Posted by: Loran Blood | December 18, 2012

Ancient Wisdom Holds the Key to our Economic Woes

The moral axioms — the principles and standards of human conduct that govern, mediate, and set bounds and conditions to our relations with each other — have long been codified for Western civilization in the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, a benchmark and a standard of reference as to the manner in which we should treat each other as well as those things that become associated with us during our mortal sojourn, or, in other words, our property.

Both the Old and New Testaments assume the existence of property in very much the same sense we understand it today, as “private,” or, in other words, as that which, like the clothes or shoes one wears, or the food one buys and cooks, “belongs” to the one who earned the money through his own labor to purchase such property; it is “his” in the sense that labor, time, talent, and effort are combined to generate a moral boundary, or moral frontier across which one does not reach one’s hand without the permission or knowledge of the owner of that property.

Such commandments as the seventh and tenth, regarding the nature of property and its moral qualities within human relations are key to the viability of a free, lawful, and prosperous opportunity society that also cares for its poor in a meaningful way.

Were the vast majority of the population to take these two commandments seriously, the very concept of “class envy” would be severely curtailed and minimized, our safety net would exist, but be woven of a much finer and more effective fabric, and welfare would not be a “right” for the recipients protected by a morally priggish, ham-fisted welfare state, but a duty, as caring for the poor has always been in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for those who give.

The present battle for the crumbs of the masters table that has come to be understood as that between the “takers” and the “makers” represents a gross perversion of human relations as well as of the fundamental relation between a people and the state.  The economic illiteracy of the entire present model used by the ascendant Left and the political classes in economic matters is an important if limited subject of vigorous debate, but it is the moral basis of economic life, however, that has now come to the fore as a leading issue of our time — and barometer of our moral viability as a people.

From a newly militant and unreasoning unionism, especially in the public sector, to the blandishments of “community organizers,” to the entrenched poverty industry, to the class war demagoguery of Democratic party ideologues and academic poseurs, both ends of the candle burn.  As the economy continues to collapse and the crumbs on the table become ever more scarce, the philosophical moral relativism taught in the classroom and in the pop culture and the practical moral relativism encouraged and assumed by the entitlement mentality of the welfare state over the last forty years will converge like a great vice upon the remaining common elements holding our society together.

Those who see few moral boundaries between themselves and the property of others and see redistribution of the property of others to themselves as an “entitlement” and hence, are willing, in essence, to force others into servitude through the intermediary of the state for their own benefit, will vote for ever expanding government without rational limit (as human wants, especially when they can be satisfied for “free” tend to have no rational limit).

Then there are “the rich,” a class of people made up, not of individuals but of ideologically useful archetypes.  These people don’t pay their “fair share” and are actually the cause of the poverty of the poor.  Their money, which, left to them, will be stuffed in mattresses, sequestered in off-shore accounts, and wasted on things like investment in productive economic activities that create wealth, jobs, and opportunities for others, must not be left to its own devices.

Leaving all that money and property in the hands of individuals in the private sphere, who will only use it selfishly and narrow-mindedly to follow their own interests and pursue happiness, per the Declaration, grounded in their unalienable right to do so in their own way and according to their own talents and abilities, is inconsistent with the creation of a “better world,” which is, of course, how most of our wealth should be used (if we were as smart, morally developed, and enlightened as the ruling class).

Like the lifeguard at the local public pool who blows his whistle and shouts “Alright, everybody out of the pool!” when some rule is broken, the progressive ruling class, of whom the Democratic party is the institutional political representative, says to all those who balk and cry out as ever more of the fruits of their labor are summarily confiscated in ever increasing quantities, “You didn’t build that.”  Private wealth never belonged to those outside the (taxpayer supported) government sector in the first place.  How can this be?  How can that which is utterly parasitic and dependent turn upon those to whom it owes the totality of its existence and say “No, you are the parasite; we are the foundation and source of all you are and all you have.”?  How can the lamprey say to the shark, “You are living off me.”?

The answer is that, to the Left, all wealth and all property belong, by definition and by moral prerogative, to the state.  The fundamental idea behind this is that all property, money, and wealth belong, not to those who earn it through productive economic activity, but to the collective — to all who share citizenship within the same body politic.  We live in a commons within which there are no clear moral demarcation lines between the property of one citizen and that of another. “Ownership” is not a relevant concept within the commons, only “distribution” of existing wealth, none of which is “owned” by those who created it because none of that wealth ever really left the “public” sphere in the first place.  Do you have a dollar?  Then there is a government agency, a government program, a government road, a government bridge, a government employee filling a pothole, or a public school teacher somewhere who shares equally and substantively in ownership of that dollar.

My argument here is simply that too many of us have abandoned the core moral principles that are at the foundation of both a prosperous overall society and a viable, sustainable social order, and that these principles must be reclaimed and reestablished as the fundamental basis of both prosperity and welfare, as well as of a free society.

The seventh commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal,” and the tenth tells each individual, rich or poor, that “Thou shalt not covet…anything that is thy neighbor’s.”  This means, among other things, that prosperity, upon which welfare itself is based, cannot exist in a world in which there is more theft than savings, investment, and productive work.  The modern welfare state long ago began generating the attitude and assumption among a critical mass of the American electorate that the fundamental purpose of government is, as Frederic Bastiat said, to enable everyone “to live at the expense of everyone else.”  To provide welfare in the tragic way it has been done, however, as a matter of fundamental preemptive claim of some upon the fruits of the labor of others, means that the moral boundaries between individual and individual have to become ever more indistinct, if not indefinable over time, to justify these kinds of economic relations.

To Barack Obama and most within his party, the private sector and everything that is created and generated within it is nothing more than an epiphenomena of the state.  The entire private sphere of human activity is wholly dependent upon government for its very existence and nothing it actually creates can therefore be understood as outside the realm of state power to regulate and control.  Government is creator, and hence, it is lord and possessor as well.

The present struggle between what has come to be called the “takers” (the very taking notice of which has brought wails of moral anguish from the Left) and the more productive (and job creating) elements of society, has become one of the core struggles of our generation.  The so-called “takers,” of course, are not a lumpen mass but a variety of Americans who are similar in that they receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes to support those benefits, whatever form those taxes may take.  The result is obvious: virtually half of all Americans have little incentive to vote for limited government that is much less involved in the lives of its citizens and every incentive to vote perennially for a doting caregiver state that is ever increasing and expanding in size, scope, and in its ability to dispense ever more generous “benefits.”

The classical liberal and Judeo-Christian influenced ideal of strictly limited government, the rule of law, and private property rights is the antibiotic for the bacterium of collectivism in which there are no moral boundaries between human beings relative to that which is produced by personal human effort.  Moral boundaries, demarcation lines, and perimeters circumscribing and defining what is mine and what is not mine help create prosperity by creating moral and economic spaces where wealth can be created and saved free from continual, arbitrary confiscation.  Such controls effectively disappear in a socialist world and hence ownership itself becomes “greed” and any personal wealth becomes something taken off of “someone else’s back.”  The morality of property relations as found in the two great Mosaic commandments relating to property are effectively reversed. 

The crux of all this is as clear as it is fearful: If nothing you create through your own labor really belongs to you, but to the state, then you belong to the state.  If government really owns all you have, then government also owns all you are — your time, talents, skills, abilities, and labor.

Some truths are hard for some, yet liberating for others.  What must be reestablished and defended vigorously is that the key to human economic welfare is wealth creation, not wealth transference; the key to economic independence is work, thrift, industriousness, savings, and investment, not laying claim to the wealth of others, and that the destruction of moral boundaries means the end of the “civil” in civilization.

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