Monday, September 18, 2006

The Sin of Being Rich:

Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with being rich. As a capitalist libertarian, I believe enlightened self interest -- including the desire to get rich in business -- leaves most of us better off in the long run; indeed, it makes our economic world go round. But if one believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, one cannot help but notice the tension between our Lockean-Smithean philosophy which founds America's economic system, and what the Bible requires of believers. Capitalism essentially is a system based on coveting.

Kudos to Ben Witherington for taking note of this in this post.

Now, I've heard it said that, nonetheless, the Bible doesn't endorse a system of government redistribution of wealth. And that's fine. I don't want that. And I don't want the many Christians in this nation to push for a socialist economy. However, such believers, according to the Bible, would still have to voluntarily give up all of their surplus to charity and live modest lifestyles.

Let me also add that by following this logic, we could say the Bible doesn't demand government enforce any Biblical morality, other than in a very limited sense; but at the very least should leave Christians alone, free to be good practicing Christians. This is why libertarianism is the one system where we all just may be able to get along if we decide to leave one another alone and strip government down to its few essential functions. This requires though, a government that is secular in its essential functions, one not committed to enforcing Christian or any kind of a comprehensive system of morality. The basic morality of enforcing individual rights to life, liberty, and property is enough.

An aside, this song by Kansas, Diamonds and Pearls, written after Kerry Livgren became a born-again Christian and Steve Walsh quit the band, strikes a theme similar to Witherington's post (like most of their tunes, it's got a great instrumental section in the middle).

11 comments:

Karen McL said...

"...This is why libertarianism is the one system where we all just may be able to get along if we decide to leave one another alone and strip government down to its few essential functions. This requires though, a government that is secular in its essential functions, one not committed to enforcing Christian or any kind of a comprehensive system of morality. The basic morality of enforcing individual rights to life, liberty, and property is enough."

Emphasis is mine...but to point out that this is an awful cramped view of what the PURPOSE of Government IS.

And While we may have to Agree to Disagree as to what constitutes *essential functions* of government...I DO think this list is missing the most important obligations of social preservation and human community via a taxation system and jurisprudence system - using principles of enlightenment - and relevant facts and factors - which may require some redistribution of capital amongst the populace and to pay for and promote programs that rebound for the benefit of all. And to tackle issues that threaten our world [and planet] - like Global Warming.

It's not always in the interest of "capitalist libertarian" and "enlightened self interest" to act in the long-term societal interests as itis for companies (and individuals) to act in the selfish short term year-end, meet the Numbers for profitability, motives.

And likewise in just taking one industry - like the oil industry... the less we develop alternate fuels, and the less they spend money on more refining capacity, e-*% pumps at stations, or keeping up with the existing infrastructure (like in Prudhoe Bay), and the more unstable the world markets and conditions -- the MORE Money these companies stand to make and the Better served are their *capitalist libertarian, self interests*.

:-D

Karen McL said...

Opp..that is supposed to say develop E-85 fuels (ethannol derivatives).

Ah well, in addition to Talk like a Pirate Day... I am still the Queen of Typos!

Arrrrgh!

Karen McL said...

Oh...and here a few remarks on this and our National Security in the 21st century from Al Gore's speech. (He says it so much better than I ever could.)

"It is, in other words, time for a national oil change. That is apparent to anyone who has looked at our national dipstick.

Our current ridiculous dependence on oil endangers not only our national security, but also our economic security. Anyone who believes that the international market for oil is a “free market” is seriously deluded. It has many characteristics of a free market, but it is also subject to periodic manipulation by the small group of nations controlling the largest recoverable reserves, sometimes in concert with companies that have great influence over the global production, refining, and distribution network.

It is extremely important for us to be clear among ourselves that these periodic efforts to manipulate price and supply have not one but two objectives. They naturally seek to maximize profits. But even more significantly, they seek to manipulate our political will. Every time we come close to recognizing the wisdom of developing our own independent sources of renewable fuels, they seek to dissipate our sense of urgency and derail our effort to become less dependent. That is what is happening at this very moment."

Jonathan said...

Karen,

I think I mentioned this before.

Regarding global warming and other environmental issues, that raises a "collective action problem" that libertarian thinkers like Richard Epstein believe justify government intervention. Although the environmentalist left has a history of "chicken little, the sky is falling" erroneous predictions. See for instance, Paul Ehrlich. Thinkers like Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg, and Ronald Bailey are more in touch with reality on environmental issues.

Regarding the morality and utility of social welfare distributions of tax $$, I would defer to Richard Epstein and his book "Takings." Have you read it?

Karen McL said...

No, I haven't read that book.

What's the 411? (or Cliff-notes version)

:-D

Karen McL said...

And FYI...I didn't get that you really addressed my original proposition about the Big Oil and their prophet-teers!

It reminds me of an article I read this morning (or yesterday - if I locate the URL I'll post it) questioning whether the price drops in gasoline are correlated to the drop of crude oil (even accounting for the winter drop in travel...yadda yadda). Some folks see *conspiracies* everywhere to Help Bush in a hard election climate. The writer had some numbers suggesting that in prior periods and similar drops...this one is not properly in proportion to either the average winter lowering of prices or the drop in crude oil prices. Too swift too fast of a drop.

Jonathan said...

Here is the 411 on Epstein and Takings.

Jonathan said...

I agree that the oil market is distorted. But I would note that the biggest distortion is that OPEC is a cartel and cartels, as legal monopololies, are not permitted under free market principles.

There is a lot of oil left in the world. Yet, w/ China and India's increasing demand and turmoil in the Middle East, prices increase. If oil becomes too expensive for us, then the market will dictate that we move to alternate sources of energy, just like it's supposed to.

Karen McL said...

Jon...it's not merely that its *distorted* and NOT acting under Free Market rules as pure commodity...but that it is a key lynch pin that could be part of a National Security strategy and that it contributes to the absurd levels of trade deficits...it Finances Terrorist Regimes and Anti-US regimes.

And while there still exist the legal Fiction of the notion that a Corporation is a "Good little Citizen" of the country in which it is incorporated...IT's not a real person driven by patriotism, altruism, or concerned by issues of national security. It's main free-market goals are its Profit maximizing Corporate motivations (unless they were worried of a Government take over of their facilities and office in unstable various regions.)

The concerns about these non-market issues are Real citizens and its Government as part an parcel of the BIG Oil Picture (free market analysis notwithstanding). Realize that these things Can not and will not be addressed by purely market conditions...only the Governnment can make stirdes to reduce dependency and help efforts to instigate changes AHEAD of market conditions for these OTHER reasons. It doesn't matter HOW much oil is really left in the world...unless its within the boundaries of the US and meets all current and future needs - which it clearly IT DOES NOT.

The Gay Species said...

Acts 4:32 ff: "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, no one claimed private ownership of any possession, but everything was held in common. . . .There was not a needy person among them, for as many owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."

The above from the Word of God seems to counter the claim about Christians, redistribution of wealth, and socialism. I recognize this is one of those passages Christian fundamentalists like to skip, but either it's a testament to God's will or someone will have to do a lot of casuistry to suggest why this isn't the model of Christendom.

The Gay Species said...

Of course, one could go directly to the Gospel and the story of the Rich Man, who asks Jesus: "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus reiterates the commandments, which the man claims to have obeyed. Then Jesus tells him, "if you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Apparently the Rich Man could not abide this last command, so he departed grieving (Matt 19:13ff).

Indeed, this story in all the accounts, together with Jesus's many other claims about the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom, suggests amassing wealth is sinful and an impediment to salvation. Coupled with the Acts of the Apostles (supra.), the problems inherent with wealth is a very strong motif for economic equality throughout the NT.

But what do I know? I only read what is clearly evident in the texts, and the preponderance of those texts show an enmity towards wealth, and an appeal to economic justice, especially toward the poor. But then, the biblical fundamentalist can cite Deu. 8:17: "Do not say to yourself, 'My power and might of my own hand have gotten me wealth.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives power to get wealth."

Besides the overt contradiction between the texts, the former are both more numerous than the latter and a part of the New Dispensation. So citing Deuteronomy against the New Testament won't convince me, and I don't see Christianists running to follow Jesus in much of anything they do.