He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities– all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18)

Point by Point

  1. Jesus is Lord of Capitalism, State Socialism and Guild Socialism, which are all flawed economic systems
  2. Any pure economic system fails when practiced by over approximately 100-150 persons
  3. Most developed nations utilize a mix of all three systems, which is a good thing, and not bad at all
  4. Capitalism is good at generating capital and at the production of goods and services
  5. Guild Socialism is good at providing for the special needs of certain classes of people who share certain risks
  6. State, Provincial or Local Socialism is the most efficient system for providing services like fire protection, police, military, etc.
  7. The Lord Jesus wants his people to be prosperous together, not a few rich and most others poor
  8. The U.S. uses all three systems in a mixed economy, counterbalancing their weaknesses with their strengths
  9. The scare-tactics employed by some entertainers to frighten us about socialism are evil and foolish
  10. We need to discover how to talk to each other in gracious and respectful ways

Details, Details!

Jesus, who created all things, came to save and today reigns in heaven in order to redeem and transform all creation, including what we call our economic, political and social life. What does this powerful claim mean when we look at the structures which we use to maintain our economic order? I know Christians who would be quick to rush to bless capitalism as the Christian economic system and I know others who would run just as fast to baptize socialism as the most just system on earth.

When looked at in the light of the Scriptures, it is not hard to see that capitalism maximizes the development of wealth and that socialism in its various forms is good at spreading wealth around.[1] God wanted his people to prosper so that they could be an example to all the nations, but he wanted them to prosper together, not wealth for a few and very little for the rest, which was the rule in most of the world then and has been the rule in most of sad human history. God wanted his nation to be a shining place where there were no poor in the streets, no homeless, no beggars, a “normal” condition throughout the unbelieving nations. Is there a better way than either capitalism or socialism? We should pray that a third way, a radically Christian approach might emerge. In the meantime, most nations in our world have developed what is called a mixed economy: part state socialist, part guild socialist and part capitalist.[2] The assumption seems to be that capitalism is the best of the three methods of making money but that it does not guard against mishap, misstep and trouble, nor safeguard the least of the people, the poor who are Jesus’ representatives on the earth (Matthew 25:40, 45).

In the Old Testament we see in Israel what can be broadly called a capitalist economy with certain essentially socialist safeguards. A bankruptcy law, for instance, is a safeguard which spreads out risk for the sake of the general welfare of the society. Israel had two such social welfare laws, the Jubilee law and the second harvest or gleaning law. Israel was apparently the first nation on earth to have laws which commanded the people to care for those within their midst who were not doing as well as most. This should not surprize us for God is always on the side of the poor in the Scriptures.

In the U. S. we have historically utilized state socialism, guild socialism and capitalism in a mixed economy. We have utilized capitalism as the backbone of our economy, however, we discovered early in our history there were some things which were not done well at all within the capitalist model. We have therefore socialized our police forces, our fire departments, most social services and some public utilities.[3] We have also socialized our armed forces and many other governmental services are socialized, including public education. We also utilize guild socialism in the U.S. Anyone who signs up with a health insurer or has his or her health or life insurance through their employer or through a labor union is taking advantage of the way guild socialism spreads risk across a population.[4] We have very little actual state socialized medicine in the U.S. Even Medicare and Medicaid are not strictly state socialist systems because the docs and other health care professionals do not work for the state: they contract their services. Our only fully state socialized health care systems in the U.S. are Tri-Care (U.S. military) and the V.A.

Another example of our mixed economy: libraries are a socialist way of obtaining and reading books. Book stores are the capitalist means. Both have their place. Scottish immigrant, industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, gave a vast portion of his wealth to build and establish libraries which were then donated to towns to be operated and maintained with tax dollars (socialism). Carnegie, as a poor youth had been privileged to borrow and read books from the private library of a wealthy man. Carnegie believed his access to those 400-some books had made him the person he became. He saw how important knowledge and learning were, especially for persons like himself, who as a poor young person could not at all afford what was sold in the book stores.

So where do we stand as Christians? I stand in favor of a system which rewards people for their labor with a living wage, which protects those who are disadvantaged and protects the common parts of our society from the encroach­ment of  business, church, government or any other social entity. I believe the best system is one where business and the state and every other area of life serve God by maximizing opportunities for people to thrive. The best means of doing all that is partly socialist and partly capitalist. Further, I have become convinced that “free enterprise” is a myth. What is real is enterprise which operates freely within constraints put on it by its society; call it fair enterprise, if you like. [5] “Free enterprise” to me sounds like a football game where there are no rules and no referees; the biggest guys essentially make the rules as they go along and, what a surprise; they also win the game![6] That, I am certain, is not the way God wants his people to live anywhere on the earth. Also in our economic life, God is all about justice/righteousness.

What God hates, we are told in the Scriptures, are scoundrels who make up carefully devised myths to frighten people. Recently, there has been a lot of foolish talk from people, most of whom should know better, attempting to scare ignorant people about a socialist takeover of the U.S. News flash! We are already a mixed economy, with socialist and capitalist counterparts, fit together in complementary ways and that are a benefit to us all. Trust me, we do not want a capitalist police force which only investigates if we can afford it or capitalist fire departments bidding for our services as the house burns down! Long ago the U.S. chose to be a “we” society and not a “me” society. We have been turning from such wisdom in recent years and if we continue… well, God have mercy on us all.[7]

Do you want to learn and study some on such an issue as this from a Christian perspective? I am a Bible teacher, not a social scholar nor even a practitioner of work which is led by justice, so let me share with you some books by people far more knowledgeable and experienced  than I am to help you on your way toward solid thinking on these matters:
Capitalism and Progress, by Bob Goudzwaard; The Transforming Vision, by Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleston; Just Courage, by Gary Haugen; The Justice Project, Brian McLaren, editor; Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crises, by Bob Goudzwaard, Mark Vander Vennen, David Van Heemst and Desmond Tutu.

Also take a look at the web sites of the Center for Public Justice in Washington D.C., www.cpjustice.org and Citizens for Public Justice in Toronto, Canada, www.cpj.ca/  These are both organizations which take seriously our calling as Christians to think and act as Christians in the public sector.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we in the U.S. have become deeply divided over political, social and economic matters. We have largely lost the ability to engage in civil, public discourse. Some persons, especially in the entertainment media (you know them by name, Lord) have taken it upon themselves to whip up their audiences through wild claims and crafty but fact-free arguments and through name-calling of the most senseless and base sort, appealing to fear and loathing rather than to respectful dialog and rational debate. Some of these persons may actually believe what they preach while others are but callous show people who create hysteria for fun and profit. We call upon you, Lord, to whip sense into those who sometimes use your name to trouble this nation. Lord, we ask your blessing, the blessing of thoughtful, fearless debate among honest competing views, to rest heavily and joyously upon our troubled country. May fear and name-calling and irrational, wild claims from all sides be put away. May we turn decisively from all thoughts of violence against those with whom we disagree. May we realize we have no one to fear except each other and that such fear is foolish.

May we grow together as a nation to pray the Serenity Prayer:
Lord give us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
In the name and for the sake of King Jesus, Amen.

Trace James

~~~~~     ~~~~~     ~~~~~

Endnotes

1 Back to Post Capitalism, as some have said, solves the problem of sloth but has no good answer to greed, and that socialism curbs greed but has no good answer to sloth. Both greed and sloth (laziness) are vices which are condemned in the Scriptures.

2 Back to PostIn a pure state socialist economy, everyone works for the state, all resources are pooled for the sake of all members of the society, and are distributed in accordance with need, at least that is the propaganda. In a pure guild socialist economy, everyone belongs to the guild, some resources are pooled for the sake of all members of the guild and are distributed in accordance with whatever criteria are established by the guild, or so they say. In a pure capitalist economy, everyone works for themselves and pays everyone else for goods and services based on rates set within the market principles of supply and demand or that is the theory. So far as I know, there is not now and never has been any pure economy anywhere, of more than one hundred persons. Today, certainly, most economies are some mix of these three economic forms.

3 Back to Post There are always exceptions. In two gated, private communities near where I grew up, the residents paid an association fee which paid for a small security force and paid what were essentially taxes to an adjacent town to provide fire protection. The fee also covered maintenance of water and sewer as well as upkeep of common land. Such association fees are the guild socialist equivalent of the socialist system of taxes and of the fee for services system of capitalism. Where capitalism has always been most effective is in providing human scale products and services to persons who can afford them. Where state and guild socialism have always been most effective is in providing payment for goods and services beyond normal human scale where costs are huge, more than any one person can normally bear, such as the loss of a home or ship at sea or the costs associated with a catastrophic illness or a police investigation and criminal prosecution. By spreading the risks and costs, the socialism of either type makes high costs more bearable by the association or nation’s individual members.

4 Back to PostThe recent debate in the U.S. over how health care should be paid for was largely a battle not between capitalism and socialism, but between guild socialism (insurance companies) and state socialism (Medicare for All) as to who would give the best coverage – best spread the risk – and give the best value for money paid into each system. Pretty much everyone knows that capitalist health care only works as long as one is dealing with hang nails and sniffles, but that fee-for-services payments for cancer will put all but the wealthiest people into the street. Although state socialism had an iron in the fire – the public option – during the recent debate in the U.S., in the end, the government settled on a new system of greater regulation of the guilds (the insurance companies) and we all have gained the establishment of the principle, accepted in every other developed, industrialized nation, that health care is a right and not a privilege. It is my strong conviction that this is an advance in the U. S. toward the priorities of King Jesus for all people on the earth. Can anyone argue that the Lord who told us we will be judged by whether or not we helped the sick (Matthew 25:31-46), considers the provision of health care a privilege?

5 Back to PostA good example of what I mean is to be found in Scottsdale, AZ. If Mc Donalds wants to have a store in Scottsdale, by city ordinance, it will be inside a shopping square, facing off the main road and it will have a tan, stucco facade. It may have golden arches, but they may be only so many inches tall and they may not be obtrusive. There is a “Mac & Dons” in Scottsdale and it is doing just fine. It has tan stucco walls, it faces into the shopping square and it has a tiny little golden arches. The people of Scottsdale, AZ,  through their representatives on their city council, have determined fair and evenly applied rules for how retail business will be done in their city. The people of every place need to be able to put reasonable constraints on business, for the sake of justice as well as aesthetics. The Fallow Year law (Leviticus 25:1-7) and the Jubilee law (Leviticus 25:8-55) were such legal constraints on agriculture and husbandry in ancient Israel. So was the second harvest law (Leviticus 19:9-10). In our time, reasonable con­straints need to be defined by the will of the people. Just as “people were not made for the Sabbath,” people were not made to serve business but rather, business exists to serve the people, before the face of God.

6 Back to PostAs I write, I have been listening to a debate between liberal talk host, Thom Hartmann and a fellow from the Ian Rand Institute on how to have prevented the B.P. oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The libertarian has just been saying that it was the job of individuals who live along the coast, as an expression of their liberty, to have pre-emptively filed suit to prevent such dangerous drilling. Thom, as a Christian and a humanitarian, was kind and too respectful of his guest to laugh out loud at the fellow. So I did it for him; I laughed out loud!

Our system of regulation, of rule-setting, is, right now, quite broken. Our legislators of both parties depend on the huge corporations for the money they need to get themselves re-elected. They do not serve the people and so they do not write the kind of regulations that keep terrible things like the BP oil spill from happening. They write regulations that keep the big compa­nies big and that make it next to impossible for little companies to even get started. The last administration came into power screaming that government was bad, that government could not be trusted. Then they spent eight years proving them­selves to be correct. They rejected the very regulatory provisions that would have prevented this gusher of oil spreading along our fragile southern coast. A mere half a billion dollars is all the sonar-operated valve would have cost that would have prevented 99.9% of the mess. In any other civilized nation, like Norway or even Brazil, such a valve is required by statue as a cost of doing business. What is this spill going to cost? Billions and billions and the destruction of things, coastal wetlands, where thousands of species spawn and breed and live, on which no monetary value can be placed? We shall see.

7 Back to PostI grew up in a Republican household in the days when the GOP understood that one of the purposes of government was to protect and improve the lives of people. I am ashamed of the party of my youth. I am equally ashamed of the corporate Demo­crats that not only love big government but love having it in bed with the people it is supposed to keep an eye on! The people need to regain control of the government for the sake of the nation and the world. The purpose of govern­ment is justice. We need to recapture that principle and put it to work before it is too late (and it may be too late, not for the kingdom, but for any way in which the U.S. was ever intended to be a signpost toward the kingdom of God).

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