Monday, October 02, 2006

God’s Economics

The notion that God is unconcerned about economic systems or economic transactions is absurd when the God being referenced is the God of the Christian Bible. Some economic systems conform to Scriptural order more than other systems and some economic systems and policies are completely anti-Biblical. For many years, Christian socialists have claimed that socialism is the economic system most consistent with Scripture. At the core of the Christian socialist argument is the belief that since sharing and charity are personal virtues prescribed in Scripture then these virtues should be mandated and enforced by government. Christian socialists believe that a government that honors God is a government that helps the poor by providing for the basic needs of the poor.

The Bible never mentions a time or records an event when God established private property rights. However, it is impossible to read through the Laws of the Bible without the understanding of the concept of private property. From very early in Leviticus, the Lord tells Mosses that it is wrong to steal or even to lie about finding lost property. The stolen or lost property must be returned along with a penalty. Later in Leviticus, God is even more clear: “Do not steal”; “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him”; “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight”. Additionally, “You shall not steal” is one of the ten commandments. The ten commandments have to be considered the highest priority of behavior for believers and the most important laws to God because Jesus made it clear that he did not come to abolish the law.

Christian socialists are flat out wrong about socialism and God. Government mandated sharing and charity is not a virtue, it is legalized theft enforced by the coercive power of government and therefore against God's commandment regarding stealing. The only economic transaction consistent with Scripture is an economic transaction where a seller freely exchanges something of value with a buyer. The seller is certainly free to give value without compensation in the form of a gift. However, any transaction where the seller is forced to sell at a price below what the seller would freely ask, or any transaction where a buyer is forced to buy at a price above what the buyer would freely pay violates the law of God because something a value is stolen; either by the buyer or the seller.

Government does not have the ability to determine the proper price of a good or service or the proper wage to pay for labor because the proper price is dynamic and constantly changing. The correct price for labor is the price someone is willing to pay for the compensation someone is willing to accept for the work being done. Similarly, the correct price of a good or service is the price a buyer is willing to pay and a seller is willing to accept.

12 comments:

Buz said...

David,

I only agree in part. When you look at the laws of the OT, you also see that (1) God IS concerned for the poor, because we are told to make sure that in our business as well as personal finances we are told to make provision for them (the whole thing about not harvesting to the edge of the field, and also not taking someone's only coat as security for a loan); and (2) that while we are encouraged to work on the land to make a living at the end of every seven years debts were to be forgiven and slaves freed, and after fifty years all land was to be returned to the original family that owned it.

When it came to property ownership, God's stance (at least in the OT) was that HE owns it and we are just tenants. He expects us to use it to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us ... but He also expects us to remember that ultimately, we DO NOT own it.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

I believe everything I own belongs to God, everything I own should be used for God, and a portion of everything I own should go to charity. However, based on Scripture, I don’t believe everything I own on earth belongs to any other human or any government without my consent. I can choose to give everything I have away to someone else, and I should make that choice often, but I have no right to take from someone else without their consent. Socialism and socialistic government policies are government coerced theft and therefore, not the will of God ever.

Buz said...

David,

I don't disagree that in, OT terms, the govt. does not have the "God given" right to take our private property. I was pointing out that in OT terms, "private property" does not mean that "it is really, really mine".

In NT terms, it was up to the individuals to sell their property and give it to the church (if they so choose, Acts 5). However (and this is a big one) (1) Jesus says that we are not a part of this world, in terms of politics ... and I would consider that property rights (at least for earthly property) are a part of that, (2) Paul tells us that we are to be model citizens so long as obeying the laws of the land are not contradictory to obeying God's laws. So, while I think we have as much right as anyone else to participate in the political process, and that includes electing representatives who will protect private property, or whatever other principles we believe in, I don't think that we should go outside the law to "protect our property" (not that I think this was what you were leading towards, but I AM aware of other "religious" folk who believe in arming themselves to fight off the govt. when it comes to things like income taxes and property rights).

I guess this you could think of this as a pre-emptive comment. (;

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Again Buz,

I’m not sure I’m following you. If my property is not mine in the Old Testament, then why is there Commands from God in numerous places against stealing property? Property may not be mine in heaven and it may not be mine in regards to God, but in regards to other humans on earth, it is mine, or at least it should be mine.

I think Jesus made it clear that we have citizenship in both heaven and on earth. Our earthly citizenship requires us to participate in politics. Our heavenly citizenship requires us to submit to HIS authority.

Model earthly citizenship in America means participating actively and intelligently in politics and in the establishment of a just society. Obeying laws we don’t like while trying to change unjust laws is our duty. In America, I would not go outside the law to protect my property or your property. However, in countries that don’t have private property rights and freedom at all, Christians on the outside may need to intervene in order to establish a society where God and his laws can be freely chosen.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Great explanation. Thanks.

David M. Smith said...

Thanks, Rick. It’s not as polished as I would like. I wish I was a better communicator, but I did my best. I still have more to say about this topic.

Buz said...

David,

Sorry, I didn't think it was that hard to follow ...

(1) OT: If the property were yours, why would you have to return it every 50 years?

Lev 25:13 "'In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.
Lev 25:14 "'If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other.
Lev 25:15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops.
Lev 25:16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops.

If it were 100% my property, when I sold it, it would be gone. AND God would not have the authority to tell me to do this and not to do that (don't plant crops on the seventh year).

So, my point is (as I said in a previous post) in OT viewpoint, the land belongs to God. ALL the Israelites were caretakers. They could swap the land around as they desired, but every so many years, they had to give it back to the original clans ... not SELL it back, but GIVE it back.

Also, if someone was forced to sell his property to pay his bills, he had a right to buy it back. If the propery were 100% mine and I sold it to you, it would be 100% yours, and I would have no right to buy it back if you did not choose to sell it.

Ergo, the property was NOT 100% mine, nor was it yours. It belongs to the person who made the rules (God). And that is not just from a metaphysical point of view. According to the way the laws were written, that was the LEGAL point of view in the OT. The land was God's.

Note: from my point of view, this "private property" discussion has been literally about property - land, I was not talking about livestock, furniture, etc. In terms of property rights, from what I can gather, those do belong to the individual. Difference being that all those other things are transient ... sheep die or are eaten, buildings eventually collapse, clothes deteriorate ... land is permanent, at least until the next Flood.

(2) NT: I think we agree as to responsibilities as citizens of a country.

As to intervening in another country, I am not sure where you are going with that. I believe that, as brothers in Christ, we have a responsibility to meet the needs of our brothers in other countries. However, in terms of politics of other countries, I believe that it is up to the citizens of each country to determine the course of their own country.

Countries go to war against each other on political grounds, even if they call them religious wars. I don't have a theological problem with one country going to war against another (moral or ethical, maybe, but not religious). But if the U.S. goes to war with Iran, it will be for political reasons, not to free them up to be Christians. If we were going to war to advance Christianity, let's start at home and begin the tanks rolling in Hollywood.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

I really appreciate the way you hold my feet to the fire. I never want any of my beliefs to conflict with orthodox thinking. You are a great filter for me. However, I do want to challenge traditional thinking that doesn’t make sense [to me].

I’m not sure the verses you provided prove that land is to return to the original human owner after 50 years. However, if that is the case, then the economic transaction is more like renting than buying, which still adds validity to my point about ownership and private property. The other verses you provided also go along way in adding support to my original point.

Also, for clarity, I consider land, possessions, labor, copyrights, and other intellectual property to all be private property. It is a shame the number of Christians who use the labor, possessions, and intellectual property of others without just compensation.

Stay tuned for where I am going. My thoughts are clear in my head, but my thoughts don’t always make it through my keyboard the way I intend.

James said...

Buz is right concerning the land issue.God made the land therefore it is his. The bible staes this clearly. Christans should stop espousing absolute property rights-ie property as a form of capital and personal enrichment at the expence of others.The facts are inarguable,this world and its resources was created for all mankind,even those born without legal tital to land. The scriptures are full of examples of the activities of man where God merely putup with these activities,not endorsed them.Property and slavery are two examples.Would any christan say they had a right to own slaves ? Dave,you say you believe everything you own belongs to God and everything you own should be used for God ? A portion should go to charity ? You are contradicting yourself ! What if Jesus would have gave just a portion of his life ? Perhaps that is not a fair question to ask you, but I have two points to make.The first point is that you exlemplify so many christans who are more concerned with there earthly possessions than with spiritual matters.Jesus reminded christans not to be overly concerned about earthly matters as he pointed out how God provided for even the little birds.My second point is this,if people would construct their economic behaviors,traditions on the words of God,we woild not need nearly as much charity ! Imagine that if we truly believed the world was Gods creation,and therefore was to be shared by all creation,and from the time a person was born they were entitled to equal land and resourses.This would require that mankind love oneanother,this would require christans to give up some of what they own perhaps ?

David M. Smith said...

Hi James,

You make some good points. Thanks for the challenge.

In order to “give up”, don’t we first have to own? How can we give up something we don’t own, or possess to give up, unless you are saying we need to give up our right to own anything?

I do truly believe the earth is God’s creation, but that doesn’t mean by extension that all humans are entitled to an equal share of the earths resources. I see nothing in the Bible that commands followers of Christ to give up ownership. Do you? The practical application of having a society where nothing is owned by individuals is perpetual poverty. Most of the earths resources are relatively worthless anyway unless someone is willing to do the hard work to make the resources valuable.

I could write more, but first could you do some research on a concept called “the tragedy of the commons” and then let me know if you still believe all property is to be shared?

I do confess my guilt and sinfulness in often being more concerned about my earthly possessions than I am concerned about the kingdom of God. I’ve never been a typical anything, much less a typical Christian, but I suspect in this case I am more similar than dissimilar to most everyone else, regardless of the amount of their earthly possessions. However, I do no for a fact, there is less poverty in societies with ownership of land and personal property, than there is in societies where land can not be owned by individuals.

Anonymous said...

Hellow david,I hope All is well with you and your family.Thanks for responding to my comments,as I appreciate discourse with informed and engaged persons.I must say that I apologise if I seemed to catagorize you as a person,that was and is not my intention. however,I insist that your beliefs are far removed from bibicle teaching,and am eager to debate you concerning this most important topic. Let me begin with the book,The Tragedy Of The Commons. Were you aware that Hardin,after the book was widly discussed by the public,commented that he wished he would have titled his work the tradegy of the un-regulated or un-managed commons? Hardin was in no way, an unwavering advocate of privitization.Also ,Hardin examined and wrote about the plight of the commons in one corner of the world,and at a particular time in history.The subject matter of his book is not represenitive of all forms of communalisam throughout history.I must point out that for the most part the American Indians were a communal culture,meaning land and resources were shared by members of the tribe or tribes.I also must add that the natives were largly exempt from poverty intill the arival of the Europeons.The events Hardin described-the degradation of the land and resources,can be attributed to the advent of modern market forces.Market forces which awarded individual profit over the needs of the community.Prior to the arise of the market economy,the local community shared adjacant lands and resources for the common good of the community.At this point I will point out that the original churches were communal in nature.The early churches strived to seperate themselves from the prevailing economic customs by establishing self-suffeciant communities where resources were shared.Yes,I am aware of the concept of tragedy of the commons and yes, I still believe that land and its resources should be shared by all ,but not without mutualy agreed upon regulations,and never in response to fickle and ever changing market forces.Gods creation should be managed according to need,not greed. Concerning the issue of work that has to be done to turn raw material into valuble products.I am not certain as to what your argument is.Are you saying that those who work the hardest should own the most? You have to be aware of the fact that worldwide the people who are working the hardest,are not the people who own most of the land and resourses!In Africa thousands of acers of land,are owned by corperate tycoons who never break a sweat away from their private golf courses ! I disagree with your statment in general,because I believe that many of the product people are working hard to produce may be marketable but are generaly useless.As far as products we truly need,many of them can be assembled with realativly little labor.Historians will tell you that mankind is spending more time than ever working just to aquire the basic nessesities.This is because the majority of the planets wealth is owned by so few.This fact can be readily confirmed on the internet. You made the statement that a scociety where no one owned any thing, would be a scociety of perpetual poverty.I argue that a scociety of shared wealth is just that.No historian would suggest that The American Indians or any other native culture was perpetually impoverished ! In fact study history and you will find that poverty is a creation of market economies.Study the history of the Europeon enclosure movements and you will find that abject poverty began after the aristocracies began confisticating the common lands.
Your comment,I see nothing in the bible telling them they should give up ownership rights.Well are not christans instructed to share ?You are familiar with the parable of the rich man who would not even share his crumbs? And what about the rich farmer was told to sell all he owned and give the proceeds to the poor and then follow christ? In my previous letter did I fail to mention the fact that God even takes care of the small birds? What do they own? Yes David,someone can give up what he does not own.Consider a criminal who by choice of concsious returns something stolen.Imagine I find a wallet belonging to a freind,I certanly do not own the wallet just because I found it,but I can choose to either keep it or give it up to my freind.Incidentaly ,I could choose to work hard to conceal the fact that I had my freinds wallet,the fact that I expended much effort trying to keep the wallet from my freind would not make the wallet mine! Well David,I wish I had more time but prior responsibilities are calling. So for now good by. Hope to hear from you soon. James

David M. Smith said...

Hi again James,

No need to apologize; I prefer a good challenge to an agreement any day. I’m sure I have been redeemed through Christ and forgiven by our heavenly Father, but I don’t have the same certainty in any of my opinions. I wish perfect knowledge and perfect behavior accompanied our redemption, but it doesn’t, so the best I can do is use all of the brain God gave me and hope most of my conclusions are right, while knowing some of them will be wrong.

Like you, I believe we are commanded to share while on earth. I take the admonition to build treasures in heaven, not on earth, seriously. However, I have come to some different conclusions than you about what it means to share and build up treasures in heaven. Unlike you, I find the concept of “the tragedy of the commons” to be compelling. I can’t even think of any large scale exceptions. Resources in private hands are always maintained, preserved, and multiplied, more than resources held in common.

Your impression of the American Indian seems to be fantasized and incomplete. Indian tribes would often battle to the death over land and resources. The Indian commune was based on self interest, and shared interest, but never, that I know of, and altruistic interest.

Throughout the entire world and throughout known history, the concept of private property has done more to relieve poverty than any other concept or method. Throughout China and India, poverty is being diminished, and interestingly enough, Christianity is spreading, due to the acknowledgment of private property rights. Africa is still a mess, and will continue to be a mess, as long as all land is owned by corrupt dictators. Zimbabwe has been destroyed and South Africa is deteriorating as private property rights are being dissolved.

The American Indians never built a single hospital, never deployed a Hubble telescope, never found a cure for polio, and never sacrificed their own welfare to give freedom to another country. And if we gave them another 1000 years they still wouldn’t do any of these things until they acknowledged the right to own property.

The Bible teaches that those who are faithful in small matters will be given more responsibility. So yes, I am saying those who are most faithful and most diligent and most sacrificial will be expected to care for and steward more resources.

One of the themes of the Bible is stewardship. Sharing is a subset of stewardship. Ownership is a component of stewardship. “They shall not steal” would be meaningless without the concept of privately owned property.

Poverty is not caused by market economics. Market economics are the most fair and equitable way to allocate resources. When the cost is high, less is used. When the cost is low, more is used. While poverty may never be eliminated, the market economy provides hope for those wishing to no longer be dependant on hand outs.

Please review some of my other pieces on the poor and on poverty. This is not a subject I take lightly.