Science in Christian Perspective
Is There a Christian Economic System?
EDWARD COLESON Spring Arbor College Spring Arbor, Michigan 49283
RICHARD V. PIERARD Indiana State University Terre Haute, Indiana 47809
From: JASA 29 (March 1977): 13-21. Where America Missed the Way
In recent years we have found ourselves in the throes of one economic
another and some pessimists suggest it may become as serious as the
of the 1930's. If we attempt to bail ourselves out by massive deficit
we may easily destroy the dollar through inflation, which may in the
end be even
worse than what happened forty or fifty years ago and all that
If the global tragedy called World War II was, even in part, the consequence of
the economic blunders of the 1920's and 30's, the subject should be
particularly, if we are moving toward "...some catastrophe corresponding,
in effect if not in form, to the ruin of 1929 and all that followed from it to
sour the very soil and to murder thirty million people."1 Since
this is not
a new problem, it appears that we have been rather negligent in not
attention upon it long ago.
Yet any one who suggests laissez-faire capitalism as the Christian and constructive answer to our present dilemma will probably be laughed out of court. Was not Cain a capitalist and the Good Samaritan a socialist? Still it is my contention that the New Deal was a calamity and unnecessary, and that the philosophy of the Welfare State is fallacious in theory and has proven disastrous in practice (I do not blame F. D. R. for the
long years of Republican protective tariffs which finally destroyed our international trade and hence made "plowing under cotton and killing little pigs" seem necessary; I blame him only for not making a clean break with our tragic past and starting over right). As I write, we are teetering on the brink of disaster, and larger doses of New Deal economics will not deliver us, but hasten our ruin. Let us look back in history and see how other people handled their problems in brighter days when things went at least half way right.
As is well known, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776. It would no doubt be unfair to call this classic a textbook in Christian capitalism. It is also unfair to say, as did a prominent evangelical recently, that ". . . Adam Smith, optimistically holding to fixed natural economic laws, did not realize that sin would promote greed Even a cursory reading of The Wealth of Nations would convince, it would seem, anyone that Smith mistrusted just about everybody. For instance, he tells us that "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public...3 He had no more confidence in big business than he did in tradesmen: "The government of an exclusive company of merchants is," he wrote, "perhaps, the worst of all governments...4 . Although he didn't want business men running the government, he had little confidence in the politicians either: "The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of a remedy."5 While many of those today who are on the political "Right" are anarchists, often consciously and militantly so, it should be obvious that Adam Smith was not. He was convinced that the government should have three functions:' defend the frontiers with military force, if need be; provide police and administer justice within the state; and maintain a few services which could not easily he supplied by business. Perhaps the best way to explain what Smith really meant is to say that, if I were a farmer, I would have the right to produce any quantity of any legitimate commodity and sell it in any honest way-and the same goes for everyone else in his respective business, trade or profession. It is interesting to note that while we seem to regard the task of keeping us all prosperous as the primary assignment of government, Smith did not consider this proper. Nevertheless, he believed in government, although he thought it should be a "simple frugal affair," as Thomas Jefferson phrased it. It should be obvious that he believed in limited government, not out of an unbounded faith in human nature, but because he trusted no one very far, including the politicians. It would appear, that in practice at least, he was not very far from the Christian doctrine of natural depravity, although no one, to my knowledge, has classified him as an evangelical. I am sure he would be best described as a deist.
To understand "the obvious and simple system of natural liberty" which Adam Smith believed in and promoted, it is necessary to know something of the background out of which his thinking grew. Not too far in the past was Isaac Newton, who overawed his contemporaries much as Einstein did the last generation. As Bernhard7 wrote, "The majesty of Newton's conception of a harmonious universe ruled by immutable, divine laws was expressed in Pope's couplet:"
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night. God said, "Let Newton he!" and there was light.
Newton, of course, was a physicist and mathematician, but closer in time and subject matter to Adam Smith was William Blackstonet who introduced his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England with the assertion that human laws have no validity, if contrary to the Higher Law, "dictated by God Himself." Although these words were published in 1765, a little more than a decade before The Wealth of Nations appeared, the concept of a Higher Law, the Natural Moral Law, goes back to Cicero, the Roman orator, and the Greek Stoics before him (and, of course, Moses and the Prophets long before the rise of Greek philosophy). The related concept of a "harmonious universe," to quote Bernhard again, was popularized by William Paley in a book published just after 1800. To Paley design in nature presupposes an omnipotent and omniscient Designer; he and his enthusiastic disciples found evidences of God's handiwork everywhere. Indeed, the Royal Society9 eventually produced a twelve volume study showing the marvels of God's creation in a universe "where all things work together for good." One would judge that these essays were mostly biology and re lated topics, dedicated to the proposition that the great Architect of the universe had done His work wisely and well. However, Frederic Bastiat,10 a famous French economist, published a book, Economic Harmonies, in 1850 which sought to prove that there were no natural or necessary conflicts between individuals, classes, or nations, certainly not in the long run; that all things could work together for good, if we were wise enough, patient enough, and good enough to know and follow what the Lord intended for us. This was a far cry from Social Darwinism-"Be merciful and you die"-soon to be popularized by Herbert Spencer. It is interesting to note that the classic free trade era in Europe after 1850 was a remarkably peaceful period as compared with the last sixty-five years of human history. Was this coincidental?
Conservative Christians today are often accused of having a "do-nothing' social policy, but this was not true of evangelicals two centuries ago. In the midst of the half century of Wesley's popular ministry, an obscure Englishman, Granville Sharp, met an ailing and wounded slave on the streets of London. The unfortunate servant had been severely beaten and turned out to die. Out of this grew the abolition movement, which freed the slaves in England in 1772, stopped the slave trade in British ships after 1807, and freed the slaves on the plantations in English colonies in 1834 (this they accomplished without a war too). In spite of the attempts by contemporary economic determinists, such as Erie Williams,11 to prove that slavery withered away rather spontaneously (with a little help from Wilberforce and the abolitionists) because it had ceased to be profitable, there is abundant evidence, as J. C. Furnas12 points out, that slave smuggling into our South was common and very profitable up until the Civil War. Furnas, it should he added, had little sympathy for evangelical reformers, such as Sharp and Wilberforee.13 The recent and highly controversial study, Time on the Cross,14 suggests that slavery was a viable economic institution. It is interesting to note that during the great debates over slavery while the issue was being fought out, first at the King's Bench (the British "Supreme Court" freed the slaves in England in 1772) and later in Parliament from 1787 to 1833, the question of profit did come up, but the abolitionists insisted that "a Christian country should be glad to give up profits which are made out of human shame and misery."15 This is capitalism with a conscience; making money is legitimate, but when profit making and God's Law are in conflict, as they may be in the short run, choose the right, "For what shall it profit a man, if be gain the whole world ....
When the English reformers were finally finished with slavery in British territory in 1834, they found plenty more that needed fixing. Perhaps the most conspicuous change in the next dozen years, and one that had profound economic consequences, was the famous Repeal of the Corn Laws. The Corn Laws were the British "farm program," a complicated scheme to keep out foreign grain and maintain higher agricultural prices than a free and open market would provide. There was nothing new or unusual about these economic interventions by the government; the several European stations had long been rigging their markets in favor of powerful pressure groups, a practice that Adam Smith had condemned as being detrimental to the public welfare. A word of explanation is probably necessary at this point: many Americans, knowing that life was less complicated in the 1890's, extrapolate backward in time and assume that things must have been quite free and easy a few hundred years ago. Quite the contrary was true. The French and Spanish governments, for instance, were past masters at the art of controlling the economy a few centuries ago and James Michener,16 for one, believes the mighty power of Spain was destroyed in this way, that Spain committed suicide-a proposition we in the United States would do well to ponder. It was to the British version of these same economic interferences that English reformers now addressed themselves. The Anti-Corn-Law League was organized and the propaganda war quickly went into high gear. From the beginning the League tried to make it clear that their "organization was established on the same righteous principle as the AntiSlavery Society.17 The campaign became a holy war: how could anyone seek to keep food needlessly scarce and expensive when people were hungry and even starving? "A great conference of ministers of religion at Manchester . . . led to a diffusion of repeal ideas from scores of pulpits."18 The conspicuous leaders of the movement were Richard Cobden and John Bright, both textile manufacturers and evangelical Christians. Bright, a devout Quaker, "refused to separate the spheres of morality and politics,19 and got his free trade principles from the Bible. It was this moral earnestness in an England which still took the Scriptures very seriously-plus the massive tragedy of the Irish Potato Famine-which brought the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and free trade in general in the next decade or so. It is interesting to note that the French economist, Frederic Bastiat, became the philosopher of the League during the campaign. Bright and Cobden liked his harmonious economics better than that "dismal science"20 inherited from Thomas Malthus. His doctrines fit in better with their ideas of the goodness and wisdom of God. Cynical economic determinists have dismissed Bright and Cobden's pious pretensions as hypocrisy (or self delusion); after all, manufacturers stood to gain by open markets. This they knew and proclaimed loudly during the controversy, but the accusation of had faith is unfair. When the Crimean War came, both opposed it bitterly and on principle, although they knew the war was popular and that this would mean political suicide for them. During the American Civil War, Bright favored the North and worked mightily to keep England neutral, although, as a cotton manufacturer, he knew his self interest lay with the South.21 Although he objected strongly to Northern protective tariffs, he felt that human freedom was more important than free trade. And much more could be said, if space permitted. It is a pity that
we know so little about the accomplishments of these Christian statesmen. We could learn much from them too: they believed in freedom under law (God's Law), Christian stewardship and personal responsibility. They were also men of compassion and were concerned for their fellow men.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the accomplishments of these Christian statesmen is to take a wee glimpse at their age as it appeared in 1882 in the Spectator: "Britain as a whole was never more tranquil and happy. No class is at war with society or the government; there is no disaffection anywhere, the Treasury is fairly full ...."22 Now substitute "today" and "the U.S.A." for "Britain" and "1882" in the above quotation. If "the proof of the pudding" is at least partly "in the eating," just perhaps our rude forefathers could teach us something, if we would but listen.
1Paul McGuire, There's Freedom for the Brave (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1949), p. 266.
2Earle B. Cairns, Saints and Society (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), p. 21.
3Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Random House, Modern Library edition, 1937), p. 128.
4lbid., p. 537
5Ibid., p. 460.
6Ibid., p. 651.
7Richard C. Bernhard, Economics (Boston: D. C. Heath and Co., 1954), p. 733.
8William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia: Bees Welsh and Co., Lewis' edition, 1902), Vol. I, p. 31.
9A. Cressy Morrison, Man Does Not Stand Alone (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1944), pp. 7 & 8.
10Frederic Bastiat, Economic Harmonies (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1964), p. xxiv.
11Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (New York: Capri corn Books, i966-original U. of North Carolina Press, 1944), p. 210.
12J. C. Furnas, The Road to Harper's Ferry (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1959), pp. 157-162.
13Ibid., pp. 248-262.
14Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1974), p. 196.
15W. E. F. Ward, The Royal Navy and the Slavers (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1969), p. 19.
16James A. Michener, iberia, Spanish Travels and Reflections (New York: Random House, 1968), pp. 23 and 24.
17Ceorge Barnett Smith, The Life and Speeches of the Right Hon. John Bright, M. P. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1881), Vol. I, p. 133.
18Asa Briggs, The Making of Modern England, 1783-1867 (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Torchbooks, 1959), p. 317.
19Asa Briggs, Victorian People (New York: Harper and Row, Colophon Books-original U. of Chicago Press, 1955), p. 202.
20Eduard Heimann, History of Economic Doctrines (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1945-as a Galaxy Bank, 1964), pp. 123-124.
21G. B. Smith, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 100-116.
22Alhert H. Flobbs.,'Welfarism and Orwell's Reversal," Intercollegiate Review (Spring, 1970), p. 107.
RICHARD V. PIERARD
Many Christians wholeheartedly endorse the position that capitalism is a form of economics whose precepts are in accordance with biblical teaching. They contend it is the force that made America the great nation she is today, but unfortunately we are abandoning the economic principles of our founding fathers for the seductive allurements of socialism. As evangelical publicist James Hefley laments: "The cherished American free enterprise system and its ideological ally, the Protestant work ethic" has received "the biggest black eyes" for our current economic ills. College students are being led astray by professors and textbooks that "acclaim socialism as a better system" and "argue the advantages over capitalism, of a socialistic system."+1
The now defunct magazine Christian Economics has perhaps been the most forthright spokesman for the position that laissez-faire capitalism (more accurately, economic individualism) is Christian. Editor H. Edward Rowe once wrote: "The right to private property is established by all Biblical prohibitions against coveting and stealing . . . . Where the Scriptural concept of private property is upheld, men are economically free and capitalism exists."2 Brushing aside objections by an evangelical critic, Rowe asserted:
Those who make light of capitalism, even in subtle ways, are undermining freedom. Men who do not have the privilege of free exchange in the market place are not free men. In a very profound and meaningful sense, Jesus Christ died to purchase freedom for enslaved men.
The spiritual freedom which is available through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the basis of all freedoms in the social and economic realm.3
In a persuasive manner the advocates of laissezfaire capitalism read their principles into the Ten Commandments.4 The First Commandment "you shall have no other gods before me," it is said, downgrades the state and its responsibility to maintain community. The only alternative to individualism is collectivism, where man is exploited by his fellows. The Mosaic injunction against stealing makes "the power of ownership" absolute-black or white, "I own a thing or I don't." Any attempt at redistributing wealth in an equitable fashion through government action or taxation procedures is "Robin Hood justice, in which the rich are robbed and the poor share in the loot."5
Such people have their biblical proof texts. The Lord your God "is he who gives you power to get wealth" (Dent. 8:18) sustains the right of the rich to be rich. "You always have the poor with you" (Mt. 26:11) and "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Lu. 6:20) affirm poverty as a part of God's moral order and suggest he will take care of their needs in due time. The debacle of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 4:32-5:11) proves the early church had missed the will of God in attempting to establish a collectivist economy. Paul's statement, "If any one will not work, let him not eat" (II Th. 3:10) is a condemnation of the welfare state idea.
Some claim the parables illustrate a capitalist conception of economic life. The sower of the tares (weeds) committed the immoral act of devaluating another's possessions. (Mt. 13:24-30) The treasure hidden in the field portrays a person motivated by profit to expend freely his existing wealth in order to acquire a larger amount. (Mt. 13:44) The account of the laborers in the vineyard acknowledges the right of a person to do as he wishes with his property. Since the master had "contracted" to pay the going wage, those who worked all day suffered no injustice. (Mt. 21:33-41) The story of the talents teaches that ability is the reason for inequality in personal possessions. (Mt. 25:14-30)6
Such an effort to establish a Scriptural basis for laissez-faire capitalism is bound to be selfdefeating. One can just as easily argue that capitalist values are condemned by the Ten Commandments. Substantial portions of the Pentateuch, poetic literature, and prophetic writings of the Old Testament deal with the just treatment of the economically disadvantaged. The teachings of Jesus and the exemplarly actions of the early church underline the importance of human compassion and concern for others.
In actuality, many features of the system run at cross purposes to Christianity. Let us look at these more closely. The capitalist emphasis on individualism is much at odds with the biblical teaching, stressing community and the individual's role as a part of the larger group. The Old Testament conceives of God and man in a social relationship, and the covenants between Yahweh and his people underscore this theme of community. The dangers of individualism with its glorification and isolation of self can be seen in the repeated urgings for Israel to turn away from the pursuit of personal wealth and power and to renew the covenant of social justice and communal obligations. In the New Testament we see the selfless Jesus dedicating himself in suffering love to the formation of a new people and the Apostles establishing and nurturing church communities where the common good in all aspects of life was promoted.
Contrast this with the practice of modern capitalism which fosters the kind of individualism interested only in maximizing profits instead of that which resists group tyranny and is concerned with personal welfare. Rather than arguing that the abuses of society should be corrected so underprivileged people could also experience individual freedom, the capitalist retreats to the logic of social Darwinism. Although American businessmen usually have explained their success in terms of self-help, hard work, and Christian virtue rather than the Darwinian struggle for existence and survival of the fittest,7 Richard Hofstadter ably demonstrates that entrepreneurs "accepted almost by instinct" the Darwinian concepts that seemingly portrayed the condition of their existence. In 1889 Andrew Carnegie wrote concerning the "law of competition" that however much we may object to its apparent harshness: "It is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it have been found; and while the law may sometimes he hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department." Or there is the revealing remark once made by the prominent Baptist layman John D. Rockefeller before a Sunday school group:
The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest . he American Beauty rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God.
Moreover, capitalism places far too much emphasis upon materialissn. The goal of life is to make money and accumulate possessions. The market place is deified as the controlling force in economic relationships, and people have no value as created beings apart from their economic functions. The biblical mandate to seek first the kingdom of God is replaced by the quest for a complacent, comfortable life with little or no regard for the needs of others or the cultivation of spiritual values.
Lacking in laissez-faire capitalism with its impersonal free market mechanism is a genuine concern for human beings as people. The Scriptures teach that "the laborer deserves his wages" (Lu. 10:7), but according to an articulate free enterprise spokesman, Southern Presbyterian minister John H. Richardson, this means:
The only just standard that men have to determine the worth of a man's labor is the market's demand. In a free society reward is based upon production, and production is evaluated by the market, - . . His service to mankind we can only determine by the market, while his service to God will be fully rewarded at last only by God.9
This would harmonize well with the "iron law of wages" popularized by the early nineteenth century classical economist David Ricardo which held that a laborer's actual pay could not rise above the minimum subsistence level for any prolonged period because the usual increase in population and the price of foodstuffs would force wages back to the "natural" level, In other words the laissez-faire system doomed a person to perpetual poverty.
Do not forget that the same advocates of laissezfaire in Britain who secured the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 were also responsible for the New Poor Law of 1834. This measure was based on the capitalistic principle that anything, including public charity, which interfered with the natural law of supply and demand was undesirable. The result was the establishment of prison-like workhouses for paupers where families were separated, men assigned to petty, menial tasks, and the barest minimum of fond, clothing, and shelter provided. It was assumed that pauperism was in most cases culpable, and indigency was due to personal weakness, Improvement could be effected by individual effort, if the person only had the necessary will and determination."' The grim, forbidding atmosphere of the work house was designed to provide that motivation. Yet, this inhuman secular approach to the desperate situation of the victims of industrial society hardly misses the mark any farther than the opinion expressed by Carl Mclntire and shared by a great many evangelicals who otherwise reject his controversial political views: "The best remedy for poverty is the Word of God.11
Capitalism can also be faulted for its selfishness, that is, people are free to do with their wealth and property as they see fit. As the well-known Christian philosopher Rousas Rushdoony puts it: "The right to property is a God-given right. Ownership is evidence of work and character. Property gives power to man and the family. It is God's will, clearly declared in Scripture, that man possess, develop, and use land and personal property, under God,"12
This ignores a large body of biblical teaching that wealth is given so that it may be used responsibly, for the benefit of one's neighbor. Ownership is relative, not absolute, and the poor have a claim upon the affluent person's possessions. (Dent. 15:7-8) The prophet Amos' incisive critique of the abuses of riches underscores the point that it is not so much the amount of one's wealth that matters as the method in which it is acquired and utilized. Passages like Proverbs 30:8-9 suggest that the best thing in life is a modicum of this world's goods, since affluence and poverty alike carry the danger of idolizing material possessions.
The experience of the industrial revolution makes it quite clear we should not expect a person of means to look out for the interests of both his neighbor and society in general. The noted British public figure and evangelical layman, Sir Frederick Catherwood, reminds us that the government of necessity had to undertake the regulation of business.
Though the tremendous power which was being developed by the Industrial Revolution could and did work for the good of humanity, there could he no security that that was what it would do unless it was brought under conscious discipline, and that discipline could only be imposed by the assumption by the public of constantly increasing discretionary powers.13
This selfishness is revealed by the amazing disparities in personal income that exist in countries with capitalistic economic systems in spite of the great wealth they produce. For instance, the top 20% of families in the United States receive 42% of the national income and the upper 5% get 19.6% of the total. The bottom 20% receive only 5%,14 Free market economists bitterly protest all expansion of social services as a socialistic redistribution of wealth, yet the amount allocated for defense and national security matters in the federal budget consistently is four to five times that laid out for items like education, programs for the needy, housing, and health. And then there is the global aspect of income maldistribution-the difference between the industrialized nations of the northern hemisphere and the developing countries of the south.
It is apparent that laissez-faire capitalism, although its contributions are numerous, significant, and often meritorious, must be modified or even replaced by a kind of system that will insure a wider measure of social and economic justice. Perhaps this will require some form of democratic socialism, or maybe it can be done through a substantial revamping of our present political and economic order. I would suggest guidelines for Christian action in this regard.
First, Christians should do all they can to make society more righteous. They should insist that there be an adequate minimum standard of care for those unable to support themselves-youths, the infirm, mothers with dependent children, the elderly. The absolute right of every able-bodied, adult man and woman to gainful employment should be guaranteed. Equality of opportunity must also be upheld. All the wonderful virtues of hard work, integrity, honesty, and thrift are meaningless if the social system blocks an individual's movement at the very beginning just because of race, sex, or social class standing. In other words the Christian is obligated to take a stand on the side of justice for all people.
Second, believers must view the government as a positive force for the achievement of social and economic justice. It is the only agency with enough power to counteract the giant combines which characterize modern capitalism. It can force businesses to pay more attention to the human needs of their employees, prevent them from plundering the environment for the sake of quick, short-run profits, and guarantee the protection of consumers' rights. Government action is needed to insure minimum living standards and to bring about a more equitable distribution of income.
It is not enough that Christian citizens actively participate in public life, because even status quo conservatives advocate that. Rather, Christians must bring to their involvement the proper kind of values-above all, a radical commitment to justice for all people and the recognition that "human rights" must at times take precedence over "property rights." They must be flexible and innovative, willing to experiment with different political and economic schemes, as they search for one that might benefit larger segments of the population than the present order seems to be doing.
We should not ignore the risks that exist in this. There are powerful vested interests who will resist any sort of change that jeopardizes their preeminent social and economic standing. It will be difficult to sidestep the cumbersome governmental bureaucracies which grow like cancers on the body politic, throttling and choking out imaginative approaches to helping people. There is always the danger of swinging too far toward the opposite pole of a depersonalizing collectivism that submerges and tyrannizes the individual in a manner similar to what capitalism does to the poor. Still, if we wish to "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream" and to show forth our faith by our works, we must go forth in trust, letting our lights so shine before men that they may see our good works and give glory to the Father in heaven.
1James C. Hefley, America-One Nation Under God (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1975), p. 63.
2Christian Economics, 23 (Sep. 1971), 8.
3Christion Economics, 23 (May 1971), 8. He was referring to Tom Skinner's address at Urbana 70.
4For examples of this see Howard F. Kershner, God, Gold and Government (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1957); T. Robert Ingram, The World Under God's Law (Houston: St. Thomas Press, 1962); and Irving E. Howard, The Christian Alternative to Socialism (Arlington, VA: Better Books, 1966).
5Ingram, World Under God's Law, pp. 94, 97.
6Larry Thornton, "The Parabolic Teaching of Christ on Economics," Central Bible Quarterly, 13 (Fall 1970), 20-35.
7lrvin G. Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America: The Myth of Rags to Riches (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1954), p. 87.
8Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), pp. 44-6.
9John R. Richardson, Christian Economics: Studies in the Christian Message to the Market Place (Houston: St. Thomas Press, 1966), p. 28.
10J. F. C. Harrison, The Early Victorians, 1832-51 (New York: Fraeger, 1971), pp. 85-6.
11Qnoted in Erling Jorstad, The Politics of Doomsday (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), p. 149.
12Roosas J. Rnshdoony, Bread Upon the Waters (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1969), pp. 28, 30.
13F. R. Catherwood, The Christian in Industrial Society (London: Tyndale Press, 1964), p. 56.
14Economic Report of the President (Washington: US GPO, 1964), p. 60. These figures were compiled in 1962 and no significant shift in the ratios has occurred since then.
WHERE AMERICA MISSED THE WAY
In the spring or summer of 1933 a minister whom I know got up behind the pulpit one Sunday morning and condemned the new "farm program" of the Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace. He said that in a world where millions of people were cold and hungry that the policy of "plowing under cotton and killing little pigs" was wicked. One of the members who was busy helping FDR with the New Deal severely reprimanded his pastor. He told him to "preach the Gospel and stay out of politics." Yet, if the practice of artificially reducing the production of food in a hungry world is not a moral question, there are no moral questions. I wouldn't want to defend this policy before the judge of all the earth. Would you? Nevertheless, the Christian socialists in our midst have been so busy denouncing capitalist sins, ancient and modem, that they have found no time to consider their own shortcomings.
What we see with Mr. Roosevelt's New Deal is a dramatic revival of the ancient system of mercantilism which ruined Spain and France a few centuries ago. All the regulations, controls, subsidies and restrictions which had once throttled Western Europe were back and with a vengeance. Actually, the United States has never been truly free enterprise in all its history; as James Truslow Adams' so eloquently told us, Alexander Hamilton started us off in 1789 with a policy of protective tariffs and favors for the few. This mistake nearly precipitated the Civil War a generation before it happened and was an important cause of the coming of that tragic conflict in 1861. In spite of our aversion to imports we did build up a vast export trade over the years (we did not see that international trade is simply "swapping"-that imports must equal exports over time, if everyone is going to get paid.) Yet in the first three decades of this century we did export about a fourth of our wheat, nearly two thirds of our cotton, and more than a third of our tobacco.2 After the Crash of '29 the Republicans passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which killed our foreign trade and the "agricultural surplus" began to pile up. Mr. Roosevelt did the obvious: he simply plowed it under (anyone who thinks that is only my bias needs only to read Henry A. Wallace's New Frontiers, copyright 1934). F.D.R. also started an expensive system of government controls, subsidies, welfare and all the rest which has driven this country to the brink of ruin and will no doubt push it over into the abyss. Yet there are pious people-and intelligent ones too-who believe the New Deal and modern versions thereof are Christian. Something needed to be done in '33, but F.D.R., like Hoover before him, did all the wrong things.
It is unfortunate that we have made so little effort to understand the Great Depression and why it came. Of course, Robert L. Heilbroner3 tells us that the Crash was "an absolutely numbing intellectual shock
since . . . no one could explain why the economic mechanism was not working." This is needless ignorance. In January of 1933, a few weeks before Mr. Roosevelt took office, a number of prominent university economists in America wrote an open letter to F.D.R., urging him to stay on gold and reduce tariffs. Benjamin M. Anderson,4 who was one of the signers of that letter, insisted that freer trade would have brought immediate recovery to the nation and relief to our impoverished farmers. It would also have saved the "have-not" nations the virtual necessity of going to war to secure food for their peoples. His contention that open markets and free enterprise would have brought instant prosperity may seem an overstatement, unless one remembers the spectacular German recovery after World War II, the Economic Miracle under Ludwig Erhard.5 No one has called what happened during New Deal days the Roosevelt Miracle (actually prosperity returned on December 8, 1941-the day after Pearl Harbor). Just perhaps a correct economic policy in America would have saved us those long years of depression and the second World War.
Today a battered and bankrupt nation must do what we should have done long ago. First of all, we need to repent of our sins and get right with God. Secondly, we need to revise our theory of law: our laws should be simple, direct, and a modem interpretation of the moral law (Cod's Law). Then we should all go back to work, including millions of Americans who should be eased off welfare (a few should be left on relief). We also need to stop our global give-aways, except "ambulance operations" in times of disaster; if people want our stuff, they should pay for it. It just cannot be Christian to pauperize people. Then the "haves" in America should stop striving for ridiculously high profits and wages, quit "featherbedding" and stop limiting entry into every trade and profession. Let's get back on sound money. Let's fire millions of bureaucrats and reduce taxes to a fraction of the present level. I could go on, but I'm sure the reader is convinced already that the proposed program of reconstruction is impossible. Yet much of this is what the British did in the early years of the last century. The alternative today is revolution with dictators of the Hitler and Stalin variety. Does America have the moral fiber and the Christian good sense to do what must be done? I pray that we may.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. II Chron. 7:14.
1James Truslow Adams, Our Business Civilization (Albert and Charles Boni publishers, location not given, 1929), pp. 83-97.
2Stephen Enke and Virgil Salera, International Economics (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1947), p. 39.
3Robert L. Heilhroner, Understanding Macro-economics (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., fourth edition, 1972), p. 2.
4Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1949), pp. 301-307.
5Onkel Ludi' at the Helm," Newsweek, pp. 52-57 (Oct. 7, 1963).
It should be obvious to the reader by this point in the discussion that Pierard is a pious pragmatist; he believes in "playing it by ear"-in a Christian way of course. He insists that the "British evangelicals who worked for the abolition of slavery" were confused. The confusion is in the minds of modern Christians. We have so completely forgotten our past that we do not know that there once were people who insisted that the laws of men must he based on the moral law. If Adam Smith and William Blackstone were not that devout, it is well to remember that John Wesley said the same thing: "Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right and wrong is wrong still." It is possible to build a system on principle, Christian principles, at that.
When we stand with Joshua and the Hebrews at the Mountains of Blessing and Cursing, it is obvious that the Bible teaches that the moral law is a sufficient guide for the conduct of the affairs of men and nations (Deuteronomy, chapters 27 through 30 and Joshua 8:30-35). Christ also was emphatic that He was not "come to destroy the law" (Matt. 5:17). Therefore take your Bible and your history book and review the New Deal and much that has happened since. Would the farm program, NRA codes, the prohibition on ownership of gold and a multitude of other devious arrangements stand close scrutiny in the light of Scriptural principles? They were pragmatic makeshifts and have created more problems than they solved. That is why New York City and the rest of us are faced with today's dilemma.
Those British evangelicals, who laid the foundation for Victorian prosperity and power, were a long way from "social Darwinism." They believed that God had created a harmonious universe where all things could work together for good, if we would only obey Him. They were men of compassion with a strong sense of community. The "Good Samaritans" today may be socialists, but it has not always been so. Before our left-wing Christians help push us over the brink, they would do well to examine the record. They might even help to save us from the equivalent of the French Revolution, just as those English evangelicals saved their country in their time of crisis.
Their achievements are not a figment of my imagination. An impressive list of authorities, Christian and secular, can be cited to support my view. Professor Cairns' of Wheaton College, for one, tells us that the political arm of the Wesleyan Revival accomplished more than any reform movement in history. Would that we could do as well.
1Earle E. Cairns, Saints and Society (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), p. 43.
Where America Missed the Way
Richard V. Pierard
The powerful National Association of Manufacturers declared some years ago that our "private enterprise system and our American form of government are inseparable and there can be no compromise between a free economy and governmentally dictated economy without endangering our political as well as our economic freedom."' The assumption here is that individual freedom is being squashed by the growth of a hierarchical, bureaucratic state and thus we need to return to an earlier day when government seemingly was restricted to those few functions which were necessary to preserve the greatest measure of individual freedom. This evokes, nostalgically, the Jeffersonian imagery of a republic composed of self-sufficient, self-reliant small farmers and craftsmen, where everyone maintained their autonomy and at the same time participated in the process of government.
Actually this ideology of economic independence as the basis of the American political order has been effectively negated, not so much by the growth of big government as by the emergence of large-scale corporate enterprise.2 The natural right to the private ownership of productive property which is implicit in the founding documents of the American nation was strongly emphasized by early thinkers like Jefferson as being the essential economic basis of a free citizenry. But, modern corporate capitalism has expropriated the property and independent livelihood of the vast majority of farmers, artisans, and merchants, and they have been transformed into wage-earners who are at the mercy of vast structures over which they as individuals can exercise no control. The supermarket has displaced the corner grocer, the factory has absorbed the skilled craftsman, and corporate agriculture has virtually wiped out the family farm. This destruction of the small individual entrepreneur took place under the guise of "free enterprise" and with the overt collusion of the government which provided the large firms with tax advantages, subsidies, tariff protection, and various other favors.
At the same time political power became concentrated in corporate hands and until recently it was seldom subject to any kind of accountability. One need only look at our ravaged environment-the rivers that are open sewers, the moon-like landscape resulting from strip mining, the smoke pall hovering over our cities and he reminded of the rapacious unrestrained individualism of American business enterprise. Economic considerations take first place in political decisions, and the guiding principle is that private profit is the public good. The general welfare is not a priority consideration for the great corporation-only the maximizing of profits.
The dehumanizing nature of modern American corporate capitalism ought to compel Christians to cry out in protest. It forces the individual into the mold of conformity (do you remember the company that required its male employees to wear white shirts and ties-the "image"?) and places the free worker in the chains of wage slavery. The average citizen is manipulated by unscrupulous advertising and thrust into the never ending cycle of consumerism that keeps him spiritually and economically impoverished. The political crises of the Nixon-Agnew Administration and Ford's continued insensitivity to human needs hammer home the reality that in spite of the real gains made in the last forty years, our political system is still very much beholden to the great corporate power interests.
It is clear to me that the socially conscious disciple of Christ must demand fundamental changes in our political and economic order from the top on down, and I would suggest that the guidelines set forth in the National Urban Coalition's intriguing Counterbudget provide a useful starting point.3 This proposal calls for increases in federal expenditures for health care, social security, income support for poor families, education, law enforcement, improvement of public services at state and local levels, housing and urban development, improvement of mass transit facilities, environment protection, and foreign development aid. Significant reductions would occur in such areas as highway construction, agricultural subsidies, and above all national defense and military assistance. Through more equitable taxation and reallocation of budgetary expenditures much could be done to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens.
We Americans have put too much weight upon the acquisition of material possessions at the expense of spiritual, aesthetic, and cultural values. In a way we have been "conned" by the system through high wages and the lavish production of consumer goods into believing that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The current political scandals, the Vietnam debacle, and the energy crisis are hopefully serving to shock us out of our complacency. They may bring us to the realization that we live in a mutually interdependent world and that rugged individualism is not a viable option either for personal or national survival. Our acquisitive society with its stress on the relentless pursuit of profit and wealth must be modified by a reassertion of the importance of community and concern for each other. Possibly this type of repentance will enable America to find her way back to the path of national righteousness which she has missed.
For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you, your deeds shall return on your own head. Obadiah 15
1National Association of Manufacturers, The American Individual Enterprise System: Its Nature, Evolution, and Future (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1946), II, 1021.
2Robert N. Bellah ably demonstrates this in his new book The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), ch. 5.
3Robert S. Benson and Harold Wolman, eds., Counterbudget: A Blueprint for Changing National Priorities 1971-1976 (New York: Praeger, 1971).
A well-known Christian scholar, John H. Redekop, reminds us that the creed of individualism must not be confused with a concern for individual welfare. "There is little indication of any desire that the abuses of society should be corrected so that underprivileged individuals might also learn what individual freedom means."' That in a nutshell is the greatest defect of the position advanced by Coleson.
Laissez-faire capitalism, based as it is on the rationalist premises of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, does not adequately take into account the human propensity for sin. Will businessmen, each pursuing their own interests unhampered by any external force other than the exigencies of the market and a state functioning merely as a passive policeman, conduct themselves in an "honest way" and insure the welfare of the total community? I think not. Each will look out for "Number One" and if "getting ahead" means that others will be crushed in the process, so it will be.
It is noteworthy that those British evangelicals who worked for the abolition of slavery went against the cherished principles of laissez-faire. They placed the "human rights" of the AfroAmerican slaves above the "property rights" of the plantation owners. By obtaining legislation halting the traffic in slaves, they interfered with "free trade." They utilized the power of the state to eliminate a social abuse. To identify this radical departure from laissez-faire as "capitalism with a conscience" makes about as much sense as talking about "communism with a human face,"
I contend there is no such thing as a Christian economic system, but only practices and approaches in the social and economic realm that may be in harmony with biblical principles. The moment we pin the label "Christian" on a system, we have limited God and merely sanctified our own economic views. It is extremely difficult to draw distinctions between ordinary concerns of self-interest and genuinely Christian motivations in a person's behavior. So, to endow something so solidly grounded on self-interest as laissez-faire capitalism with the exalted status of a Christian system is peculiarly unwarranted and fraught with perils.
What we need instead is an approach which contributes directly to the economic and social wellbeing of all people, not one where the benefits accrue largely to the possessors of wealth and hopefully some "goodies" trickle down to the impoverished masses. Certainly that would be more "Christian" than laissez-faire capitalism.
lJohn H. Redekop, The American For Right (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), p. 108.