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Friday, July 25, 2014

Reviewing The Cultural Case For Capitalism Part 5 of 12

In today's episode of A Cultural Case For Capitalism (click here for part 5 of 12), Jonathan Witt attempts to solidify acceptance of Capitalism by tying it closely to Christianity. However, there is a problem, the branch of Christianity Witt wants to tie the origins of Capitalism with is that which appeared in the Dark Ages. So Witt must first dispel the monicker "Dark Ages" from this time period. Once he has done that, he hopes that the association he has built between Christianity and Capitalism makes Capitalism more than acceptable.

Witt does acknowledge that abuses took place back during this time period. He then goes to cite Rodney Stark, a historian and sociologist from Baylor, in stating that the Dark Ages weren't that dark by noting the advances that took place in technology, the arts, and literature. He then goes on to conclude that the advances that came in science and emergence of the Middle Class came from the "political, economic, and religious freedom" which in turn came from the Christian understanding that man was made in the image of God.

But there is a problem here. Should one, after studying history, associate political and religious freedom with Christianity's main institution, the Church? To answer this question, we might want to ask a series of questions. For example, what was the plight of the Jews during the Middle Ages? Weren't they expelled out of a number of Christian European countries during this time? And didn't they also serve as scapegoats for horrors like the Black Plague and thus were punished and killed in order to appease the Christian God? And didn't the Crusades occur during the Middle Ages where the knights participating in these wars sometimes showed more cruelty their Muslim counterparts? And didn't the Inquisition at times claim as its victims heretics and Jews and wasn't the mass burning of Jews part of the Inquisition?

And as we leave the 1500s, not forgetting Martin Luther's writings against the Jews, and proceed into the 1600, didn't Calvin's Geneva persecute and slaughter heretics and witches? And even here in the U.S., didn't the Puritans persecute and even martyr Quakers and, of course, that doesn't include the ethnic cleansing of America's indigenous people from the land because the Christian European settlers back then saw themselves as being a "New Israel?" And didn't some Christians also participate in the enslaving of Blacks for Biblical reasons? And let's not forget Christian Europe's colonizing of much of the world for the sake of gaining riches.

And, of course, none of this includes how the Church persecuted new thoughts and the people who produced them, such as Copernicus and heliocentricity, because it challenged the Church's interpretation of reality and thus its power?

See, these are problems that seem to be minimized by just acknowledging that there were horrors that came from the Middle Ages. And we should also note that horrors also came from places after the Middle Ages where the Church was still dominant. And as Witt tries to say that there are horrors in every age, which is true, it seems to create an irony. It is an irony because if the Church has received their message from God, why should a time period in which it is dominant so much resemble the rest of human history? 

See, problems grow when one wants to go beyond minimizing the tyranny of past Christianity and then try to associate religious and political freedoms solely with that Christianity. We should also note that authoritarianism is a main ingredient both in the structure of the Church and relationships Christians have with others. And usually, one doesn't normally associate freedoms with authoritarianism.  

So what about the claim that our freedoms are rooted in the belief that we are created in the image of God? We could take two approaches here. We could simply go back in time to see if that is what Christians, who were from both the Middle Ages and the time period afterwards wherever Christianity was dominant, concluded and practiced for others and not just themselves. Then we can also peek at whether those from the enlightenment contributed to the beliefs in political and religious freedoms.

But there is another approach we could take to Witt's claim. That approach seems to tie together Witt's basic concern with economic freedom with the model used by this blog to examine Witt's writings. If the idea of economic freedom came from the Medieval belief that man was made in God's image, then why is this freedom being associated with such an authoritarian institution like the Christian Church of the Dark Ages?

That question is more aptly answered by the model of thought used by this blog in examining Witt's writings on Capitalism (click here). That is because this blog has stated that democratic rule would eventually limit individual rights because such puts a growing priority on wealth over values such work and need and thus the concern for others. Thus, elite-centered rule is needed as individual rights and ownership increase over collective ownership. In fact, protecting the financial elites was James Madison's concern during the Constitutional debates when he expressed his fear that expanding the vote in England could result in agrarian reforms (click here and search for his comments on Tuesday, June 26). We should note that the Constitution was written to strengthen the Federal government in order to protect the financial elites of that time from  discontent and rebellion (click here and there to see Henry Knox's letter to George Washington and Federalist Paper #10).

Is economic freedom as applied to the individual really a foundational liberty based on the idea that man is made in God's image? Or has our model, and more importantly history, shown that economic liberty is code for increasing the privileges of business owners and the financial elite at the expense of the rights and well-being all other stakeholders in the economic system? Appealing to Christianity from the Middle Ages, as Witt does, seems to forget that not only was the Church, that is the Roman Church, very authoritarian, so were many Protestants. And quite often, the Protestants of history who sought political freedoms were not seeking freedoms for all but for themselves and others in their tribe only. 

In actuality, the freedoms that Witt says come from Medieval Christianity actually came from political structures. The political structure Witt noted was the city-state. But forerunner of the city-state were communes, an entity that naturally could rub the King and the Church the wrong way. The communes were walled cities and they did offer some liberties to the peasants who joined. At the same time there was a cost to belonging to a commune. That cost included mutual defense pacts so a degree of loyalty was required. So in a commune, there was a combination of both individual rights and collective ownership. Basically, these communes came into existence to provide protection for its members from lawless elites (nobles) and others in the absence of a centralized authority. If the protection could not come in time, then some sort of revenge would be exacted from the offending party as way of inhibiting future attacks. 

What we have today is a system that stresses freedoms, or perhaps we should say privileges because the freedoms are but for a few, for business elites--the lawless nobles of our day. This has resulted in what Witt and others like him call "Crony Capitalism." This form of Capitalism sees those with official authority prostitute themselves by the favors and special treatment they provide for the financial elite in exchange for money. And though Witt and others like him sincerely state that this is not the kind of political-economic system they want, it is difficult to see how what they advocate, economic freedoms or privileges protected by elite centered rule, can ever possibly emerge into something different. After all, why does Witt try to so tightly bind economic liberty with Christianity except to give economic liberty the credentials to be readily accepted. Such is an authoritarian move.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comments Which Conservatives Block From Their Blogs For July 23, 2014

To R. Scott Clark and his 2nd response to my comment on his blogpost questioning how biblical it is for the Church to try to change culture. This appeared in Heidelblog.


Dr. Clark,
When are you going to understand that quests for justice do not necessarily have anything to do with utopian eschatology? Many quests for justice have fixing an immediate problem as their focus just as when the session of a church intervene to fix an immediate problem when two people in a church have a dispute. This is what I pointed to when I wrote in my 2nd comment:

Also, if we are followers of God, shouldn’t we celebrate every act of justice and peace, regardless of how temporal, rather than thinking in all-or-nothing terms? 

or when I wrote

And finally, I don’t know of anyone who works for justice and peace who presume that they are Christ. Nobody. The ones I know aren’t looking to bring some sort of utopia or the final Kingdom of God. Rather, they are trying to partially address what is before them. 

So while you categorize the concerns which I and others have expressed as being out of bounds by misrepresenting us as being utopian, the problem is still there. Isn't there a problem of being a respecter of persons when we so eagerly preach to the individual sinner to repent of private sins but are silent in the face of system sins especially when these sins are committed by those with wealth and power? And historically speaking, the conservative church tends to align itself with wealth and power. So how does the silence before and thus complicity with sin help the Church be a minister of word, sacrament, and mercy?

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To R. Scott Clark and his last response to my comments. This is my second attempt to reply to his response seeing that he blocked my last response. This appeared on his Heidelblog


This is my last comment on this discussion. The some questions that come to my mind here are:

1. What does classifying any attempt to improve the current system Utopian say about the current system?

2. Why do you insist that any attempt to improve on the current system is done from an eschatological perspective? I ask this especially because much of my views on changing the system come from secular scholars who do not have a Utopian vision and thus no eschatological perspective.

3. Is your view more based on the Bible or on an affinity for a more simple Christian life?

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To Elise Hilton and her blogpost on whether the current border crisis was predictable. This appeared on the Acton Blog


When our foreign policies involved coups and support violent dictators and when unfair competition from trade agreements wreck financial sectors as well as temporarily employ workers until cheaper labor is found elsewhere, what shouldn't we expect on our border? To try to address the border crisis without acknowledging our part in creating the need to leave one's country is to embrace something beyond neurosis. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Baseball Teaches Us About The Free Market

I feel like the past few seasons have demanded a name change for my favorite baseball team. Instead of being called the Boston Red Sox, the name should be changed to the Boston Bipolar Sox. After all, the team has been traveling between the cellar and first place since 2012. There seems to be no happy medium, no place for Goldilocks to find something that is "just right." 

Of course, the trials of the Sox are not the issue here, but the plight of its ace pitcher John Lester is. Why? It is because he is due for a new contract and the Sox's last offer was not regarded to be a serious offer. What was he being offered? He was offered $70 million dollars for 4 years. Upon hearing this, I suggested to a friend of mine who works in a major company's IT department to demand that he be either awarded a $70 million dollar, 4 year contract or be traded. My friend didn't consider that to be a serious proposal to make at work.

Why was $70 million considered to be a slacker's offer by my Bipolar Sox? It is because if Lester so chooses, he could get more money elsewhere. Thus, the Free Market has spoken. For the Bipolar Sox to pay Lester $70 million over 4 years is unfair. But we need to think here. If the Free Market has determined that Lester is worth more than $70 for 4 years, can we honestly say that the Free Market is concerned with fairness?

See, what is fair carries with it a moral component. And since when is paying an athletic entertainer $70 million considered to be a moral failure? We should ask this question, especially when the Free Market has spoken to fast food workers, some bank employees, and some adjunct professors, all who are paid poverty wages, is the Free Market fair or is it a place where people negotiate to see what they can get from each other? Too many business owners and employers are looking to pay their employees as little as possible, especially the low skilled employees, while those in certain professions attempt to extort as much money as possible from their employers. With the former, outsourcing work to countries that allow human and trafficking and sweatshop labor conditions along with using illegal immigrant workers allows some business owners and employers to underpay some of their employees so that regardless of working full-time hours, their paychecks keep these employees locked in poverty.  With the latter, some, especially in the entertainment world, can get paid exorbitant amounts of money regardless of how little actual benefit to society their work provides. After all, how much does our society really benefit from when the team I cheer for wins a championship?

See, the Free Market isn't about fairness, it's about what each party can manipulate out of the system for themselves. And thus when Free Market fundamentalists tell us to "shut up and listen" to the market when it comes to the pay of those who have low skill jobs, we need to speak out louder. We need to say to these fundamentalists that one cannot arrive at a morally just paycheck through formulas and negotiations between unequal parties. We need to say as often and as loud as possible that, all too often, the Free Market is not a fair market. And an unfair market is an immoral market. And when we live as if the Free Market is a fair market, we can be assured of one thing, the devaluing of people which takes place in the Free Market is both a moral barometer of the society itself and creates a moral debt that eventually must be paid. And to ignore that debt is the same as committing moral suicide which is all too often followed by physical destruction.


Monday, July 21, 2014

ONIM For July 21, 2014

Christian News



World News




Pick(s) Of The Litter




Friday, July 18, 2014

Reviewing The Cultural Case For Capitalism Part 4 of 12

Today's post is late due to computer problems.

In part 4 of 12 of his A Cultural Case For Capitalism (click here), Witt wants to distinguish Capitalism from 2 unfavorable human traits, consumerism (the negative form as seen in the never ending growth in the accumulation of unnecessary goods and services) and greed by the business owner or producer. In essence, Witt is trying to separate Capitalism from greed regardless of the source of that greed. The question becomes whether he succeeded. 

In distinguishing Capitalism from Consumerism, Witt wants to assert that consumerism doesn't drive the economy, capital does. And, according to Witt, Capital cannot be accumulated by "running up credit card debt" on the retail level. Rather, the combining of capital with "creative labor" creates what people are willing to buy. But in trying prove his case, Witt oversimplifies what consumerism is and thus tries to separate Capitalism from consumerism using deductive reasoning--Conservatives often overuse deductive reasoning to prove their case. 

For a producer/business owner to get a satisfactory return on their use of capital, there must be an adequate market for their goods and services. So a producer/business owner will either be offering goods and services for which there is an adequate market demand or they will produce goods and services for which they believe they can create a market demand. Thus, we could say that an indication of a business' reliance on consumerism can be seen in the resources invested to create, maintain, or expand the perceived need for a business' goods and services. 

Note the perceived need is what is key. That is because there is a difference between an actual need and perceived need. And when there is a significant difference between the two, some kind of deceit is often employed to create the perception. 

In addition, we might want to note that to say that an economic system depends on consumerism, we might want to distinguish two kinds of consumers in whom market need is created: retail customers and government. The more that an economic system's resources are invested into motivating those from either group to buy more than what is necessary, the more that that economic system depends on consumerism. We should note how our government has overspent on military and medicine in order to maintain the financial health of some major businesses.  And personal experience along with marketing budgets from businesses tell us how many resources are invested in the advertising. For it is advertising that is used to shape our perceptions about what to buy. We should note that one parallel to advertising in driving the perceived need for government to consume goods and services is money spent on lobbying.

Finally,we might want to note that Witt's argument, which is designed to separate Capitalism from consumerism, is rather disingenuous. For just as Witt says that the capital necessary to drive the economy cannot coexist with huge credit card debt, we should note that those who use capital to create products are not necessarily from the same set of people who are overextended on their credit cards. For in these two groups, you have business owners who depend on accumulated capital to make new products for economy on the one hand, and retail customers who have overspent on their credit cards on the other hand. In addition, we might point out that credit cards themselves are a service that is provided by those in the financial sector of our economy. And, of course, examining credit card debt is another indicator of whether our economic system relies on consumerism.

In other words, when we look at the facts on the ground, we see that the unnecessary consumption of goods and services is a significant factor on which the current status of our economic system depends. These facts contradict Witt's contention that Capitalism and consumerism are not sleeping together.

Equally disingenuous to Witt's attempt to show that Capitalism and consumerism do not play well together can be seen in how Witt tries to show that Ayn Rand-style greed and Capitalism do not have to be playmates. Witt cites two examples of people who are business successes but who have proven themselves to be not greedy. He claims that lifestyles of Ikea's Ingrav Kamprad and Microsoft's Bill Gates by how they travel and both live and give to charity respectively speaking. 

But how do those parts of their lives show that their companies did not grow as large as they did because of greed? One only needs to look up the business practices of these two companies to see if greed was a necessary ingredient to their growth and success. In examining the business practices of these two companies, one should look at how these companies treated all of their employees and customers and how they competed with peer businesses. In particular, one should examine the available court transcripts of these businesses' dealings in court.

But whether greed is an integral part of the system cannot be proved or disproved by the examples from such a small sample. Rather, one needs to either look at the majority of businesses involved or obtain an overview of the system. From what this blog sees, greed is an essential part of Capitalism, at least our current form of Capitalism is. This can be shown by how self-interest is portrayed as being the driving force not only in one's own success, but in the success of others. Thus, self-interest is seen as a necessary ingredient to the success of our system. However, altruism and collective ownership are portrayed at best as luxuries in that the former is not mandated by law while the other is denied by how workers are treated and compensated. As a teacher, I have run across students who were former employees from a number of large businesses because their jobs were outsourced to those from other countries who would work for less pay.

From what we see in part 4 of his series, it seems that Witt is describing an ideal form, or logical definition, of Capitalism which does not match what we are witnessing in today's economic system. And his description seems to support an economic freedom that would deny interference from government regardless of how democratic that government was and regardless of the claims to the ownership of business that other stakeholders should rightfully have. The end result is that Witt is defending a system where the economic elite are proudly flying the flag that says, "Don't Tread On Me," while using their defended freedoms to tread on the rest of society. Perhaps, this is why we see less and less democracy being exercised in our political-economic system while wealth disparity is climbing. Remember that increased tyranny and wealth disparity are the results of a diminishing democracy and a shrinking collective ownership (click here).


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Comments Which Conservatives Block From Their Blogs For July 16, 2014

Again, this post will be rather brief due to certain circumstances. 

July 15

To R. Scott Clark and his blogpost on businesses providing services for homosexuals, especially for same-sex weddings. This appeared in Heidelblog.


Opting for the American solution is to opt for another potential Jim Crow whether the target be chosen because of race or sexual orientation or some other reason. Please remember that your American solution was the legal basis for Jim Crow especially when  many found Biblical reasons for segregation. It matters not whether those Biblical reasons were valid, it matters that people sincerely held to them and thus used their right of religious freedom to deny the rights of others to access needed goods and services.

In addition, your natural law argument will not work because not everybody has the same view of natural law. This is especially true when homosexuality serves a useful purpose in many species. 

Because in a Capitalist economy, access to goods and services is through private businesses, then the right of the business owner to deny the providing of goods and services to whomever he/she chooses allows for the partial or complete denial of access to those goods and services to groups. This competes against the basis of your American solution because the potential effects on the stakeholders gives them a legitimate claim to partial ownership of how the business operates.

However, what is most objectionable here is the association made between Conservative Christianity with discrimination and thus with bigotry. And all of this applies even when those being discriminated against are gays regardless of King's view of homosexuality. His view only shows an inconsistency regarding his working for equal rights--and this is not his only inconsistency. This is said not to discredit his tremendous work for equal rights, it is said to show that he was not perfect in what he did.

Finally, ironically, the argument here is really a backdoor attempt to act as a transformationist only using the "economic freedom," rather than cultural influence or legislation,  as the main tool for control. Your approach here saddens me.

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To Edward Trancik and his blogpost on whether greater economic freedom brings greater religious liberties. This appeared in the Acton blog


One could discuss the point of this article, along with Samuel Gregg's statements, by looking at history. For example, free trade and economics were brought to history a little after and via Sept 11, 1973. Friedman's form of neoliberal capitalism was installed by the government that took power on that day, the government of Augusto Pinochet.  One only needs to look at history to see how the new found economical freedom of the markets spread to other areas of life. A similar occurrence happened in Argentina in the mid 70s. Again, history can teach us how those new economic freedoms translated into other freedoms. In Russia, new economic freedoms, with a new government, eventually led to a military attack on Parilament--I guess Parliament was oppressing the people.

We could go on but Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine pretty documents how Gregg's statement doesn't always coincide with history. BTW, where we saw religious liberty flourish in Russia is where Religious institutions supported those with power. Not sure about what happened with those other examples. 

So will China experience religious liberty with more economic freedoms? We should only note that our economy has been experiencing greater economic freedom and with that came the collapse of 2008 along with a growing wealth disparity during the recovery. And we should note the economic freedoms being granted now. Those from major financial institutions are not being held criminally liable for fraud and money laundering. In the meantime, we are under greater government surveillance than ever.

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To Joe Carter and his blogpost on the border crisis. This appeared in the Acton blog.


It is odd that the border problem can be discussed without going through history with its examples of US interventions and trade policies. For example, Mexico entered the NAFTA that caused economic problems in certain spheres. First, agriculture suffered as Mexican family farmers were forced to compete with subsidized American Agribusiness. Then the new manufacturing plants lost jobs to factories in Asia that used sweatshop labor. And there is the selling of American made weapons to drug gangs and voila. 

We should also note that violence that has always been a part of the history of Guatemala since American interventions there. With Honduras, it is very well possible that the recent coup there had American support.

Of course, including such history would indict leaders from both parties as well as our nation. Our intervention in Guatemala which resulted in a coup in 1954 occurred during the Eisenhower administration. Our intervention in El Salvador which included our support for paramilitary troops occurred during the Reagan Administration and it has been stated that the MS 13 got it start from the violence back then occurred under the Reagan Administration. Meanwhile NAFTA went thru during the Clinton Administration as Clinton was attempting to form closer ties between the Democratic Party and the business community. The Honduras coup occurred in 2009 during the Obama Administration.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Equality And Inequality For Israel-Palestine

For as long as so many have divided themselves into camps for either side, there is no way that a peaceful settlement can be found between the Israelis and the Palestinians . Such is the price we pay for tribalism. Tribalism can make us feel good especially when it causes us to feel proud of belonging to our groups, but divisions, envy, and enmity are soon to follow. And sometimes, as has occurred with the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, tribalism irrevocably leads down an irrational path to moral suicide and even physical destruction.

If we are going to search for a peaceful settlement that relies on justice, we must abhor the abduction and killing of the 3 Israeli teenagers as much as we abhor the Occupation and Israel's detention, torture, and killing of Palestinians by Israeli security forces and settlers. And if we want a peace by justice settlement, we must oppose Hamas' rockets fired at Israel as much as we oppose Israel's current coldhearted attack on Gaza. For if one has the right to attack civilians in the name of self-defense, so does the other. If Israel claims the right to attack Gaza because no country would tolerate being attacked by missiles, realize that the Palestinians have the right to attack Israel because no people should have to tolerate being permanently occupied--which includes having resources destroyed and land stolen--by a foreign power. Of course, allowing both to attack each other the way they do is to do nothing but let others be attacked because they are not us. If we continue with that philosophy, who will be left to protect us when we are attacked?

We should note that there is an argument against equating the attacks of one's enemies with own attacks on others. The argument against calls such a comparison 'moral equivalency.' Those who use this term do so to denounce the equating of one's own actions with that of one's enemies. But what those who oppose moral equivalency seem to not notice is that their rejection of moral equivalency is due to their embracing of moral relativity. And moral relativity, from a Christian perspective is nothing short of a denial of God's Word as well as His character because He is not a respecter of persons.

The above is the equality aspect in Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where the inequality exists is in the strength and oppression one side has exercised over the other. This was the witness of Rachel Corrie when she stayed in Gaza. It is also testified by the statistics gathered by B'Tselem (click here), an Israeli human rights group. Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world. Israel continues to rob the Palestinians of their means to live. Israel continues to steal land from the Palestinians. And Israel continues to treat the Palestinians like dogs and while feigning that some Palestinians would act like animals.

In the meantime, the world watches the World Cup or whatever follows it. Such is a denial of both our inter-connectivity and the humanity of all the victims, Israeli and Palestinian, of this conflict. Here, the greatest sins are being committed by both those with the most power and those who use a claim to having the moral high ground to take sides rather than work for justice for all.