Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Hand of God

There is an idea that if we simply behave according to our own selfish interests when it comes to economics, there is a metaphorical hand of God in the economy that will make things all work out for the best. Unbridled greed, even for a good purpose, is not  a Christian virtue (1 Timothy 6:9,10; Matthew 6:19-24; Colossians 3:5). But the response of turning everything economic over to the government does not seem like much of a solution either. That the government represents and can be expected to always represent the standard for just economical dealing seems dubious in the extreme. The government is made up of people who are not necessarily any better or more moral than the rest of us. So where do we go to find the standard for economic justice?

Scripture says that the normal procedure from the very beginning was for people to work for a living (Genesis 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; Ephesians 4:28), and we are encouraged to be diligent at our work, even if it is obscure and unimportant (Proverbs 6:6-11; Ephesians 6:6-8; Colossians 3:22-24). This does not preclude helping out those who are poor and in need (James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:17,18; Proverbs 14:31). But it does make working for a living the normal and expected standard. However, there is also the demand that employers treat their employees well, and properly compensate them for their work (James 5:1-6; Deuteronomy 24:14,15; Ephesians 6:9). Further, we need to give our customers a just product at a just price (Leviticus 19:36; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 6:10,11).

It is here again that we run into the purely practical. While it is tempting to want to set prices based on the price of salt, as they did in the Middle Ages, this is a bit simplistic. But it is also simplistic to encourage people to follow their worst impulses and expect it to all come out right in the end. Now it does seem to me that the government has the obligation to prevent or punish the worst abuses in this area. The solution is not to have the government become the one that possesses the means of production but for it to be sufficiently independent of such entanglements that it can restrain the cupidity of others. But this still leaves many complex questions. Such as, if you require a minimum wage, are you guaranteeing that people will be paid fairly, or are you simply reducing the number of available jobs? These are difficult questions to answer. They are best answered through a careful examination of the practical implications. Mere knee-jerk reactions one way or the other should be avoided. But we need to start with the right moral principles.       

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