« Einstein on Human Stupidity | Main | The Cost of Information Just Got Lower »

Jan 05, 2007

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

RonMck

Michael
This is a really good article. Your computer analogy really hits the nail on the head.

I am really concerned that people like Dr Mouw talk about "the common good" as if it was something knowable. Only God can know know what is good for everyone. Even for him the concept of a common good is illogical, because some things will benefit some and harm others. How can you add up these benefits and harms and arrive at a measure of the common good.

The "common good" is not a helpful concept. It usually becomes a slogan used to justify the social progamme of the person using the term.

I do not think there is a "third way" in the sense used by Dr Mouw. Those who argue for it generally do not accept the principle of economic freedom.

Of course, economic freedom is not absolute. The major constraint on economic freedom is that we must not steal. There is no debate about this as it is spelt out in the scriptures and on most human hearts.

Mouw's goal of finding a balance between economic freedom and economic injustice is misleading. Economic injustice cannot be resolved by reducing economic freedom. The solution to economic injustice is economic justice, ie for the criminal to make restitution to the victim. Economic injustice actually reduces the economic freedom of the victim, so these two are not opposites. They are two sides of the same coin, so they cannot be balanced. I have written about his at http://getrad2.blogspot.com/2007/01/caring-for-poor-20-justice-and-mercy.html.

Anyway, this is a great post. I encourage you to keep chipping away.

PS Have you ever wondered if Pastors and theologians are hostile to economic success, because deep down they are envious.

Blessings
Ron

Michael Kruse

Thanks for this post, Ron

I want to acknowledge that I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for Dr. Mouw. I have read some of his material and Fuller is actively trying to figure out how marketplace ministry should work. I am in the PCUSA and to my knowledge, I know of know other seminaries that turn out significant numbers of PCUSA ministers that have opted to make this a vital focus. (If someone knows of others, I would like to learn more.)

I am trying out my computer analogy in various places and it does some to connect. I am honestly looking for some feedback from those he may not see it as helpful. (No analogy is perfect.)

Point well taken about the common good. What is the common good? Who determines that? Furthermore, what actions actually really accomplish the common good?

Concerning justice, I am thinking about provisions in the OT for not gleaning to the edge of the field. That is an imposition on the use of “personal property” to achieve a communal good of providing for the poor. I think those with resources have a positive obligation to care for and, where possible, raise others out of dependency. I can see some taxes (gleaning the edges) to accomplish some aspects of this as legitimate avenues but privately organized benevolence often is more effective that than large public assistance programs. I am not trying to stay away from any specific example here and simply acknowledge that Christians can have legitimate disagreement about is the appropriate response. Nevertheless, I think we positive obligation to eliminate perpetual poverty when we can not just commitment to effective mechanisms for market activity. That was my larger point. (Thanks for the article link.)

As to envy and pastors, I am not inclined to see that as the central issue. I suspect that other issues are much more in play. One may be temperament. Half of pastors score as Intuitive-Feeler “Idealists” on the Myers-Briggs inventory even though Idealists only make up about 12% of the population. God created Idealists and it is not some sort of character flaw. The problem is that business is more often about cold hard rationality and sharp distinctions. People with temperaments with those proclivities are drawn to business. Idealists are more inclined to idealism and seeing lots of nuance. I think the two temperaments often clash and annoy each other considerably.

I also think that the most pervasive reason is a centuries long sacred/secular dichotomy that still pervades the Church more than many are willing to concede. Work in the economy is “secular” and therefore tainted. We need to desecularize the marketplace and the economy and help people in business to see their work as part of their spiritual formation and spiritual discipline. We need to help pastors see the positive potential of the markets and train them to be able to effectively help their marketplace ministers desecularize.

RonMck

You are probably right about the idealism. My other thought was that it is lazy thinking to attack economic freedom without getting an understanding of basic economics first. However, we should not expect intuitive-feelers to do hard thinking. :-) We need guys like you to do it for them.

With regard to gleaning, there were no There were no penalties for not allowing it, so I think it is a mercy issue rather than a justice issue.

Michael Kruse

"My other thought was that it is lazy thinking to attack economic freedom without getting an understanding of basic economics first."

I think that is part of the problem. There is also an ambivalence (if not antipathy)toward's business by a broad swath academia in general. I think that also seeps into academic theological training.

"...we should not expect intuitive-feelers to do hard thinking"

But the NF friends make life richer in so many other ways where I am deficient. Idealism is good thing when used when used in community with the other gifts.

"We need guys like you to do it for them."

I may contribute in my own way but God have mercy on the organization that has too many of me in leadership. There will be tons of ideas (some of them pretty good) but nothing well get done. :)

"With regard to gleaning, there were no There were no penalties for not allowing it, so I think it is a mercy issue rather than a justice issue."

What I am really going for is the borader sweep of the biblical narrative. The gleaning is probably an act of mercy. But I think it points toward a higher ultimate ethic of God wanting each of us to be stewards of resources. I think one of the redemtpive aspects of the biblical narrative is each person "having a garden to tend," as it were. An attitude that says that those who fail in economic stewardship are none of my concern and I have no obligation to participate in their redemption IMO goes against the biblical narrative. The message of the gospel is the restoration of each individual into icons of God and one of the ways we most exhibit God's image is as stewards of resources. Therefore, I think we have an obligation to invest a portion of our resources in the holistic redemption of others.

I may not be saying this well but hopefully I am capturing the spirit of it.

I always enjoy your comments Ron. Thanks.

Ted Gossard

I'm possibly (and even probably) going to diverge from (if not miss) the point here. And fall into some error.

I like your interaction in this, Michael, and Ron comes along with some good thoughts too.

I see freedom as important, and laws made, setting parameters as likewise important. It is a good idea to impose a kind of kingdom of God structure or ethic to economic systems in the hope that they could more and more move towards that vision and reality. But I'm afraid laws and systems will always have to take into account human greed and sin.

Therefore, the computer, or economic system, of necessity, I think, should have some "blocks" and ways of operating that cannot be set aside.

Well, just my few and small thoughts into this post and discussion. Thanks.

Michael Kruse

“But I'm afraid laws and systems will always have to take into account human greed and sin.”

Absolutely, Ted! I agree. Here are just a few of thoughts.

An economic system is largely about an exchange of goods and services. In a sinless world we could count on others benevolence toward us (and ours toward them) to effectively and justly distribute goods throughout society on a sustained basis. But as you correctly note, we are prone to greed and sin. What the free market does is arrange things in such a way that I come to see that meeting you needs is in my own self-interest. Or said conversely, everyone comes to see meeting my needs as part of their self-interest. Fallen human beings and not depend on the benevolence of other fallen human beings for a sustained system of economic production.

Self-interested economic exchange bounded by legally enforced respect for property and honest dealings, is far better than a “law of the jungle” cut-throat competition. It allows for a remarkable degree of cooperation and win-win exchanges. However, self-interested economic exchange is not to the par of total selfless love and benevolence. But short of Christ’s return, an economic system based on exclusively on benevolence is utopian and sure to bring ruin. So again, I come back to Adam Smith’s notion that the Golden rule is not the end point of economic ethics but the starting point. Self-interested economic exchange is the basic starting point that enables a high degree economic cooperation and productivity. Benevolence is an even higher virtue. To the degree that we send people into the marketplace with mind and heart of Christ, we will see a market that becomes more benevolence oriented but still has self-interested economic exchange at its base. Only upon consummation should we expect to see a society that is only benevolence based.

Free exchange must be bounded by commutative justice and restorative justice. The first applies to honesty and transparency in the economic transactions. The second deals with proper restitution when someone’s property rights have been violated. Economics talks about externalities. When a power plant puts pollution into the air, it deprives others of clean air. It is therefore a cost to them. The cost is not charged to the power plant, which means they are using other people’s air without paying for it. Regulation and cost allocation methods have to be used to create justice. These are just a few of the ways “laws and systems” must be used to account for people who maybe motivated by greed and sin. But one of the major virtues of the free exchange system, combined with these legal bounds, is that even a greedy person still has to produce a good or service that satisfies a customers needs. Thus, while we can’t control people’s motives, the free exchange system actually channels sinful motives toward productive ends.

I have gone long here but my main point is the economic freedom is wondrously positive thing that, just like other freedoms, must be bounded in ways that minimizes the inevitable sinfulness of humanity.

RonMck

"In a sinless world we could count on others benevolence toward us (and ours toward them) to effectively and justly distribute goods throughout society on a sustained basis."

Michael, I agree with he general thrust of this post, but this statement is not true. Even in a sinless society, benevolence could not not distribute goods on a sustained basis. The problem is that even in a sinless society, people do not have perfect knowledge. Benevolent people simply do not always know what other people want. Ted might generously give me his Dire Straits CDs, without knowing that I prefer ABBA.

How would a person make a decision to build a factory that makes computer chips. He need price sigals to know if it is a viable use of his resources. In a society run under benebolence, there would be enormous waste. Benevolent people would build factories to produce things that they think people should want, and find that they are wrong.

The free exchange of goods and services is the only economic system that will work, even in a sinsless society. As you say, Economic freedom is a wonderful thing. Benevolence is important too, but it cannot replace economic freedom.

The great thing about the free economy is that it does not require anyone to have perfect knowledge. Rather little bits of knowledge are amplified as they move around the economic system. Last year I brought an MP3 player designed in the US 6 monthes before and made in China a couple of months before. Even if the the US designers and the Chinese manufacturers were incredibly benevolent, they could not of know that I would want any MP3 player have it here in Christichurch just when I wanted it. The system of free exchange did that for me.

RonMck

In your earlier reply you said, "An attitude that says that those who fail in economic stewardship are none of my concern and I have no obligation to participate in their redemption goes against the biblical narrative."

I agree with you fully on this. We all have an obligation to be care for those in need. My concern is more about the motivation for this care. The motivation is rarely justice, unless the bad economic stewardship was caused by injustice. The motivation is generally mercy and Christians should have plenty of that, because we have experienced God's mercy.

When justice is made the motivation, the results of bad economcic stewardship becomes seen as an injustice that someone has a legal obligation to correct. Often that obligation is placed upon the civil government, so mercy-converted-to-justice becomes the basis for state sponsored redistribution.

Benevolence is really important. We should be challenging wealth people to show mercy, but we should not not confuse it with justice.

Michael Kruse

"Even in a sinless society, benevolence could not not distribute goods on a sustained basis. The problem is that even in a sinless society, people do not have perfect knowledge."

You raise an excellent point! The free market it is an information system. Take price exchange out of the equation and you have have left buyers and sellers blind.

I need to go back and rethink how I phrased this. My unarticulated assumption was that benevolence would not replace market exhcanges and but rather supplement them. I was going specifically to motives of actions rather than how actions take place.

Maybe benevolence is something that is characteristic of this age before Christ returns. After Christ returns, will there be a need for benevolence? Each person's motives and will will be perfectly aligned with God's motives and wills. I guess I am trying a thought experiment that asks how our economic exchange might like in a world without sin and people live in perfect community with God and each other.

Michael Kruse

"When justice is made the motivation, the results of bad economcic stewardship becomes seen as an injustice that someone has a legal obligation to correct. Often that obligation is placed upon the civil government, so mercy-converted-to-justice becomes the basis for state sponsored redistribution."

More excellent observations. I am not going so much to the idea of legally imposed corrective measures but rather a moral vision held by Christians that makes them unwilling to see any languish in economic ruin. The motivation should be toward personal and local community engagement not massive redistribution of others resources.

"...unless the bad economic stewardship was caused by injustice."

Yes. I agree.

"Benevolence is really important. We should be challenging wealth people to show mercy, but we should not not confuse it with justice."

I appreciate your point here and it is well taken. Yet my slight hesitation is that economic systems are so complex that is it exceedingly difficult to discern if someone's economic peril is a result of bad stewardship on their own or injustices they have suffered. It is very often a very complex mixtures. There are imperfections in the market. There are corporations/governments that amass power and engage in destructive behavior. There are parents who debiliate children from being productive stewards becasue of irresponsible parenting. I guess that is why I might see some insitutionalized supplementation "bad stewards" as needed but the ever present danger becomes the development of dependency through assistance.

It seems to me that seeing our assistance only as mercy runs the risk of minimizing injustices some experience. Yet suggesting that economic disparity is in and of itself is injustice is not valid either. It can lead to state sponsor redistribution schemes that are destructive to the econonmy and make dependent those who need incentives to take responisiblity, thus moving them away from becoming stewards rather than toward it.

These are some of the nuances I am playing with. I really do resonate with your concern about mercy being translated into justice.

RonMck

Your thought experiment is interesting (to an INTJ anyway). In principle, the economy could work if every person was guided by the Holy Spirit. He would prompt one person to build a chip manufacturing plant and another to make an MP3 player, just when they are needed by someone. He might also prompt someone in the United States to send their ABBA CDs to someone they have never heard of in New Zealand. Because God has perfect knowledge, he could make this system work, if everyone obeyed him perfectly.

However, this results in a rather truncated view of humaninty. If God wanted totally obedient puppets he would have created us that way in the first place. Instead he created us to be creative, make decisions and run risks. I cannot see God would take those things away from us if the world ever became sinless.

That is why I have never liked the Hal Lindsay etc vision of the millenium. It turns christians into puppets or Cogs in an enormous God bureaucracy. I find the idea of living in total obedience to SMS or email messages from Jesus in Jerusalem quite boring. (www.kingwatch.co.nz/Times_Seasons/False_Teaching/millenium.htm)

So I suspect that even in a sinless world we would have economic freedom and the potential to make mistakes with our economic stewardship. The difference would be that we would have abudant benevolence, to deal with the consequences.

By the way, I agree with your statement that "The free market it is an information system. Take price exchange out of the equation and you have have left buyers and sellers blind." The interesting thing is that without price information, benelovent people are also left blind. I might give someone in need the mud from my yard and throw some diamonds in the trash can.

RonMck

The great thing about mercy is that it does not need to be that discerning. Wherever there is a need, mercy should respond, regardless of the cause. Mercy does not wait to work out whether the cause is bad stewardship or injustice, because mercy is not wasted, if the cause is injustice. Mercy responds to human need as soon as it appears.

I have on a couple of occasions helped people that I suspected were lying about their circumstances. I did this because, I believe that mercy is right at the heart of what we are called to be as Christians. Being merciful is more important than identifying bludgers. Mercy should triumph over judgement. If we get serious about being merciful, we will sometimes be ripped off, but that does not matter because we are following Jesus example.

On the other hand, I agree that "seeing our assistance only as mercy runs the risk of minimizing injustices some experience". Because God is just, his people should never be blind to injustice. If we had a fully developed prophetic ministry in the church, we would be leading the world in challenging injustices. If we have the wisdom of God, we would be the first to identify injustice. If we had the boldness of the Spirit, we should be shouting the loudest to expose injustice.

Unfortunately, the church has got rather good at supporting the status quo. The other problem is that we are not even certain on what injustice is. This makes it hard to identify it.

Nate Custer

Mike,

A quibble, is "the market" as you describe it different from many conceptual notions of a "free market"? You seem comfortable with attempts to regulate a market "As long as the bad decisions are relatively few, the market absorbs them. However, when a significant number of people begin to make bad decisions and people in the market do not respond correctively, either through their economic decisions or by other means, then that which is bad is facilitated by the economic system." If a system that includes governmental regulation (how I would read reponding correctively through non-market means) it is not the kind of free market many of my libertarian friends are advocating.

A few comments on the analogy atm, will have to read and digest comments in a few. I really like your analogy so instead of bashing lets embrace and extend it.

1) OSes are not neutral, they include lots of default applications and convincing people to switch off them is a huge evangelistic cost. OSes are in this case, layers of leaky abstraction. Case in point: a friend of mine works for a fortune 500 company, they spend 3 mil a year on anti-virus software, three weeks ago they had a virus that shut the entire company down for 19 hours that came in via a 3 month old whole in IE. Is the company switching web browsers, when a safer, more powerful, and free alternative is available? No ... because the effort to convince users to switch is too much and the ones that are stupid are the least likely to switch. Instead they are studying switching to linux, because when you change the OS the shock helps you set new (more healthy) behavior patterns. If the "free market" OS includes default applications (patterns of behavior) that are causing harm is it worth considering switching OSes?

2) OSes have a real cost which directly effects how the computer can be used. Simply put companies like Google could not exist running windows on each machine in their cluster. It would cost to much. In fact I would suggest that the Internet could not exist in any conventional sense of the world if we all paid a cost for each OS running on it. So the costs of the OS effect how many computers can be running at any point in time, is the same true about the "free market"? Do the costs of the free market's lack of care about the environment, worker health, long term sustainability etc mean that only a smaller number of economies / people can successfully participate in the world?

3) The best OSes have a strong sense of tradition, shared symbolic meaning, and a strong sense of community pressure to shape the applications design decisions. Part of what makes the Mac experience so great is the use of the same metaphors and methods in every application, thus as the user learns something in one application they can use that knowledge in lots of others. Unix is the same way, there is a strong culture and tradition. The influence of shaming that developers feel when they break those traditions helps keep them in place. In a free market system where all that is solid melts to air can this deep shared culture survive and have influence?

Nate

Michael Kruse

Ron and Nate, I was out of pocket much of the day yesterday and I am dealing with car problems issues to day. I very much want to continue the discussion and I will be back later today. I really do appreciate the questions you raise!

Michael Kruse

Ron Wrote:

“(to an INTJ anyway).”

Does anything else matter? :)

“That is why I have never liked the Hal Lindsay etc vision of the millenium. It turns christians into puppets or Cogs in an enormous God bureaucracy. I find the idea of living in total obedience to SMS or email messages from Jesus in Jerusalem quite boring.”

Agreed. While don’t envision human robots executing God’s commands and do wonder about a degree of interconnectedness to God and to each other. I also wonder about the nature of our physical existence. Will we be like Jesus, literally walking “through” the door? I am not sure the economic equation will be exactly the same and it is interesting speculate on the possibilities if for no other reason that remind us of both finitude and our sinfulness in the real world of the here and now.

“The interesting thing is that without price information, benelovent people are also left blind.”

Amen!

Michael W. Kruse

Ron, I also agree with what you have to say about the challenge of discerning differences in the need for mercy and justice. That is one of the real challenges to me.

Michael W. Kruse

Nate, before going further I would re-emphasize that no analogy is perfect so I want to be careful about not getting too lost in the analogy and reify it as the economic system. My basic purpose of the analogy is to delineate between a set of complex tools versus the motivations and virtue of the actors employing those tools. So, with that said….

“OSes are not neutral, they include lots of default applications and convincing people to switch off them is a huge evangelistic cost. OSes are in this case, layers of leaky abstraction.”

I see the economic system of capitalism as having emerged much like the Linux code. It is the amalgamation practices, customs and institutions that have emerged from different communities, tested in the crucible of competing interests of a relatively decentralized Europe over the past millennium and more. Additions have been made and some aspects have been abandoned as the OS continues to adapt to new contexts. So while it is not neutral, neither is it arbitrary or imposed from without.

“If the "free market" OS includes default applications (patterns of behavior) that are causing harm is it worth considering switching OSes?”

One must demonstrate that the free market OS is indeed causing the alleged harm and that there is an alternative that would cause less harm. Because the market is “free,” that means that people are “free” to act on motivations of virtue or vice in their economic thinking.

People are sinful. People will make decisions based on vice. But the question is what system could possibly be designed that eliminates all vice as a motivation in economic decision and still leaves people with economic freedom? Such an attempt is Utopian. There will be harm in ANY economic system because sinful human beings are involved. To say that the “free market” causes harm because it allows people to make evil decisions is like saying God is evil because he allows beings who cause harm. I think the issue is what system results in the greatest freedom with the least harm. I think economic freedom, coupled with institutions and customs that instill virtue is the best system. Or maybe like Mark Twain said about democracy, “It is the worst system, except for all the others.” :)

More to come…

will spotts

Mike - I just want to say thanks for this post and the comments. You do an excellent job articulating the issues.

Michael W. Kruse

“So the costs of the OS effect how many computers can be running at any point in time, is the same true about the "free market"? Do the costs of the free market's lack of care about the environment, worker health, long term sustainability etc mean that only a smaller number of economies / people can successfully participate in the world?”

Good question. Go back about 100 years before there were cars. Cities were filled with horse drawn vehicles. Horses were messy, consumed food, often smelled and had a number of other drawbacks. Imagine living in 1907 and foreseeing the population growth and urbanization that was ahead. How could our cities possibly accommodate the growing need for transportation? There was no way we could have “sustainable growth.” Yet we did grow and flourish because the growing dissatisfaction with options for the future was met by people introducing new possibilities in the market. Some hobbyists experimented with welding two bicycle frames together to make a four wheeler. Then they attached a seat, an internal combustion engine, and some steering gear. They sought to make a buck off of their ideas and the rest is history.

That revolution greatly expanded our sustainable growth but in recent decades the pollution the new solution caused, because of its widespread use, has created new problems for sustainability. That is putting pressure on the markets to emerge better solutions. Often the problem with asking questions of sustainability is the tendency to project current levels of innovation and technology indefinitely into the future. Innovation and technology are not static.

I would also challenge the assertion that free markets lead to lack of care for the environment or worker health. In nations with extreme poverty, we often find extensive deforestation, pollution of the water, poor treatment of the soil and host of other environmental violations. As per capita wealth increases to about $3,500 a year, the pollution per capita increases. After the point the pollution goes into significant decline. When people are at bare subsistence they care little about the environment and everything about surviving today. Once they get beyond bare subsistence and begin to have a stake in their communities and economies, they began to take greater and greater interest in their environment.

Some the most polluted real estate on the globe is the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc nations. Because totalitarian governments decided that industrial production took priority over the environment of their people, tremendous damage has been done.

Meanwhile, while Western nations do create more pollution they also create the least amount of pollution per dollar of GDP. They produce the most with the least pollution per unit produced. What we are looking at 2007 as we contemplate economic growth in the world is a situation similar to horse transportation question in 1907. I don’t mean to trivialize sustainability issues but neither am I willing to declare the economic system flawed anymore than I would have been looking at the horse issue in 1907.

As to worker health, I am not sure what specifics you may have in mind. However, I do know that you find the highest life expectancy rates and lowest infant mortality rates in nations that embrace free markets and the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates in nations that don’t. The exception would be some totalitarian nations like Cuba where they have relatively high life expectancy and low IMR but very little political freedom and a very low quality of life with regard to most everything else including material goods.

As more economies grow, the cost of commodities will rise and the market will force adjustments in the lifestyles of everyone. While the markets are imperfect, what is the alternative for sorting out how resources should be allocated or used?

Michael W. Kruse

“The influence of shaming that developers feel when they break those traditions helps keep them in place. In a free market system where all that is solid melts to air can this deep shared culture survive and have influence?”

I think I might need a little more here to understand what is involved but I keyed in on your first sentence. Where do these conditions come from? Those traditions are external to the software the developers have created, correct? This is what I mean by the role of virtue in the market place. The “traditions” of stewardship of God’s resources and valuing all others as God’s image bearers are the virtues that get fed into the free market and channel how it is used just like the traditions of the software providers guides how they will use the software created.

Michael Kruse

Thanks, Will. I often wonder if what I write on this makes sense to anyone else.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Your email address:


Powered by FeedBlitz

Kruse Kronicle on Kindle

Check It Out

Categories