Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Heraclitus and the Economy

It was the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said that the only fixed thing is change itself. And so it is height of folly to suggest that the kind of change President Obama is bringing will countermand the immoral impulses of those that spend our money in Congess. This item from Drudgereport underscores my point.

Many of America's institutions and leaders are becoming increasingly indifferent to biblical morality. There is a certain undefinable stench in the air of this country.

Regis Nicoll argues that this foundation has been rendered fragile due to 20-plus years of hammering away and destroying the foundation for the nation's ethics and morality. Remove ethics classes from the elite universities, he says, and don't be surprised at the corporate theft, deception, and evasion of transparency from our political and business leaders in this bailout.

Our profit-based capitalist system was held in check by a biblical morality which placed boundaries on greed and corruption, which made personal and corporate virtue, i.e., seeking the good of others in seeking our own interests, virtuous. Adam Smith called this steady, almost counterintuitive balance an "unseen hand", which flowed from people working for their self interests. But Adam Smith did not put a finger on the bridle of exclusive self interests. Individual interests informed by throughgoing biblical retraints and the voluntary exercise thereof, makes the capitalist economy hum. In this kind of scenario, people trust each other to a significant extent while pursuing their own interest - and institutions follow suit also in trusting other institutions and individuals. I call this "trusted virtue".

Nowadays, people are looking to an unvirtuous Washington and Wall Street to solve an ostensibly economic mess. What has the nation come to when a tax cheat passes muster as the nation's next treasury secretary? It is now quite clear that this economic mess has deep roots that are moral and ethical. And this is one of the reasons why I think people wanting the Obama administration to fail on political and policy grounds are misguided. Policy change won't help us; a reinvigorated capitalist system won't save us. Instead, I pray that any success Obama has in delivering health and prosperity to America will be so because in the end it will only come from God. So, yes, I'm hoping Obama will turn to God for help.

I'm not naive, here. To be sure, the Obama crowd's natural impulse is - at the end of the day - to yield to economic socialism because leftist and socialists deeply believe that class struggle can only be abated when everything of material value in a given society is shared top to bottom. But behind every socialist is a person who believes that people cannot and should not be trusted. And that is a moral problem. Which itself raises the question of why people in this society ought be trusted, when individuals - the basis for all corporations - are no longer trustworthy ? And why are they not trustworthy? Because people by and large have abandoned the first principles for origin, meaning, morality, and destiny - the Bible. In the Bible we learn what life is all about, we learn what is to be valued and what is to be shunned, we learn to share of our own free will our wealth and resources, and we learn that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, thus making us all stewards to an owner with whom we have to give an account.

Social and economic policy "change" in a corrupt, post-capitalist nation - is corrupt still. Even Heraclitus knew this. But when the moral and ethical foundations of profit systems are chased away fully and trust dies, only facism and tyranny can keep the system afloat. And that's where this ship is headed.

But then, and only then, might America come to its senses and return to its biblical roots.

Yes, Lord, we need a revival.

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