Thursday, September 6, 2007

Hallowed Secularism and Economics

9/6/2007-- I cannot describe an economic system that does yet exist. But I can set forth four starting points. First, economics must serve larger purposes, not simply feed an unending lust for material goods. Prosperity is fine until it seems to be the purpose of life. A society that believes in money and things will never achieve satisfaction. There will always be the need for more. Nor will such a society ever live in peace with the world, either the natural world or other people. Such a society will always need too much.

The second point is the requirement of economic security. It is not an exaggeration to say that some market oriented people actual want workers to be insecure as a goad to efficient production. The hero of these market people is the entrepreneur who risks all to make a lot of money. That is why they want to privatize social security and to leave medical insurance to a private system. But normal people want to relax. They don’t want this goad of living on the edge of disaster. Jesus said not to worry about material things because God would provide them. The way God has provided them is that we are wealthy enough to take some of the economic worry out of life. Without going into detail that seems to require a society-wide retirement system, like social security, and universal healthcare in some form. Such a proposal would also aid the competitiveness of American companies, but that subject is beyond my scope here.

The third point is the need for economic democracy--what Dewey called industrial democracy. People need more of a say in the economic direction of their society. This can happen in a number of different ways—from greater government oversight to laws about plant closings to empowering shareholders. But we must stop looking at economic life as something other than public policy. Wealth is never a private matter. It always rests on a public foundation, whether that foundation is an educated workforce or a low crime rate or simply social peace. Taxation is not theft. It is more true to say that income is theft, or at least that one’s income is dependent on the cooperation of others. It is never my own income. Sometimes that cooperation is bartered directly with me, as in someone I pay to work for me. More often it is a background cooperation, like the road my trucks use, for example. And even when cooperation is directly bartered, I rely on the general orderliness of society and the good-will of promise keeping. Economics is the most social of enterprises.

Finally there is a need for greater economic equality. We need a little socialism. There will always be rich and poor, but intelligent public policy spreads the wealth around. Such distribution is fair and is also likely to produce more prosperity for everyone. It also creates the necessary social solidarity for democracy to work. In other words, it is in the interest of the wealthy themselves that the wealth be shared, as they should have learned by now.

What will the economic system of Hallowed Secularism be like? No doubt it will be basically market-oriented. That system has worked well and is much more likely to work well compared to any other economic system. Plus, the market is merely a system of production and first-order distribution. The market does not prevent us from redistributing wealth. Nor does the market require that we value material things beyond everything else. We have fallen into the error of a certain kind of economic thinking. That is what economics in Hallowed Secularism needs to deal with.

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