Saturday, July 15, 2006

Moral Economics?

One of the bigger questions meandering around my odd little head is that of Christian governance and what such a system would look like in practice.

We all recognize (I hope) that it is good to give to the poor. Distributists would suggest that this doesn't just make moral sense but makes good economic and social sense as well. Though I'm thoroughly sceptical as to the veracity of the last point, I'll let it stand for now in hopes that it'll make more sense later ('cause I really want it to be correct).

By creating a governmental system where the social good of giving to the poor is reaped without the moral choice thereof, we find social alienation once again, only this time it is a moral alienation. We don't know who we're giving to, why we're giving, or how we're giving. This can lead nowhere but straight down the gullet of apathy. This just further divorces our lives from the true reality, true relationships, and true justice that we are called to (and yearn for so deeply) in the name of Jesus Christ.

This acts to break bonds of community while trying (and little more than trying) to create a new sense of relationship with the government. This leads us to the situation we have today, where very well-meaning and moral people hope to enact social change through the government because they have faith in other well-meaning and moral people out there just like them. How else are we supposed to change the world but through our ballot boxes (and blogs, if you can afford the time)? In other words, today's government is yesterday's religion.

In the end, just to try it in perspective.
It's good to help the poor (in many ways).
The rich have the money to help the poor.
In order to aim for the good, we should take from the rich and give to the poor.
This assumes:
The rich would not give if asked to.
The involuntary redistribution of wealth has no other detrimental effects.

We're back to a rather complex psychosocial question...but that's what we've got.

What are the effects of involuntary redistribution of wealth on
1. the giver
2. the givee
3. society as a whole

How do those effects differ from a voluntary redistribution of wealth? Why does it make a difference?

Here's my suggested answer
Inovoluntary redistribution leads to
1. disconnected apathy for giver
2. temporary relief from givee (note that without the relationship the possibility of 'welfare-state' type expectations are more likely)
3. further deadening of local communities and strengthening of a perceived national identity as trumping all else (eg we often feel more comfortable donating money to a group that are far away in some distant land known only to us from a flier or campaign card or dramatic photograph than to our local needy...also the very fact that money tends to be the basis of our support instead of time, sweat, and family says something as well).

However, the question is if this trumps the needs that could go unmet if the 'rich' decide not to give. Somewhere between those two poles lies the area for a morally balanced discussion of economics (and a Christian discussion too, I think).

1 comment:

  1. Whether we realize it or not, these issues have been and will continue to be battled over for years to come. If we boil these issues down further, think that we come to the issue of property rights. Who owns the fruits of my labors? Well that may seem like a ridiculous question, it ought to require at least a little thought.

    Luke 10:7
    Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

    Leviticus 19:13
    'Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him." 'Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

    "When you consider socialism, do not fool yourself about its nature. Remember that there is no such dichotomy as 'human rights' versus 'property rights.' No human rights can exist without property rights. Since material goods are produced by the mind and effort of individual men, and are needed to sustain their lives, if the producer does not own the result of his effort, he does not own his life. To deny property rights means to turn men into property owned by the state. Whoever claims the 'right' to 'redistribute' the wealth produced by others is claiming the 'right' to treat human beings as chattel."
    Ayn Rand, The Monument Builders

    The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a many who had folly and presump-tion enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.
    Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

    As we look at the issue of property rights, I think the issue becomes very clear. I f we examine the ten commandments, it is easy to see the very biblical nature of the unalienable rights (at least two)of life, liberty, and property, which the thinker John Locke set forth. "Thou shalt not kill(murder)." (life) "Thou shalt not steal." (property) THe issue of liberty is evidenced more by the fact that we humans were created as beings who could love and be loved. We were created with a free will to choose whether or not to accept the free gift of salvation that God has offered us.

    In closing I think Nick made an excellent observation when He noted, "very well-meaning and moral people hope to enact social change through the government because they have faith in other well-meaning and moral people out there just like them." All I want to say yet, is a quote from the great economist Friedrich Hayek,

    "Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavor consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?"

    Have a great day!