The Unending War on Intellectual Poverty and Atavistic Progressivism
If you do not respect this distinction between the absolute and the relative -- between revelation and the human margin -- then you are likely to confuse the God-given and the manmade. To cite another obvious example, Catholic teachers down through the centuries have also had a lot of erroneous ideas about economics that have greatly hindered economic development in countries where they predominate.
Even now, Catholic majority countries generally trail Protestant countries economically because of this legacy of economic innumeracy. It wasn't that these were bad people. It's just that they didn't know anything about economics, but were trying to achieve a "just" economic system by drawing out certain implications of the Bible. At a certain point, many Catholic theologians became more leftist than Catholic, meaning that they were well beyond the human margin and into the "all too human," at best.
In general, religious thinkers have often expressed great hostility to capitalism, probably because of a perceived difficulty reconciling it with the virtues. Indeed, the engine of capitalism might appear to such a person to revolve around the free exercise of certain deadly sins. In 1697, Father Thomasin wrote that "those who lend at interest... think they are doing nothing against reason, against equity, and finally against divine law.... Yet, if no one acquired or possessed more than he needed for his maintenance and that of his family, there would be no destitute in the world at all."
It cannot be emphasized enough that theologians are not economists. This being the case, they generally embrace mankind's "default" economic setting, which is a kind of crude communism that I believe is programmed into our genes. It is precisely this leftist genetic programming that we must transcend in order to facilitate a rational economy that creates and sustains the conditions that gradually materially elevate everyone. Or, to turn it around, if we had attempted to follow these religious thinkers' ideas of "just economic doctrine," we'd all still be living in the Dark Ages. But that never stops the left from trying. Again, "progressivism" is an atavistic tendency lodged deep within our genetic endowment -- which is why it is so difficult to eliminate it from the human "meme pool," since it "feels right" to many people, despite being so demonstrably destructive and dysfunctional.
Charles Davenant, an English political economist, wrote in 1699 that "Trade, without a doubt, is in its nature a pernicious thing; it brings in that wealth that introduces luxury; it gives rise to fraud and avarice, and extinguishes virtue and simplicity in manners; it depraves a people, and makes way for that corruption which never fails to end in slavery...." Here again, this could be Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or some other contemporary secular leftist speaking.
According to Jerry Muller, author of a fascinating book entitled The Mind and the Market (from which the quotes above and below were taken), "there was little room for commerce and the pursuit of gain in the portrait of the good society conveyed by the traditions of classical Greece and of Christianity, traditions that continued to influence intellectual life through the eighteenth century and beyond." But this approach to economics utterly backfired and only created more scarcity and therefore ceaseless war and plunder.
That is, "classic" economic theory, if that's what we want to call it, was predicated on the idea that there was a fixed amount of wealth in the world. Indeed, this is probably an extrapolation -- again, at the human margin -- of the belief that God created the world once and for all. The idea of unlimited economic growth probably clashed with the unconscious notion of a timeless and unevolving world given to us by a creator. Therefore, economic development was hindered by all sorts of dysfunctional ideas, such as a fixed "just price."
One of the sources of hostility to Jews is that they were often merchants, since they were forbidden to engage in most trades. To the economically innumerate, they cannot understand the merchant's role in buying and selling goods at a profit, since the "profit" seems to reflect no added value. Thus, today we still see the enduring hostility to profits, whether it is Walmart, or oil companies, or pharmaceutical companies, or CEOs. Leftists cannot understand that in a dynamic economy, one person's gain is not another person's loss. It is reminiscent of the Scholastic axiom that "money does not beget money." Indeed, according to Muller, "in early medieval iconography, money was often connected with excrement, and portrayed as filthy and disgusting" -- a tip-off to the psychologically primitive roots of the left's hostility to wealth. Similarly, merchants were regarded with great suspicion and often literally depicted as blood-sucking parasites, unlike "honest" people who worked with their hands and lived off the land.
Even today, virtually anyone on the left has difficulty wrapping his mind around the idea that there is no such thing as a "just price." Rather, there is only the price someone is willing to pay. If you try to artificially maintain a price, whether rent control or a "living wage," you will simply introduce distortions into the marketplace which will ripple outward and cause further distortions -- inflation, scarcity, inefficiency, etc.
Thus -- amazingly -- at the Democrat debate the other night, they were actually taking seriously questions about, for example, what to do about "the price of gasoline." This demonstrates such a profound degree of economic ignorance in both questioner and candidates, that it is more than a little frightening to contemplate. After all, should the government also subsidize and reimburse the oil companies for all those years they didn't turn a profit? Likewise, is college really too expensive because there isn't enough government subsidizing of it, or is there already way too much subsidizing of it? Or is it that there are simply too many people in college who have no business being there?
Regarding the default leftism of the human species, this might be the reason why leftism merges so readily with the unleashing of the most base instincts of mankind, including unrestrained violence. In other words, since the leftist is unable to evolve above his constitutional envy, he easily confuses "morality" and violence, in that any violence expressed for the purposes of achieving his socialist ideal is morally justified. Why else would socialist governments ranging from Hitler Germany to the Soviet Union to communist China be so simultaneously idealistic and sadistic? On the other hand, the United States and Great Britain (and other English speaking peoples), which have traditionally had the most liberal economies, have also produced the most decent and benign societies.
Since the roots of leftism may be traced to our genes, it is not surprising that the earliest economic thinking is essentially leftist. Socrates said that "The more men value money-making, the less they value virtue." And in the ancient Greek city-states, "virtue meant devotion to the well-being of the city," or to the collective -- absolutely no different than Hillary Clinton's promise to undo the "on your own" Republican society and replace it with her primitive and ultimately self-centered leftism. That is,
"The Democratic Party, the exit polls tell us, is the home of single, secular people. They are people who are on their own physically, as they may have a commitment problem where people of the opposite sex are concerned. They are, as the book by Robert D. Putnam says, Bowling Alone. And they are on their own spiritually, not belonging to any community of faith. Not surprisingly they want government to fill the gaps in their lives and make up for the lack of a safety net that a family or a church community provides. In short, they want other people to pay for their safety net. As a good Democratic politician, Senator Clinton understands and encourages this.
"The Republican Party, the exit polls tell us, is the home of religious, married people with children. They belong to families and churches, living their lives as 'we're all in it together' people. In addition, of course, those Republicans who are Christians believe in a God that loves them and wants them to love Him right back. How together is that? And religious people, Arthur C. Brooks tells us in Who Really Cares?, are more generous. They give more than secular people. When you give more, you get more, the philosophers tell us."
Thus, just as the "peace movement" will inevitably lead to more war, leftist economic principles ineluctably lead to more scarcity, want, and narrow-minded selfishness (not to be confused with self-interest), and therefore, a massive nanny state to fulfill the needs they artificially engender.
Leftist professors also reflect this primitive fetish surrounding the pursuit of wealth. As far back as Aristotle, it was felt that it was "desirable to be rich, but morally hazardous to engage in the active pursuit of riches through trade": "In the city that is most finely governed, the citizens should not live a vulgar or a merchant's way of life, for this sort of way of life is is ignoble and contrary to virtue." The leftist professor, as much as anyone, enjoys a kind of slack-filled fantasy existence that is only made possible because of the productive activities of others, and yet, he belittles them and bites the handouts that tenure him.
Just once, I wish that some boneheaded MSM lightweight such as Wolf Blizer, Chris Matthews, or Keith Olbermann, would ask one of these Democrat candidates, "40 years, trillion of dollars, and millions of damaged lives later, and do any of you have an exit strategy for the War on Poverty?"