Is there a moral balance between liberty and security, or are the two mutually exclusive?
Can the rich ever become so rich, that they strangle the poor? And what qualifies as “strangling”?
Must a capitalist globalization lead toward an impoverishment of the American working class?
Should the poor have a safety net, and if they do, how much of a net should they have?
Do the rich have an obligation to bolster the wealth of society, aside from providing jobs and infrastructure?
Since the dawn of civilization, man has sought timeless principles to address the concepts of wealth and poverty, justice and equality. Karl Marx was one of these people.
Like many leftists, Karl was very good at recognizing national ills, and his moral criticism of Western economics was not entirely wrong. The West, at his time–although more successful and moral than almost any other economic system in world history–had neglected many of the unalienable, Biblically defined rights of the unfortunate poor. So, in response to these mounting and emotionally stirring injustices, the secular left readied for war against the overwhelmingly capitalist West, determined to solve the problem of abject poverty on their own terms.
At first the struggle against capitalism was difficult, meeting much resistance. But in time, the faux-egalitarian ideals of Communism slowly took hold of the media and educational facilities, then the legislatures, and then finally spread to all governmental institutions. Within a generation or two of leftist control, our major cities became swamped with violent crime, our great grandchildren became saddled with unpayable debt, American industrial jobs flocked out of the country, our children became increasingly uneducated, and our banking system all but collapsed. Few would argue that the United States of America is safer, stronger, and more wholesome than 50 years ago, despite the “progressive” trajectory of the nation. It would seem, then, by natural conclusion, that as our society has grown more “progressive,” our country has necessarily grown more unstable.
But Western history did not need to take a turn for the worse. It is very possible that the West (and indeed, the world) would have responded differently to Marxism, had Americans founded themselves upon more Biblical economic standards. But to understand how Americans might have done so, we must first consider Marx’s criticisms of capitalism.
First, Marx argued that unemployed workers were paid the minimum amount necessary to maintain their value as laborers, which resulted in both a lack of employee self-sustainability and property. He theorized that this minimizing of self-sustainability resulted from competition between businesses, a very popular opinion of leftists today. Second, he argued that an increasingly globalized competition lowered working standards, as our shrinking world sought the least expensive labor. This assertion also remains a popular fear amongst our Democratic working class.
Third, Marx argued that masses of the uneducated and unemployed forced the employee into desperate conditions, as employers could exchange workers for any other uneducated worker in the unemployed labor force. And what happens to the newly unemployed workers? Perhaps, within libertarian capitalism, if the jobless were fortunate enough to either have supportive extended family or live in an area which instituted a program of temporary workfare, they might be able to temporarily sustain their wives and children. If not, the gutter. This third powerful argument–alongside racial envy–is the most notable pillar in support of an ever-expanding, boundaryless welfare state.
The fundamental capitalist has little-to-no argument against these emotionally moving claims, as free market capitalism provides no safeguards against a perpetual global wage destruction, provides little against the inability for many of the poor to acquire property, and provides no safety net for the jobless. It would seem, then, that unless orthodox capitalists arbitrarily accept some doctrinally inconsistent principles, capitalists are forced to accept economic situations which for the most part are morally questionable, if not entirely wrong. But consider how Americans might have addressed these concerns if they had adopted a Biblical economic system instead of a partially Biblical libertarian system.
First, Biblical economics ensure that every family had their own property, which–even if sold–reverted back into their possession every fifty years. Second, the poor were ensured food for which they could work, a workfare program, similar to food stamps, but requiring labor from the beneficiaries instead of freely dispersing the public’s goods. Third, charging any form of interest was illegal (not to be confused with entering a business investment, in which the investor is given direct influence over the business and shares in the risks and rewards thereof). Fourth, citizens’ debts were released every seven years, to ensure that the rich could not keep the poor in perpetual debt slavery, receiving interest upon interest (should interest even be charged). Fifth, if a person were to have accrued too much debt due to hardship, they could opt into voluntary indentured servitude, which could only last a maximum of six years. During this term of servitude, their creditor would take care of all the servant’s (and by extension, the servant’s family’s) material needs while providing them training to fill a position. Most importantly, when a person left this indentured servitude, they were to be amply supplied by their ex-creditor with enough wealth to be self sustainable.
Consider how fair each of these proposals are. How could Marx object to a landless, purposely impoverished peasantry, when land reverted to each family periodically? How could Marx complain about a desperate, unemployed mob and the wage decreases bolstered by it, when food and a job were always available–even if the job was acquired due to the temporarily-curtailed liberties of servitude? How could Marx argue that a person was kept in poverty, when the destitute were regularly liberated from their short term debt with work experience and enough supplies to begin anew? How could Marx argue that global competition was destroying living standards, when Biblical law strengthened the local economy by encouraging production instead of consumptive debt, and by allowing citizens to charge only foreign merchants interest? And how could our government outsource our jobs with its taxation policies, when flat taxation was only to be taken from each person individually, and not excessively from the corporation, through payroll taxes, and all the other American business taxes which make foreign labor so affordable?
Furthermore, consider the balance of God’s proposals, which despite strong protections for the poor:
1) neither demonized nor punished success
2) which never awarded anyone for laziness or recklessness
3) which never allowed the borrower to cheat the creditor by declaring bankruptcy
5) which never rewarded anyone simply due to a falsely labeled “social justice.”
6) which never inflated the money supply to steal from the populace
7) which never rescued any failing companies or citizens on the public’s purse
8) and which established no minimum wage because only skill, market need, and the consensual contract would determine what an employer owed
These principles encompass the epitome of free market liberties, as moral, wise, and fair as the human race will ever see. But let us not err in simply labeling this Biblical system “fair” or “functional”: it is perfectly fair and perfectly functional, and the statutes contained within it encompass our unalienable, God given economic rights. Simultaneously providing security for the needy as well as liberty for the skilled, industrious, and the innovative, this system was designed by the Almighty to carry an obedient nation into a brighter, wealthier, morally defensible future.
But we must not be naive. Some of these proposals, particularly the proposal about indentured servitude, will immediately appear repulsive to most Americans, who are accustomed to letting debtors walk free due to our unfair attitude toward those who have. But let us consider how indentured servitude would work for someone deeply in uncontrollable debt, say, a person with unpayable medical bills.
In the event that a person were to become indebted beyond payment to the hospital, that indebted person would have the option of placing themselves under the authority of the hospital or its owners for six years or less. During this period of servanthood, the borrower’s debts would be forgiven, they would be given enough housing, food, medical attention, and clothing for their family, would most likely learn a trade which would make them employable by a hospital upon release, and would be released with a modest sum of money, with which the newly liberated debtor would begin his life again.
Contrast this debt management program with modern America’s debt system, in which the debtor would receive services–say fifty thousand dollars worth–without paying a cent, or in which the debtor spent the next ten, maybe twenty years trying to pay their bills while struggling to house their children, with debt collectors hounding them every step of the way. Would either of these last two options be morally acceptable? To cheat a lender, or pay interest upon interest for year after year?
But aside from the debt management plan, there is another Biblical economic proposition which, if introduced without proper explanation, would immediately inspire panic. To address the topic of permanent familial property, any critic would be right in suggesting that Americans have been in continental territory for quite some time, making the institution of forceful land reform tantamount to totalitarianism. The best and most politically viable solution, as far as I can see, is two fold.
First, and most importantly, we must recognize that our government has placed American citizens in the hands of bankers by artificially inflating the prices of homes and encouraging the 30 year mortgage through leftist government programs. But while the extensive programs have proven risky for our housing market, we find that other countries without such programs have higher rates of home ownership. Our first duty, then, is to restore the moral, market based home pricing system we had before the bailouts and FHA, allow home prices to fall to their natural, affordable state, and reinstate the noble gold standard to keep our government from “bolstering” our housing market with inflationary corporate welfare.
Second in this plan to establish a landed citizenry, a citizen family (a man and a wife) should be able to secure one property within city limits, or up to two acres outside city limits, and these properties should permanently be the property of the family, until the family should trade it away for another permanent property. If a family loses their permanent property due to hardship, they should have the ability to declare hardship upon property loss, and (either they or the nearest family member) be able to repurchase it within a specified period of time for a pro rated price. If unable to reclaim their property, the property will revert back into their possession every 50 years; and if a father has too many sons to whom he could will his property, the landless sons may claim their own. In this way, we will not forcefully rob property owners, but we will provide affordable and permanent housing to those interested in providing for their families.
So how do we answer the left, when they claim capitalism oppresses the poor? We show them what limits God intended for the free market. We show them that the utmost liberty belongs to the strong, and security with curtailed liberties to the weak or immoral. We show them that yes–the rich can become so rich that the poor are strangled, so we give the poor family permanent land and workfare programs, to ensure that nobody starves, or to ensure that none of the weak are kept in perpetual abject poverty. We show them that lending has limits, and that both the borrower and the lender must never be robbed by charging interest or declaring bankruptcy. We show leftists that globalization doesn’t have to outsource all our jobs and lower our working standards, because God’s taxation system doesn’t promote outsourcing. We show them that the poor do have a safety net, and that it has very defined limits aside from personal charity. And we show them that the rich do have an obligation to society, and they by Divine standards, we may only demand it at the same rate we ask of everyone else. And as a side benefit, while the Marxist is not guaranteed to become a committed Christian in response to these principles, he will have a much more difficult time uncovering injustices with which to swindle the naive.
In conclusion, C.S. Lewis once said the following about progression. “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” Words by which to live.