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December 11, 2009

Comments

Doug

Free market advocates don't believe a free market will solve all of our problems; that's an exaggeration, and is simply unfair. We don't believe this precisely because we don't believe in panacea's because we believe in the natural creative expression of many people working toward a solution peacefully, rather than by coercion. Those who want to solve problems through means of state-control or regulation are simply appealing to a panacean solution, which is precisely why most free marketeers believe what they do.

I've already addressed the self-interest component elsewhere; obviously we disagree. But here I must comment that even if we agree that others-interest is indeed the ideal, that others-interest must be done so willingly by those who do not already do so. Legislation and regulation will not cause others to be others-centered. Greed is a natural condition of man, and only thru Jesus will others be willing to lastingly be others-focused. When it comes to ensuring greed doesn't run rampant, a free market solution is indeed the best, precisely because of the inherent limitations of maximum freedom. The would-be greedy who wants all our money cannot get it because that would interfere with my freedom to not give it to him. Hence, he must serve me, or give me something in return that I value, before he gets what he wants. Laws protecting such a society would naturally punish fraud, theft, rape, and other aggressive acts against others. Capitalism doesn't "sanctify self-interest," it merely channels greed.

Lastly, Chuck, I mean no disrespect here, but if you really think our current market conditions are a result of the free market, you are either blind, ignorant, or willfully neglecting what led us here. We don't have anything near a free market when there is a central bank, no sound monetary standard (which God told Israel to keep in Leviticus), and politicians on both sides who loot the public purse for whatever program they believe is best for the rest of us. Please, please, please read Thomas E. Woods (a Christian) book "Meltdown." Also read about the Federal Reserve; Ron Paul's new book, End the Fed, explains the immoral and unethical existence of the Fed, and why it is largely responsible for much of the social injustices in our country, and possibly that of others.

Blaming greed, materialism, and instant gratification for the our economic crisis only begs the question: what provided the incentives for this to be legal or profitable for anybody? The Federal Reserve steals from the poor (through inflation) and gives to the rich (by printing money and loaning to large banks), which widens the rich-poor gap. The Fed prints money, makes private negotiations that Congress nor the American people know anything about, with taxpayer money. The Fed tripled the money supply in our nation, yet no inflationary results have materialized... where did that money go? The fact of the matter is that without the Fed, and on a foundation of sound money, both politicians and large corporations will get away with murder, greedy practices at the expense of others, and it will all be "legal."

zero

panacea's

as written in this sentence, this word is plural not possessive; therefore no apostrophe is necessary. this action seems to have become very widespread and makes me wonder if the entire country has forgotten grammar. (before anyone gets bent out of shape for this being pointed out...don't care who does it.....i readily admit making my own mistakes.)

Roger D. McKinney

"If there is anything that continues to enjoy a high degree of “irrational exuberance,” it has to be the belief that an unrestrained, free market holds the answer to all of our economic woes and uncertainties."

Chuck, with all sincerity I think you should be more honest. As Doug wrote above, there are no promoters of free markets who believe what you wrote. There never has been in the history of economics since Adam Smith anyone who advocated unrestrained free markets. Even the most radical anarcho-capitalist does not. Capitalism has always and everywhere insisted on the rule of law and the protection of property from theft and fraud. That is the role of the state. The free market can handle anything else.

doug

Zero, that was a typo. I really do know better. I'm surprised I didn't catch it. Thanks for being thoughtful about it. I hate poor grammar too.

zero

you are most welcome, doug. thank you for not getting bent out of shape. it has become a cringe factor for me because everywhere i go signs are improperly spelled and such. one on the front of a tire store around here reads, "open saturday's". i puzzle over how i'm supposed to interpret that. another reads, "woman's resource center" meaning it only for one woman. which one, i wonder every time i see the sign, which one? and it goes on and on and on.....

Doug

zero, there's a sign at a mall i used to work at: the name of the business was—no joke!—"Burger's Dog's"

Now THAT one will make you lose sleep cringing over!

Doug

Chuck, in the interest of asking each other to prove our statements, could you please explain "One thinks of the abuses under the laissez faire capitalism of the early 20th century." ??? I'm not saying you're wrong, but I'm curious what you mean.

Philip Koplin

http://www.historynet.com/picture_of_the_day?podMonth=2&podDay=19

zero

oh! that one is horrid! burger's dog's? double wonder as well as to whether burger is a person's name or if it is hamburgers? is the dog an actual dog or a hot dog? goodness. i would need an extreme sharpie and make serious changes to that sign.

chuck

Doug,
I think we are not connecting on the issue of self-interest and the seriousness with which God takes this. It is simply not the case that God treats this as "purely" voluntary. I have a book coming out soon that goes into this in more detail, but the bottom line is that God expects us to be other centered and there are various places in Scripture where persons and city states are punished for not following his directions. The principle here is the same one I am arguing for--we have laws that make sure that basic safety nets are in place, that the essentials of life are available to all, and the human flourishing is treated as more important than profit (consider God's harsh words to those who would not follow his commands around the years of release). Can legislation make people moral? No, and I have certainly never argued that, but what you can legislate are moral behaviors. When Scripture talks about moral issues, there are a few things that are evident relative to the issues we are arguing here: 1) that God has certain expectations around care for the least of these, both individually and corporately, 2) that God has ordained governments to serve his agenda, and 3) therefore, that we Christians should engage governments to make sure they fulfill that role as well as we can.

Next, you continue merely to make the claim that free market capitalism best channels greed, best does this, best does that (hence, my granted hyperbole regarding the belief that free marketeers think free markets will solve all our ills). The conditions you describe are such a radical reductionism to how things actually play out in the world that I simply see no reason to think your claim valid, and even more, I see no reason to see it as particularly consistent with Christ's teaching, with Scripture, etc. I await an argument that shows me mistaken:)

Finally, I do not take your judgment as disrespectful, I do find it mistaken, but not disrespectful:) One of the fundamental problems I have with folks who argue as you have, Doug, is that you hold to an ideology that is, to use Popper's term, unfalsifiable. What I mean is just this: when anyone critiques the shape we are in as a consequence (not a sole consequence) of free markets, you simply say, "Well, we don't have free markets...." Any conditions one can name get the same judgment--nothing counts as evidence against free market ideology because, as best we can tell, it has never been practiced (as free marketeers are wont to argue). That simple fact in and of itself might cause some serious pause about the seriousness of the claim that free market capitalism is the boon you assert.

Again, I do appreciate your participation. May it never be the case that disagreement would lead us not to appreciate each other's best efforts to put forth constructive ideas.

chuck

Roger,
Just for fun, let me accept your statement about what free marketeers claim (or, at least, that it is what you claim). Then you write:

Capitalism has always and everywhere insisted on the rule of law and the protection of property from theft and fraud. That is the role of the state. The free market can handle anything else.


Even here I find much to argue with. First, on what basis would you argue that protection of property is the purpose of rule of law and that that, and that primarily, is the role of the state? I have argued in various posts that this is simply mistaken from a Christian perspective, and I rather guess Philip will argue it on non-Christian grounds. If one looks at the laws of the OT, for example, many laws precisely do not protect property, but rather protect people and their right to live is more important than property rights. I do not know if you mean to argue as a Christian or not, but you simply cannot get to this claim from Scripture, from the tradition, from Jesus, or from the writings of the early Fathers. In fact, St. John Chrysostum argued that the rich who enjoyed luxury while the poor went hungry were, on biblical grounds, stealing from the poor. Second, there is simply no consistent historical evidence that capitalism can "handle all the rest." I'd be delighted to hear even a theoretical argument for that claim.

chuck

Doug, what Philip linked. We can do those til the cows come home. The abuses of laissez faire capitalism are only obscure to you because you have lived so long after the markets have been regulated to control some of the worst of those abuses--o happy man that you are:)

Roger McKinney

Chuck: “Just for fun, let me accept your statement about what free marketeers claim (or, at least, that it is what you claim).”

You sound as if you think I’m making that claim up. I’m not. All you have to do is read the history of economic thought. I can’t give you that history in a blog post. But I’m painfully aware that most evangelicals don’t know anything about it and don’t want to.

Chuck: “First, on what basis would you argue that protection of property is the purpose of rule of law and that that, and that primarily, is the role of the state?”

Not just the protection of property, but life, liberty and property. Those are the three purposes of government as established by natural law theorists from Hugo Grotius until Adam Smith. And it does include Locke. But before you go claiming that we should follow the Bible instead of philosophers, keep in mind that Grotius and most natural law theorists were godly men and especially Grotius was a great theologian. Natural law meant God’s law to them. They were trying to find the proper role of the state using Biblical principles.

Chuck: “If one looks at the laws of the OT, for example, many laws precisely do not protect property, but rather protect people and their right to live is more important than property rights.”

I have no problem with that and neither does natural law. The right to life does take precedent over property rights.

Chuck: “I do not know if you mean to argue as a Christian or not, but you simply cannot get to this claim from Scripture, from the tradition, from Jesus, or from the writings of the early Fathers.”

That’s simply not true. I can’t give you a course in natural law theory, economic theory and the history of economics in a single blog post. But those are the areas that most evangelicals are totally ignorant of. A good place to start is this article on the Church scholars at the school of Salamanca Spain in the 1500’s: http://mises.org/daily/3787. Those were godly men seriously devoted to applying the word of God to economic affairs. They were following in a millennium long tradition since Thomas Aquinas of using the Bible and reason to work out the outlines of a godly, just society. Also, spend some time at the Acton Institute’s web site, acton.org and read their journal, markets and morality. The evidence is clear from Thomas Aquinas until the end of the 19th century that Christians taught the sanctity of private property, after the sanctity of life. And they taught that the just society in economic matters is a free market. They didn’t pull this out of thin air. They derived it from their study of the Bible.

Chuck: “In fact, St. John Chrysostum argued that the rich who enjoyed luxury while the poor went hungry were, on biblical grounds, stealing from the poor.”

I don’t disagree with you that rich people who don’t help the poor are in serious violation of god’s law and God will punish them. But was Chrysostum using the term “stealing” metaphorically? Did he advocate laws that put the wealthy in prison for their theft? If not, then he used the term metaphorically.

You don’t seem to be getting the distinction between God’s laws and state enforcement of them. Should we criminalize all sin? Obviously you wouldn’t argue for that. Should we take every law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and have Congress pass them and the police enforce them? Clearly not. Should we imprison people for violating the Sabbath, as we used to in this country? I don’t think you would argue that. The question is which of God’s laws do we make into state law and have the state punish people with fines or imprisonment or higher taxes? The answer has changed some over the course of history, but at minimum we have always criminalized murder, theft, rape and others. We have abandoned criminalization of adultery. What you argue for is criminalization of the lack of charity.


Chuck: “Second, there is simply no consistent historical evidence that capitalism can "handle all the rest."

Well, that’s where you need to read some economic history. I realize that a lot of what I write is very strange to you, obviously. However, what you write is not strange to me because I have studied socialism for decades. You seriously need to read some economic history. The history of the rise of the West is the history of the success of capitalism. So is the recent history of China.

Free markets will not usher in the utopia that socialism promises, but history has proven that socialism is not utopia either. Free markets will not produce the perfect society. That is not the argument for free markets. The argument since Adam Smith is that free markets do a better job of lifting the poor out of poverty and limiting the damage that greedy businessmen can cause than can the state.

zero

"The argument since Adam Smith is that free markets do a better job of lifting the poor out of poverty and limiting the damage that greedy businessmen can cause than can the state."

please give concrete example(s) of this actually taking place in practice, somewhere in the world.

Roger McKinney

Chuck: "The conditions you describe are such a radical reductionism to how things actually play out in the world that I simply see no reason to think your claim valid,"

That is the real question, isn't it? Which system best describes reality? It is clear from your writings that you know nothing but the writings of socialists and are utterly ignorant of the writings of free marketeers. Otherwise you wouldn't make such comments. Let me ask you this, which contributed more to the miraculous reduction of poverty in China over the past 30 years, charity or relatively free markets?

Doug: "I see no reason to see it as particularly consistent with Christ's teaching, with Scripture, etc. I await an argument that shows me mistaken"

Did Christ command the state to take care of the poor, or the church? No one, especially not Doug, is arguing that the poor should be left to starve. To even suggest it is dishonest. The debate is over who does God give the responsibility for taking care of the poor?

Do you acknowledge that the state and the church are not the same institution and do not have identical roles? Clearly you wouldn't want the church performing police, judicial and military tasks. So what tasks does the church have that the state should stay out of? Obviously evangelism, dealing with heretics and bad theology. We don't want those activities criminalized.

So the real debate is whether taking care of the poor is the job of the state or the church? Or both? I argue that the proper interpretation of the Mosaic law regarding the poor is that God took responsibility for punishing offenders and he did not give that authority to the state. For most of the Mosaic law regarding property and life/death issues, people went before judges, representing the state, who decided the issue and carried out the punishment. That much is clear. But what about the poor laws? There is no provision in the law for people to go before judges and prosecute offenders. Again, God took care of punishment directly. We should follow the same principle.

Yes, God judged entire nations for failing to take care of the poor. That doesn't mean he gave authority to states to enforce them. He clearly never did. The primary role of the stae in the Bible is to perform justice concerning life and property.

Chuck: "you hold to an ideology that is, to use Popper's term, unfalsifiable."

That's simply not true. Dozens of research papers by economists, many of them Christian, demonstrate that the state caused the latest crisis. There is also abundant economic history to demonstrate that state intervention in the economy causes far more problems than it solves.

Keynesian economists are the most socialist-leaning economists in the world but even they would not make a statement like yours. They know there is a great deal of evidence for free markets. They simply present other evidence. Even Marx marvelled at the productive power of capitalism.

chuck

Roger,
I really don't know if you and I are just speaking different languages, or if you are intentionally misreading what I have said in order to shoe horn me into your presuppositions about what must be true about my position. Let me try to hit the highest level points.

1. The fact that I disagree with you does not mean that I am ignorant of the data. I know this is a popular rhetorical move, but if we cannot move beyond it, I have nothing more to say. I have had numerous courses on economics, political theory, etc. So, let's move on beyond that silliness, ok?

2. There is a good, healthy sub-tradition within the broader Christian tradition that simply rejects natural theory as inadequate biblically. I stand within that tradition. When I say that you cannot get to the claim i rejected above on Scriptural grounds, my meaning is very straightforward. To get there, you have to side step the clear sense of a number of Scriptures and move to "common sense" or "extra biblical rationality" to get there. This requires, in many cases, making certain presuppositions about what one can count on Scripture to do or to claim and then to replace the clear sense of those passages with an argument that gets to the conclusions you want on extra-biblical grounds. One can so argue. It is hypothetically possible that the argument would be true. What it would not be is a Scriptural argument. My point here is very simple. I argue similarly on the Just War Theory. Most defenders don't even try to make biblical arguments, they simply say that God intends us to use such notions as reason and state-craft to come to our conclusions. Could that argument be hypothetically true? Yes, but what it is not is a biblical argument. I am making the same claim about your position: you cannot construct a biblical argument that comes to the conclusion you want short of dismissing the plain meaning of many texts.

3. Of course I understand the difference between the state and the church (I was trained, during my PhD studies, by some pretty knowledgeable folks in these areas). Please, again, you are simply going to have to wrap your mind around the reality that there are folks who read the same evidence you do and come to different conclusions. What I have argued consistently, which I grant you disagree with, is that one can read throughout Scripture and develop a picture of how God intends us to live together. From that, one can begin to ask what sorts of public policies and institutions would empower that way of living together. Scripture is clear that God has ordained governments to order society and to serve his agenda. His agenda includes care for the least of these, and therefore, one cannot say that governments, ordained by God, have no role to play in caring for the poor. It is entirely consistent with Scripture's view of the role of governments that there be legislation which assures safety nets, basic care for the poor, or any other social justice related concern. There is no one form of economy that follows from Scripture. What Scripture insists on is care for the least, basic justice in economic relations, and protections against the reality that all systems will be abused to the extent possible. I know you think capitalism is the least accessible to abuse, and I disagree. You look at the evidences from history that support your claim and ignore those that do not. What I continue to find remarkably contradictory is your claim that God ordained governments to protect life and property, but think that protection of life does not include care for "the least of these."

Roger McKinney

Chuck, I’ll try to summarize some of the issues discussed over several posts. There are two main issues: 1) Does the Bible require the state to provide for the poor, or is it the job of the church, or both? 2) What is the best way to take care of the poor, charity or free markets.

1) You argue that a) the Mosaic law authorizes the state today to provide for the poor and b) in Roman 13 God uses the state to do his work of caring for the poor. I disagree with a) for the following reason:

For crimes such as theft and murder, Israeli’s were to go before the judges and plead their case. If found guilty, God provided specific penalties and gave the people authority to carry execute those penalties. For the laws regarding the poor, there was no judicial process. No poor person could go before a judge and accuse someone of withholding help, and God did not provide specific penalties for violators. He personally punished people who went too far in their selfish behavior, but he did not punish every act of selfishness or disregard for the poor. In other words, God did not criminalize selfishness. Neither should we. It is clear that God intended the command to take care of the poor to apply to individuals and not the government.

I disagree with b) because in the NT, every instance in which God speaks about helping the poor, he is addressing believers, not government officials. Romans 13 does make the state officials ministers of God to carry out his judgment on evil doers, but that does not include selfish people who refuse to help the poor. That command is given to the church and the church and state have separate roles. The church is not to have armies or policemen. The state is not to determine theology, punish gossips or adulterers or take care of the poor.

Throughout the OT, the Bible insists that the role of the state is to provide justice. Applied to economics, that means the state is to protect private property from theft and fraud. Helping the poor is not justice, it is mercy. To confuse the two is to render words meaningless and is dishonest.

Using the principles of hermeneutics that require interpreting passages by considering the context, and comparing scripture with scripture, I think this is the best interpretation of what the Bible says about the separate roles of the church and state in taking care of the poor. If God does not authorize the state to take the property of the rich and give it to the poor, then the state is guilty of theft in doing so; it violates the commandment not to steal.

2) You argue that the best way to take care of the poor is to have the state redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. It certainly is the only method mentioned in the Bible. However, since the advent of capitalism economists have learned of a more effective way. To ignore what the science of economics has learned simply because it is not in the Bible is the same as ignoring medical science because the Bible tells us to anoint people with oil and pray.

First, it’s important to remember that Marx understood the productive power of capitalism. He disagreed with the distribution of wealth, not the creation of it. That is why he insisted that countries not attempt socialism until they had gone through the capitalist phase, otherwise there would be too little wealth to redistribute. Many Marxists, and especially folk Marxists who do not consider themselves Marxists, forget this.

Capitalism creates new wealth by employing machines to do work for man. As a result, worker productivity increases, and as productivity increases so does wages. The benefits of new machinery are spread among workers, owners and consumers. Workers benefit from high wages and as consumers from lower prices. Owners benefit from profits. Outside of Marxism, there is no disagreement over this principle in the field of economics. To deny it is to deny the very foundation of all economic science. You may consider this mere assertion, but I have a masters degree in economics and many years of study in it. If you don’t believe me, all I can ask you to do is to read economics textbooks. I can’t give you a course in developmental economics in a blog post.

Taxing the rich to help the poor does help the poor, but not nearly as much as providing jobs and with good wages. The rich are limited in what they consume; they save and invest most of their wealth. Businesses borrow that wealth to buy capital equipment to make their workers more productive, which, again, raises wages. Taxing the wealthy leaves less money available for businesses to borrow and therefore hinders investment in equipment and training and as a result keeps wages lower. Taxing the rich to help the poor both hurts and helps the poor; it helps in the short run but hurts in the longer run by reducing wages. Again, call this mere assertion if you want, but it is standard economics. You will find no economist who disagrees, except of course Marxists.

The economic history of the West is a history of the increasing use of machinery to mass produce items for the masses at lower prices than artisan labor can produce them. Lower prices and higher wages created the middle class. That is also the history of China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Brazil and other nations which have dramatically reduced poverty. Again, you may consider that a mere assertion, but it is in the history of economics books and economic development books which you can read. The only people who disagree are Marxists.

As I wrote before, Christians should praise God daily for the miracle of China. In a short three decades hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted from the worst poverty on the planet to a high standard of living. The Chinese experience has been the greatest poor relief program in the history of mankind. After Mao died, Deng Xiao Peng changed the law to give farmers a tiny bit of freedom and property rights. Before Peng, the Chinese were close to mass starvation. The US kept many alive with massive loans to the Chinese government to buy American food. After Peng, China rapidly became self-sufficient in food and the standard of living rocketed upward.

Charity had nothing to do with the Chinese experiment. If I had no evidence for the power of free markets to help the poor but the Chinese experience, that should be enough.

Doug

Chuck, let's take a step back, here. You and I are followers of Christ, and we both agree (and I'm guessing Roger agrees) that a proper and just society is one where we are others-focused, sacrificial, and choose the power of love to help others. I would love to live in such a society, where the behaviors we expect and want of others are good behaviors.

But we are not a "Christian nation," we are not Israel, and Jesus in no way advocated a "Christian State" of any kind. Israel was under covenant with God, and that covenant was the guiding factor in their relationship, which means it was bound to God's "rules and regulations," and was properly judged when it did not obey. God is indeed serious about how God's people take what he says to them. When we as Christians do not act according to God's desires, we are to be judged by God himself.

But what Roger and I are saying is, that's great for your Christian ethic: promote it, live it out, dedicate your life to it. But it is unethical to use the force of the State to ensure other people will live and behave according to your ethics and morals. How would you feel if some other religion with morals and ethics contrary to your own get a majority rule in Congress, and force you to live by its ethics and morals? Is that not tyrannical to force you and me to live by their morals? How is it any different that you seek political solutions—which are nothing less than solutions based in power—to move forward in advancing your ethics and morals?

The politics I advocate are that which men are free to follow Jesus, Buddha, Mohommad, or nobody for that matter, and they will not be forced to live by the ethics of Christians. The whole idea of "voluntary" means that Christians are not to force others to live like Jesus. It's one thing to prevent people from harming one another by violating property (more on that below); it's quite another to look at your wealthy neighbor, envy his belongings, and use the force of the State to take it away from him and give to the needy. That is not justice whatsoever. "Thou shalt not steal," did not have a caveat, "except with majority rule in Congress."

As for life vs. property, those two are inseparable. If i have no earthly possessions, I still "own" (steward) my body/life. My life is to be protected because it is my property. Property is not just that which we own (i.e. "stuff"), but that which we are, and that which we make. So the life vs. property argument is meaningless.

I may indeed enjoy the fruits of whatever regulation you feel has brought us to this place. I am younger than you are. But you still haven't provided examples of free market atrocities. A free market doesn't produce Stalins, Hitlers, Castros, Pol Pots, et al.

Roger McKinney

PS, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that in the Mosaic law God did intend for the state to force Israelis to take care of the poor. How does that law apply to Christians today? It doesn’t. The law applied to ancient Israel only. The only principle that we can carry forward to apply to the New Covenant is that God wants Christians to take care of the poor. It does not require the state to do so. If you argue that it does, then I would argue that, agreeing with Paul, you cannot pick and choose which laws of Moses to apply to the state and which ones don’t apply. If the laws regarding providing for the poor require the state to enact such laws, then we must apply all of the Mosaic Law. We must have Congress read Leviticus and Deuteronomy and enact legislation for executing adulterers, unruly children and heretics. Of course that would be ridiculous, but no less so than claiming that the same law requires the state to take care of the poor.

chuck

Roger,
I think we may have come as far as we can. Not because there is no more profitable discussion to be had, but because you insist on attributing to me things I simply do not say. I realize these are complex topics and it is hard to explain them in these bite size chunks, but I am obviously not being adequately clear. Let me try one more time, though very briefly in this case.
I do not argue that "the Mosaic law authorizes the state today to provide for the poor." My argument is far more nuanced than that. First, I argue that the first question one has to ask is: how does God intend his human creatures to live together? One can begin from OT through to the NT and get a very good picture of what that looks like. My latest book, just sent off to the publisher, argues from a wide variety of places in Scripture what the contours of that way of living together looks like. In addition, the Trinitarian nature of God and the fact of the incarnation provide further guidance on this. Second, this way of living together is not, as Doug (and I think you suggest), just for the followers of Jesus. Yoder gets after this in "For the Nations." God intends all of us to live together in particular ways--care for the other, elevation of the interest of others, concern that there not be a permanently dispossessed class, etc. Third, I argue that God has ordained governments to serve his agenda. You cite Romans 13, which has validity, but you separate it from the immediate context. Go back and look at Romans 12 (and remember that chapter separations were not in the originals). The kind of living together I argue for is outlined there, and to have the ordination of governments follow that must be observed. Another relevant passage is from Colossians 1 and 2. Here, all powers are affirmed as having been created by God, for God. Now, there is the explicit recognition that these powers ordained by God can become demonic. When they do, it is not our job to deny any role for government, but rather to critique the failure of governments to serve the divine agenda--including care for the other. Fourth, this is not a confusion of the roles of the state and the church at all, but rather an argument that flows from a wide variety of Scriptures, taking both the narrow and broader context quite seriously and which claims that there is a role for care of the poor by governments.

The idea that justice throughout Scripture can be limited to "protect private property from theft and fraud" is unsustainable. The Laws of Jubilee did not protect free market associations, but rather provided for a periodic re-leveling that God judged to be needed from time to time. Same for the Laws of Release, the Collateral Laws required the return of collatateralized garments, on the idea that protecting the poor from the elements was more important than profit. The prophets, when they called into account the ruling bodies, almost always addressed the failure to care for the poor. Amos is an excellent example, and critique of "garments taken in pledge" is noted directly. I have already cited Ez. 16 vis-a-vis Sodom. Isaiah 10 issues woes to legislators who make iniquitous decrees--how are decrees judged iniquitous and unjust? By not properly tending to the poor. I could go on and on.

You also claim that "Helping the poor is not justice, it is mercy." I may agree with the latter point, but not the former. Part of care for the poor is to make sure that there are not institutional obstacles to the poor being adequately attended to.

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