The word economics comes from the two Greek words Oikos (Household) and Nomos (Law). We see that historically economics was concerned with providing enough for each household to take care of its needs. This principle of self-sufficiency is the foundation of further civilizational development and as such the economy should seek to encourage self-sufficiency. In Joshua 14 and 15 we see that God desires tribes (extended households) to have land to be self-sufficient. In fact that land is not to be sold; for with the implementation of Jubilee every 50 years and the story of Naboth, we see that God desired the dispersion of property not its concentration.

How do we Get There?
Clearly our current economic model is not distributism and is a mixture of capitalism and socialism with seemingly the worst of both. I propose three possible methods used individually or in conjunction that could allow a transition from our current mixed-economy to a distributist economy: (1) prosecuting firms for criminal action and restoring to the victims fourfold (Luke 19:8); (2) the example shown in the Peasant’s Land Bank, and (3) the Land-to-Tiller Program.

I propose that firms that have engaged in criminal action be prosecuted and their assets be redistributed to the aggrieved parties fourfold, what I call the Zacchaeus Plan. This would work to divest the corporations of their ill-gotten gain and serve to chip away at concentrated wealth.
The Peasant’s Land Bank was an effort by secretary of finance Nikolai Bunge to give the peasants access to credit to purchase land from the Boyars (nobles) and in conjunction with this effort Stolypin realized that the lack of a middle class would only aid in the fomenting of rebellion and economic stagnation. After seeing the Revolution of 1905 he correctly identified the need for agrarian form. Seeing that a middle class is founded on independent property holders they sought to purchase land from the boyars to distribute the land back to the peasants. While marred by corruption and inefficiencies the process was largely successful, and by 1913 the bank had helped the peasants acquire 46 million acres. For more on the Peasant’s Land Bank and other Russian agrarian reforms see Russian Peasants and Village Lands, 1861-1917: A Summary Compiled by Alan Kimball.

In Taiwan’s Land to the Tiller Program, property was peacefully and lawfully transferred from the Chinese landlords to the peasants. Chaing’s land reform can be understood in four parts: (1) leasing to the peasants land owned by the government, (2) reduce rent to 37.5%, (3) selling government land to peasants, (4) Land to the Tiller Program. The Land to the Tiller program transferred land from the landlords to the peasants by compensating the value of the property from the landlords with 70% of the price being paid in rice and potatoes and the remaining 30% in stocks in rising government firms.

There are many possible peaceful and lawful means by which to transfer property in a more equitable way to the people without the needless bloodshed demanded by lunatic socialists and anarchists.

How Do We Stay There?
I have basically two means by which this property regime can be maintained. Firstly, I accept Aristotle’s notion that while man’s desires are potentially infinite, the number of goods available in the world are finite, and that man’s desires should be curtailed by education. So we begin by educating people to be content with what they need. As a practical legal method I argue for a return of biblical Sabbath year and Jubilee. We see in Deuteronomy 15:1-6 that every seven years (Sabbath Year) the tribes of Israel were required by God to free slaves, admittedly only Hebrew slaves, and forgive debts. In Leviticus 25:8-12 we see that land should be returned to its original owner. In practical terms Jubilee could be modeled in using the concept of usufruct. I will use the Investopedia definition of usufruct:

“A legal right accorded to a person or party that confers the temporary right to use and derive income or benefit from someone else’s property. Usufruct is usually conferred for a limited time period or until death. While the usufructuary has the right to use the property, he or she cannot damage or destroy it, or dispose of the property.”

If we consider limiting the time period to fifty years I think we have a rough approximation of usufruct-Jubilee contract.

Conclusion
I assert that third position economics on both the right and the left goes from either kookiness or socialism. I propose an alternative biblical/Aristotelian distributism model. I have provided a few possibilities by which our current property regime can be legally transformed into this new property regime, and how such a regime can be maintained, which is more than any anarcho-socialist on the Left or social credit theorist on the Right can do. favicon

The Missed Lesson of Greece’s Financial Crisis

On Sunday, 61% of Greek voters rejected the European bailout referendum. The Greek financial situation has led many American conservatives (and neoliberals) to point to Greece as an object lesson in the failures of socialism. Focusing only on Greece’s spending habits, however, misses the underlying issue, and American conservatives need to understand this if they ever want to address the fundamental problem that besets ours and the world’s economy. For the record, I’m not sure the problem is solvable at this point, but we need to at least understand what it is if we hope to fix it, and the problem will not be fixed by just spending less and “living within our means.”

There are no good guys in the Greek situation. Conservative critics of Greece’s socialistic ways are correct that it is not realistic for a country and its citizens to expect to continually live beyond their collective means. Excessive portions of the Greek workforce are employed by the government, and Greece allegedly cooked the books initially to make their economic situation appear better than it really was.

However, what too many of Greece’s critics are failing to point out is that the world monetary system encourages debt because debt is how new money comes into the system. Every new Euro/Dollar requires debt. So the system wants manageable debt, rather than unmanageable debt, but it most certainly does not want no debt or large scale “living within our means.” Such would grind the system to a halt. So the system essentially wants the debt can kicked down the road at a slower pace than Greece is kicking it, but you still can’t avoid the ultimate day of reckoning.

It is a bit rich for U.S. conservatives to finger wag at Greece for living beyond her means. While American conservatives say they want to cut spending and balance the budget, they act indignant when Democrats suggest they want to cut this or that popular entitlement or spending program, and they want to perpetually increase spending on defense because they apparently think it is the God-ordained duty of the United States to make the whole globe safe for democracy. The reason the U.S. isn’t where Greece is is because we have our own central bank, but the printing press is the 800 lb economic gorilla in the room and our time is surely coming. A wag might conclude that the superficial lesson from the Greek crisis is to have your own central bank and printing presses.

The take home point is that it is not enough to lecture the Greeks for being profligate Socialists, while ignoring the fact that our unsustainable monetary system actually encourages debt (national and otherwise) and can’t run without it. This is a built-in feature of the modern banking establishment, but the last major candidate who attempted to make this an issue got labeled a kook by a lot of mainstream conservatives for his troubles. So please spare me the morally superior posturing regarding the Greeks’ spendthrift ways. Our time is coming, and no one will be able to say we weren’t warned. favicon

tradLIFE: Breadlines

breadlines

Every time I see the “Breadlines” meme, the comment section is always flooded with reactive support for capitalism, usually from Tea Party types. Typically it is something akin to “I support Traditionalism and capitalism!” Anyone that says this is missing the point of the meme and they also have not given capitalism enough thought.

Socialism (at least universalist socialism) is obviously crazy. Taking money and/or goods from society’s producers and handing them to society’s takers for no reason other than that they happen to exist serves only to bring the entire society down to its lowest common denominator.

Capitalism, on the other hand, seems to be something entirely different. On the surface, it appears to be a system where anyone in society—not just the best and brightest—can become as wealthy as their abilities will allow. Producers compete to provide the best product or service for the lowest price, all to the benefit of society’s consumers.

The problem is that it does not actually work out like that. Big corporations compete only when they have to. They actually hate competition and do everything they can to eliminate it. More often than not, the best products are left behind for the cheapest junk. As if sacrificing quality for profits were not enough, labor is outsourced to the other side of the world (with the final product being wastefully shipped back to its destination market) in order to squeeze out a few more percentage points for the board of directors. Big impersonal corporations with no loyalty to place or folk that push out the artisans and creators are no friends of Tradition.

coke

Traditionalism is not an “-ism” in the usual ideological sense, but more of a world view. Rather than deciding what system is best for the economy, Tradition asks how communities can best be served economically. It firstly abhors a culture of consumerism and urges a reevaluation of needs versus wants. Capitalism has told us that we will be happy if we buy stuff—stuff we pay for by working in dimly-lit boxes all day doing the same robotic task until the day we die—but Traditionalism responds that the things that yield a good life are almost always intangible. Traditionalism means preferring the rituals and connections with one’s environment rather than treating everyone and everything as commodities.

To bring this full-circle, we make our bread because it offers us a chance to find reward in working to create something ourselves. It is even better if we work together with family or friends to do it. Sharing your bread means so much more (to say nothing of the quality) when it emerges from your oven and not a plastic sleeve.

And I get it. Not everyone wants to spend time in the kitchen making bread every time a sandwich is made. But that is why Tradition requires a cultural shift. Previous generations made do by staying well-connected with their extended family and by building and maintaining strong communities. If you don’t have bread, your cousin or grandmother may have made some. If you really must buy it, support your community and buy a fresh baked loaf from your baker. He and his family will appreciate it.

If a label is needed, this is called Distributism. The means of production are decentralized, or “distributed”, as much as possible. None of this happens by state action either. It happens by making a conscious cultural shift in favor of family, community, and Tradition and moving away from grotesque international systems of economics. favicon

This Annoys Me

I keep seeing this stupid little infographic being passed around on social media and figured it was about time I addressed it. It made the rounds a few years ago, or possibly some variation on it, but the theme is the same: the Nordic socialist states are little slices of heaven and Americans are knuckle-dragging troglodytes. Allow me to pick it apart.

Here in the Nordic countries, universal access to free higher education is a no-brainer. That’s because we know education is the ultimate investment in the future.

I’ll just start by asking that if everyone has a bachelor’s degree,  how does one differentiate himself from the rest of the applicant pool when applying for a job? Is a piece of paper from a state-run college (that any idiot can acquire just by showing up to a classroom for four years and handing in reports) really more valuable than actual learned and earned experience that comes in the form of an apprenticeship? The cult of education (since Science! has replaced God) has virtually eliminated an important Traditional relationship; that of the master and the apprentice.

I will concede that an educated populace can certainly help grow a tech-based economy, which the Nords seem keen on doing. But why then is everyone encouraged to go to college for anything they choose? If education is the ultimate investment in the future (it’s not), then why are they “investing” in philosophy and psychology majors?

philosophy factoryIn addition to not having any tuition fees, all students receive a monthly grant to help cover their living expenses.

Sounds great. Not only is everyone encouraged to get their state-issued credentials, the government will also foot the bill for your booze. I could run down the basic economics of how inflation and pricing structures work, but the Occupy turds that produced this picture are really only concerned with securing four years of zero responsibilities with no bill due at the end.

Of course, that does result in higher taxes.

You don’t say? According to an April 2013 CNN Money article, the Nordic countries have among the highest income tax rates in the world. Denmark is at the very top, with its top rate coming in at a very commie 60.2%. And that top rate begins at incomes of only US$55,000, just barely higher than an average yearly income. So tell me, how is a young person ever really going to get established when the national government automatically takes roughly two-thirds off the top of his paycheck?

But free education reduces social inequality, and benefits both individuals and society in the long run.

Does it? It seems like it gives technocratic elites and fat-cat CEOs a pool of interchangeable drones who can push buttons and make gobs of money for giant corporations who will then show their appreciation for their Equal! workers by handing them the remainder of their paltry paycheck after the government stooges, who were paid off by those corporations in exchange for socialized education, take their cut.

And why is inequality so bad? Nowhere in the world is any person, thing, or creature equal to any other. Some are better than others. Hierarchies form naturally. It’ll really be okay. Let the cream rise to the top.

An educated population equals a strong, stable state, ready for the future. So the investment is well worth it. It’s really simple as that.

Actually, this is pretty accurate. A population that has been fully indoctrinated by the state probably does leave the state pretty strong and stable.

What they mean, though, is that being ready for the future is only possible  with college-level education. Perhaps that would be true if the only path to the future is one riddled with an endless stream of new electronics and technologies. Traditionalists know, though, that while some technologies can be useful, the future lies with the old ways. Farmers and craftsmen will find much more utility (not to mention joy and transcendence) in a world gone mad than HR representatives. Consider too, the challengers of the future: IT guys don’t matter much when Islamic hordes and hyperinflation are your primary concerns.

If I may be so direct, just WTF are you Americans thinking? You make your own people go into often crippling debt, just to become educated, and just as they’re trying to get started in life.

I’m not going to reactively defend the crypto-socialist American “system”, but that’s because it is basically no different from the blatantly socialist alternative that the poster presents. The U.S. system makes the individual pay through the nose for artificially-inflated college tuition and the Euro system makes him give up the majority of his paycheck for the rest of his life. Both have strangled the prosperity potential for the common young person. Both are ultimately the result of egalitarianism, too, because we deserve it!

You’ve unleashed 100s of expensive for-profit “schools” to prey upon your own citizens.

So? I don’t know anyone that has ever gone to University of Phoenix, but I do know that no one thinks it’s a real university. They only prey on people who shouldn’t be pursuing college degrees anyway.

You spend more on your prisons than on your students.

That’s pretty messed up. It’s that same dumb-ass egalitarian ideology that gives us mortgage-sized student loans that makes that possible though. If we executed murderers, rapists, and pedophiles, and stopped worrying about how prisoners feel, then perhaps we’d cut down on all the state of the art exercise equipment, free college degrees, and cable TV we give them and save ourselves a few bucks. We’re not all equal, I don’t care about their feelings, and they don’t deserve our compassion.

And among the top 15 countries by military expenditures, you’re number 1…and spend as much as the other 14 combined.

Again, I won’t defend American foreign policy, but it’s pretty easy to point fingers when America also pays for Europe’s defense, and has done so since 1945. Germany, France, and the U.K. are the only nations with what can be considered serious militaries, and even those would struggle if they were faced with a real crisis.

Meanwhile, your rich own most of your politicians, and fool many of your citizens into fighting to keep it that way.

Hate to break it to you, honey, but that’s democracy. Do you honestly think your Nordic paradises are any less corrupt?

It’s all a recipe for a lost generation at best, and a nation hurtling toward a decline and eventual unraveling at worst. So that’s what I’ve been thinking…when is enough going to be enough for you Americans?

I don’t disagree with anything here. The present system is broken beyond repair, but socialism designed for geographic areas the size of single U.S. states is not going to fix our problems. What got me the most, though, is that line at the end, “you Americans,” so smug and condescending. I have no love for the American government, but that played-out hippie-era hate-America garbage really annoys me. favicon

Efficiency Is Not A Conservative Virtue

The word “conservative” has been warped and twisted into so many new meanings contrary to what it once meant that one can only pity it. Some attach it to the belief that any “market outcome” is for the best in this best of all possible (i.e. capitalist) worlds. That is the belief of Dr. Pangloss and his heirs, the libertarians (sorry, Herr Leibnitz), not conservatives. Others attach it to the endless quest for efficiency and efficiency’s close cousin, cheapness, that now disfigures the “Globalist” economy. Such “conservatism” elevates as its First Commandment the iron law of wages, with the ironic result that it becomes an argument for Marxism.

But efficiency has never been a conservative virtue. Conservatives’ respect for traditions, customs, and habits and their understanding of society as an organic creation of many generations mean they value and protect lots of things that are inefficient, from the tripartite division of the American government through small family farms and local businesses to Flanders & Swan’s slow trains. We recognize that a modicum of efficiency is desirable lest institutions cease to produce anything. But to us, it is markedly less important than age, beauty, and having and helping others to have an enjoyable life. Our utopia is The Shire, not the World of Our Ford.

As usual the best corrective to any notion that conservatives are Taylorists pursuing an eternal quest for the cheapest price comes from Russell Kirk. In The Politics of Prudence, the best one-volume introduction to a truly conservative politics, Dr. Kirk wrote:

An economy obsessed by an alleged Gross National Product–no matter what is produced, or how–becomes inhumane. A society that thinks only of alleged Efficiency, regardless the consequences to human beings, works its own ruin. . . In his book The Economic Role of the State, (W.A.) Orton ironically describes the cult of Efficiency:

“Let us therefore praise the great god Efficiency,” Orton writes. “All he demands is that we make straight his path through the desert and purge the opposition . . . How much more mastery is evident in the controls of a supersonic plane than in the clumsy splendor of some medieval shrine! How much higher a peak of human achievement! Human? Let us not be too particular about that . . .

Later in the same volume, Dr. Kirk personifies the quest for cheapness as Cyrus P. Whittle, a Yankee schoolmaster in George Santayana’s novel The Last Puritan. He writes,

So America’s contribution to the universal “democratic capitalism” of the future . . . will be just this: cheapness, the cheapest music and the cheapest comic books and the cheapest morality that can be provided. This indeed would be the revolution of revolutions, the Gehenna of universal monotony and mediocrity. This is Cyrus P. Whittle, telling himself that not only is America the biggest thing on earth, but America is soon going to wipe out everything else;…

Substitute “Globalism” for America (though with America’s elite Globalism’s greatest proponent) and you have something pretty near our situation. What brings Dr. Kirk’s denunciations of cheapness and efficiency to mind is the current quest of the conservative movement for a new agenda, one that speaks to the problems of today and tomorrow, not yesterday. My modest proposal is that opposition to efficiency, the quest for ever-greater cheapness and the resulting destruction of the American middle class, should be part of that new agenda.

All of us who live in the nation’s heartland know the real story. There has been no economic recovery. Why? Because the number of good jobs, jobs that pay a man enough to give his family a middle-class standard of living, continues to shrink. Young people entering the labor market find nothing but minimum-wage jobs that offer only 28 hours a week (more and the employer is into Obamacare). They cannot make enough to leave home and begin an adult life, much less start a family.

The quest for efficiency not only lowers wages and hours, it increasingly turns the lucky person who gets a job into a wage-slave. All his time, 24/7, belongs to his employer, who demands it through the incessant ringing or beeping of some hellish electronic device, a human leash. Any failure to respond risks a return to joblessness. The iron law of wages, indeed.

Conservatives should be in the lead in demanding government regulation of employers’ demands on employee’s time, the bleats of the libertarians be damned. Such a movement is underway. The July 16 New York Times reported it in a front-page story:

As more workers find their lives upended and their paychecks reduced by ever-changing, on-call schedules, government officials are trying to put limits on the harshest of those scheduling practices.

The actions reflect a growing national movement–fueled by women’s and labor groups–to curb practices that affect millions of families, like assigning just one or two days of work a week or requiring employees to work unpredictable hours that wreak havoc with everyday routines…

Women’s and labor groups, very well, but where are conservatives? In Washington, no doubt licking the boots of their Wall Street donors, who endlessly chant “efficiency, efficiency.” But efficiency is not a conservative virtue.

Ironically, treating workers so badly they hate their jobs and their employers is not even very efficient. Another New York Times piece, from the July 5 “Business Day” section of the newspaper, “Paying Employees to Stay, Not to Go,” relates how some fast-food chains have improved their bottom line by paying their workers decent wages. One of those chains, the quality of whose burgers I can personally attest to, is In-N-Out Burger, based in California. Their hamburgers are competitively priced, but they pay all their employees a minimum of $10.50 an hour. A nascent chain in Michigan, Moo Cluck Moo Burger, starts everyone at $15. The Times reports that, the iron law of wages to the contrary, these restaurants find paying decent wages benefits them because their employees remain with them, saving on training costs, and they provide much better customer service. Any businessman will tell you it is far more efficient to keep a customer than to try to attract a new one.

Not only should conservatives be in the lead of movements to pay living wages and respect employees’ right to private time, we have something unique to contribute. What? When Big Business (conservatives are suspicious of anything big) replies, “We won’t be competitive internationally unless we continually cut wages and (to avoid benefits) hours,” conservatives have an answer: bring back tariffs

The destruction of the American middle class can be explained in two words: free trade. Free trade averaged our wages with those of countries such as China and Korea. They went up, but we came down. Wall Street didn’t, of course; it profited vastly from free trade, by moving jobs overseas. That too can be subject to tariff, in the form of an export duty of, say, 300% of the wage paid to the worker in India who replaced an American. The Establishment has made the word “tariff” unacceptable in polite society, but conservatives are in a position to change that. If we pronounce tariffs acceptable again, to whom will Wall Street turn

America built its industry and its comfortable middle class under tariff protection. Now, we need tariff protection to rebuild both. As a 19th century Republican might have said, “Here’s to the tariff, the gold standard, and prosperity! Huzzah!” tr favicon

Rethinking Christian Economics, Part 4: Socialism

The following piece is republished from In Praise of Folly. It is part of a short series on Christian economics.

 

Socialism is incompatible with Christianity for two reasons: 1) its founders were Satanists/atheists and 2) it destroys the Christian conception of charity.

Marx, Bakunin, and Proudhon, all founders of Marxism and anarchism were self-styled Satanists. In his younger years, Marx wrote a series of poems expressing his hatred of God, his desire to destroy because he could not create, and the selling of his soul to Satan. Below are excerpts from his poetic works:

On Hating God

“Heaven I would comprehend
I would draw the world to me;
Living, hating, I intend
That my star shine brilliantly …”[27]

On Destruction

“… Worlds I would destroy forever,
Since I can create no world;
Since my call they notice never …”[28]

“Then I will be able to walk triumphantly,
Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom.
Every word of mine is fire and action.
My breast is equal to that of the Creator.”[29]

“I shall build my throne high overhead
Cold, tremendous shall its summit be.
For its bulwark — superstitious dread
For its marshal — blackest agony.” [30]

Satanism

“See this sword?
the prince of darkness
Sold it to me.”[31]

“With Satan I have struck my deal,
He chalks the signs, beats time for me
I play the death march fast and free.”[32]

We see in Marx’s Oulanem, A Tragedy in the words of Oulanem his full hatred of God, creation, and humanity:

“… I shall howl gigantic curses on mankind:
Ha! Eternity! She is an eternal grief …
Ourselves being clockwork, blindly mechanical,
Made to be the foul-calendars of Time and Space,
Having no purpose save to happen, to be ruined,
So that there shall be something to ruin …
If there is a something which devours,
I’ll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins-
The world which bulks between me and the Abyss
I will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.
I’ll throw my arms around its harsh reality:
Embracing me, the world will dumbly pass away,
And then sink down to utter nothingness,
Perished, with no existence — that would be really living!”

“… the leaden world holds us fast,
And we are chained, shattered, empty, frightened,
Eternally chained to this marble block of Being …
and we —
We are the apes of a cold God.”

Further reading should be directed to Wumbrand’s Marx and Satan. Such ungodly hostility seems to be the product of a demon, and not a man.

On Proudhon

“On the other hand, Proudhon understood and felt liberty much better than he. Proudhon, when not obsessed with metaphysical doctrine, was a revolutionary by instinct; he adored Satan and proclaimed Anarchy.”[33]

“The spirit of analysis, that untiring Satan who continually questions and denies, must sooner or later look for proof of religious dogmas. Now, whether the philosopher determine the idea of God, or declare it indeterminable; whether he approach it with his reason, or retreat from it, — I say that this idea receives a blow; and, as it is impossible for speculation to halt, the idea of God must at last disappear. Then the atheistic movement is the second act of the theologic drama; and this second act follows from the first, as effect from cause. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the Psalmist. Let us add, And their testimony dethrones him.”[34]

On Bakunin:

“But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.”[35]

“God admitted that Satan was right; he recognized that the devil did not deceive Adam and Eve in promising them knowledge and liberty as a reward for the act of disobedience which he had induced them to commit; for, immediately they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, God himself said (see Bible): ‘Behold, man is become as of the Gods, knowing both good and evil; prevent him, therefore, from eating of the fruit of eternal life, lest he become immortal like Ourselves.’”[36]

We see that the Russian anarchist Nikolai Ishutin named the inner circle of his anarchist organization “Hell”[37]. Such blasphemes are not uncommon for the Socialists. Their atheism or Satanism is manifested in their hatred of God and man. Because they cannot create with their own hands, they seek to destroy that which has been made by the hands of others. That any Christian should be so stupid to believe the words of such animals (for I will not call them men), to believe that this monstrous ideology is compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ just shows us the depths of human ignorance and depravity.

Ivan Illich in his “We the People Interview” summed the problem of socialism thus:

“Then, in 300 and something, finally the Church got recognition. The bishops were made into something like magistrates. The first things those guys do, these new bishops, is creating houses of hospitality, institutionalizing what can be only what was given to us as a vocation by Jesus, as a personal vocation, institutionalizing it, creating xenodocaea, roofs, refuges, for foreigners. Immediately, very interesting, quite a few of the great Christian thinkers of that time, the year 300, 1600 years ago, John Chrysostom is one, shout, if you do that, if you institutionalize charity, if you make charity or hospitality into an act of a non person, a community, Christians will cease to remain famous for what we are now famous for, for having always an extra mattress, a crust of old bread and a candle, for him who might knock at their door. But, for political reasons, the Church became, from the year 400, 500 on, the main device for a thousand years roughly of proving that the State can be Christian by paying the Church to take care institutionally of small fractions of those who had needs, relieving the ordinary Christian household of the most uncomfortable duty of having a door, having a threshold, but being open for him who might knock and whom I might choose. This is what I speak about as institutionalization of charity. Historical root of the idea of services, of the service economy. Now, I cannot imagine such a system being reformable even though it might be your task and the task of courageous people whom I greatly admire for the impossible task they take on to work at its reform, at making the evils the service system carries with it as small as possible. What I would have chosen and as Mitchum and other friends have chosen together as our task is to awaken in us the sense of what this Palestinian, I say always instead of saying Samaritan, example meant. I can choose. I have to choose. I have to make my mind up whom I will take into my arms, to whom I will lose myself, whom I will treat as that vis-a-vis that face into which I look which I lovingly touch with my fingering gaze, from whom I accept being who I am as a gift.”[38]

Welfarism, reaching back to Christendom, reduces the poor man to a social problem. The poor man ceases to be a fellow human being made in the image of God to be saved and fed, but a social problem to be solved, a statistic and a manifestation of a socio-historical class. Such terms are dehumanizing and render man a cog in a machine rather than the Jew or the Samaritan.

The failure of collectivism is seen in the words of Robert Dale, the son of Robert Owen of New Harmony:

“All cooperative schemes which provide equal remuneration to the skilled and industrious and the ignorant and idle, must work their own downfall, for by this unjust plan of remuneration they must of necessity eliminate the valuable members –who find their services reaped by the indigent – and retain only the improvident, unskilled and vicious members.”[39]

Allow me to outline for the reader the Christian view of work and remuneration and then compare it with Socialism.

We see in Exodus 20:9-10 that people should labor six days and rest on the seventh because God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. For a Christian his work is an imitation of God’s work of Creation. We are co-creators with God. We see in Proverbs 6:6 and Proverbs 26:14 that God hates a sluggard and wants man to work. In Ephesians 4:28, Paul tells us that the new man in Christ does not steal any longer and in Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:22-23 that we work not for ourselves or to please men, but to please God. Work is part of our worship to God. Our work must be of the highest caliber and we must engage in work as a duty toward God. In 1st Timothy 5:8 we see that a man who does not provide for his family is an apostate worse than a pagan. We see also in Ephesians 4:28 that a man should stop stealing so he can earn his own living in order that he might have something to give to a needy brother. In taking care of the elderly, specifically widows, we see in 1st Timothy 5:1-16 that if one is found to be a widow having grandchildren, we are to first take care of her; only if she has no living relatives is the Church to step in and care for her.

We see that work is holy and pleasing to God and that charity is based on subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the principle that solutions to problems are to be first sought within the social level that they arise in. Only after an inability to solve the problem is a solution sought at the next level of social organization. For example, if a family has some issues, then a solution should first be sought within the family; if that fails, then friends and community; and if that fails, lastly the Church. However, we are not to take our grievances toward our brothers and sisters to courts of the state, per 1st Corinthians 6:1-6.

Socialism is by nature satanic. Socialism seeks to make a god out of the state. It destroys the family by removing the necessity for children. As Paul says, “first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents.” The state promises to take care of the children’s parents, obviating them of the need to fulfill the familial duty. In usurping the role of familial piety, the state is preventing Christians from developing this Christian virtue. By usurping the provision of one’s parents the state is rendering those who take its services as worse than infidels since children delegate the wellbeing of their parents to the state. The state subsidizes sin as anyone can see with the government’s liberal provision of condoms and subsidies for single mothers and homosexuals. A basic rule of economics is: You get what you subsidize. If the state really wanted to eliminate poverty and single-motherhood then it would stop paying for such behaviors.

The virtue of charity is undermined when the government taxes you to such a degree that you have no money to give for the provision of the needy; honest labor, which is the Apostle Paul’s solution to stealing[40], is also penalized since, one is squeezed so hard that in order to make ends meet he is tempted to steal; this in turn removes the disincentive to steal. Stealing is in fact encouraged since the government itself is engaged in legalized theft.

If people see the government stealing they are 1) discouraged from working since they will lose the produce of their labor and 2) inclined to view theft as an ever-lesser offense. A Paul declares in 1st Corinthians 6:10, thieves shall have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. In short, the socialist state seeks to be God in that it demands more than 10% of our income, renders it impossible for one to practice familial piety and charity, and removes the disincentive to steal.

In conclusion I have shown that Christian economics is neither capitalist nor communist. Both systems are based on ungodly humanist assumptions. The distributists are a disappointing alternative, due to their crypto-socialism. A true Christian economics is the only truly radical solution to both capitalism and communism and the only one able to truly meet the needs of individuals.

 

Notes

[1] “Usury”, last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14615-usury

[2] “Selfishness,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/selfishness.html

[3] “Altruism,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/altruism.html

[4] “Charity,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/charity.html

[5] “A Future of Peace and Capitalism,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://mises.org/daily/1559

[6] “Ten Ethical Objections to the Market Economy,” last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://mises.org/daily/1469

[7] Walter Block, Defending the Undefendable, ( Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2012), 129-130.

[8] G. J. Graves. “The Placer Country Railroad War,” Last modified January 1, 2003.http://cprr.org/Museum/Ephemera/RIC_Rail_1864.html

[9] ” The Colorado Railroad War.” Last modified 2014.

http://www.explore-old-west-colorado.com/Colorado-Railroad-War.html

[10] “Taxes Fair or Foul,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2010/10/taxes-fair-or-foul/#comments

[11] “Justice fairness and taxation part four,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/04/justice-fairness-and-taxation-part-four/

[12] “The differential tax,”  last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/07/the-differential-tax/

[13] “A short primer for protesters,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/10/a-short-primer-for-protestors/

[14] “Do We Agree?,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/debate.txt

[15] “The Common Good,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2012/08/the-common-good/

[16]   “A Distributist Education,” last date modified January 30, 2014,http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2012/07/a-Distributist-education/

[17]  “The Guild System,” last date modified January 30, 2014, http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/11/the-guild-system/

[18] “Jobs and the minimum wage,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2011/09/jobs-and-the-minimum-wage/

[19] “Errors of Libertarian Economics,”  last date modified January 30, 2014,http://Distributistreview.com/mag/2012/07/errors-of-libertarian-economics/

[20]  “Guilds,” last date modified January 30, 2014,  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07066c.htm

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] Address at the “Asahi Symposium Science and Man – The computer-managed Society,” Tokyo, Japan (21 March 21 1982); as published in The CoEvolution Quarterly (Winter 1983)

[26] “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State”, last modified Janurary 30, 2014,http://cslewisjrrtolkien.classicalautographs.com/cslewis/bookexcerpts/willingslaveswelfarestate.html

[27] “Young Marx,”  last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Young_Marx.pdf

[28] ibid

[29] Richard Wumbrand, “Marx and Satan,” Living Sacrifice Book Co (December 1986), 13.

[30] “Marx’s Path to Communism”, last modified January 30, 2014, http://mises.org/daily/6179/Marxs-Path-to-Communism

[31] “The Player”

[32] “The Fiddler,” last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1837-pre/marx/1837-wil.htm

[33] “Recollections on Marx and Engels,”  last modified Janurary 30, 2014,http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/various/mebio.htm

[34] “The Philosophy of Poverty:VOLUME FIRST.INTRODUCTION.,” last modified Janurary 30, 2014,http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/proudhon/philosophy/intro.htm

[35] “ God and the State,” last modified Janurary 30, 2014, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/godstate/ch01.htm

[36] ibid

[37] Paul Avrich, Anarchist Portraits, Princeton University Press (February 1, 1990),  41

[38] “We the People, KPFA ,”  last modified Janurary 30, 2014,  http://www.wtp.org/archive/transcripts/ivan_illich_jerry.html

[39] George Browning Lockwood and Charles Allen Prosser, The New Harmony Movement, Augustus M Kelley Pubs; New issue of 1905 ed edition (June 1905), 185

[40] Ephesians 4:28

 

Rethinking Christian Economics, Part 3: False Distributism

The following piece is republished from In Praise of Folly. It is part of a short series on Christian economics. Footnotes will be provided with the final installment.

Distributism is the ideal that the economic goal of society should be to obtain the widest distribution of property amongst the most people. The end I agree to, but the means typically proposed to achieve that end I do not. Distributists in theory are almost libertarian in their desire to decentralize society, but in fact are more often than not crypto-socialists. If one visits the Distributist Review you will see the same flawed Marxist theories used ostensibly to decentralize property. But one cannot purse Christian ends by Marxist means, as I will discuss in depth later. We see John Médaille[10], David W. Cooney[11], Hilaire Belloc[12], and Thomas Storck[13] all arguing for the grossly unjust notion of a graduated income tax. In Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, his second plank was the implementation of a progressive income tax. This is unjust in that it charges the rich man more than the poor and privileges the poor over the rich. We see in Exodus 30:15 that when YHWH required the Children of Israel to pay for the offering it was a flat rate of a half-shekel. The rich were not to pay more than the poor nor the poor more than the rich. When Samuel describes to the Israelites what the tyranny of a king would look like, he stated in 1st Samuel 8:15: “He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants.” It is interesting to note the Children of Israel were required to tithe a tenth of their goods to God in Leviticus 18:26. We see that when a state seeks to take more than a tenth of our earnings it is usurping God’s sovereignty. If God demanded a tenth of Israel’s produce, then the upper cap of taxation is set. If a state seeks a tenth or more of a person’s income, it is claiming that itself is greater than God. When Distributists endorse plunder under the guise of a progressive income tax they are rebelling against God’s justice and claim to be gods themselves.

We see in Exodus 23:3, Leviticus 19:15, and Deuteronomy 16:19 that justice is blind and one is not to be partial to a poor man. According to Scripture, the Distributists are not inclined to justice, but to unrighteousness for they pervert justice toward the poor and take the blindfold off the eyes of justice. Why should a person be excessively taxed for having more than others? How wealthy are some of the proponents of Distributism? Why don’t they sell of all their superfluities of life and live a spartan existence and give the surplus to the poor? Rather than personally acting out what they claim to believe, they instead plunder the rest of us through the violence of the state. In his debate with George Bernard Shaw entitled “Do We Agree”[14], Chesterton foolishly argues that the coal industry should be nationalized by the British government. Mr. Chesterton’s arguments look quite silly after seeing the mismanagement of coal under English nationalization in 1946, which was undone through privatization in 1994 under the Coal Industry Act of 1994. This debate shows us again the crypto-socialist nature of Distributism.

The other pseudo-socialist aspect of Distributism can be found in the works of David V. Cooney[15], Stratford Caldecott[16], Hilaire Belloc[17], Thomas Stork[18], and Angus Sibley[19] who argue for Marx’s Eighth Plank: “Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies especially for agriculture.”

I am not opposed to Church influencing economic action and exerting a Godly influence in the marketplace, but I am opposed to economic charlatans who complain about corporate monopolies, granted by government, and seek to solve the problem by imposing government-granted monopolies of unions and guilds to resolve the resulting inequity.

In the Old Catholic encyclopedia, two types of guilds are mentioned: Merchant and Craftsmen Guilds. Merchant guilds were monopolies as described here:

“These differed from their predecessors, the religious or frith guilds, by being established primarily for the purpose of obtaining and maintaining the privilege of carrying on trade. Having secured this privilege the guilds guarded their monopoly jealously.”[20]

“The merchant guilds possessed extensive powers, including the control and monopoly of all the trades in the town, which involved the power of fining all traders who were not members of the guild for illicit trading, and of inflicting punishment for all breaches of honesty or offenses against the regulations of the guild.”[21]

“The merchants’ guilds aimed at securing commercial advantages for their members and obtaining the monopoly of the trade of some country or some particular class of goods. Not alone in the German cities, but also in all foreign countries where German commerce prevailed, corporations of this sort, guilds, or Hansa (the word Hansa has the same signification as guild)”[22]

The craftsmen guilds sought to break down monopolies:

“Seeing that the merchant guilds had become identical with the municipality, the craftsmen, ever increasing in numbers, struggled to break down the trading monopoly of the merchant guilds and to win for themselves the right of supervision over their own body. The weavers and fullers were the first crafts to obtain royal recognition of their guilds, and by 1130 they had guilds established in London, Lincoln, and Oxford. Little by little through the next two centuries they broke down the power of the merchant guilds, which received their death-blow by the statute of Edward III which in 1335 allowed foreign merchants to trade freely in England.”[23]

Given that craftsmen guilds lead to the breakdown of the guild system in favor of free trade, I doubt the Distributists have any love lost for them. The Distributist answer to corporate monopolies is to have more corporate monopolies, only these corporate monopolies are good because the “good” Catholics run them. Yet, if guilds were so great why did Pope Pius VII abolish guilds in the Papal States in 1807?[24]

Laborers forming fraternities or charities to take care of each other’s interests is not an un-Christian idea, but coercive and monopolistic enterprises are exactly what needs to be avoided, and to believe that another set of coercive monopolistic enterprises will counter the inequity is like believing that two wrongs can make a right.

Aristotle and Proto-Distributism

The positive argument for private property can be found in Book 1 of Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle argues that man will work harder for the sake of what he owns. If all his possessions are held in collectively, then the tragedy of the commons will arise whereby resources and infrastructure are depleted but not replenished. This exploitation occurs because no one can lay claim to any of the produce of the land exclusively and each individual is given incentives to extract as much benefit as he can as quickly as he can. Furthermore, the virtues of continence and liberality cannot possibly be developed in a communist society. If all women are held in common, then the virtue of continence cannot be developed and if all land is held in common than liberality cannot be developed. The virtue of continence in general is related to self-control and in particular to sexual self-control. The virtue of liberality is giving from one’s own store to another at the right time, to the right person, for the right reason. Obviously both virtues would be impossible in a state of communism. Aristotle argues, correctly, that man’s desires are ultimately insatiable because they are unlimited, and thus they must be restrained by reason and force of habit, both of which being derived from education and the law. Widely distributed property is desirable because having a middle class is desirable. Aristotle points out in Book IV that the middle class is the mean between rich and poor, the former being in excess of wealth and the latter in a deficiency of wealth. The former seek to acquire total control over society, while the latter being envious are ungovernable. The middle class is thus in a position to serve as an impartial judge in disputes between the rich and poor. For a middle class to exist it stands to reason that property must not be concentrated in the hands of a few, but be widely distributed. The middle class has just enough property to avoid poverty, but not so much property that they can act despotically against the less fortunate while avoiding and perverting the law.

Having outlined the secular argument for widely distributed property, I will now turn to Holy Scripture. We see in the Pentateuch that God feared the concentration of power in general and the concentration of property in particular. In Leviticus 25:10-13 we are told that Israel was required after every fifty years to return the land to its original owner. This mechanism was set in place by God to keep property from gathering into the hands of a few men. God’s law against usury serves the same purpose. We see in Leviticus 25:23-28 that if a man has to sell his property to pay some debt, then 1) his nearest of kin is to buy the land back or 2) the man who received the property as a pledge of debt should, once the means of the indebted man have recovered, sell the land back to him or 3) if both means fail the land is to be returned during the year of Jubilee. We see in Numbers 36:1-13 while Zelophehad’s daughters were married into the tribe of their cousins, Zelophehad’s property remained in his tribe and was not transferred to his brother. God did not want property to switch hands from tribe to tribe. We also see the same principle at work in Judges 21:17 where for the sake of an inheritance the errant tribe of Benjamin is allowed to essentially kidnap the daughters of Shiloh at Schecem to be their wives. It was considered so important that the land apportioned to Benjamin not leave their control it was necessary to ensure the tribe’s survival.

The basic principle of distributed property is clearly seen in the OT. Therefore, given the best secular wisdom found in Aristotle and in divine wisdom in Holy Scripture, the moral and utilitarian reasons for distributed property can be clearly seen.

The Commons

I also contend that the medieval concept of the commons should be restored, at least in spirit. For in the words of Ivan Illich:

“People called commons those parts of the environment for which customary law exacted specific forms of community respect. People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households.”[25]

The commons are a place that is not commoditized or bought or sold, but is set in place for the sustenance of family life for those suffering from either chronic or terminal poverty (due to illness or injury or physical disability). It is a sacred place where sacred time and work is kept. It is an attempt to be faithful to the divine command of the gleanings or, in Aristotelian terms, to the public land of a well-balanced commonwealth, which ideally contains both public and private land.

The danger of having people being employed by corporations or government is that when they are fired or their wages are cut they usually have no alternative to fall back on. If a man had his “three acres and a cow,” to quote Chesterton, he would have something to fall back on so as to endure the vicissitudes of life. Or, to quote Lewis:

“I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind’. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne, that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”[26]

To be a free man, one must own the land he stands on and be able to leave an inheritance for his children (Proverbs 13:22). All forms of property tax, inheritance tax, and death tax are unbiblical, for the state has no claim to a man’s property (1st Kings 21:1-29).

Rethinking Christian Economics, Part 2: Capitalism

The following piece is republished from In Praise of Folly. It is part of a short series on Christian economics. Footnotes will be provided with the final installment.

 

Many Christians today either favor modern free-market capitalism or “crony” capitalism. Crony capitalism is distinguished between free-market capitalism in that the ‘crony’ capitalist earns wealth with the aid of government. A true capitalist succeeds solely in the basis of his entrepreneurial talent. Modern conservatism seeks to conflate crony capitalism with free-trade. Modern conservatives often assume that what we have in the US today is “free-market” capitalism when in fact it is no such thing. It is legalized mutual corruption of both the corporate and state apparatus. Such an economic model is based on nepotism and is obviously in conflict with Christian principles.

Free-market capitalism, which is endorsed by Classical Liberals, Randians, and libertarians, is a much more competitive and just system than crony capitalism, but is not with out its flaws. As a disclaimer I do not reject the laws of economics (Say’s Law, Greshems Law, etc.), but I do reject the certain philosophical mindset that is often held by people who support free-markets.

The leading philosophical thinkers in free market ethics are, among others, Ayn Rand, Murry Rothbard, and Walter Block. Both Ayn Rand and modern libertarians are very hostile to the notion of charity and altruism. For example, Ayn Rand bases her ethics on rational egoism/self-interest, which is defined here:

“The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.”[2]

Rand also rails against altruism and charity:

“What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: ‘No.’ Altruism says: ‘Yes.’”[3]

“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”[4]

We see an atheistic man-centered worldview in the writings of Rand. She takes the liberal dictum of “do whatever you want as long as it hurts no one” to its logical conclusion. Or in other words, man has no positive obligations to anyone other than himself. Rothbard, though he does not trumpet selfishness and shout down charity as Rand does, still affirms the former and agrees with Rand’s views on the latter, (i.e. that man has no positive obligation other than to himself).

“I must here again comment on Professor Averitt’s statement about ‘greed.’ It’s true: greed has had a very bad press. I frankly don’t see anything wrong with greed. I think that the people who are always attacking greed would be more consistent with their position if they refused their next salary increase. I don’t see even the most Left-Wing scholar in this country scornfully burning his salary check. In other words, ‘greed’ simply means that you are trying to relieve the nature given scarcity that man was born with. Greed will continue until the Garden of Eden arrives, when everything is superabundant, and we don’t have to worry about economics at all. We haven’t of course reached that point yet; we haven’t reached the point where everybody is burning his salary increases, or salary checks in general. So the question then becomes: what kind of greed are we going to have, ‘productive greed,’ where people produce and voluntarily exchange their products with others? Or exploitative greed, organized robbery and predation, where you achieve your wealth at the expense of others? These are the two real alternatives.”[5]

Rothbard monstrously redefines Charity as a self-interested greed:

“In fact, in the long run, the greatest ‘charity’ is precisely not what we know by that name, but rather simple, ‘selfish’ capital investment and the search for technological innovations. Poverty has been tamed by the enterprise and the capital investment of our ancestors, most of which was undoubtedly done for ‘selfish’ motives. This is a fundamental illustration of the truth enunciated by Adam Smith that we generally help others most in those very activities in which we help ourselves.”[6]

We see also in Walter Block in his Defending the Undefendable that charity is criticized, among other reasons, because:

“One of the great evils of charity, and one of the most cogent reasons for refusing to contribute to it, is that it interferes with the survival of the human species. According to the Darwinian principle of the ‘survival of the fittest,’ those organisms most able to exist in a given environment will be ‘naturally selected’ (by showing a greater propensity to live until the age of procreation, and thus be more likely to leave offspring). One result, in the long run, is a species whose members have a greater ability to survive. This does not imply that the strong ‘kill off’ the weak, as has been alleged. It merely suggests that the strong will be more successful than the weak in the procreation of the species. Thus the ablest perpetuate themselves and the species thrives.”[7]

We can see that modern capitalist philosophy is based on what is called “enlightened self-interest” or egoism. The problem for a Christian in this view is that man is the agent that determines value, goodness, and morality. The egoist asks himself first how does this act benefit me, and if it does not then I will not perform it. Such a view is contradictory to the Christian requirement to love thy neighbor; see Matthew 19:9, Matthew 23:39, Mark 12:31, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:8-9, Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8, accepting wrong Romans 12:17, 1st Corinthians 6:7, 1st Thessalonians 5:15, and 1st Peter 3:9.

The notion of loving one’s neighbor cannot be made compatible with running someone out of business in unlimited competition for the sake of personal gain. Is it in accord with Christian values to actively seek to drive your brother out of business and render him unable to sustain himself and his family? This does not mean that one should not produce the highest quality goods possible which in turn might drive people out of business. Quality work should be produced not with the intent to destroy livelihood, but in order to do all things for the glory of God—see Colossians 3:17. For the egoistic capitalist the world is seen in terms of conflict, i.e., between competitors. If people look at the ruthless competition that is present in today’s marketplace as a kind of bloodless Darwinian struggle, it is plain to see that the ruthless desire to win at any price is the rotten fruit that necessarily grows out of this “enlightened” self-interest. If self-interest becomes the basis for morality, why stop short of gratifying your self-interest at the expense of physically harming others? For example, in the 19th century American West the competing railroads would hire thugs to prevent each other’s crews from laying tracks, going so far as to tear up each other’s tracks in order to get the upper hand.[8] [9]

In short, such a competitive mindset is inimical to the love of one’s brother. We see the ideal of Christian love towards brothers expressed in the Amish. The products that the Amish are well known for, wood work and dairy products, are of the highest quality, but their goal is not to destroy the livelihood of their brothers. One could argue that this form of Christian economics is actually more efficient than traditional capitalist competition. Donald Kraybill explains in Amish Enterprise: Plowshares to Profits that while most small business fail, most Amish business succeed. The success is traced to numerous individual causes, but the major cause is that the Amish are a closely knit and disciplined community that helps its members out in times of need and trouble.