Some Things to Think About
APRIL 01, 1985 by HAL WATKINS
The Reverend Mr. Watkins edits and publishes The Printed Preacher, s monthly gospel message, 303 North Third, Dayton, Washington 99328.
Ludwig von Mises is remembered and respected as a great economist, but it is significant that his most memorable work is a book called Human Action. Classic libertarians use this volume as their textbook on economics. Mises recognized that materialism is not the basic motivation for human action, but that there are more subtle stimulae involved.
Materialism is not synonymous with self-interest, but many intelligent, sincere people think it is. By taking advantage of this confusion socialists/communists are able to sell their delusion to the unsuspecting. These interventionists take advantage of a primitive motive that manifests itself prominently in early childhood: covetousness. When you put two one-year-old children in a playpen with a few toys, this motive becomes obvious. If one picks up a toy, the other will want it and reach for it. About that time, the parents begin their lessons in sharing, and the children are completely baffled by such a concept.
Communists also teach sharing, sharing with the State. The State then “shares” with the less fortunate—if the less fortunate meet all the ideological criteria laid down by the oligarchy in charge of the State. This is raw materialism, based on the idea that it is impossible for a human being to rise above covetousness. Actually, communists prefer it that way. They find it difficult to keep their serfs in subjection when they develop motives on a higher plane. This is the fundamental reason for communist opposition to religion. Christianity denigrates covetousness and replaces it with loftier motives.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). The Christian scriptures encourage us to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. I am convinced there is no conflict here with the free market system. Contrariwise, this quality list can be said to be almost 100 per cent opposed to socialism. (I amusing the qualifying word “almost” in the event there may be something I have overlooked, but I seriously doubt the word is useful here.)
The Truth About Freedom
Does freedom in the marketplace have the ring of truth about it? Is competition an advantage to the consumer, or would he be better served if the State (politboro, council of economic advisors, or whatever) determined what he should buy, how many and what quality? Back in the 1930s the college professors told me the capitalistic system wasted enormous quantities of goods and energy because of its competitive nature. It would be better if the Technocrats (socialists, communists, fascists) should assemble in their board rooms and determine just what was needed and how much. This would eliminate waste and everyone would be amply supplied. That was a lie, but at that time I did not know it. I was being fed such books as The Challenge of Russia, by Kirby Page. That wonderful experiment in the U.S.S.R. was pointing up the fallacies in the free market system.
Nearly 50 years have gone by since those days, and history has proved their propaganda to be utopian lies. The Soviet Union cannot feed itself. It has to steal industrial secrets. It must fence its people in. It exports its doctrines by force. Its educational system is a continuous process of brainwashing. Where is the truth in communism? If there is any, even its own disciples have been unable to find it!
How about the nobility of the Russian experiment? I submit there is none to be found in the leadership, the rulers. They have starved, tortured and killed millions of their own people. Wherever they have tried to export their philosophy they have achieved the same result. Much of the Third World is suffering the miseries of starvation and war because Marxists have infiltrated underdeveloped countries in order to make havoc of them. Then, when the depth of tragedy has been reached, they step in and take control. Where is there anything noble about such a system? Nobility is found in the Gulags, the prisons and the exiles.
Is there anything right about Marxism (socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism)? A current expression in America to describe something that works is, “They must be doing something right.” What are they doing right in Russia, Cuba, China? If they are doing anything right, why do they have to be bailed out all the time? I agree totally with the Guatemalan leader, Dr. Manuel F. Ayau, when he says, “I, for one, believe that socialism would have disappeared from the face of the earth long ago if it were not kept alive by the United States.” Their regimes continue in power by means of repression, violence and terror. They cannot afford to allow an opposing party to exist within their borders.
It probably has never occurred to anyone, either in or out of communism, to describe the system as pure or lovely. But the apostle Paul says we should think on such things. Socialism/communism is so full of deceit, coercion, intrigue, shortages, hunger, privation, and class warfare (planners vs. plannees), that one is hard pressed to discover purity and loveliness therein.
Is there anything that could be described as excellent in the practical applications of Marxism? We search in vain in the testimony of those who have managed to escape Russia, China, Cuba, et al., to find anything that can be given unqualified praise.
The best to be said for their industry, research and development, housing, education, quality of life and morals, is that they might, in some instances, be called mediocre. More frequently the descriptions run from fair to poor to terrible. Excellence is seldom achieved via coercion; it de pends on inner motivation, something that is singularly absent in a slave state.
The last item in our list is “praiseworthy,” something worthy of praise. Occasionally, we hear communists referred to as dedicated, and surely dedication is praiseworthy. But are they really dedicated? I know that someone will cite the Russian and East German athletes and their numerous accomplishments as evidence. Admittedly they get high marks and set records in their various specialties. But why? Party bureaucrats scour the nation looking for promising young athletes, give them special training, housing, and perks, all of which give them the illusion of being emancipated from run-of-the-mill slavery so common in socialist countries.
Sometimes we think of the KGB agents as being dedicated, but are they? Let’s face it. The pay is good, and if they can be trusted they get to live outside of Russia (or Cuba). I doubt if we should even use the word efficient to describe the KGB. If this vast spy network were really efficient, it could survive and even do a better job with 25 per cent of its present personnel requirements.
Perhaps there are historians who are saying, “Yes, but see how communism has spread since its inception,” as though they expected praise for such an accomplishment. On the same basis, we could commend the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages. I saw a bumper sticker recently which read “God loves you, and I’m trying.” Well, I’ve tried to find something praiseworthy in interventionist governments, but so far such items have escaped me.
The Science of Scarce Goods
Let’s turn our attention away from statism and ask ourselves if there really is an economic system that is compatible with the admonition of Paul, the apostle, in the Scripture verse we quoted. Economics, the science (if it may be called that) of scarce goods, touches the life of every human being on earth, even though most of them may never have heard the term. We cannot escape economics, any more than we can avoid eating and breathing. Even astronauts, although they may be away from the earth for days, weeks or months at a time, cannot remain aloof from economics. In fact, a sortie away from earth will involve them even more deeply. Air, water, and food—things they may have accepted quite lightly on the ground—become very precious to them in space. Let’s face it; one would have to die to escape our subject.
The United States of America has Christian roots, and the predominant religion of our country is still Christianity. The guidebook for Christianity is the Bible, so let us ask the question again: Is there an economic system that is compatible with what we as Christians believe?
Happily, there is. It is the free market, free enterprise, unfettered capitalism. Let’s examine it together, just as we did socialism. Can we give our minds and hearts to that which is true and still promote a free market? Ideally, how could a free market succeed except in an atmosphere of truth? A free market assumes limited government which guarantees (to the extent of its ability) life, liberty and property, the enforcement of contracts, and the punishment of fraud. Truth is the cornerstone in the foundation of such an economy.
Christians, regardless of whether they are in positions of ownership, management or employees, would feel compelled to seek the truth and embrace it in all their economic affairs. The competitive free marketplace would even tend to make “Christians” of the unbelievers, or they would eventually be out of business.
Can we apply the term noble to the free market? Webster’s definitions we wish to apply here are: “having or showing high moral qualities or ideals, or greatness of character, lofty.” The truly free market is always controlled by the buyers, the consumers. They have the privilege of examining what is being offered for sale to determine the quality and competitive price range. If, for any reason, the potential buyers decide they had rather not buy a particular product, they can withhold their business or take it elsewhere. If the seller alleges his product to be something which it is not, the buyer has recourse within the framework of the law. Such an arrangement tends toward nobility on the part of all concerned. The producer is free to sell to whomever he pleases, and the consumer is free to buy from whomever he pleases. The net result of this arrangement is that the producer does all within his power to provide the best possible product at a cost to the consumer which is attractive to him.
We are told in our text to think about what is right, so join me for a moment in considering the rightness of free enterprise. Let Webster refresh our memories: “Right: what is right, or just, lawful, morally good, proper, correct . . . .” The free market system measures up well to each facet of the definition, with the possible exception of one: lawful. It should not be, but here is the big problem area. The Constitution of the United States was designed and written to protect the rights of the citizens and promote the general welfare of all of them, but over the ensuing years many politicians lost sight of this worthy intent. They began to abuse their position and authority and enacted laws that benefited a few, to the detriment of the many. Because of this, the statute books are filled with labor legislation, interstate commerce laws, minimum wage laws, tariffs, and so on.
The free market system is right, just, good, and proper, but the legal frustrations imposed upon it by its witting or unwitting enemies have placed so many boundaries around it that they who would practice it find themselves bumping their heads and stubbing their toes. Then, to com pound the frustration, whenever there is a problem in the economic community, free enterprise is blamed for it! So, we find ourselves contemplating a concept which is right, but in many respects, not lawful. Shall we eliminate that which is right, or shall we erase the legal restraints against it?
Let’s see how the free market system fits within the context of pure, lovely, and admirable. The term “unadulterated” certainly comes to mind at this point. We have all stood on the banks of streams and rivers at flood stage and felt dismay at the amount of silt and debris being carried downstream. At other times we have enjoyed watching mountain streams tumbling over rocks and sand and noted that the water was so clean we could drink it. Socialism is a system clogged with the silt of trash produced by the State and dumped into the stream, leaving the buyers no choice but to consume it. The managed economy is a river whose flow is slowed by all kinds of legal restrictions resulting in rising prices and a limited selection for the consumer.
Is the free economy excellent and praiseworthy? It is hard to answer this question without being redundant. A current expression goes something like this, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” I think it would be well to apply this philosophy to our subject. History tells us that whenever and wherever the free market has been tried, it worked. Then why try to “fix” it? Those who wanted to fix it, and have too often succeeded, may be called liars, thieves, or ignorant.
Communism (socialism) has never been a grassroots movement, but it must always be imposed on the unsuspecting by gangsters who lust for power. Instead of granting freedom to the people, they impose more and more restrictions over life and property. They even regiment whatever charity happens to survive in the hearts of the people. Freedom (within the laws to prevent fraud), on the other hand, allows for the fullest realization of the desires and ambitions of those who drink of its pure waters. All who are willing and able can do what they want and work where they will. Those who cannot participate will be cared for out of the hearts of those who can.
I believe a root of our dilemma in the twentieth century is the fact that we have not listened to the Apostle who told us to “think about such things.”