The Beginnings of Christian Reform (39)

Christianity and Economics (3)

Theft

The third principle of a Biblical covenant is the principle of ethics-dominion. The basis of long-term authority is obedience to God’s law. This principle of dominion through moral obedience is related to economics in numerous ways, but nothing is clearer than the Bible’s prohibition against theft. The eighth commandment prohibits theft. This unquestionably is the basis of a defence of the idea of private property.

Stolen Fruit

The most important single example of theft that we have in the Bible is the theft by Adam and Eve of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of god and evil (Genesis 3). God set a legal boundary around that tree. He told them that they could eat from any tree in the garden, with the exception of this one tree (Genesis 2:16-17). The test of man’s responsibility under God was visibly a test of respect for another’s property….

The result of course, was judgement. Adam and Eve were both brought under the judgement of God, and so was Satan. Mankind’s dominion over the earth was made vastly more painful and difficult from that point on. The family was also disrupted, for Cain eventually killed Abel, denying to Abel the private property right to his own life.

Pharoah, generations later, stole the freedom of the Hebrew slaves (Exodus 1), and stole the land which his ancestor had delivered to the Hebrews (Genesis 47:5-60. He put them into bondage, just as a kidnapper kidnaps the defenceless… This is a familiar experience in history. Again and again, tyrants have attempted to steal the freedoms and the property of their own subjects and of citizens across their borders.

Theft comes in many forms, however. The Bible says, “You shall not steal.” The Bible does not say, “You shall not steal, except by majority vote.”

Ahab and Naboth

When individuals take advantage of democracy, and vote away their wealth of their fellow men, they are no different in principle from Israel’s evil king Ahab, whose reign is discussed in the book, First Kings. In the twenty-first chapter of that book, we have the story of Naboth, an innocent owner of a vineyard. His vineyard was in sight of the palace of the king, and Ahab wanted that vineyard.

When Naboth refused to sell it to the king, because this property was the inheritance of his children, the king was upset. His wife, Jezebel, inquired as to why he was upset, and the king told her. She then hired false accusers who claimed that they had heard Naboth cursing God and the king. So the judges took him outside the city and stoned him to death, as required by Biblical law. Then the king went and confiscated the property of Naboth. (Today, it would be done “in the name of the People.”) All nicely legal, you understand.

It was for this that the Lord destroyed Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab had been a corrupt king from the beginning, and he had defied God at almost every opportunity, but it was this sin that led to his downfall (I Kings 21:17-19) (ITE, p.37-39).

Self-Interested Voluntary Co-operation:                                                                                       Why is private property so important? One of the most important reasons is that people become productive because of their motivation to build up their property, to enjoy their property, and transfer it to their children or to those organisations that best represent their goals, ideals and dreams. Men discipline themselves to serve the marketplace (ITE, p.40).

Self-interest is often criticised as being something inherently wrong. But it is through self-interest that we gain everybody’s co-operation. The butcher, the baker and the candle-stick maker do not wish to labour for a life-time for the sake of others. They are in their profession for their own sake, but they know that in serving others well and keeping their customers happy, they are actually looking after their business, and themselves. It is through gaining the voluntary co-operation of our fellow man, when he can see that there is something in it for him, that he will get out of bed for me and you and inconvenience himself, to serve us and make his dollar. That is capitalism.[1] That is good. That is God’s way.

The Religion of Socialism:                                                                                                               The socialist is a deeply religious person. He has a very specific view about God, man and law, and a very definite opinion about the nature of man. He believes that society, through the inauguration of socialistic means of production and socialistic ownership, can transform the very nature of man (ITE, p.41).

The socialist assumes that 1) all property should belong to society, meaning the State; 2) there should be no such thing as private property; and 3) men will work for society in general with the same dedication that they will work for their own families or themselves. These assumptions are disproved every time they are attempted, but that doesn’t change the mind of the socialist (ITE, p.41). Why? Because his views are deeply religious ones, that require some form of conversion to be changed. If he were to change his views, he would have to change himself, and he doesn’t want that.

Marxism is the full-blooded form of socialism. Because Marxism has been generally seen as a failure since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is not actively propagated by the socialists of the West; yet its assumptions are essentially the same, being founded on atheism, and the rejection of the Bible as a foundation of civilisation.

Socialist societies are always in some way retarded, because the community members don’t get to keep very much of what they earn. When this happens, people say to themselves, “What’s the point of working hard? The government just takes most of the extra.” (I have witnessed this in Australia, even in moderately paid work all my working life, beginning in 1973.) They lose the incentive to do more because of graduated taxation, and don’t want to work overtime.

People resent the inherent theft of graduated taxation, which is manifestly unbiblical. The Bible teaches that all laws are to apply equally to all members of society. Laws must not be passed that discriminate against any one segment of the population, unless God’s law defines them as criminals (Lev.19:15; Deut.1:17; Acts 10:34). (ITE, p.46)

Present Orientation:                                                                                                                      Theft makes people very present oriented. They hold on to what they have in the present instead of sacrificing for the future. They decide to enjoy the present while they still have something, before the thieves come and take it away. This is logical and understandable, but is counterproductive. When people are not prepared to sacrifice for the future, work for the future and plan for the future, their ability to control the future is drastically reduced.

Present-oriented societies are in principle backward societies. Present-oriented societies are lower class societies. We usually think of a person’s class position in terms of how much money he has, but this really isn’t accurate. In the long-term, a person’s position in a particular class is dependent upon his view of the future, and the more present-oriented he is, the more lower class he is. He may have a million dollars right now, but if he is a present-oriented individual, he probably will not have the million dollars in a year or so. He will have less.

However, if a person is future-oriented, and he is willing to sacrifice for the future, then it doesn’t matter how little he has right now: he will probably be successful in the future. A graduate student in a skilled profession may not have a lot of money to spend today, but in a capitalist society, in twenty years he probably will have a lot more money to spend, than if he hadn’t spent the time to advance his education. But if he is threatened with high taxation in the future, why would he sacrifice so much in the present for the sake of the future? (ITE, p.44). Future oriented people are upper class people; Christianity is a future-oriented religion.

“Work Out Your Own Salvation…”                                                                                                     If a man is to begin to exercise dominion under God, he must be allowed to offer himself and his talents before God and men. Every working person should seek to do this, as a means of maximising their income, their job satisfaction, and their usefulness to the community. This is an aspect of a person’s calling. God has saved us to work hard, to sustain ourselves, to take responsibility for our actions, and to do good works (ITE, p.100). In order to do this, every man needs lots of freedom to accomplish his tasks. If an individual can gain greater responsibility, he should do so, if he honestly believes his skills and abilities will enable him to exercise that responsibility effectively. The individual who wants to serve God, should take advantage of freedoms that are available to him, to further his service of God.

One of the reasons why Western society over the last two hundred years has had more rapid growth than any other society in history is because men have been left free before God to do their best, and to serve God and man in the way that they felt they could best serve them, given their own limitations of skills, limitations of money to invest, and limitations of vision. They are also allowed to keep the fruits of their labour, their foresight, and their cost-effective planning. In summary, they are allowed to profit (ITE, p.101).

A civilisation which permits hard-working, future-oriented and thrifty individuals to work out their own salvations with fear and trembling (Phil.2:12), is a society which will be the beneficiary of the collective efforts of these productive citizens (ITE, p.100).

Let’s Make a Deal:                                                                                                                                In a free community, the consumer can shop around for goods and services. He may contact various individuals or companies about a product, seeking a better price or service. That means no seller is not exposed to market pressure, unless they have a monopoly, and monopolies don’t normally last long. We substitute one seller for another, if they offer a better deal. This is competition; we give our fellow citizens the opportunity to come and make a better deal, if they want. This increases the challenge for people to take responsibility for their actions, and to offer the consumer a better price. Freedom is simply a system of legal arrangements (based on the Bible) where individuals have the right to make a better or different deal to someone in the community, without someone intervening.

The Bible teaches that man has the right to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling before God and man-to work hard, manage his affairs well, and enjoy profits. If people can do this in their community, their nation and the world, they actually increase everybody’s opportunities, meaning everyone’s wealth.

In Summary:

  1. God is the absolute owner of all property.
  2. Adam’s rebellion was displayed as an act of theft. It began with the desire for something that was not his.
  3. Tyranny always involves theft (Pharoah).
  4. The best cooperation is voluntary cooperation.
  5. Self-interested people cooperate voluntarily.
  6. Beggars don’t exercise dominion.
  7. Appeals to charity are not to become the primary basis of gaining other people’s cooperation.
  8. Theft by ballot box is not to become the basis for gaining other people’s cooperation.
  9. Socialism and Communism are religions of humanism, for they are based on the belief in political man (rather than God) as the supreme ruler.
  10. Men’s view of time affects their view of life.
  11. Present-oriented people suffer from poverty, both of the spirit and the pocketbook.
  12. Present-oriented people are lower-class people.
  13. Future-oriented people are upper-class people.
  14. Christianity is a future-oriented religion.

 

[1] Opponents of capitalism have never come up with a viable alternative that has worked in history, and they never will.