Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Capitalism v Socialism

Before I can discuss this with a leftist Christian, I usually find I first have to make sure he and I are actually arguing about the same thing. Most of the young, leftist Christians here in Australia seem to define their terms differently to me. It seems many of them think the word 'capitalism' literally means 'greed' , 'covetousness', 'extortion' or 'selfishness'. If that's what capitalism means, then I'm against it too!

So I usually need to tell them the standard definition for capitalism: 'the economic system where the means of production are privately owned'. Once we settle that, some of those outspoken leftists we have here in the Australian Assemblies of God realize they actually agree with capitalism. But unfortunately some of them get entirely lost at that point: they don't seem to know what it means.

There is a lot of emphasis in Australian churches today about 'social justice'. They complain that right-wing fundamentalism isn't necessarily a true representation of Christian ideals; they call it "unchristian" and "unjust" that Australia spends so little money on foreign aid; they are always advocating increased spending on social welfare; they think our unemployed and single-mothers are suffering social injustice.

I wrote to one leading Pastor and told him that while I'm in favour of showing mercy and giving, I think we need to be careful about using the word 'unjust'. To use the word 'unjust' implies that some other nation, or some other person, somehow has rights to our money; and if someone else has rights to our money, it makes us 'thiefs' if we don't give; in fact, even if we do give, it can't really be called 'giving', because it isn't truly ours if someone else also has rights to it - it is merely an act of redistributing public property, not giving.

The same Pastor claims it is "unjust" if a country such as Indonesia didn't show mercy to convicted terrorists facing the death penalty. I wrote to him and again said that I think we need to be careful about our use of the word 'unjust'. Certainly, the Balinese terrorists were not shown "mercy" - but we shouldn't define Indonesia's judicial system as "unjust" for carrying out justice! We need to be cafreful in the process of showing mercy that we don't change the definition of justice.

The same Pastor thinks it's an injustice that the Church speaks-out against homosexuality, even though he agrees homosexuality is wrong. I know what he means - he's pointing-out that it might not be a good strategy if the Church is perceived to be always protesting against things instead of showing it has the power to change lives for good. But I still consider it an unwise use of the word 'injustice'. Showing God's grace shouldn't require changing our concept of "justice". Grace is no longer grace unless justice is still justice.

I think this is important - because Rome didn't fall in a day. Socialist thought needs to be corrected the second it raises its head. It takes hundreds of years for a country's freedoms to be eroded - and the erosion starts today, in small things. The Church can be 100% in favour of showing mercy to criminals and of giving to the poor when it's appropriate - but we ought to call it what it is - it is "mercy" or "compassion" - and it's not necessarily an "injustice" when we don't. Otherwise giving is no longer giving.

So, many of our "social justice" programs really ought to instead be called social "compassion" or "mercy ministries", in my opinion. Maybe they could be called "social justice" programs if the programs sought to free people from inappropriately severe sentencing; or to free people from a socialist regime which is extorting their private property; or to free people from a company which is cruelly disadvantaging the poor - because each of those would be genuine justice issues.

The Bible is really clear in its support of the means of production being privately owned. "Thou shalt not steal" implies private property rights. Everywhere in the Bible where private property is mentioned, we are seeing capitalism.

Nowhere does the Bible impose a tax to support the poor, as if the poor had equal rights to another's property - rather, it says we can "lend to the poor" or "give", which implies that the gift is first of all the private property of the giver. That's capitalism.

Moses' social-welfare system was entirely capitalistic. The provisions he legislated for the poor:

1) Showing mercy and lending was usually done in a way which also advantaged the giver or lender. There was usually mutual economic benefit. It was a win-win situation. It certainly wasn't labeled "unjust" if someone felt they couldn't do it

2) Moses legislated gleaning. Gleaning was not a free handout. It was hot, hard work which a poor person was allowed the opportunity to do - and it still economically advantaged the landowner to a certain extent. In return, the poor person usually took home just enough food for himself and his family for one day. It was compassionate - but it still wasn't a cost to the landowner - and it still required work by the poor

3) Moses legislated how loans should be treated. The lender could take a person's coat as a pledge - but he must return it to the poor person at night, because it was all he had to sleep in, and then he may collect the pledge again in the morning. Thus the poor person was kept in a daily relationship with his lender which reminded him daily of his financial obligation to his lender. It wasn't a freebie. It wasn't his "right" to receive some ongoing, free welfare system. Notice that the poor person to whom the loan was compassionately given, was so poor that he was right down to the last coat to sleep in. Even in a situation so destitute, Moses didn't outlaw the taking of someone's last coat in pledge - but upheld private property rights and individual responsibility through it all!

4) Moses allowed indentured service. If a poor person couldn't pay his way in life, he could sign himself up to an employer. Moses required that the employer couldn't avail himself of the services of a poor person in this predicament for longer than seven years. The business-owner would never own the person (as was the case with 19th century slavery). Moses required that the business-owner provide the indentured employee with accommodation, wages, food, training, and enough severance-pay to enable him to be set-up in future work and in life. There were strict rules against mistreating indentured employees. This was really compassionate - but at the same time, it came at no cost to the business-owner because the business-owner also benefited economically from the poor person's labour. It was a win-win situation. And it was voluntary. Everybody gained, and nobody got anything for free

5) Interest was not allowed to be charged to fellow-citizens

6) The Jubilee - the whole economy was refreshed every 50 years.

Not only Moses' social welfare system, but also his judicial system was entirely capitalistic. No-one was ever sentenced to prison. The public didn't fund a prison system. Instead, criminals were required to pay restitution, plus an extra percentage for damages. If the criminal was unable to pay restitution, he was allowed to indenture his services until he could pay it off in-kind. But at no stage was public money spent in the treatment of crime. Again, it was a win-win situation: the victim was restored, and the perpetrator was able to put his misdemeanour behind him and move-on without a criminal record, without having been removed from the work-force at any stage. If mercy was shown to a convicted criminal, it was called that - mercy (and not some altered definition of "justice").

In Moses' economic model, the redistribution of wealth was never legislated except as payment for services rendered or commodities purchased.

The morals undergirding Moses' models are supported by the New Testament.

That's why I say the best way to provide foreign aid to a developing country is to start big business. It must be voluntary. And there must be mutual benefit. Locals are offered employment, training and perhaps profit-sharing. And it's sustainable, because the business-owners also profit.

No comments: