Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Theology and Bureaucracy

Sound theology is rooted in the Bible.  Because the Bible is theologically front-loaded, sound theology needs to take into account what we know about God, about human beings, and about creation.  We begin there:
The first thing we learn about God in Scripture is that He is a communal and articulate Maker.  His very name, Elohim, is a plural word.  In its opening verse, the Bible combines that plural name with a singular verb (“create”), thus demonstrating that God is a plurality in unity.  He is communal; indeed He is Divine Community, something He Himself indicates a few sentences later when He declares His creative intention regarding us in Genesis 1: 26:  “Let us (plural) make (singular) man in our (plural) image (singular).”
Second, when we say that God is an articulate Maker, we mean that He makes worlds by His powerful and creative Word.  All reality emerges from his Word and relies upon it.
Relatedly then, the first thing we learn about human beings is that we are made in God’s image, implying that we, too, are to be communal and articulate makers.  To be in His image means that we are to be both God’s picture and God’s partner.  Like Him, though on a lower level, we are to exercise dominion over the earth; we are to fill it and to subdue it.
To be like God and to do as He did -- communally to bring order out of chaos by our words and to carry out the dominion mandate -- is a high and serious calling.  The burden of this brief essay is to explain the ways in which bureaucracy hinders that high calling, both in its communal and verbal dimensions.  In short, bureaucracy, as do all things, has a theology, in this case a very bad one.  It is our focus.
         “Bureaucracy” is a portmanteau word combining the French word for desk or office (“bureau”) with the ancient Greek word for government or rule (“kratos”).  Thus, bureaucracy is “government from the desk,” or “rule by office.”
Notice that from this conception of governance all living things have effectively been removed.  It posits no identifiable living being, whether divine or human.  No persons are left to speak, to bring order out of chaos, or to do so in communion with others.  More importantly for the desk dweller, no one is left to answer or to blame.  Instead, government is the function of a nondescript, faceless, nameless office -- a deskocracy.
         No doubt a real human person sits behind that desk, but not a person functioning like God in God’s stead, not a person who, by his or her words, brings wisdom, insight, compassion, creativity, and eloquence to bear upon the task at hand, namely bringing order out of political and social chaos and making the best he or she can of the earth’s potential.  That’s not what happens at the DMV, or in any bureaucracy I can imagine.
         Within the organization, within the ruling deskocracy, humanity has been defaced, removed, and exiled.  Those who operate within it find their essentially human characteristics eliminated:  (1) Conscience is gone.  Officials may no longer exercise compassionate judgment or offer creative solutions to the dazzling array of challenges that interaction with real human beings incessantly brings.  They must follow procedures.  They must follow the manual, which replaces conscience.  (2) Discernment is gone.  Bureaucrats may not bring wisdom, creative compassion, or personal insight to bear upon the infinite variety of human circumstances that confronts them; they must do as directed by the manual, a text written and approved by other nameless and faceless apparatchiks inside the system.  (3) Community is gone.  Bureaucrats no longer are human beings dealing with other human beings; they are caseworkers handling cases -- cases with numbers -- and doing so in the sterile and schematic way prescribed by the approved, unresponsive, bureaucratic procedures aimed at nothing so much as getting quickly to closure and moving on to the next case, the next number.  You’ve heard it over the loudspeaker:  “Number 17, please.”
         In other words, what the deskocracy does to its workers, it does also to those for whom it allegedly works:  It makes them non-persons, or tries.
         Consider this scenario:  If you are a bureaucrat, if you occupy a desk, and if you actually tried to treat human beings as individuals by dealing with them not as numbered cases but in accordance with their infinitely unique and unpredictable circumstances, you could never finish your work, or even a significant portion of it.  That failure tells you how distant from human reality, both political and theological, government by desk truly is:  Good deskocracy is, literally, impossible.  Deskocracy simply cannot accommodate the facts about us.  But rather than despairing of its foolishness, rather than bringing the whole wrong-headed misadventure to a merciful end, rather than adjusting itself to human and theological reality, it doubles down.  It marches boldly forward, undaunted even by reality itself.  It aims to do what cannot be done.  It aims to change human nature, to remake it in its own image, to undo what God Himself has done, and to accomplish what only the redemptive grace of God can accomplish, namely to make human nature anew.
But the new you, the one intended by deskocracy, is not a redeemed and better you.  It is a soulless and faceless number, just like those whom the system sends to deal with you.  Of course, soulless and mindless go together.  Having made the deskocrats sacrifice conscience for procedure, the system now finds reason to sacrifice reason as well, and to the same god -- systemic uniformity -- which devours free intellect the way Moloch devoured children.
Where intellect and conscience go, beauty goes too.  No one, I dare say, ever left a government office with the grateful impression that they’d been standing for hours before Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” or listening to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”  Deskocracy is the death of beauty, truth, and goodness; the death of their Divine origin; and, therefore, the death of the truly human as well.  The name on the desk before which you sit, and   the departmental name on the door through which you passed when you entered, are the names on your tombstone. 
         Because one of the things that raises us above the animals and makes us like God is the creative speech that brings order out of chaos, one ought to consider the anti-human, anti-reality language of bureaucratese, which is an endless immersion in the passive voice.  Unlike in active and indicative speech -- speech in which doers do deeds -- in the language of deskocracy, even though no one actually does anything, “mistakes were made.”   It’s not that Mr. Jones did wrong.  That is too personal for bureaucratese.  Mr. Jones could do no wrong because “procedures were followed.”   No deskocrat can say, “I goofed,” because in bureaucratese there is no “I,” just desks and procedures to which no effective appeal can be made and to which no accusation of personal failure can stick unless, of course, there is a Congressional hearing and the system has to offer up one of its own as a scapegoat.  Rather than imitating the speech of God, which brings things like human beings into existence, bureaucratese takes them out of it.
         To be true to yourself and to the God Who made you like Him, you must resist the de-personalization of the cumbrous and mechanistic overlord that occupies all the desks.  You must resist it in eloquent, courageous, purposeful concord with other human beings determined to keep the inestimable gift God gave them.  Either you win or it does.  If it wins, you will be folded, spindled, stapled, and mutilated.  That dire end is your only alternative to the freedom and dignity that are yours as God’s picture and partner.
I cannot tell you precisely, step by step, how that victory is accomplished.  Simply for me to try would be to mimic the deskocracy and its arrogant procedures.
But I do know this:  You are a human being.  You and your allies must insist on being treated as children of the King, as royalty.  If you do not win back that respect for yourself, if you do not carve it out by your own will, cunning, courage, eloquence, and excellence, you will never have it again -- not in this life, and not from this deskocratic tyranny.  The deskocracy is not programmed to deal with children of the King.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rose Macaulay on Women, Fashion and Money

Ever since I read her The Towers of Trebizond, I have been drawn to Rose Macaulay, whose thoughts on women, fashion, and money I reproduce here without comment:

“Let us . . . consider sartorial problems -- those of them which belong peculiarly to women.  The chief of these is, of course, how to dress well on expenditure insufficient for that purpose.  And it may at once be admitted that this is impossible.  You must either dress badly or spend more money than you wish to -- in most cases more than you have got.  It is a simple alternative, and every woman must make up her own mind which she intends to adopt.  Many women adopt both.  Another sartorial problem has always been how to reconcile a certain conformity to fashion with a certain comfort and grace . . . And it, too, is insoluble.  You cannot be at once graceful, comfortable, and in the mode.  Probably you will be none of these things.  Life is hard for women, as the saying goes.”

Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary  (New York:  Boni & Liveright, 1926, p. 237)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston: Piety or Plain Talk?

A friend wondered why, in the wake of Whitney Houston’s death, the news media focused more on her drug abuse than on her music.  I was castigated for defending them.  I was told that such talk was disrespectful.  I was told that there are times to speak and times to be silent, and that this is the time to be silent.
It is not.
Silence in the face of death and the gruesome things that cause it is simply not right.  At such times, we must give voice to death's victims.  In this case, we must give voice to the voice that drug abuse silenced.  If you liked her voice, then speak out against what stopped it.  This is the time when we must "rage against the dying of the light," when we lament "the day the music died," and denounce openly and precisely what killed it.  This is the day when we say the things the dead would say if they could return to say it.
I get enormously weary of the pensive, demurring, eyes-lowered, hands-folded, church mouse piety that, even in the face of death itself, cannot muster an echo, or the echo of an echo, of prophetic denunciation, and that flatters itself as respectful and prudent when all the while it has done nothing more noble than shamefacedly to slough off its obligation to call things by their real names.  I am sick of the passive-aggressive, self-congratulatory posing of pietists who think themselves too holy to enter the fray.
If you respected Whitney Houston, you’ll denounce what killed her.  If you loved her music, you’ll speak out against what brought it to an end.  You won’t wait until the time is right because that time is now.
As pacifists are to tyrants, silence mongers are to pushers -- a dream come true.
Better far to be their worst nightmare.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Edmund Burke and the Statesman's Roots

           During this campaign season, no description is more coveted among Republican candidates than “conservative.”  In order to vest themselves with the mantle of conservatism, they habitually articulate a litany of the ways they are like Ronald Reagan.
While I am far from belittling Reagan, conservatism’s roots are much older and go much deeper than his presidency.  Modern conservatism finds its source in the thought and writings of Edmund Burke, especially in his venerable and profound Reflections on the Revolution in France.  In it, Burke assesses the best possible background for producing an authentic statesman, from among which he lists the physician, the businessman, the financier, the lawyer, and the historian.
Reminiscent of Jesus explaining the soils upon which the Word of God fell as a seed, soils that did not permit good rooting or good growth, Burke rejects the first four as typically unsuitable:  (1) Doctors do not make good statesmen because “the sides of sick beds are not academies for forming statesmen and legislators.”  (2) Businessmen, whom he calls traders, know a bit about the order and function of contemporary society, yet they have little in-depth understanding of “anything beyond their counting house.”  (3) Financiers are expert only at dealing in “stocks and funds,” and in moving from one type of commodity to another, as they do when they “change their ideal paper wealth for the more solid substance of land,” none of which is the same as grasping the reins of government and steering it rightly onward.  (4) Lawyers “are habitually meddling, daring, subtle, active, and litigious,” which is poison to political prudence.
 These backgrounds frequently fail to produce great statesmen because skill at these particular functions is not a qualification for leading the affairs of a great nation.  The doctor is not trained to heal what truly ails the polity; the businessman can make profitable deals, but the President or the Prime minister of a great nation is not its CEO, and to think so is grossly myopic; the financier makes profitable investments, but making profitable investments is not interchangeable with steering the ship of state adeptly along the course of greatest prudence; the lawyer might be technically proficient at the subtleties of law and litigation, but the statesman is far more than a legal technician.
Those best suited by background to the demands of statesmanship, Burke says, are the historians because by study and by profession they are more likely have “knowledge of mankind,” and “experience in mixed affairs,” by which Burke means “a comprehensive connected view of the various complicated external and internal interests which go to the formation of that multifarious thing called a state.”
That, in brief compass, is Burke’s assessment of the background of the current crop of Republican candidates, whether they are doctors (Paul), businessmen (Cain), financiers (Romney), lawyers (Santorum and Bachmann), or historians (Gingrich).
As usual, I think Burke is spot on.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Chrysler Bailout, the Triple Hit, and the Laws of Political Economy

It looks like American taxpayers will lose more than $1.3 billion in the Chrysler bailout.
That bailout and loss demonstrate that we have forgotten the first rule of political economy:  You get more of what you subsidize.  We subsidize failure.  We keep getting it.  This is now the second time we've bailed out Chrysler.
How many more times will we reward their failure?  How many more times will we send the message that, if you are big, you are safe -- no matter what mistakes you make or how much it costs taxpayers?
Why do we do it?
We don’t, unless by “we” you mean the self-serving politicos in DC.
They do it because they want to keep themselves in positions of power and privilege.  They do it because they don’t have to pay the freight; you do.  They do it because it keeps money flowing in their direction, money from big business, from big labor, and from you.
Because big business wants to stay safe, big business keeps pouring money into political coffers.  It wants friends in Washington, so it buys them and keeps them in place.  Because big labor craves privilege and advantage over unattached workers, big labor keeps pouring money into political coffers.   It wants friends in Washington, so it buys them and keeps them in place.  Politicians, of course, want to stay in place, so they take the money offered them and protect those who give it, thereby protecting themselves.
Naturally, those politicians don’t say that’s why they do it.  They say they are doing it for America.  They say they are doing it for you, even though you are the one who pays; even though you are the one who loses.  Corporations are safe; labor is safe; politicians are safe; you are not.
You take a triple hit: (1) When unions take advantage of the privileges that government grants them in order to gain more money and benefits for their members, the cost of labor rises.  When labor costs rise, prices rise.  You lose.  (2) When corporations must pour millions of dollars into lobbying in order to stay safe, the cost of doing business rises.  When costs rise, prices rise.  You lose.  (3) When the whole labor/business/politician scheme falls through and billions of dollars get washed away, the cost of government rises.  When government costs rise, the tax burden rises.  You lose.
Government doesn't trust you and hundreds of millions of other consumers to pick the winners and losers in the marketplace.  Government, business, and labor will do it for you, your marketplace choices notwithstanding.  When government chooses the winners and losers, it's called crony capitalism.  But crony capitalism is phony capitalism.  It's not the real thing.
That brings me to the second law of political economy:  Regardless of who they are intended to help, every pubic policy hurts someone.  In this case, that someone is you.    
Big corporations and big unions have big government by the throat.  Big government has you by the throat.  It's time to break free.  You deserve better.  You won't get it until you vote the profligate lackies in Washington out of office.
That’s the only way big business, big labor, and big government will realize that if you wanted Chrysler to have your money you’d buy their cars.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reality, Religion, and the Marxist Retreat (re-post)

Reality is resilient.

Ignore it, reshape it, mistreat it as we may, it bounces back.  After many decades of abuse at the hands of its socialist reformers, the world of hard economic fact and of unchanging human nature has again raised its head to assert that true wealth resides not in measurable, divisible, allegedly manageable lumps of dead matter, and not in the state-controlled means of production, but in the creativity and genius of the human mind freely doing what it was designed to do:  “replenish the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).

We humans have tackled the task of replenishing and subduing the earth in many ways, very few of which have met with success.  Each of us enters the world with little else than a fallen nature, and most of us exit this life in virtually the same condition.  Poverty, ignorance, and bondage are not the exception in human history, they are the norm.  Only rarely and with great difficulty have we ever extricated ourselves from their vice-like grip.  When we do escape, it behoves us to ponder carefully how that escape was orchestrated, and how it might be reproduced for the sake of our fellows.  By means of such careful reflection, we discover that the secret to sustained economic prosperity is nothing else but what Michael Novak labelled “democratic capitalism,” that happy combination of self-government under law coupled with an extensively unencumbered marketplace. No other political and economic system has been able to deliver political freedom and economic prosperity in anything like the lavish way democratic capitalism has produced them.
The proof is not hard to find.  One need only look as far back as World War II to discern that the free market greatly outperforms the command economy in any and all of its partial or plenary manifestations.  Japan, for example, was on the losing side the war effort and suffered nuclear destruction — twice.  Its land area and population are both comparatively small.  Its natural resources are significantly limited.  Nevertheless, Japan’s economy and its standard of living far outstrip those of the Soviet Union, which, like Japan, suffered extensive damage during the war, but which, unlike Japan, did not rise from the ashes like a phoenix, despite the fact that it was on the winning side of the conflict, despite the fact that it was given all of Eastern Europe as a gift (a gift which its primitive economic system could neither sustain nor retain), and despite the fact that it has more people, more land and more natural resources than Japan.

A similar comparison could be made between North and South Korea, mainland China and either Hong Kong or Taiwan, East and West Germany (while they were divided), and India and South Africa (the largest and second largest examples of apartheid in the world).  Both the production performance and the standard of living of First World free market economies consistently dwarf those of Second World socialist systems.

Even if one were to focus only on countries of the Third World, where the problem of poverty is most acute, the evidence is unambiguous:  those nations that place greater reliance on the market process, such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, and South Korea, embarrass those nations that rely on state-directed production and consumption, such as India, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
One cannot attribute the unmatched Third World prosperity of free market nations to the foreign aid they have allegedly received from the West.  Nor can one blame the backwardness of those nations that do not flourish on the lingering effects of colonialism.  Some of the most well developed nations of the Third World are former colonies, like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, while some of the very poorest nations of the Third World, like Ethiopia, Nepal, Tibet, and Afghanistan, were never Western colonies at all.  In fact, some of the wealthiest nations in the world,  the United States, Canada, and Australia among them, are themselves former colonies.  Furthermore, massive amounts of Western aid have been poured into countries that remain resolutely poor, like Kampuchea, Uganda, Pakistan, and Nigeria.  They remain poor because most of the reasons for national poverty are domestic and systemic.  Until the underdeveloped nations unleash the productive forces of the marketplace, they and the millions of poor whose wretched lot it is to live within their borders will continue in unrelenting want.

But market economies are not so.  As Brian Griffiths observes,
It so happens that as a matter of history it was the market economy which brought about the transformation of the Western world from widespread poverty to the level of prosperity which it now enjoys. In the mid-eighteenth century, life in England was comparable to that in many Third World countries today: low real income, little education, poor housing, widespread disease and short life expectancy. By the end of the nineteenth century, the situation had changed dramatically. Real incomes had quadrupled, education was widespread, the housing stock had grown dramatically and life expectancy had increased. In no small measure this was due to the ability of the market economy to harness the inventiveness and entrepreneurial resources of ordinary people... [M]arket economies create wealth more efficiently than either state-owned or state-planned economies. It is true in developed countries; it is also true in developing countries.1
In other words, if as a Christian one is intent upon easing the conditions of the poor and pushing back the boundaries of poverty and destitution, then democratic capitalism has far more to recommend it than any other system of political economy ever devised.  Under no other system have the poor been raised as far so quickly, and in such great numbers.  Marxism, by contrast, is the cause of sustained poverty, not its solution.  In short, to condemn democratic capitalism, one must first misrepresent its history.

But though democratic capitalism flourishes, the human past in general has by no means been a story of unrelenting prosperity and freedom; it is a litany of tyranny, famines, illiteracy, plagues, war, oppression, infant death, and mere subsistence.  For most of the people who ever lived, life is exactly what Thomas Hobbes said it was — nasty, brutish, and short.  The life we enjoy in the modern Western world is a rare commodity in human history.  It is a blessing of immense magnitude, seldom given, and never so lavishly as now.

But, like most of the blessings we enjoy, freedom and prosperity do not come to us fully formed, directly from the hand of God.  God is a sharing God; He rarely does anything on His own the doing of which He can share with His creatures.  Freedom and prosperity are no exception.  They are mediated blessings, mediated by the development of human insight, effort, and sacrifice, which alone can produce the life we enjoy.  Thus, as a Christian theologian, I acknowledge both the divine source of our blessedness and the human means whereby it was actualized.  I thank God; and I recognize that liberty under law and a marketplace controlled by little else than the morally enlightened preferences of its freely engaged participants constitute the sine qua non of political freedom and economic prosperity.

Democratic capitalism succeeds where other systems fail because it is more firmly rooted in the inescapable facts of economic scarcity, of incomplete knowledge, and of human imperfectability. That is, among the various competing systems of governance and production, democratic capitalism takes the fullest account of reality.  It understands that human desires normally tend to outstrip the supply of goods and services available to satisfy those desires.  It understands that none of us knows all we need to know in order to make the very best use of the means and the goods available to us (much less to make the wisest possible economic decisions for countless thousands, perhaps millions, of people with whom we are utterly unfamiliar, as must be the case in any system of central planning).  It understands that we humans are an incorrigibly selfish lot.  Democratic capitalism has learned to take these factors into account by devising a system of exchange that harnesses human self-interest in the service of others and in the satisfaction of their desire and needs.  More than 200 years ago, Adam Smith captured this fact so memorably:
As every individual, therefore, endeavors as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can.  He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it.  By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.  Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it.  By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.  I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.2
But the Marxists have not learned that important economic lesson, nor any number of a vast array of lessons that they could have and should have learned from the world around them and from Marxism’s own dismal record in that world.  No religion, no political system, and no means of production can prosper if it is not firmly rooted in things as they are rather than things as we would like them to be.  Precisely here Marxism fails.  Rather than beginning with the hard facts of reality, and rather than constructing a theory of governance and production that takes those facts into account by conforming their thoughts to extra-mental reality, the Marxists foolishly believe that political and economic institutions can be moulded at will to conform to the political vision in their heads.  It cannot.  Of Marxism’s numerous cognitive failures, I mention but five.

I.  Marxism entails a faulty view of human nature
Marxists do not seem to realize that human institutions arise from human action; that human action arises from human nature; and that human nature is notoriously intractable.  The problem of the human heart is at the heart of the human problem.  The human heart, the Bible says, is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  But this the Marxists do not comprehend.  They seem not to know what Alexander Hamilton knew:  the science of public policy is the knowledge of human nature.  Try as they may, the Marxists cannot succeed so long as human nature remains what it is:  marginally (sometimes extensively) unloving, ungiving, and untamed.  Marxism cannot succeed because it has no way to harness human depravity for the service of others. Instead, it depends upon altruism where little or none exists, and it supplies no incentive for that altruism to be cultivated.

But democratic capitalism is not so.  Unlike Marxism, democratic capitalism enjoys unprecedented success because it takes into account the undeniable fact of human nature.  People, being what they are, respond to incentives.  Democratic capitalism succeeds where other systems fail or flounder because within it the interests of the individual coincide with, and serve, the interests of others, by means of incentives.  In democratic capitalism, one does not normally succeed without first serving the needs and interests of others in a way that others find acceptable and at a price those others deem fair.
Within Marxism, however, the needs and desires of the private individual are cut loose from those of society at large.  In Marxism, the individual’s incentives toward productivity and creativity are vitiated, if not eradicated, because no matter how hard he works he will not get further ahead, and no matter how poorly he works, he will not lose.  As Ludwig von Mises made clear,
In the socialist system, in which all the fruits of the various individuals’ labor are appropriated by the supreme office of production management and then redistributed among the comrades without any regard for the worth of their individual contribution, there is no inducement for an individual to exert his strength... The superiority of the capitalistic system of production is due to the fact that it remunerates everybody according to his contribution to the satisfaction of his fellow men.  It thus stimulates everybody, within the system of the division of labor, to exert himself to the utmost.  The better a man serves others, the better for him.  In the capitalistic market economy the consumers are supreme. In his capacity as a producer of commodities and services everybody is forced to serve the consumers.3
Because it ignores human nature, socialist production falls off; needs are not met; people are not satisfied; poverty is not reduced.  If understanding the nature and limitations of human beings is the beginning of political wisdom, then the Marxists have yet to begin.

II.  Marxism entails a faulty view of cause and effect 
The Marxists do more than ignore that which cannot be ignored, they also confuse cause and effect by believing the fallacy that economic conditions and the social and political circumstances that attach to them serve to shape everything and everyone.  They have never stopped to ask themselves what (or who) changes economic conditions, and why.

Public policy and political theory are enacted only by real and identifiable human beings, not by any alleged impersonal forces of change set loose in the world at large.   Individual human beings are the true movers and shakers in political affairs, not “the spirit of the age,” not the “the winds of freedom and equality,” not “historically determined class struggle,” not even “ideas whose time has come.”  People are responsible for hatching failed economic policies, for inciting Marxist revolutions, and for inter-racial oppression, on the one hand, as well as for the acquisition and maintenance of political freedom and material prosperity, on the other.  Until the Marxists recognize from whence arise both human failures and human successes, they will continue to generate ill-conceived policies.  It can be no other way.   No answers are possible until the Marxists discover who is answerable; and until they discover who is answerable, they chase illusory excuses and imaginary scapegoats.  Human actors excepted, nearly everything is a mirage in the events of the political arena and of the marketplace.  Behind nearly every political and economic result, both good and bad, lies a human cause.
But Marxist taxonomy and the worldview it embodies permit no such conclusion.  Marxist nomenclature ignores the obvious fact that only individuals exist.  Rather than beginning with the irreducible fact of the fallen human individual, rather than building its theory on the basis of individual dignity, worth, autonomy, and sinfulness, Marxism sees only classes, aggregates, and masses, never realizing that such things are merely their own interpretations of reality, and not reality itself.  As Marc Bloch observed in a different context, a nomenclature that is thrust upon the external world rather than derived from it will always end by distorting the world because it raises its own failed interpretive categories to the level of the true and the eternal.

Classes, as such, do not exist.  Only fallen individual human beings exist.  Classes are a sociologist’s fiction, a shorthand method of identifying and interpreting the great many billions of individuals who now live or who have lived upon this planet.  In that way, Marxist theory is the political and sociological equivalent of philosophical realism and, as a result, has most of philosophical realism’s attendant strengths and weaknesses, reification among them.  I cannot explain it any more plainly than has Rose Wilder Lane:
In the human world there is no entity but the individual person... So far as Society has any existence, it exists when boy meets girl, when Mrs. Jones telephones Mrs. Smith, when Robinson buys a cigar, when the motorist stops for gasoline...when the postman delivers the mail and the labor bosses discuss a strike...and the dentist says ‘Wider, please.’  Human relationships are so infinitely numerous and varying every moment, that no human mind can begin to grasp them. To call these relationships Society, and then discuss the welfare or progress of Society, as if it existed as a bee swarm does, is simply to escape from reality to fairyland.4
Such ideas are not new.  Centuries ago Aristotle understood that those with money and those without were likely to be mentally and socially crippled by the distorted way they viewed each other as only either rich or poor, rather than as individual human beings.  Modern Marxists are subject to the same ancient interpretive delusion to which Aristotle alluded.  Marxist taxonomy binds Marxists — and those over whom they rule — in the chains of error.  The Marxists not only see aggregates where only individuals exist, they also see only imperialists, revolutionaries, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat.  That is, the Marxists not only fall afoul of the fallacy of aggregation, they apply laudatory or pejorative labels to the aggregates they have created, and thereby applaud or condemn millions of individuals for no other reason than that those individuals happen to fall into one or the other artificial category.  For such “offences” millions of people, quite literally, have died.

But, though people rule the world, and not impersonal forces or faceless masses, one must not conclude that therefore ideas are either unimportant or inconsequential.  As Richard Weaver properly observed, ideas have consequences.  But ideas do not have consequences apart from the people who conceive them, refine them, and apply them.  Thus, on their own, ideas do not lead us places; we take them somewhere.  Only to the extent that people act upon their beliefs do ideas have consequences.  People do not always do so; but when they do, they themselves are the active agents in history, not their mental conceptions.

III.  Marxism entails a faulty view of justice
The Marxists mistakenly believe that justice is synonymous with equality.  It is not.  Justice is not having the same as your neighbor, regardless of differences in skill, investment, effort, ownership, worth, and chance.  Nor is justice the same as confiscating the personal property of some in order to give it to those who have no moral or legal claim upon it.  Justice is not synonymous with either equality or coercive redistribution.  Justice is having what is yours by inheritance, by hard work, by legal purchase, and by good fortune, provided such possessions have come to you apart from coercion and deceit.  Justice is the same as equality only for those people and in those circumstances that are truly equal.  Such people and such circumstances, however, are exceedingly rare.  We human beings, and the varying circumstances in which we find ourselves, are not equal.  Whatever else they may be, things that are all the same are not human.  Things that are not truly the same are not equal.  To misunderstand this fact is to misunderstand justice.  To misunderstand justice is to set a course for political and economic failure.  As Brian Griffiths explains,
To aim for after-tax equality of income as a major objective of economic policy has three basic difficulties associated with it.  By blunting the incentives of economic life to start with, it would discourage enterprise and reduce the real income of the society as a whole.  Next, it would seem to many unfair not to allow differentials in wages based on such things as training costs, risk, mobility, hard work, and innovation.  Finally, the kind of society which typically decides to abolish inequality of income and wealth ends up creating inequality based on political power because of the discretion it invests in government.5
But the Bible makes no such error.  Rather than denouncing economic differences, the Bible presupposes them, as Christ’s parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) demonstrates.  In it, Christ indicates that God’s just judgement of human beings is based upon their wise stewardship of the varied gifts (financial and otherwise) that He has entrusted to them, not upon either the allegedly egalitarian initial allocation of those gifts or upon their egalitarian final disbursement.  Shrewd investment, not redistribution, calls forth the divine encomium “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (vv. 21, 23).

The specific political economy a Christian finally endorses cannot be pulled from a hat.  Rather, one’s political view is chosen by careful reflection upon Christianity’s fundamental truths and upon the relationship of those fundamental truths to the presuppositions of the political or economic theory under consideration, as well as upon that theory’s historical record.  But of those varied historical and philosophical considerations, the ethical must predominate.  Mere productivity and efficiency are not enough.  Christians can properly endorse only those policies that are just both in their ends and in their means.  Thus, while assisting the poor is an admirable and biblical endeavor, coercion and theft are not.  The biblical means of alleviating another’s distress is not coercive redistribution by the state, it is that act of selfless charity practiced by the good Samaritan:  personal involvement and compassionate private largesse (Luke 10:30-37).  The good Samaritan himself came to the aid of his suffering brother.  He did not lobby Congress to fund another massive, ineffective and wasteful giveaway, made possible only by a large-scale, coercive confiscation of private property.  Those who depend upon the state to be an effective means of philanthropy must first ignore the fact that the modern state is not normally an agency of Christian love.  Quite the contrary; the modern state has been the cause of more deaths (approximately 100 million) in this century than in all other centuries combined.  Nor do the socialist redistributers of other people’s property seem to realize that despite his good intentions, Robin Hood was a thief.

IV.  Marxism entails a faulty view of private property
By abolishing private property rights, Marxism has cut economic rewards loose from risk taking, from effort, and from saving.  Human beings simply cannot be relied upon to make the careful and painstaking evaluations necessary to assess the real possibilities for success or failure before taking entrepreneurial risks when neither the profits gained from such risks nor the losses incurred from such risks are theirs.  Nor can investment capital be accumulated except from the profits of prior endeavors, the use of which has been sacrificed for the present in order to make possible (but not certain) greater prosperity in the future.  In a low-efficiency system like Marxism, where profits already tend to be very small, workers will be unwilling to work harder to raise a company’s profit margin or to endure intensified deprivation for the purpose of funding future endeavors that are not likely to be successful, or, if they are successful, will not yield profits to them but to the state.  A socialist economy does not permit people to reap for themselves the rewards of their hard work, shrewdness, and abstinence.  For that reason, if for no other, socialism will never be as successful as democratic capitalism.  When private property rights disappear, so does the entrepreneurial spirit.  Incentive is tied inextricably to ownership.

The Marxist denial of private property rights is not only inefficient, it is unbiblical and contradicts the clear teaching of both Testaments.  In the Hebrew scriptures, for example, the Decalogue forbids both theft and the evil desires that frequently give rise to theft by declaring “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:15, 17).  As John Chamberlain correctly explains,
“Thou shalt not steal” means that the Bible countenances private property — for if a thing is not owned in the first place it can scarcely be stolen.  “Thou shalt not covet” means that it is sinful even to contemplate the seizure of another man’s goods — which is something which socialists, whether Christian or other, have never managed to explain away.  Furthermore, the prohibitions against false witness and adultery mean that contracts should be honored and double-dealing eschewed.  As for the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long,” this implies that the family, not the state, is the basic continuing unit and constitutive element of society.6
The New Testament is no different.  In his parables on the talents (mentioned above), on the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13), and on the pounds (Luke 19:11-27),  Christ was concerned to underscore the virtue of properly managing and utilizing one’s resources in the best interest both of oneself and the Kingdom of God.  From these and other passages, it is clear that Jesus does not condemn private property, work, business, investment, saving, or wealth.  He does, however, condemn covetousness, greed, and neglecting both the needs of others and those of one’s own soul.  Christ is well aware of the spiritual hazards of wealth, and He warns us against them.  But that does not mean that money is evil or that possessing it is wicked.  The love of money, not money itself, is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10).  By the same token, spiritual hazards also attach to poverty, such as crime, envy, and bitterness.  After all, it is not the poor, but the poor in spirit — that is, the repentant — who inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3).  Jesus condemns not wealth, but avarice.  In the former instance, you have money; in the latter instance, it has you.
In short, the New Testament does not view private property as a problem in itself.  Rather, it endorses it.  In the one instance where the New Testament era Christians practiced community of goods (Acts 2:44), the experiment seems to have proved a failure, for shortly afterward we discover that bureaucratic miscarriage in the redistribution of goods as well as increasing poverty in the ranks (conditions not at all unrelated or atypical of socialist systems on any scale) led to complaints and to divisions among believers (Acts 6:1).  In other words, socialism is a system that not even the apostles themselves could make work.

But here I must digress for one paragraph.  Like the Marxists, the secular libertarians make a fundamental error with regard to private property.  They do so by believing that their bodies and their lives are in fact their own, and that, because they are their own, they can do with them as they please.  But the secular libertarians are wrong.  Neither the bodies we inhabit nor we ourselves belong to us.  These things are doubly, even trebly, God’s.  That is, what a man makes belongs to a man.  He owns the fruit of his labor.  What a man purchases is his.  He owns what he buys.  By the same token, we ourselves are God’s.  He both created us and purchased us from sin at the cost of his own Son.  In Paul’s words, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).  Furthermore, we know we must not despoil a man of his home.  Our bodies, so to speak, are the home of God. As Paul asks in the same passage, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  We also know that ownership entails the privilege of both use and disposal.  Because it does, and because we are God’s, the secular libertarian cannot do with (or to) himself anything he sees fit and then try justify his actions on the grounds that they injure no one else and are therefore morally acceptable.  They are not.  Secular libertarians expropriate from God what is rightfully his — the very action those same libertarians properly condemn when done to them by the state.  Nor can a feminist any longer claim that the fetus growing within her is her own body and that she may do with her body whatever she pleases.  Abortion, in other words, not only despoils the rights of the one growing within her, it is a trespass against the property rights of God.  So also is suicide.

Marxists make egregious errors regarding the expropriation of private property, but that failing is not exclusively Marxist.

V.  Marxism entails a faulty view of the nature of wealth
The Marxists have believed for too long that the inevitable scarcity of economic goods, on the one hand, and the equally inescapable condition of human depravity and the ignorance, poverty, and misery to which it gives rise, on the other hand, were somehow susceptible to solution by the state-sponsored machinations of an oppressive interventionist government and the command economy it always produces.
Marxists seem to focus more on the egalitarian redistribution of wealth than on the most effective means of producing that wealth.  They seem not to understand that one cannot redistribute what has not been produced.  If one’s system of production does not create the goods, then no matter how one slices the pie, the economic status of the nation will not be raised.  Nor do the Marxists seem to understand that some of the most fertile repositories of wealth are not susceptible to reallocation and redistribution, such as inventiveness and know-how.  A great deal of Western wealth (especially the means to future Western wealth) resides not in material things but in the technological brilliance and innovativeness embodied in so many of its best and most valuable workers.  That brilliance and innovativeness cannot be appropriated by the state and reassigned and redistributed at will.
With such Marxist errors Christianity cannot and does not agree.  Because Christianity and the world of hard extra-mental fact both have their origin in God, Christianity and reality sing the same song, as it were.  Because they do, Christianity is not conformable to the incomplete list of Marxist delusions noted above.  But because both Christianity and democratic capitalism are rooted in the way things really are, they are compatible with one another.  After all, if one were to tune all the pianos in a piano warehouse to the same piano, all the pianos in the warehouse would be in tune with one another.
Put succinctly, capitalist values closely approximate Christian values, as George Gilder has so ably demonstrated in his excellent Wealth and Poverty.  First, Gilder argues, capitalism is based upon giving.  Successful capitalistic enterprise consists of providing wisely conceived, conveniently distributed, readily available, agreeably priced goods and services that others could not have provided so well or so cheaply for themselves.  That means that capitalism does not reward selfishness.  Instead, it forces upon the selfish a necessity to seek and to serve the interests of others, to offer to them a product or a service they desire at a price they think is fair.  If a capitalist fails to take into account the needs of others and the prices they are willing to pay to meet those needs, that capitalist goes out of business.  Capitalists work for the consumer, not for themselves.  They give the consumer what the consumer wants, not what they themselves want.  As Thomas Taylor correctly observed, “virtually every person in a modern economy devotes his skills and energies to a highly specialized activity that provides a product or service to be used by someone else."7 As a result, capitalists stay in business only as long as the consumer permits them to do so.  The marketplace is not the arena for unbridled selfishness; it is the stage upon which we learn to consider others and their needs.  The market rewards those who serve and those who give, not those who do not.  Capitalist prosperity hinges not upon our selfishness, but upon our successfully focusing upon, analyzing, and satisfying someone else’s needs.  We succeed in the marketplace only insofar as we advance the cause of our fellows and invest our resources and our efforts in that advance.  If you neglect your neighbor’s needs; if you refuse to put your time, talent, and treasure to work providing for his convenience; your enterprise comes to nothing.  If you carefully consider and then appropriately satisfy your neighbor’s needs you will enjoy the fruit of your labors. Whatever else we may call this attention to meeting the needs of others, it is not selfishness.  The marketplace is a school for virtue, not a subsidy for vice.

The critics of capitalism do not understand this because they do not understand either the market-wide beneficial effects of economic competition or the inescapably civilizing effects of the marketplace.  Nor do they understand that after a freely entered market exchange both parties are better off, otherwise no exchange would have taken place.  Competition is a struggle for excellence that results in better products at lower and lower prices to the consumer.  The marketplace tames those who compete there by requiring them to be courteous to customers; to accommodate other people’s needs and desires before their own; and to deal fairly and honestly with all the people with whom they trade; or else to fail.

Second, Gilder argues, faith is a capitalist virtue.  In the marketplace one finds no guarantees.  Investments sometimes fail.  Try as you may, the entrepreneurial gifts which you offer your neighbor might be rejected.  As Gilder explains,
...there is no demand for new and unknown goods, no demand for the unforeseeable fruits of innovation and genius... If a product is new, it may create demand, perhaps over time.  But the demand does not already exist, except in the mind [and hopes] of the entrepreneur.8
Entrepreneurs, in other words, walk by faith, not by sight.  They learn to believe in things not seen.
But this chapter is not the place to rehearse at length the case that Gilder himself has made so convincingly and in greater detail elsewhere.  Suffice it here to say that Gilder has demonstrated that, like Christianity, democratic capitalism places a premium not only upon such things as faith and giving, but also upon hard work, strong traditional family ties and roles, creativity, and experience.  Marxism does not.  Its refusal to do so raises the most fundamental question of all:  Can you ignore the moral laws of God or (what is the same) the laws of nature and still prosper?  The answer to that fundamental question, as the dismal history of Marxism indicates, is no.  Given the hard facts of nature and the immutable God by whom that nature was established, one could easily believe that the political and economic meltdown now underway in Marxist nations around the world was inevitable.  It ultimately can be no other way.  As Dorothy L. Sayers correctly observed, “There is only one real law — the law of the universe; it may be fulfilled by way of judgment or by the way of grace, but it must be fulfilled one way or the other.”9

 From every indication now available to me, Karl Marx was wrong.  The future does not belong to the proletariat.  It belongs to the free.  Marxism is in retreat worldwide because it ignores reality and because the reality it ignores is resilient and will have its way.

But because human beings tend to be relentlessly obtuse, error is resilient too.  We human beings hold to our errors sometimes with prodigious tenacity and often with a ferocity to match.  In the words of Malcolm Muggeridge,
[Some] minds are prepared to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thoroughgoing, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth can be relied on to champion human freedom.10
Because error is resilient, the free nations of the West must be circumspect and deliberate in their continued self-defense. Christians must not be derelict in their duty to preserve the manifold blessings of liberty and prosperity because it remains to be seen whether or not a new strain of Marxist virus will breed in the presently rotting corpse of Soviet tyranny. That new strain, if it arises, will be more virulent and robust than any we have yet known.  We must not let that genie out of the bottle.

1 Brian Griffiths, The Creation of Wealth: A Christian’s Case for Capitalism (Downers Grove: IVP, 1984), 11, 13.
2 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1976/1981), 452.
3 Ludwig von Mises, Money, Method, and the Market Process, edited by Richard M. Ebeling (Norwell: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), 223, 221-222.
4 Rose Wilder Lane, The Discovery of Freedom (New York: The John Day Company, 1943), 5, 6.
5 Griffiths, ibid., 78.
6 John Chamberlain, The Roots of Capitalism (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1959/1976), 70, 71.
7 Thomas C. Taylor, An Introduction to Austrian Economics (Auburn: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1980), 18.
8 George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty (New York: Bantam, 1981), 45,49.
9 Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos? and other Essays in Popular Theology (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1947), 52.
10 Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 87.