When I write about sexual morality, I frequently have to point out the problem with dehumanized consent. Those who hate chastity but also don’t want to be raped attempt to hang all of sexual morality on consent, but it is far too flimsy a concept to bear the load. This is true both morally and legally speaking. That’s why so-called “rape culture” exists and why grooming is tolerated despite everyone knowing the evils therein. Any “consent” that is dehumanized enough to allow fornication is utterly useless in making moral or legal judgments.
It finally occurred to me that this is just as true with respect to economic morality as it is to sexual morality. America has always prized economic freedom to the point where consent is often considered the only limit on financial transactions. But not coincidentally, the American economy is now typified by the same manner of moral insanity that we find in the sexual marketplace: Investment firms like Blackrock are buying up single family homes at an alarming rate. Our supply chains are so economically efficient that they have no redundancy and break down at the slightest hiccup, as we’ve seen ever since COVID. Widespread student loans and other normalized household debt prevent many in the younger generations from moving to more mature life stages like marriage and home-ownership. Personal property for consumers is subject to forced obsolescence as many companies switch from selling products to selling subscriptions to services. The economics of our healthcare system have been driven mad by the way we do insurance. Even our monetary system is based almost entirely on debt.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Economically speaking, we have been inundated with situations which no one in their right mind would ever choose for themselves. But they nevertheless have been chosen by most ordinary Americans–whether explicitly or implicitly–because our moral sense is so lacking and our incentives so perverse. And these situations are all working together to undermine the very purpose of an economy–to provide people with ways to earn the goods, services, and property that they need to get married, support children, own a home for their family, and build an inheritance for their children. Instead, everything is reoriented in service to greed, gluttony, and envy.
This cannot go on, and God will put a stop to it eventually if we fail to do so ourselves. Obviously, given our mythology of unbridled capitalism, Christian Americans have a lot of work to do to recover a sense of morality when it comes to economics. And as with other aspects of morality, Christians must become boldly determined to apply it to our laws. It’s a big job, but I believe there are two obvious places to start.
First, we must make usury shameful again. Most Americans today consider the word archaic (if they even know what it means,) but that is not in keeping with Christendom. The specific definition of usury has shifted from time to time (charging any interest, charging “excessive” interest, charging interest for profit, etc.) as have the penalties & exceptions determined by various jurisdictions. Nevertheless, the Church has always seen usury as an evil to be restrained. It is only in this era of being drunk on our own mammon that we’ve forgotten it altogether.
Biblically speaking, the Mosaic law put strict limitations on usury such as forbidding charging interest to the poor or to fellow Israelites as well as limiting the length of debt through regular jubilee years. Psalm 15 includes “does not put out his money at interest” among its criteria for “walking blamelessly and doing what is right.” Proverbs 28:8 suggests that any wealth gained by interest will be taken and given to someone more generous in the end. Even in the Parable of the Talents when the master tells the servant who buried his talent that he should have put it in the bank to earn interest, this command is based on the servant’s accusation that the master is a hard man who reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he scattered no seed. That’s hardly a recommendation. And all this is on top of the more general condemnations of greed found throughout Scripture.
Consent does not change this immoral nature of usury because those consenting to usury are only consenting to either taking advantage of someone or being taken advantage of themselves. Neither of those is good. Neither does it change the legal necessity of restricting usury. We have to remember that there are a lot of stupid people in any nation. And I don’t mean that as a genericism that most people are unwise; I mean that half the population has a below-average IQ. That severely limits future-orientation in decision making. Many can’t even recognize the inevitable consequences of payday loans and credit card balances. And the longer-term fruits of unbridled usury–financiers gambling with public money, all property slowly being accumulated by banks, etc–are beyond most average/midwitted individuals until they actually see it all happening. Consent is just as meaningless in the context of America’s banking nonsense as it is in the context of weekly drunken hookups.
How exactly to legally restrain usury is a matter for debate, but there are many tools available to us. Total or near total bans can be on the table (though one must be careful not to inadvertently create loan-oriented mafias when private arrangements proliferate.) But lesser means can also be effective. Rate and term term limits can be applied to make most usury unprofitable (and existing state laws can be reworked to apply to national banks operating in their borders.) Regular debt jubilees can be established to put hard limits on banks’ ability to ruin American citizens. And, of course, the many government entities created to facilitate usury for itself and for the American people (the Federal Reserve, Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae, student loan programs, etc.) can be dissolved, and much of the debt they govern can forgiven. The methods are legion; but the first thing is for America to actually begin thinking in these terms and refusing to give bankers free reign simply for the sake of capitalism.
Second, we need to remember that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and apply God’s warning to the corporation. Americans tend to conflate “corporation” with “business,” but we shouldn’t. Corporations are legal entities invented to facilitate business in certain ways. Some of those, such as LLC’s which allow an entrepreneur to, say, start his own business without making his house collateral for it’s possible failure make a kind of sense.
The problem, however, is when we get to corporations like C-Corps which bear many of the rights of individuals, but are nevertheless entirely distinct from any individual responsibility. These are created to facilitate investment, loans (usury), stock trading, and so forth to create as much profit for as many people as possible while simultaneously diluting their personal responsibility as much as possible. They are, effectively, zombie legal persons whose sole purpose is to love money as much as possible.
We should therefore not be surprised that corporations have been at the root of so much evil in America. They can lie, cheat, and steal just as any individual can, but they do so with only the frailest accountability. For one thing, punishment of corporations mostly just amounts to fines paid out of profits. This effectively makes any decision to knowingly cause harm a matter of financial risk and reward. For another, their relative unaccountability is amplified by their ability to buy and sell government officials. Many of our legislators, government bureaucrats, and their families are the very individuals using corporations to maximize their wealth without accountability, creating an incestuous relationship between government and corporation. Thirdly, the fact that these entities are soulless zombies makes them relatively easy to be captured by social justice warriors and used as vehicles for wicked social changes alongside their profiteering. And once again, the American public has very little recourse except to maybe slowly starve them of revenue until they fail–assuming our government even lets them fail instead of stealing money from the public to prop them up.
In short, corporations sow corruption by their very nature. America has tried to reign them in through regulation and largely failed–mostly due to the aforementioned incestuous relationship with government. Americans must remember that corporations don’t need to exist. They were created by man and can be uncreated by man. If that cannot be accomplished with our current government due to the corruption, well… I suspect America will not retain its current form of government for much longer. We must be ready to avoid the same mistakes when forming the next one.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, but Christians need to begin taking these issues seriously, for they are moral issues. Conservatives are often deterred from critiquing capitalism because socialism is presented as the alternative. Yes, socialism is utterly wicked as well because it also subverts the purpose of an economy. The elimination of private property–whether piecemeal or in whole–also prevents families from owning homes and building a heritage for their children. Even worse, Marxism’s very purpose is to destroy and supplant family in the first place. However, legally enforcing economic morality and holding bankers and corporations accountable for their wickedness is not the same as socialism, and it can be done without violating the 7th Commandment by eliminating private property.
And we better start figuring out how to accomplish this. Because if American Christians fail to cultivate a sense of economic morality and put it into practice, then Marxists, bankers, and corporations will be happy to continue filling that void–and finish destroying our nation in the process.
Excellent article as usual, but there is one comment that strikes me as out of place, which is the reference to the Seventh Commandment. I would be interested in your thoughts. Whenever the Seventh Commandment is discussed, it is always spoken of as if we are really talking about the Fourth Amendment. It seems more in line with American idolization of capitalism. Indeed, it seems the American idolization of capitalism is founded upon an American idolization of private property or mammon. I’m always reminded of Smeagol. I want to respond, no, the Seventh Commandment is not about your private property, or even your neighbor’s private property. We miss the point of the Seventh Commandment when we reduce it to the Fourth Amendment. Perhaps I’m wrong to reject the emphasis on private property when talking about the Seventh Amendment. Thoughts?
Maybe I’m missing your point, but it seems pretty simple. “You shall not steal.” In order to steal, there must be property which belongs to someone else but not to you–property that’s private. Therefore if we deny private property per se, then we deny the 7th Commandment.
I’m travelling so only now able to somewhat get back to this.
Can only private property be stolen? Can public or communal property be stolen, even by a member of that public or community?
That’s sort of a tangent really though, and I don’t disagree that to steal implies that you are taking something that is not yours and therefore belongs to someone else, most pertinently for the purpose of the 7th Commandment, your neighbor.
I think (maybe I don’t even know myself, since as I was trying to convey I’m not sure I’m able to logically express why I have the reaction I have, which may mean I’m off base) my point was that the sense I get is that the 7th Commandment is misused to sanctify/justify the American, and especially modern American, concept of private property.
My private property is mine, and I can do whatever I want with it, whether that be to make a productive use of it for the benefit of my neighbor (family and extending outward) or simply to waste away. I am sovereign over my private property, rather than I am a custodian of what has been given to me.
And it is this misuse of the 7th Commandment to justify the American concept of private property and what is really the abuse of that property, that is what I think is foundational to what you called unbridled capitalism. And where we get books like, God is a Capitalist.
So the idea being that the 7th Commandment is not principally concerned about the violation of your neighbor’s property rights themselves, but taking what God has given your neighbor for him to use productively in the service of his neighbors. The violation of property rights is a necessary part of it, but is a superficial part of it.
And this is why I think Luther’s catechisms focus more on the latter part that we are to work to improve our neighbor’s lot.
Ok, I get what you’re saying now. Basically the problem of ownership bereft of responsibility, which is indeed a big issue in America.
However, I think that has less to do with our view of private property or the 7th Commandment and more to do with our hyper-individualistic concept of rights: *I* have a right to do whatever *I* want with *my* property (which is of course being extended to *my* body as well in various ways.)
We would be better off thinking in terms of authority rather than rights. My things aren’t mine for the sake of my whims, but for the sake of caring for the small kingdom God has entrusted to me–my household. I have authority to that end, but authority is always given to fulfill a responsibility.
That is what ownership used to mean, and we still use it that way occasionally (e.g. when you “own up” to a mistake you made, or “take ownership” of a task at work.) But American hyper-individualism corroded the language, and the growing failure of so many to begin families of their own just makes it harder to recover the deeper meaning.
Oh, and to answer the tangential question, public property can be stolen by a member of the same public only inasmuch as the property is also private–generally in the form of being entrusted to one specific entity to be cared for on the public’s behalf.
My best guess is you’re saying the 4th ammendment is bad because it basically says the govt is not immune from the 7th commandment.
“However, legally enforcing economic morality and holding bankers and corporations accountable for their wickedness is not the same as socialism, and it can be done without violating the 7th Commandment by eliminating private property.”
Simpler: Corporation aren’t people and must be disolved as only natural born human beings can have private property, so every corporation must be broken up i to holdings of many individuals, thus turning them into many small or medium businesses.
I agree we need to restrict usury to the greatest extent feasible. I likewise think we need to regularly cancel debts, except when government is the lender. I do not think we should cancel student debt; however, I would make the universities repay the debt rather than the students. We should also prohibit the government from loaning money to anyone, even to other governments.
Agreed on making the universities pay. I ran the numbers a few of years ago, and even an endowment haircut that only took everything in excess of $1 billion paid for a substantial portion of of it.
Here is an interesting article on economic morality you might find edifying.