Farmers Market




Lewis & Quark


Economics Revisited

     What was your favorite thing you ever bought? Food? Clothes? Did it please you? Humans are constantly craving satisfaction by any means. The most accessible of these means, and therefore most common, are physical objects. Despite Thomas Hobbes’ claim in his Leviathan that our passions and senses naturally move towards a final fulfillment in physical things, the physical world is imperfect, and therefore limited. Human desire is unlimited, only satiable by God, per Augustine’s Confessions. Enter economics—the secondary social contract in which power is quantified in money and exchanged for physical goods. Whoever has the most money, has the most power, and is therefore able to enforce his will—will for possessions. Economics exists because of a basic human component. Desire. You all want something. Generally, peace, life, and specifically things that appeal to you personally. Acting on purchasing desire is a human trait, one passed down from generation to generation. But Scottish philosopher Adam Smith is typically considered the father of modern economics. From his theory of “the invisible hand” and the free market concept came capitalism.
     For Smith, as consumers pay money to companies for their desires, those companies use that money to please others by continuing to offer their services by your contributed money, and paying it to their employees who use that money to serve themselves and their families and other economic institutions, etc. Competition between producers positively influences quality of goods for others and ourselves.
     Smith’s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, is one of the first works to advocate for free-market capitalism, the idea that opts for privately owned businesses and where profit is the explicit incentive. Capitalism works so well because your hunger for wealth can benefit society. Our fear of poverty and thirst for prosperity neatly coincide to create harmony. We’d like to think poverty is the master case-in-point for suffering. The inability to fulfill your desires reasonably. But imagine the torture of wealth. The lethargy of the social status portrayed in Emma.
     Emma’s unoccupied state left her with idle diversions and foolish pastimes. On a continuum, there is a point at which your money is sufficient for needs and desires, assuming you can divide between the two. Sidestepping the fleeting nature of money coupled with continual want, when you have risen to the top, i.e. peaked economically, you are deceived into the idea of having nowhere left to go. Except to extend that desire into other realms.
     Ever wondered why the rich dominate society? Not to mention the sense of sufficiency. In the one sense, sufficiency gives birth to many great things. Philosophy in Athens emerged from well fed people, as Georg W.F. Hegel said--divitae mater philosophae (wealth is the mother of philosophy). That doesn’t negate the sense of self-reliance. Where is room for help in capitalism? Where can you fathom letting your own ends go for others? Why do you think Jesus had so much to say about money? When you purchase, you express capitalism. And capitalism is thinking solely in the form of crunching numbers.
Capitalism is thinking solely in the form of crunching numbers.
     The food you ate this morning is food that cannot be apportioned to the homeless. What you are wearing is unable to clothe the poor. College classes are loosely based on the idea that the whole world cannot have access to it. It would be absurd to think otherwise. As aforementioned, there are limited resources. For all the complexities of modern economic schools of thought, the essential disagreement lies in the moral and practical consequences of private property and profit motive. Private property is acceptable based on the simple proposition, “Thou shalt not steal.” The prohibition of theft presupposes the institution of private property. And as John Locke, and later Murray Rothbard, argued, to have private property is to be somewhat fairly awarded the fruit of one's own labors.
     The pilgrims of Plymouth attempted equal distribution of resources, and reverted to a capitalist system because they observed the normative failure of the system. You can only trust someone to take care of themselves, not others. Capitalism neither takes care of others nor checks corruption. It gives economics an anarchic position among disciplines. Authority is for politics, for the family, for “Christian living,” if such a heretical division can be tolerated. We sell our souls to a great cause and motivation…and work a day job. Divorce of economics from other disciplines and an overarching rule of charity as described in On Christian Doctrine, leads to the formation of new standards and rules.
     Capitalism lends itself to two core principles—action for oneself on behalf of the resulting power, and passivity on behalf of others, trusting in the opportunity they already possess. You cannot ensure either. High school seniors, of all people, know this. The opportunity for work slips from them without your say. The accident of birth is the cause of wealth more than anything else. Wealth does not follow wisdom. The opposite proposition matches reality. Fools and monsters are characteristically rich.
Fools and monsters are characteristically rich.
     As James Madison says in Federalist No. 10: “Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.” And because of the limited state of resources, to possess more—to rise—is to deprive others of resources, for others to have less. Wealth is a byproduct of narcissism. Why is it surprising that the wealthy are so often corrupt? Power reveals, and absolute power reveals absolutely. Money is the closest one can get to a physical manifestation of power. Greed spurs whole countries to destroy for trade routes, productive land or oil rich territory. In the face of a bribe, any mortal can be found weak.
     And this can all be found in capitalist America, haven of freedom and uprightness. And as capitalism prods us to more money, it also prods us to more power. And the more power, the more dangerous. And the more dangerous, the more tempting to ill-use. Goods are physical as well. Easily measured. More money, more power, more temptation, more ill-use. Aristotle says in Politics that to be rich is harmful to society, instead opting for one of the middle class—where freedom is preserved, money is checked, and the people respect their rulers. The majority of society follows this path. You've already spent money, and by extension, begun needing to be involved in the making or distributing of goods and services. Your future families must benefit from that involvement in the economic world. Marriage has become an economic endeavor—your existence is a consequence of prosperity.
Your existence is a consequence of prosperity. 
     People with families and ensured commitments to work are given raises. As chronicled in Augustus Caesar’s World, Augustus Caesar, to encourage marriage, gave tax breaks to men with families. You're also expensive, not just tax relieving. The average family will spend $233,610 to raise a single child. Wealth is an asset to spending money on your education, sacrificing for mortgages, food, cars, etc. That’s simple. Opposed to pure pragmatism is Aristotle, speaking on the rich. “Insolent and arrogant...wealth affects their understanding...luxurious and ostentatious...vulgar.... In a word, the type of character produced by wealth is that of a prosperous fool.” (Rhetoric, Book II.16)
     A weak barrier stands between you and a miser. Wealth, and the quest for it, is essentially a quest for laziness, and next apathy. It’s myopic of Smith to see only the benefit others can derive from economic progress. Human desire’s unending nature demands a futuristic outlook. What is the end of continual economic progress? Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. Unweighted by any personal advancement or station. That’s what defines a race, that’s what defines a species.
     Socialism is the natural response. But communism doesn’t work. The annals of history witness, and yet, it is the system that aligns with 1 Corinthians 13: “love assumes the best….” The system of human nature doesn’t allow for either the ways of God or the ways of man. We cannot love our neighbors so much as to work solely for their good. We cannot seek our own ends to the exclusion of our neighbors’ either. You cannot give all the means of production into either the state’s or the populace’s hands without dire consequences. We need a tertium quid (third unknown part)—one that accurately understands human nature and doesn’t have absolute power to make absolute mistakes. Where is God? He was right here the whole time.
     Where is the earthly power of God? In the church. We are commanded to give: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (1 Corinthians 9:7) True, we don’t have the ability to give without possessing. We cannot abandon the middle way. You are the church. You are the believers. As aforementioned, you will one day have to provide for yourself and others. Relatively higher on the socioeconomic ladder, you have all the power—and all the responsibility. God’s love doesn’t transcend self-interest—it transforms it. Saved individuals have the ability to love our neighbor as they should be loved. When to give, and when to hold back. We are the poor, and the rich. “Silver and gold have I none….” Yes, the potential exists for snobbery and disgusting wealth. But we also have the potential to be destitute. Proverbs mentions both the wisdom that leads to prosperity and the goodness of a satisfied poor man. God gives light to the eyes of both, and to our eyes. We can see humans in everything we do, giving and taking, not socioeconomic status or numbers. Just—just think. Thank you.
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