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December 24, 2009

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evagrius

Diug,

I can't speak for Chuck or zero but I would like you to understand my objections to Mr. McKinney's, to my mind, simplistic view of capitalism and economics.
I've read a bit, not a lot on economics, and peruse Economist's View, a blog on economics along with the links Professor Thoma provides. It's quite a bit of information and his blog articles along with the comments are quite interesting.
What has struck me about economics is its extremely limited view of what human beings are. Textbooks on economics begin with a view of human beings having rational self-interest and that's it. That is, economics views human activity strictly from that standpoint and no other.
That beginning point narrows the horizon of human existence to what can charitably be called materialism.
Gone is the mystery of human existence, the mystery of love and agape, suffering, hope, beauty, art, all the things, actions, feelings that make up the human condition.
Gone too is any rationale for religion, the recognotion of the sacred.
Gone too is the recognition that human beings are more than self-interested calculators. Gone is the recognition that human beings are called to transcend rational self-interest and become "divinized", participants in the life of God, partakers of the Divine Mystery, sharers of agape.
Mr. McKinney seems to reduce God to a mere lawgiver, a moral organizer. All human beings seem to be called to is to follow the moral law, respect private property, ( whatever that is), and acquiesce to the demands and requirements of the free market, ( whatever that is).
If this is true, then Nietzsche is right and God is dead since God, in this view, is only a source of morality and nothing more.
This view of economics is really a bourgeois form of nihilism. It's not the crazed nihilism of Nietzsche but a comfortable one, padded by material wealth and comfort.
Currently there is an intellectual crisis in economic theory as economists are beginning to realize that their anthropology does not accord with actual human nature.
There are economists who are beginning to base their theory on a more realistic basis and beginning to question the purpose of economics.
A Christian, who believes the Truth of Christ, cannot accept an economic theory based on the limited view of human destiny that capitalism, ( or for that matter, any economic system that reduces humanity to a material reality), proposes, a destiny reduced to the accumulation of material wealth as the definition if existence, ( He who dies with the most toys wins).
A Christian cannot accept that wealth is an absolver of sin, that it sanctifies or is the result of sanctification. A Christian cannot believe that wealth can be accumulated without being entangled in something not quite right, no matter how "moral" the accumulator may be. Because of that, a Christian must engage in acts of non-self interest as a sign of contradiction to that wealth, even his own.
Ultimately, that is following the Cross and attaining Resurrection, the ultimate contradiction to a world that only believes in material wealth.

Doug

Evagrius, I'm glad you are reading and studying at least some economics, but I fear that you, too, have a limited view of the nature of economics. The idea of "self-interest" does not exclude the "gone are..." things that you claim it does. It seems as if your idea of "self-interest" is too narrow by only including material things. I enjoy giving charitably. I enjoy sacrificing for those around me by giving up some of what is mine. I enjoy not making as much money as I probably could because I'd rather be home with family than out an extra 20 hours a week but earning 20k more (those are random numbers). Am I not to enjoy love, being merciful, or sacrificing? Is that not in my self-interest to love others better than myself, to give up some of my wealth or earning potential for others, and to advocate and support those who are in need? If I don't enjoy compassion and mercy, then how is God glorified at all?

I'm not sure what you mean by "wealth is an absolver of sin," but your last paragraph is also very narrow-minded. Christians can indeed accumulate wealth morally; it is not anti-Christian to actually have wealth at all. Jesus never condemned owning and accumulating, nor did any other writer in Scripture. Rather, Jesus appealed to our self-interest by telling us that we would find greater joy and greater satisfaction in things contra-materialism. If we don't enjoy loving God and neighbor, how is God glorified by our doing it merely out of sheer drudgery because "that's what Christians do"? Again, self-interest is central to this discussion because the whole point of Jesus is that we seek him, love him, and enjoy him. If we don't do that, we're not glorifying him. (Okay, "whole point" is overstating, but it's important.)

fundamentalist

Suddenly, the West started pulling ahead economically without impoverishing the rest of the world through conquest"

evagrius: "Now that's hilarious."

No. That's historical fact. If you had read any economic history, you would know it.

I began a search for the origins of capitalism, as defined by Adam Smith, about 10 years ago and have read more books on it than I can count. There are as many accounts of its origins as there are economists, and that's mainly because everyone has their own private definition of what capitalism is. Your definition will determine what you find in history as the origin of capitalism.

The most common definition of capitalism equates it with commerce and sees capitalism as having existed from the beginning of time but expanding in the 16th century. That is the definition that the Wiki article appears to use. However, the only honest definition of capitalism is the one given to it by Adam Smith. His system was what the Marxists were criticizing when the labeled it "capitalism." Any other definition is simply dishonest.

Of course, socialists typically use the old technique of redefining terms in order to make their side win by default in an argument and that seems to be the case here.

I think evagrius is correct in some of his criticisms of mainstream economics. They have gone too far in assuming that economics can explain every aspect of life. The arrogance is amazing.

But that misses slightly the real problem. Mainstream econ assumes a mechanical view of economics. They do so because they decided before WWII that economic science had to be exactly like physics. So they created a bunch of macro economic aggregates and pretended that they have mechanical relationships to each other just as the variables in physics do.

evagrius: "Mr. McKinney seems to reduce God to a mere lawgiver, a moral organizer. All human beings seem to be called to is to follow the moral law, respect private property, ( whatever that is), and acquiesce to the demands and requirements of the free market, ( whatever that is)."

This statement typifies why we don't make any progress in the discussion. Evagrius refuses to try to understand what I'm writing, but distorts everything into his favorite monster.

evagrius: "A Christian cannot believe that wealth can be accumulated without being entangled in something not quite right, no matter how "moral" the accumulator may be."

What do you base that on? I have been a Christian for 50 years; even have a degree in theology, and never saw anything like that statement from reputable theologians. God certainly blessed many people in the OT with great wealth, beginning with Job.

evagrius: "Because of that, a Christian must engage in acts of non-self interest as a sign of contradiction to that wealth, even his own. Ultimately, that is following the Cross and attaining Resurrection..."

I agree completely with you there. Christians are to use their wealth to help others less fortunate than themselves. But your statement exemplifies why my spending time on this blog has been such a waste. You and Chuck have repeatedly clamed that I believe Christians should not give to the poor. I have refuted that many times, but here it comes right back as if you never read any of my posts.

The Bible is perfectly clear; there can be no argument. (Of course I'm being quite stupid to believe that you will even read this post.) God expects his people to voluntarily give of their wealth to the less fortunate. Charity should be the hallmark of a Christian. But that is not what I have argued against in any single post I have made on this blog. Not once! Yet I'm confident you will eventually come back and accusing me of it again if I'm foolish enough to keep trying to engage you, which I have failed at so far.

All I argue is that it is immoral, according to historical Christianity and according to the Bible, to steal from one person in order to give to another. And if the state does so, it's theft just as if an individual had done it.

Philip Koplin

Looks like Roger has taken to ignoring me again. So much for honest dialogue.

zero

hi, philip! i'll pay attention to you! =]
(but not on this thread; i've had enough of this thread).....

evagrius

Doug and fundamentalist;

Doug, my argument is with how economic theory is promulgated. Read any basic textbook on the subject and you will find that it limits human existence to "rational self-interest" and that's it. Nothing else is to be included in economic theory.
This means that economic theory, and the practice of economic theory by policy makers, legislators, bankers, manufacturers, marketers, is limited to only "rational self-interest" as a goal and "rational self-interest" has, on the whole, been understood as "profit". Anyone proposing an economic activity that does not include profit as its goal is considered to be crazy. Non-profit organizations are considered to be merely an adjunct, a sop to conscience, a nod towards the realm of human activity that does not concern profit but all in all, something that "real men" don't actually involve themselves too deeply with, ( in fact, it's considered to be a pursuit for women and wishy-washy men).

fundamentalist; You did not read Mr. McKinney's statement carefully. He argues that the West became rich without conquest and impoverishing the rest of the world.
Please read some history and explain to me how the wealth of the West was achieved if not through conquest and colonization.


Doug

"Read any basic textbook on the subject and you will find that it limits human existence to "rational self-interest" and that's it."

So how else to humans act? You never addressed my concerns about self-interest being an appeal to desire to do good.

You also seem to have a misunderstood concept of the idea of profit. But you will fail to provide an example of how you shop without thinking of profit, which route to work you take without thinking of profit, which food you eat without thinking of profit, and which charities you give to without thinking of profit. Indeed, you profit in some sense, whether financially, physically, or spiritually, no matter what you choose to do. With regards to business, look up "Profit is more than a motive" on cato.org; there's an essay a few pages long explaining the role of profit in stewarding scarce resources.

You certainly may be right in that economics doesn't "cover everything," because no science can adequately do any such thing. But I don't make that claim. I only claim that you are restricting economics to what you want to make of it, vilifying it by your understanding of it, not as other people may use it. Also, Jay Richard's "Money, Greed, and God" is a book written in 2009 about a Christian's view of economics.

evagrius

Doug,

Please explain to me what the rationale is for a company to locate to a community, demanding tax break privileges, ensuring no union activity thus keeping wages and benefits low and then, after a few years, leaving or rather closing, having outsourced the labor, claimimg that it was unprofitable, and essentially destroying a community.
Or, having executivesb receive huge bonuses while laying off workers.
Or, bank executives receiving bonuses while their banks received bailout money from government.

As for your reductionism, you're welcome to it.

You and I cannot agree on the terms, essentially because we come from different standpoints.

I refuse to acceed to such reductionism, such materialism, to be crude about it.

Doug

Evagrius, I cannot explain the rationale of companies. I certainly wouldn't advocate for tax break privileges (which goes against the idea of a free market), though I'd favor a non-union work force (forgive me for not being in favor of higher wages for folks who make twice as much as I do in a state whose median income is lower than my income). Executive bonuses for CEOs is a much more complex issue, and bank executives receiving bailout money is completely immoral because I don't believe a central bank or government influence/control in banks is ethical or moral. So we probably agree there. Which reminds me... had a central bank not existed to provide easy credit by artificially lowering the interest rate for banks, CEOs would be less likely to make unwise decisions because they would have to build the company with capital, not fiat dollars artificially injected into businesses who are politically well-connected. Trust me, we probably are equally outraged at such things.

Agreeing on terms has nothing to do with different standpoints. I cannot come from a different standpoint and tell you that an eagle is a fish, just because that's the "standpoint" I come from.

evagrius

Doug,

Your last remarks are unintelligible.

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