The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the tag “Economics”

A New Conservative Manifesto?

DonQuixoteunhorsed

“How to revive the flagging fortunes of the Republican Party might matter to some people, but it’s not a question that should concern principled conservatives. Crypto-conservatives aplenty stand ready to shoulder that demeaning task.”

Several weeks ago a piece appeared over at The American Conservative touting itself as a manifesto-of-sorts for a re-envisioned and reinvigorated conservatism: “Counterculture Conservatism: the right needs less Ayn Rand, more Flannery O’Connor.” Before the literary among you get excited, I should warn you that author Andrew J. Bacevich interacts with O’Connor nowhere in the article; in fact, by the end, I felt a little like Inigo Montoya (“you keep using that name; I do not think it means who you think it means”). Anyway, Bacevich’s opening lines (quoted above) are one measure consolation, one measure exhortation, and just a splash of knowing self-congratulation

True enough, a lot of people predicted that if and when Republicans lost the 2012 election, the party would attempt to reinvent itself, distancing itself from “loser issues” like the sanctity of biblical marriage, or the fight against abortion (of course, the party had already begun to do this when they put Mitt Romney in the race, but what’s a few months one way or the other to the long memory of history?). ‘Republican’ and ‘Conservative’ might be related terms, but fortunately they are not perfect synonyms, and many of the latter woke up and found themselves too “principled” to remain attached to the former. I followed the author this far because, truthfully, I was in that number and could say, without irony, “thank God for conservatism,” but he (in this case, the article’s author) wasn’t finished yet.

What, then, is Bacevich’s vision of conservatism in the coming epoch?

“The conservative tradition I have in mind may not satisfy purists. It doesn’t rise to the level of qualifying as anything so grandiose as a coherent philosophy. It’s more of a stew produced by combining sundry ingredients. The result, to use a word that ought warm the cockles of any conservative’s heart, is a sort of an intellectual slumgullion.”

His recipe for this mess of pottage includes, among other thinkers, heavy doses of Flannery O’Connor (he drops her name a second time, but by now I’m even more skeptical that he could explain satisfactorily why she belongs in the discussion) and Wendell Berry (who recently came out in support of gay marriage, which will seem more relevant in a minute)—“don’t skimp” he writes.

Next, there are the sweeping, inspirational value statements about the human responsibility of stewardship—“preserving our common inheritance and protecting that which possesses lasting value”—the importance of community—“ Conservatives understand that the most basic community, the little platoon of family, is under unrelenting assault”—awareness of pain and suffering—“conservatives also believe in Original Sin, by whatever name”—and patriotism—“America is amber waves of grain, not SEAL Team Six.”

Bacevich finally descends to the level of clear details in outlining the task that is before the next generation conservative.

“The key to success will be to pick the right fights against the right enemies, while forging smart tactical alliances. (By tactical, I do not mean cynical.) Conservatives need to discriminate between the issues that matter and those that don’t, the contests that can be won and those that can’t….So forget about dismantling the welfare state. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and, yes, Obamacare are here to stay. Forget about outlawing abortion or prohibiting gay marriage. Conservatives may judge the fruits produced by the sexual revolution poisonous, but the revolution itself is irreversible.”

He warns against a Quixotic tilting at windmills, while adopting for himself the conciliatory tone of the Don on his deathbed, claiming that there are no birds in last year’s nests. I mention Don Quixote, but the reader may also be reminded of the first-century Sadducees with their “smart tactical alliances.” This conservatism begins to sound less countercultural and more concultural or syncultural. One could hope that the author simply intends the Church to play a larger role than the State in transforming culture, but churches are mentioned as a kind of afterthought in the close of his manifesto and largely as a sheepish concession that they all “may be flawed.” The piece reads instead, as if conservatives simply have bigger (largely financial) fish to fry.

More recently, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman wrote an article (also for The American Conservative) entitled “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause,” arguing,

“There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship [a happy marriage] with the person they love.”

But his essay’s final remarks strike a now familiar chord that complicates the simplicity of that emotional appeal:

“We are at a crossroads. I believe the American people will vote for free markets under equal rules of the game—because there is no opportunity or job growth any other way. But the American people will not hear us out if we stand against their friends, family, and individual liberty.”

Neither Bacevich nor Huntsman is the force behind this shift, but they are both good indications of where the winds are blowing. Both outline a strategy that feigns compassion (or possibly misunderstands real compassion as a secondary end) in order to gain influence, especially in financial/economic arenas. These Conservatives are simply maneuvering to become the new Republicans and making moderate the new conservative.

Fortunately, the Christian remains more conservative than the Conservative. Kuyper would remind us that the state is meant to restrain sin out of love for the nation and concern for its culture; love and concern based in and upon the truly charitable, Gospel-oriented mission of the Church, where liberty and equality truly abide.

So, how to revive the flagging fortunes of the conservative movement might matter to some people, but it’s not a question that should concern principled Christians. Crypto-conservatives aplenty stand ready to shoulder that demeaning task.

 

Sean Johnson is a graduate student of Literature at the University of Dallas (TX) and husband to a beautiful pregnant woman.

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Sequestration, Punditry and the Formation of our Public Judgment

In broad daylight we see this. In broadcasted radio, we hear a serious situation described in terms that completely distort the nature of what is happening. And this is so common that we don’t have the ability to stop it. God has not yet seen fit for our groanings to be heard as anything other than the claims of Chicken Little. “Chicken Little” starts with a “C.” So does “Cassandra.” So does “Cliff.”

We are currently in talks to avoid government shutdown. More fiscal cliff negotiations. Topping the bill this week is a new musical called, “Sequestration,” coming to theaters on Broadway, Pennsylvania Avenue, and only later to Main Street, they say. But it is quite a show. And broad is the way that leads to destruction. That’s what they’re going to be selling you all week. Destruction is coming if the conservatives get their way. The conservatives are going to lead us into the pit with those scruples! They bicker, they whine, and they won’t compromise! The president will call on us to get something done. Experts will say that Boehner’s minions are obstructionists. 435 players are all sequined up for the big curtain call.

But, please, don’t be dazzled. They are selling lies. You are going to hear over and over this week that congress is “dysfunctional.” And we may even hear the blame spread around – that both parties are guilty of “brinkmanship.” They will try to show you that conservatism is nice, but holding too strongly to anything is petty in a time like this.

You can’t miss any of this if you are listening. Two lies that they want you to believe:

1) The chief good for congress is getting something done.
2) Republicans are conservatives.

Before I explain, let me fast forward to the truths which replace these lies:

1) The chief good for congress is to restrain extraconstitutional spending, now and in the future as a standard and a controlling policy.
2) Constitutionalists are conservatives. Fiscally self-controlled people are conservatives. Republicans are by and large neo-conservatives, which means “fakers.”

The goal of radio time this week is to set the public of the US up with ways of expressing what we’re feeling, as it happens. They would like us to think they are grief counselors after a mass, public tragedy, helping us find words for all the chaos. But really, they are more like the mysterious men taking Mary Mormon’s camera and re-educating her on the spot about how many shots she heard. But we’re so used to that now. We’re ready to give up our knowledge and let it be replaced with publicly approved emotional language we can repeat around the water cooler. While all of this sounds sinister, what is happening consistently is definition of terms and the building of a framework that will allow us to interpret the sequester events in ways favorable to the administration.

Morning news and commentary on NPR gives a healthy dose of this reeducation every time we come to it. If you turn on NPR, as I do every morning, your brain is going to pass through a police checkpoint, directing your mental travel. Monday I was right: I expected what I heard – I didn’t even have to listen to know what I would hear on the Diane Rehm show. So when I listened I was just timing it. And this is what I hear in the punditry of each iteration of this cliffhanger:

“Dysfunction,” “brinkmanship,” “bickering,” “lack of compromise,” “obstructionism.”

And I want to get across here that our annoyance ought to be directed in two places.

Democrats ramrodd spending past the constitutional limits, again and again. But they are just maintaining the status quo. Republicans, on the other hand, are pretending to care, while they say no up to the edge, and then change their mind at the last minute. They (the RINO’s in charge) only do this because somebody back home actually is a conservative. But in the end, they take off the mask (it’s suffocating under there), and move to hold the door open for the democrats. It’s like they like being doormats. Maybe their high calling in life is to vote against their conscience.

There are a few conservatives in congress, but not enough to overwhelm the face of the republican party.

If we divide the groups out by what they say, democrats would be on one side and the Republicans (including the conservatives) would be on the other. But if we divide them out by what they do, then Republicans and Democrats would be on one side, and a handful of libertarian-minded Constitution-lovers would be all by their lonesome in the empty other wing.

So it’s time to deconstruct a weak metanarrative here. Congress wants us to believe they are the source of power, source of goods, source of life in America. The halls of congress are a giant hamster wheel that feeds the power plants juice, if they run fast enough. That is, if they pass enough legislation. They actually talk like the passing of bills creates stuff. Like “getting legislation accomplished” lights up our living room on stormy nights, and keeps our hospitals from needing generators. What will happen, they tell us, if they stop the legislation wheel from spinning, is that America will grind to a halt. Financially, socially, militarily…we can’t live without Almighty Congress, maker of all things, judge of all men.

So when Neo-cons, who are temporarily playing the part of a principled conservative, obstruct passage of money-bills, they are shutting down the future. They are killing even the present. But this is just a show. In the end, after the neos have conned their constituents one more time about their credentials, they will quietly shake hands and hold the coats of the dems so the liberals can stone us while the neo-cons look on in approval.

Some people, conservatives who have not bowed the knee to Baal, will obstruct. Saying, “congress is not God,” and “congress does not supply all our needs.” But to no avail.

Maybe it’s because we have gotten so used to borrowing from China. Maybe we are taking a page out of the Three-Self Patriotic movement. Religion doesn’t come from God, it comes from the government. Financial prosperity doesn’t come from God, it comes from the government.

Well…since we believe that without the ever-giving hand of congress, we would have nothing, then any attempt to slow down the train, is “obstruction” done with “bickering.” But obstruction is good. It is the job of any God-fearing congressman to obstruct when the law is broken, and to obstruct when grubby hands are grasping and grabbing.

Imagine five bullies are confronted at the doorway of the classroom by two children with strong consciences. From a distance the teacher remarks the seven children in the room and says, “Look at those kids holding things up in the doorway. They are such obstructionists; why are they always bickering with all the other kids? Those few kids are holding up the majority of the people in the room!”

Is the main goal of the classroom to let the bullies out on to the playground? Is th main goal of congress to make up rules about our neighbors’ stuff? Is it to get more value out of the public pocket, and into the money pit of this wretched house we’re constructing? Is that progress? Is that good? Can you hear me? Is passing legislation the definition of good? Not often.

No, we are actually glad there are a few principled children in the class. But what is actually about to happen at the end of this week is that most of the way through recess, the supposedly principled children are actually going to shake hands with the bullies walk to the playground and beat up the younger kids with them, telling the younger kids who are being beat up, “I tried to stop them, but I realized the only think I was accomplishing was restraining those bullies. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything measurable… Hey, shut up Loser! You’re just a little kid. You want to fit in, don’t you?”

And if the Republicans DO allow the sequester, it is just a one-off show. They have already cried wolf too many time to be heard as truly standing up for what is right.

But true Conservatives still stand up to bullies. Republicans make a show and then back down. Democrats are still bullies. Republicans are just accomplices.

And Conservatives are still defined by conservatism and not by punditry on morning talk shows.

Bush, War, Conservatives, and the Search for Consistency

One of the perplexing dilemmas we face as those who oppose the over-reach of the Federal Government is the inconsistency we see in such movements. While on the one hand, we opine viciously in opposition to all forms of welfarism, on the other hand, we support and encourage our military efforts ( a form of international welfarism).
In his essay for The American Conservative, Ivan Eland discusses this inconsistency and warns conservatives that they can’t have it both ways:

“Conservatives should be leery of jumping into wars not only because American powers may become overextended—especially in a time of fiscal crisis—but because war makes government expand rapidly at home, even in areas of national security.”[1]

It is also fair to say that the Conservative mood has changed drastically in these last few years. Just as Democrats are quick to oppose a policy under a Republican governance, so too are they quick to support that same policy under a Democratic presidency.[2] I would like to think Republicans have learned their lessons, but they are just as prone to falling into the cycle of political hypocrisy. On a positive note, I have heard growing opposition to Obama’s Drone Strikes’ Policy from Republicans. Much of this opposition stems from the non-hawkish Senator, Rand Paul.

In his 2007 book, A Tragic Legacy, Glenn Greenwald details many of the former Bush supporters who have now come to see the light on America’s endless wars. Among them is Rod Dreher, a former contributor to National Review. In 2001, Dreher declared, “Thank God we have a Republican in the White House.”[3] Dreher later describes his regret for supporting Bush’s policies:

I see that I was the fool…the consequences of his (Bush’s) failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did.

These political transformations are the results of a long line of unintended consequences, or what Chalmers Johnson referred to as Blowback.

I am convinced that serious minded Republicans are willing to count the cost, and the cost has been high. The U.S accounts for more than 50% of the world’s military spending[4] and with all that might it has left the Middle East desolate and unstable. The eloquent “No Nation-Building ” answer given by then candidate George Bush should be our policy. It is costing us too much. And as Eland observes, once warfare starts, taxes and spending continue:

Conservatives should not fail to recognize that war is the most prominent cause of the massive welfare state that has been erected in the United State.

Hopefully, consistency will return to small-government conservatives. We cannot continue to stay on budget at home, while distributing our credit cards abroad.


[1] The American Conservative, January/February 2013

[3] Greenwald, Glenn, A Tragic Legacy: How Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, 34-35.

[4] Ibid. 3

Do minimum wage laws help either the poor or the overall economy?

R.C. Sproul Jr. is a special contributor to Kuyperian Commentary

No, on both counts. Our labor is a service. Its value is determined neither by law nor by wish but by the market. All of us, I suspect, would love to be paid $1,000 an hour.  Given that all of us would want this, why don’t we pass a law stating no one could be paid less than $1,000 an hour? Were we to do so, I suspect that some athletes, some rock stars and perhaps a few actors would still be employed. The rest of us, however, would be out of work. There is no employer out there willing to pay me that much. (If you disagree, by all means, let me know who they are.)

I would, of course, also have to let go my butcher, my baker and my candlestick maker. As much as I like them, and value their services, I would rather keep $1000 in my pocket than hire any of them for even an hour. This, is it not, is pretty easy to see? The question is, why do we think dropping the number down to $9 an hour would make any difference to the principle? The concepts do not change simply by plugging in different numbers. I’m grateful my employers value my labor more than $9 an hour. That is, they gladly give up more than $9 in exchange for an hour of my labor.

But what if they didn’t? Anyone whose services are not valued by any employer at a rate of $9 an hour will be out of work. Any job not deemed important enough to pay $9 an hour to have it done will not be done. This, of course, hurts those on the lowest economic rung the hardest. I might have to do a job myself, or leave it undone if I don’t want to trade $9 an hour to have it done. But the fellow who would love to make $8 an hour is out of work and out of luck, all because the federal government thinks it can suspend the laws of economics.

Do people really think in these terms, valuing certain jobs at certain rates? Yes, we, in a manner of speaking do. We all make decisions whether to buy this or that. And this or that can and often does include the labor of others. As I write I am on an airplane. When I got to the airport I could have paid a porter to take by bags at the curb. I didn’t, but schlepped them to the ticket counter myself. Why? Because I would rather carry my own bags and the few dollars in my pocket, than give someone else my bags and my dollars. I don’t know how much it costs to have a porter take your bags. I don’t know exactly how much I’d be willing to pay. I do know, however, that I am not willing to pay what it cost, or I would have hired one. I’ve never stopped to figure it out because I know it’s not even a close call.

Economics on the small scale matches economics on the large scale. That is, my decision not to hire the porter is the same kind of decision we all make, the same kind of decision countless employees will make when the federal government declares it a crime to trade labor for money at $8.99 an hour. Minimum wage laws hurt those they claim to help, and the rest of us too. The only thing they help is politicians who win votes from the economically illiterate with such dangerous demagoguery. This issue is so simple, so basic, I cannot help but conclude that those who propose and vote for such laws do so knowing they are hurting the poor.  They are not that stupid. They are, however, that heartless.

Originally posted here.

Obama’s State of the Union, Minimum Wage: More Bricks with Less Straw

Scale 3

Capitalism is not a system to be promoted or evaded.  Capitalism is a fact.  Capitalism is the way it works.  Capitalism means: when the scale goes up on one side, it goes down on the other.  Our love of law making to fix economics is the obsession with the irrational idea that you can push down on both sides of the scale at once without breaking the scale.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the president said he wants us to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.

Hurray, we can buy more stuff!  Like… apples.

If I have an apple, and you want to buy it, will you be surprised if at the register I tell you, “They’ve raised the price to nine dollars.” You say, “Is that what you want to sell it for?”

No, I say. No one can afford to buy them now. So I am having to throw out all my apples as they go bad.

When two people are trading at a price they negotiate for themselves like grown ups, and the buyer is forced to buy at a higher price, it will hurt the seller. The seller cannot sell $9 apples. Since the buyer is forced to buy them at a high price, he won’t buy, so the seller is harmed. But don’t get confused about the analogy, listen carefully to who the buyer and seller are.

In work and wage – the business owner is the buyer. Stores are hoping to buy some hourly work from a worker.  The worker is the seller. Of course, we are used to thinking that workers are victims.  But they are only victims where they aren’t free.  Like slaves in Egypt. Rather, in a free society, workers are business people who sell labor to businesses that buy the product of work.  Sellers, though, are the ones hurt by the intrusion of a minimum hike. Stores can’t afford as much work so the seller (the worker) is the one who is hurt – and that means higher minimums would hurt workers.  As we said, in non-free societies, workers become victims.  Minimum wage is a mathematical Pharaonic brick policy

It is simple math – more money for the same work equals less work for the same money. They will cut your work.

Suddenly, the business doesn’t have a choice, they have to charge workers nine dollars an hour (if they were to get that hike through congress). But they would have to alter something to deal with the effects of such a change, because they would have to pay more without more income. This means less hours assigned to workers. More bricks… less straw. The extra money has to come from somewhere. It will come from the hours of workers. It will come from the quality of products they can afford to buy from vendors to sell to the public. The higher minimum will obstruct the people who have jobs to offer; it will starve the people who are hungry for jobs. Companies will offer less jobs. The higher minimum wage hurts the very workers it purports to protect.

When the scale goes up on one side, it goes down on the other.

By the way, we are promised you would have more cash in your pocket. But those dollars would be spent by you in some store that now would have to comply with a higher minimum.  Stores don’t just pass on these “savings” to their workers – they also pass them on to their customers.  The most logical place for the business to recoup the difference in P&L is from you.  The prices will go up.  The hours worked by workers will go down. (So customer service will incidentally hurt as well).

And this movement is understandable, because the market IS free in a way, even under duress of big government intrusion. Capitalism is a fact. The market may get told what to do, but it will retain a mathematical balance on its own.  Bernoulli tells us that if you squeeze the back end of the toothpaste tube, paste will come out the other. You may call that tightening up the system.  But you could just as well call it bleeding the system. When the scale goes up on one side, it goes down on the other.

Listen, friends. If you make hourly wages, and if you make minimum, then I hope you can do better and better for yourself. But know that pushing down on businesses is not going to hurt the businesses.  It will hurt you, the worker.  If you make minimum wage, you need to know that raising the minimum wage is one of the worst things that could happen to you.  You will get a bump, but then you will get laid off.  Or just cut back.  And then the prices will rise against your cut-hour paycheck.

We could stop voting for Pharaoh’s mathemagicians.  But that would mean finding the candidate who promised less stuff.  And since we don’t understand the scale, we think that promising less government enforced and funded stuff means we would get less stuff.  But less intrusion means more freedom.  Less intrusion means improvement of general welfare.  And we love to hear big promises.

Pharaoh makes big buildings. And he promises big promises. But whenever you hear Pharaoh promising you so many more bricks, remember that you’re the one making them.

You Know Who to Call

I’ve been a fool.

For a number of years now, I have gone around criticizing federal programs of Republicans, and federal programs of Democrats as if they were burning down our economy. I have sneered at what I thought was nonsensical, wanton, or even devious. But I have been confronted with a basic error in interpreting the events in our country. As I look back, I am afraid my own mouth has been used to promote falsehoods. “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” I have prompted others to think as I did. I am sorry. I must use that same mouth to show what I should have seen.

We are indeed facing great conflagrations all around us – economic disaster, domestic security, oppression of the poor – the list goes on. Up to this day, I have thought that both George Bush and Barack Obama have been “throwing oil on the fire.” But I failed to see their daring to do what others were too weak to do. What I resisted was their very brilliance, and will be for us our great salvation. They were not throwing oil on the fire. They were going to beat the fire! When a forest fire threatens your home and community, how must you do battle? With the next sentence, you shall hear my repentance:

“You gotta fight fire with fire.”

Don’t you see? A controlled burn to create a barrier – that is how you stop the flames from licking at your heels! When something really awful is coming for you – you have to do the awful thing too! You have to do it first! And a lot! That way you will be immune! That way you won’t feel it when it gets there.

Take TARP for example. Back in my blindness, I would have told you that you can’t fix debt by adding on debt. They weren’t trying to make the debt larger! They were trying to make big, scary debt, right here, really fast…THAT way we would be really tired of debt and emotionally exhausted by it before it got here. Controlled burning, see!? They weren’t trying to conflagrate us, they were just controlling us. And that’s way better. You know for our own good.

But you know how fires catch on like ideas, and it’s a good thing too, because the controlled burn has been a good solution. And this style of burning the people has caught on everywhere. Which means they’ll probably be able to control more and more. And we can let them save us and won’t have to worry or fret or think anymore. Cheer up, you may think it isn’t widespread, but there are tons of areas they can burn us in. It’s going to be a wildfire!

Take domestic terrorism. It could be here at any moment. Out of 330 million people who are potential criminals, a good handful of us has already worked on doing domestic terror on our very own land. Will the raging fire of domestic terror get here first? NO, the government is already here at the scene of the future crime, and they aren’t merely getting ready to act. They have already started! They are fast at work, patting us down, and recording what we own, downloading our computer data, and taking photos with flying robot assassins. These robots could even get their own piece of the action. Don’t worry. Domestic terrorists may have flesh and blood, but they probably also have feelings, so these robots have an advantage – no analytical emotion to get in the way of triggering “fighting fire with fire!” Domestic future bad guys, prepare to be terrorized by the experts. Prepare to be put out of business by our corner on the market.

Consider violence against women. We can certainly round up the cash to pay for more Planned violence against women.

Consider elections – one sure fire way to get rid of current bad candidates is to put more bad candidates on the roster before they can hurt us with the bad candidates we already have.

Their waging an immeasurable war against us? We’ll wage an immeasurable war against them, whoever they are!

Unconstitutional legislation threatening us? We can throw a little unconstitutional court ruling at it!

Would you rather be burned first, or burned worst?  Think it through.

Learn controlled safety at home.

This thing is just jumping from roof to roof now! Control the burn! Control the people! Control the fear! If we all work together as one, there will be nothing we cannot accomplish!

Look, you don’t have to wait for the government to help you. You can get involved. You can, in your own small way, wage war against the coming debt crisis! You can immunize yourself to the wave of debt by making big, painful debt as close as your own pocket. Your own kids can know debt today, and be free from pain in the future.

So, I am sorry that I have suggested voting for candidates of small and principled followings. I am sorry that I pretended that fiscal responsibility meant fiscal restraint. I am sorry that I called for friends to investigate candidates who said “sound economic principles” were wise. I recognize how alone and wrong I was, now that I see the brilliance that both of our upstanding parties have shared. Just how many candidates want sound economic principles, anyway? Three? Two? One? And what is the sound of one economic principle clapping anyway? Exactly. If a tree burns in the woods, and no one is there to control it… you had better believe it’s burning toward your house. And before it gets there – you know who to call.

Biblical Economics and Killing Flies with Vinegar

A few days ago there was a blog post by Bojidar Marinov critiquing a recent article in First Things by Dr. Peter Leithart entitled “Capitalism and its Contradictions.” This article was an addendum to Dr. Leithart’s initial post-election piece, “The Religious Right after Reaganism.” It might be an understatement to call Marinov’s critique scathing. Let’s just say it’s clear the recipe for Marinov’s fly-killing solution contains no honey and more than enough vinegar to drown a cat.

But before we delve into Marinov’s lengthy critique, it’s worth taking a look at what Peter Leithart said.

As a starting point, let me clarify that the term “capitalism” here refers to the actual economic form that has evolved over the past several centuries. It does not refer to a theoretical ideal of a “free market.” Capitalism as a historical ordering of economic life has not taken shape in a “state-free” zone. In many places (including the US), industrial capitalism was promoted if not created by the state. Whatever the theoretical virtues of a state-free free market, it is not the economy we have or have ever had. One may reserve the word “capitalism” for the ideal free market; that is anyone’s semantic prerogative. But I don’t.

This definition puts us in a particular stance toward capitalism from the outset. If “capitalism” means an ideal of economic freedom, one might give it unqualified support. One might even say that the American economy might be far better off if it conformed to the capitalist ideal. Theoretical models can be pure, historical societies and economies are not. Since we’re talking about a historical form, we have to discriminate between goods and lesser goods and evils, pluses and minuses and things in between

Looking at this section, if one were to read it charitably, giving Dr. Leithart the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t actually a Marxist in conservative Reformed clerical garb, we should read a critique by Leithart of crony capitalism, corporatism, fascism, or what Dr. Leithart probably unhelpfully calls “capitalism.”

Further down Leithart references self-described socialist (as Marinov notes in his critique) and sociologist Daniel Bell.

[Bell] identified some real tensions in capitalist democracies – structural tensions between the aims of economic life and the aims of politics and culture, and tensions between the virtues needed for capitalism to succeed and the desires that its success tends to arouse. He worried that capitalism is so good at responding to and meeting consumer desires that its slick efficiency inhibits the development of settled public moral standards.

As Bell argued, the capitalist system has had a corrosive effect on families and traditional societies. Sometimes the structures that it destroys need to be destroyed, and the benefits are worth the costs. But when, for example, the notion of consumer choice infiltrates families and sexuality (which it has), then big social problems follow. Sometimes the corrosions arise because the wealth capitalism generates enable people to pursue morally questionable fantasies. Sometimes the corrosions have happened because the state broke up traditional patterns of life in the name of “modernization” or “industrialization.” Capitalism’s infatuation with novelty spills over beyond the economy. (That image is a problem, since the economy is never bounded off from the rest of life in the first place.) Whatever the cause, my goal was to point out that promoting capitalism might inhibit other goals of the religious right.

Of course, Bell is a left-liberal critic of capitalism (it is likely Bell does not make a distinction between actual free markets or phony-crony “capitalism”), but from what Leithart refers to Bell seems to agree with no less than that proto-Marxist, Cotton Mather, when he said, “prosperity beget faithfulness, and the daughter consumed the mother.”

In his conclusion, Dr. Leithart says:

The question is: What social and economic order best promotes the good of the poor? It’s clear that the massive American welfare system is not the way to take care of the needs of the poor; quite the opposite. Any statist system is dangerous, if not outright evil. Some of the basic features of capitalist economies are crucial to forming a just economy: Free markets and protection of property rights are good for the poor (as Henando de Soto has emphasized). Elijah, Isaiah, and Amos stood up for the property rights of small landowners against the machinations of the wealthy. Further, Scripture provides various models for how the church can address poverty – gleaning laws and even the Old Testament slavery laws offer much food for thought. The economic system that best secures and protects families is also the best economic system for the poor; family breakdown is often a cause of poverty, and even where it is not a cause, it regularly accompanies poverty.

Of course, there’s no either-or choice. In a just society, there are opportunities for expanding wealth and also opportunities for the poor to rise from poverty as well structures for the relief of poverty. Both are social goods, but the test of whether the society is just is the latter not the former.

Here Leithart leaves the question mostly unanswered (characteristic of a scholar rather than an ideologue). To me it seems rather obvious. The church should have a vision for society that respects the Spirit’s moving in the hearts of men. That is, after all, what the law of supply and demand is. Because Christians are not anarchists, this vision should include a state; a state that seeks out justice as God defines it, which precludes any type of redistribution of wealth by the state. A Christian society is one where goods and services are exchanged freely. Implicit in this arrangement is a refusal by the wealthy to use the power of the state to crush the poor, but rather a gratitude to God for His blessing them and charity towards the poor in response. A society like that is truly the only way that the poor can be taken care of. This is, of course, only possible with a society filled with mature Christians. The kind of society we pray God will bring whenever we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Now, as to Marinov’s critique, not much needs to be quoted to get a feel the tone:

In reality, far from clarification, Leithart leaves a trail of confused, illogical babble that is self-contradictory at best. But at the end, the call to action is firmly Marxist.

And

Far from proving some “inner contradictions” characteristic to capitalism, Peter Leithart has only demonstrated the true inner contradictions of his own thinking.

And

Not content with demonstrating his own logical contradictions, Leithart is also demonstrating his and the Federal Vision’s abandonment of the Covenant Theology of the Reformation. Sinful desires do not come from the heart, they come from the economic environment of man; and capitalism must be blamed for the dissolution of the “settled public moral standards.” It’s the wealth it created that is the moral problem. Without that wealth, and without the “slick efficiency” of capitalism, our society would have been much more ethical and just.

And lastly

Leithart’s call at the end is entirely without justification in the Bible but is in harmony with the common socialist and statist leanings of the modern church. The new model for “justice” is re-distribution of wealth, not obedience to the Law of God. Subsidizing poverty is what defines a “just society” for Leithart; encouraging obedience and therefore economic productivity and freedom are only a second thought. Theonomy has been replaced by a new Social Gospel preaching.

I think I can understand why Marinov is a little bit jumpy when notable conservative Reformed Evangelicals seem to be attacking biblical economics in favor of some kind of socialist scheme. It isn’t like Bojidar Marinov is creating conservative Reformed Evangelical (who-are-kind-of-okay-with-socialism) boogeymen—N.T. Wright and James K. A. Smith are prominent names that come to mind. It is certain that a biblical formulation of economics is coming under attack, and this is what Marinov is reacting to, and I have considerable sympathy for him in this regard. This is a battle that I think will be brewing in conservative Reformed circles during and beyond my lifetime, a battle over the answer to the question, “what economic system does Jesus want?” I think Bojidar and I are kindred spirits with regard to the answer to that question. The problem is that we can be absolutely correct and lose that battle, and set the maturation of our corner of the church back quite a bit. We can either deal with men who disagree with us on that question in a charitable way and try to win them, or go down the road of the Christian Reconstructionists and stop speaking to one another because we disagree with what the blood on the doorposts at Passover really meant.

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