On October 16, I shared on facebook an article written by Fox news on the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. Although I’m not the biggest fan of Fox News, I think the article is an excellent depiction of the protests.
After that I received some comments from my friend John Malek. Because I think his views are such a good representation of many, I thought I would post the conversation on the blog. This is also an easier format through which to engage one another’s ideas.
You are welcome to join in on the conversation.
JM: Anarchy is not a solution. Income inequality is exacerbated by strong centralized governance not powerful business.
DC: i don’t see anarchy being promoted or even mentioned in this article – though i would advocate certain forms of anarchy (i.e. some forms of libertarianism). income inequality is not simply the result of government. i mean, we can go all the way back to the call for Jubilee in the Mosaic community is an acknowledgment of greed, not a critique of government. sadly, greed has been turned from vice to value in our contemporary capitalism. that is true both of government (on any level) and businesses, which have no doctrine of sin but still claim visions for salvation. I agree that government is complicit in the problems of wealth distribution; but I can’t see how anyone can exonerate the giant corporations.
JM: I am not trying to exonerate greed, but giant corporations do not equal greed.
DC: Hi John. It’s great to have a conversation with you – even if it’s via Facebook. It’s too bad I haven’t seen you on my past visits to Omaha. It’s been too long!
Concerning the article, you should read it. I feel like you have the impression that I am promoting these demonstrations. While I do agree with their main concerns, I do not think you can effectively address society by pointing out the injustices of the wealthiest 1% without addressing the injustices of the rest. But I do appreciate the analysis of this particular Fox journalist – and Fox can hardly be accused of being democratic, communist or anarchic. Anyway, read the article and let me know what you think.
Let me try and respond to your points here, but I’ll move the discussion to my blog, which is an easier format for interaction like this.
You say that giant corporations do not equal greed. While I wouldn’t make them synonymous, I would say that corporations transform greed from a vice to a value. The primary goal of business is profit. In business school I was continually taught that the main goal was to maximize profit and minimize loss. This is a manifestation of greed. The only way that a corporation can demonstrate that it is not greedy is to say that a certain limit is “enough.” Moreover, corporations act to create demand for their products and services through, for example, advertising. A consequence of advertising is the creation of desire for more, which is another manifestation of greed.
JM: Greed is a sin issue and cannot be resolved by government intervention to take someone’s (or some companies) wealth and arbitrarily give to someone else.
DC: I also agree that governments cannot solve the sin of greed any more than it can solve lying, cheating, stealing or murder. But I do think that governments can curtail sin. In fact, I think this is a purpose of government that we see in Scripture.
The issue of redistribution is a complicated one. How would you propose we do it?
JM: Public protests (demands for “stuff” from the wealthy) are likewise ineffective in dealing with a sin issue. It is trying to deal with greed through envy.
DC: The first question is: is the current situation in which 0.9% of the world’s population controls 39% of the world’ wealth unjust? If we agree that this is an injustice, then we can offer proposals on how to move forward. However, I find it insensitive and a bit paternalistic to take away the voice of the dispossessed. When is someone allowed to complain about the inequality of wealth and to call for redistribution without being accused of envy?
I’ve been reading some of the Church Fathers this past year. Interestingly, they place the burden of envy on the shoulders of the rich, not on the poor (see St. Basil “On Envy”). Although I agree that envy needs to be addressed, and I think it is another major sin of capitalism, I think it is a bit out of place for the wealthy to blame the poor for their envy without becoming more ascetic themselves.
JM: The anarchy is in the behavior and demands of the protestors.
DC: Again, the march on Wall Street movement is not anarchic. The article doesn’t represent the protestors as anarchic. They may have anarchists in their movement, but that is something altogether different. When a public voice represents a political view different than our own, we Christians, as a rule, shouldn’t give it an a priori caricature. Rather, we should engage it on its own terms.
JM: There are laws in place to address the wrongs that are being decried, but the government is busy lining their pockets from “greedy big business’ instead of allowing them to fail because of their bad decisions. Government is the major problem here. You will always have criminals, whether white or blue collar, but “lynch’ mobs equal anarchy. The governing authorities should be held to account to prosecute when crimes are committed or to allow businesses to fail when they make poor business decisions.
DC: I don’t know who the lynch mob is that you are referring to. I agree that government is committing great injustice by lining their pockets with big business’ money. This is what I think the Fox article is stating about the Wall Street marches. I completely agree with you here. This is where the church needs to be a prophetic voice of an alternative community with its own methods of redistribution.
JM: There are many giant corporations that do phenomenal work and so they should not all be lumped together. These protestors are not providing any positive good to the discussion on income inequality. They are dupes of big government who are using their anger at the wealthy to secure more power for government, which only makes the problem more acute.
DC: I would love to share your rosy view of the giant corporations doing phenomenal work. What are you thinking of here? You’ll have to give me an example of a powerful business that does not seek profit, consolidate capital, and pay its executives exponentially larger salaries than its middle and lower level employees. You’ll have to give me an example of a powerful business that does not seek to externalize costs. Structurally, businesses are situated to create income inequality. You’ll have to share with me the positive side of income inequality. And you’ll have to show me where big government is behind this movement. I am a long ways from the U.S., but I haven’t seen that link made.
JM: (You might note that the Democrat Party as well as the Communist Chinese have embraced these protests) The methods, rhetoric and tone of these protests sound too much like early 20th century Russia and we know how well income has been distributed there. The saddest thing about these protests is that too many people of God are blind to the demonic spirit of anarchy that is at work in these mobs. We need to oppose sin, but stand for the rule of law. These protests, and I repeat myself, oppose sin with sin and ignore the rule of law and in fact the complicity of and enabling of the government in these protests.
DC: I don’t think the Democratic Party is embracing these protests so much as it being a matter of the majority of those that make up the protests are themselves democrats. But I have also seen some conservative libertarians embrace the protests.
I didn’t know that the Chinese government has embraced the Wall Street protests. That surprises me in that I see the Chinese government as a large corporation that commits the same ills of other big corporations. You’ll have to send me info that shows where the Communist Chinese have embraced these protests.
I don’t think that the tone, rhetoric or methods of these protests at all reflect the Russian communist revolution. It is these types of emotive blanket statements that people throw around so easily that really bother me. If we want to be taken seriously, we need to substantiate claims like this. When did Russian communists occupy space in the city to protest the Tzar? Where did the Russian communist protests organize themselves democratically to vote on direction and goals? Where did the Wall Street protestors advocate violence?
Maybe I too am blind to the demonic spirit. You’ll have to help me see.
What rule of law is being ignored by the protests? How are the protests enabling the government?
JM: In reference to the Jubillee, this was in place to keep greed in check, but once again sin prevailed and the governing authorities did not enforce the law. That is basically what is happening now. Business is conducted by individuals and some will do good and some will not and the laws in place if applied would put a check on the bad behavior, but we have many governments that would rather take a bribe than enforce law (that is no more universally true than that businesses are all greedy).
DC: So, are you saying that the governing authorities should enforce the redistribution of capital?
I, myself, am for forms of capitalism that are accountable to local communities, and I am against corporate predatory capitalism. I am aware of many great local small businesses and of some larger businesses that do good work for the community and their employers. But you’ll have to help me to know who the big businesses that are doing good are.
JM: I don’t think libertarianism is anarchy. Libertarians still believe in the rule of laws, just far fewer laws. Anarchists don’t care for the laws, they just want what they want regardless of law, don’t have patience for the law to work.
DC: Anarchy is a much more nuanced political theory than you account for, and there is much overlap with libertarianism. Ron Paul has made right wing libertarianism popular, but if you look at someone like Henry David Thoreau or Choam Nomsky you have left wing libertarianism (which often promotes certain forms of anarchy). Both sides will support certain expressions and forms of law, and both will call into question the self-legitimization of government and the pursuit f its own interests.
I don’t agree with much of anarchist thought, but I don’t think we do ourselves justice by projecting our own prejudgments onto it. Also, there are theologies of anarchy from the likes of Ellul, Tolstoy, Berdyaev, etc. They aren’t promoting no law but they are promoting the organizing of Christian community that is not aligned with or subordinated to the State, they question the fundamental claim of governments to wield power, and they are calling governments to be limited and accountable to the kingdom of God. I find myself liking much of what they are saying.
JM: Not sure what you meant by businesses having no doctrine of sin but still claiming visions for salvation.
DC: Let me try to be a bit clearer. Capitalism claims to offer fulfillment. Although many capitalists may deny the inherent religious/spiritual dimension of their economic ideology, it is itself a soteriology. (Perhaps the statement that exemplifies the soteriological promises of capitalism is Francis Fukuyama’s claim that capitalism is the “end of history.”) Although it claims salvation, capitalism has no doctrine of sin. It assumes that actors will act ethically. It assumes that ethical behavior will be rewarded by the market. As Christians, we know that every human being is a sinner and, without God, tends toward sin. So, our assumption is that actors, in any economic or political system, will tend to act sinfully. And, as Christians, we have a vision of redemption and salvation that not only forgives sins but also simultaneously forgives debts.
I do not have time now to respond to all you have written, but I will state that the profit motive and greed are not the same thing as you in seem to indicate. (I would say that corporations transform greed from a vice to a value. The primary goal of business is profit. In business school I was continually taught that the main goal was to maximize profit and minimize loss.) That is a fundamental assumption that causes us to part ways right at the beginning of the discussion.
The parable of the talents gives an indication that income is not ever going to be distributed equally and indeed can not be distributed equally because we are not all the same. A laborer is worthy of his hire is as applicable to the factory line worker as it is to the corporate executive that creates wealth with his intellectual talent. The key is the redemption of each individual talent so that generosity and kindness prevail. Envy has no class distinction, it, like all sins spans income levels.
I do not know why you believe capitalism is a religion. It is anything but, it is just the way the economy works at a very basic level. It is not inherently good or evil, it just is. Capitalism in a pure form allows individuals to maximize their God-given talents for his/her own benefit, the benefit of his/her family and the larger community as a whole. I know of no indication in scripture that someone could have too much, only that we are commanded to share with the poor. That being said, the poor are not supposed to settle in their poverty because if they will not work they shoudl not eat to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, so there is some responsibility on the part of the poor to do something for their bread (and squatting, without permission on private property in NYC for an extended period of time – breakiing the law – does not count)
Chinese support is now waning, but here is article, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2011/10/beijing-grows-nervous-about-occupy-wall-street.html
You must not be following very closely the growing protest movement if you do not see the pervasive anti-government, anti-law enforcement, anti-semitic tone that is not just fringe, but becoming more and more mainstream in these protests.
I do know that there are “well meaning” but misinformed people that make up a certain portion of these groups, but these protests are being organized and funded by very nefarious groups that intend revolutionary change. They are much more akin to the early 20th century protests in Russia than anything else. You may not see that and I may not be able to site chapter and verse as to how they compare, but when I read of the Communist Revolution I hear a lot of the same rhetoric and tactics.
In reading many of your statements about the protests, I wonder if you are getting factual information about all that is happening with these groups?
Thanks again John for taking the time to respond on the blog. I do appreciate your thoughts. These types of interchanges are also educational for me. I do understand that there is always more that could be said and that it takes a lot of time to respond to the blogs (and other social media). So, no pressure.
Thank you for the link to the information on the Chinese communists in solidarity with the Wall-Street protests. I thought you had meant the Chinese communist party, which would have surprised me. It seems that the Communist government is against the marches just like the corporations.
You are correct in saying that I’m not following the Wall-Street protest too closely. My point of departure on this was the Fox News article. Does that article misrepresent the protests? You’ll have to give me the links to the information on the financers of the movement and the nefarious elements in it. While I’m not super informed on the Wall-Street protests, I do know a bit about the communist revolutionary movements in Russia and Europe during the late 19th century. I’ll be curious to see the similarities between the two. So, again, please pass along that information if/when you come across it.
Just to clarify, I don’t think that that the profit motive directly translates to greed. If a corporation articulates where they will not compromise their vision, ethics, social values for profit, then I would say that that limits greed (which I understand to be the insatiable quest for more). I don’t think this is an assumption but a substantiated observation. The burden for demonstrating that corporations have limits to their profit motive and are thereby not greedy rests on the corporations themselves and their proponents.
I do not read the parable of the talents through capitalist goggles. Jonathan Starkey drew a nice diagram based on some good New Testament scholars’ exegesis of the parable of the talents, which I’ve posted here: https://fragmentsandreflections.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/correcting-our-capitalist-reading-of-the-talents/
I would agree with you that equality of possessions is not the complete picture for economics that we see in Scripture – though the sabbatical year, the Jubilee and the Jerusalem church described in Acts point in this direction. One major aspect that is wrong with mandated redistribution (like Communism) is the sacrifice of freedom for the sake of equality. The other side of that is the error of sacrificing equality for the sake of freedom (like Capitalism).
Let me try to clarify what I mean by capitalism being a religion. I’ll do that in a separate blog post.
Thanks again for your time and engagement on these issues!