Given the emphasis that the president placed on “income inequality” in his 2014 SOTU speech, I thought it necessary for us to review a few things from the Bible. We have wandered so far off from the teaching of Jesus that some of this pandering seems compelling and/or compassionate to us. It is actually evil.
Allow me to say a few things in this second paragraph that will seem outrageous to some, while doing so in the hope that you will then allow me to explain myself. I have argued repeatedly that free grace creates free men, and that free men are the only ones who can create free markets. Free markets are God’s design for us. If you don’t love the idea of free markets, you don’t love Jesus rightly. Christian discipleship requires an understanding of, and deep love for, economic liberty.
So why invoke Jesus by name? Why bring Him into it? First, He is the Lord of all things, including what we do with our money. So there’s that. Second, in his fine book Friends of Unrighteous Mammon, Stewart Davenport shows that in 19th century America, two contrary camps developed among professing Christians (and they have been with us since). He called them the “clerical economists” and the “contrarians.” The clerical economists followed the insights of Adam Smith, but did so within a decidedly Christian framework. But as they did this, their language did not emphasize Jesus so much. They were more about “the spirit of Christianity” and a “that wise and good Providence.” Their work was “curiously lacking in overt references to Christ,” even though they were orthodox Christians. Their opponents, the contrarians, went the opposite direction. Their teaching was all about Jesus, and individual discipleship, and the hard sayings of Jesus . . . and that engine was hooked up to socialist assumptions. In short, those Christians with sound economic understanding allowed themselves to be rhetorically outmaneuvered, and allowed the left to have the rhetorical high ground. But coercive taxation is not the way of Jesus, and blessing your neighbor with an actual job is. And so, no, let’s not leave Jesus out of it.
And so, speaking of the difficult words of Jesus, let’s take a look at the parable of the ten investment portfolios.
“As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me’” (Luke 19:11-27).
Ten servants are each given a mina, and we hear a report back from three of them. One made ten minas with his one, and another made five minas with his one. They are both praised. These men were investing in their master’s work in a city that despised their master, and had all kinds of negative things to say about him. The third servant, influenced by all the bad things being said about the “austere” master by these chattering classes, went and buried his mina. The master then judged him according to the false perception he had created for himself, and his mina was taken and given to the man who had earned ten. This grievous action, according to the naysayers of that wicked town, was simply compounding the great problem of “income inequality.” It used to be ten to one, and now it was eleven to zero! And then, to top off this narrative told by gentle Jesus meek and mild, the master summons those who had spread the lies about him in the first place so that they could all be slaughtered in front of him.
So yes, Jesus is the one who told the rich young ruler to give it all to the poor. He is also the one who told people to take one mina from this poor servant and give it to the rich servant. Do not make superficial judgments, especially with the words of Jesus.
Enough with their wicked city, and back to our wicked city. Our demagogues harangue us repeatedly with the lie that the wealthy need to pay “their fair share.” So what share are they currently paying? The top one percent (the ten minas people) are those who earn over $343,927. They pay almost 37% of all federal income taxes. The top five percent, those making $154,643 and up, pay about 59% of federal income taxes. The top ten percent (the five minas people) are those who make over $112,124, and they pay 70% of all federal income taxes. At what point, then, will they finally start paying their “fair share”? At what point will the envy of the liars be exhausted?
We are not just a nation of murderers and perverts. We have legally (but unlawfully) executed tens of millions of unborn Americans without so much as the pretense of a trial. We are moving inexorably toward sodomite mirages, an open invitation to the God of Heaven to flatten us. But we must not leave out this issue of theft. We are represented by thieves in Washington because we vote to send them there, and we vote to send them there because we are a nation of thieves. We want representatives who will look at a man with ten minas, and at me with my one, and we want them to take some from him and give it to me. The current faction controlling this city (those citizens who hate the rightful ruler of it) is more than willing to distribute the minas in that ungodly fashion.
But the rightful king is returning, and we should remind ourselves this state of affairs will not always be so.
Can you share your sources for the tax numbers? It isn’t that I don’t believe you, I just want to look at it on my own.
I would love to see you write a full-length book on this subject. Strange, isn’t it, how perverse our hearts are? God has given us the freedom to give of our own (what he has given us) till our hearts are content–and our hearts generally reach that state of contentment with giving of our own rather quickly. He has not given us the freedom to play Robin Hood, taking and handing out other folks stuff. I think many who speak of “economic justice” are thinking in “Robin Hood” terms. They, of course, are the good guys in the economic justice… Read more »
It’s probably not too early to refer to our current system as the greatest financial crime in the history of mankind to date. The Federal Reserve (which is neither part of the federal government, nor does it have a reserve of anything but ink) has been conjuring about $85 billion every month for the last 5 years. Their stated purpose for this mammoth intervention (over a trillion dollars a year) is to spur the economy, but it appears the only way we’ve managed to show even a meager GDP growth is by tampering with the way GDP is calculated. To… Read more »
One might say that the king of Gondor is returning soon, and as the steward, the Church should be ready to return the city to him with interest.
Wow! Banks actually used to pay out interest!?
I believe that Robin Hood was merely returning the people’s money to them that had been stolen by the king. Most people think he was taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but the money had actually started out with the poor.
Good point Melody. Ayn Rand had an unfavorable view of the legend of Robin Hood, but only as propaganda used by the Prince John’s. Also in the story there is the return of the rightful king, which sort of echoes the parable at hand.
Great catch on the Robin Hood narrative. He gave back to the masses what the government had wrested from them. I’ll never watch the Errol Flynn classic in the same way. He just wanted the people to live lives of liberty in Sherwood Forest.
What Katecho said. Also, why are you assuming that the king’s servants in the parable, correlate to the income brackets of the USA? It seems arbitrary to say that they correlate to “really rich”, “rich”, and “not rich” here and now, people who may or may not be “rich” or “not rich” due to being faithful servants. I always thought of the servants as correlating to us servants in the Kingdom of God and either being faithful to the King(Jesus) or unfaithful.
And even if the rich were paying equal taxes everybody else, that would be fine. If the rich got their wealth by illegal means, than it should be looked into, and if they earned it, than we shouldn’t punish them for their initiative and hard work. A poor man isn’t inherently better or more worthy than a rich man.
Bravo. Your then = now math = perfect. Gotta rib you though on the “rightful king is returning” amil leaning, which I applaud too.
Why is “fair share” additive? Why does the parable of the talents mean “treasure on earth”? And, why the Kantian definition of freedom?
Matt, why the Kantian definition of “earth”? ;)
Steven: I was told to hate the Kantian definition of earth too, and I submit. :P More seriously, “freedom” is a much more controversial idea than is “earth”. Pr. Wilson used to be very stridently opposed to “autonomous” understandings of man. But now he’s stumping Kantian autonomy. Which is also very confusing to me.
Here’s the tax info: http://www.irs.gov/uac/SOI-Tax-Stats—Individual-Statistical-Tables-by-Size-of-Adjusted-Gross-Income
Matt, I still am ardently opposed to an autonomous understanding of man. We live under the authority of Christ, and He is the only one who can authorize the rezoning of Naboth’s vineyard, which, in that case, He didn’t. Freedom is defined by the Word of God, not by an ultimate “leave me alone” libertarian vibe.
It’s your understanding of man’s relation to man–particularly, your definition of freedom as freedom from–that seems Kantian, not your understanding of our relation to God. What happened to us being interdependent, to Rosenstock-Huessy, to Chesterton’s quips about fences that free, to C.S. Lewis’ critiques of advertisement? Do those only apply vertically? — The issue is that the market enslaves using different forces than the government, but enslaves nevertheless. A world with licentious, willy-nilly, arbitrary markets, (which are better descriptions of it than “free”) is not a world that offers itself to Christ, but a world that offers itself to capital.… Read more »
Granted their is a lot of envy out their but we ALL must see our own self interest motivated bias. Something tells me the top 10 to 1% have their own vices maybe perhaps of greed which our wise benevolent Lord spoke much about as well. We should also take into consideration the love of money from the top down that effects all financial classes, and it is this cancerous greed I believe accompanied with envy that is killing us all poor and rich and all in between. I agree with some of the posts but disagree with the overly… Read more »
Tax information is available at irs.gov
Matthew, Assuming for the moment your points are valid about what things offered in the market being enslaving and things being received from the market by slaves who are further enslaved (that’s my interpretation; I echo others who find your writing a bit hard to follow), what should be done about it? The issues here are heart issues and largely come under the purview of Christ’s charge to the church to disciple the nations. I can think of no government action or formalized mass responses to admonitions from the critics (like yourself?; again I can’t tell) that would do anything… Read more »
As I’ve held for years there will never be taxation high enough, redistribution thorough enough nor rhetoric vitriolic enough about inequality to satiate a public yearning to satisfy a desire to live at increasing levels of comfort at other people’s expense. It requires utterly no character, discipline nor virtue to advocate that other people “help the poor” and yet by doing so a man can sound holy and righteous. For one hundred and fifty years popular socialism has refined its relentless methods. Socialism is inevitable anywhere until it collapses the system. It take courage for haves (and have-nots for that… Read more »
Matthew, You’re criticism of the ‘arbitrary’ market assumes a view of man that is not taught in scriptures. The Sirens compelled people against their will. People who were lured in by their song were not culpable of their actions as they were not acting as free agents. Contrasted with that is the free market. Markets create choices, yes, and an overwhelming number of them. People make bad decisions, even foolish ones, but they remain free decisions. The reason your assertion falls short of the biblical view of man is that it makes man a purely reactionary being. We receive input… Read more »
Somehow the federal government has taken it upon itself to decide that a person cannot work for less than $7.25/hour. In other words a citizen has no right to offer services for less than that. I ran into this with my first job. I little to no experience in garment alteration, and I asked the store owner if it would be possibly for her to pay me less than the minimum wage ($5.15 at the time) until my skills were worth that. … Obviously she couldn’t, and even though my skills improved over that summer, I was never fast enough… Read more »
But Matthew, freedom can be ‘freedom from’ if the object of that preposition ‘from’ is something other than God, no? Because, as you say, freedom is hearing (which I take you to mean, submitting ones will and life to divine authority), governmental authorities screaming messages contrary to God’s get in the way of that hearing that is obedient to God. So freedom from having to hear and obey an unrighteous government command becomes freedom to hearing and obeying what our God has to say.
David, Benjamin, and Aaron: 1) Did you read the essay on the Ka from Rosenstock-Huessy? 2) Since I dispute that “free markets” are “free” in any relevant sense–rather, they are libertine, willy-nilly, arbitrary, and licentious (do I need to tell you that these words all mean free?)–it doesn’t do to keep appealing to them as “free”. 3) Yes, it is possible that specific commands are unjust. That’s not at issue. But their removal does not free us, except in that it it takes away the cacophony. But it isn’t clear that the market is free in the true sense, namely,… Read more »
I guess I am having trouble with your distinction of ‘free’ and ‘arbitrary, etc.’. Are you saying that God’s providence is not at work in the marketplace and is thereby human controlled? Or are you saying that it is not ‘free’ in the sense that it has not been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and therefore is still a slave to sin, a la Romans 8? Or did I miss the point entirely?
Benjamin: Have you read the ERH essay? Freedom is not freedom from restraint, but freedom to follow a summons. Jesus says “Go, make disciples…” and we have been following his summons for 2,000 years. Torah said “Hear, O Israel…” and Israel followed this summons (about as well as we have followed ours). Without a summons, without a ka, without projection, there is no freedom. Rather, better words to describe lack of calling is “arbitrary, libertine, willy-nilly, and licentious.” If we take restraints from the market, we do not thereby make it free, since that would be to *give* it a… Read more »
no, I confess I have not read the essay. The PDF you linked to was 241 pages and I simply do not have the time to process through that much information at the present moment. I have downloaded it and added it to my list… thank you for that at least. But to address what you’ve said in this thread, by your arguments (still assuming that I understand them correctly) then what you are imposing is an Arbitrary, libertine, willy-nilly, and licentious regulating body imposing libertine controls on the market. The call on the market would have to come from… Read more »
Yes, the PDF was long. Scroll through to the section on Ka. Regarding the rest of your paragraph: I’m not imposing anything. Do you mean proposing? (I’m confused.) But that doesn’t quite make sense either. I’m not proposing that the market be controlled by the government, I’m confused by this silly modernist definition of freedom. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying, so I can’t respond to the rest–with one exception. What is freedom according to you, and according to me? — The one exception: Sure, the Market is under providence. As is disease. And as is President Obama.… Read more »
“The current faction controlling this city (those citizens who hate the rightful ruler of it) is more than willing to distribute the minas in that ungodly fashion.”
Don’t forget to add that the current faction controlling this city takes his cut in the process.
“I ran into this with my first job. I little to no experience in garment alteration, and I asked the store owner if it would be possibly for her to pay me less than the minimum wage ($5.15 at the time) until my skills were worth that.” That’s the problem. Too many talking heads and politicians somehow think that forcing would be employers to think that individuals’ skills are “worth that” will make it so. The non-creation or destruction of paying work is just one unintended (I’ll be generous) consequence of a wage floor. There are other huge opportunity… Read more »
Matthew, I can’t help but think you’re not allowing for Doug’s qualifications. From his second paragraph: I have argued repeatedly that free grace creates free men, and that free men are the only ones who can create free markets. Does free grace make a man free in an “arbitrary, libertine, willy-nilly, and licentious” sort of way? Of course not. So why would the free market created by such men somehow become all these things? Take his comment to heart: He’s not talking about ‘leave me alone’ libertarianism. It’s not a libertine market argument he’s making. He’s arguing for men whose… Read more »
Matthew N. Petersen’s disingenuousness aside, I don’t think anyone is disputing that sinners do many sinful things within a free market. However, Matthew is in error to suggest that a free market is one without any criminal restraints. The problems of the free market are not the result of a lack of sufficient criminal restraints. Similarly, the problems within ancient Israel were not due to a lack of sufficient criminal and moral restraints. They had God’s perfect Law. Rather the problem was lack of converted heart, and unbelief. They needed the law written on their heart. The State cannot fix… Read more »
Ayn Rand blasted Robin Hood and then created Ragnar Danneskold (sp?), the pirate/philosophy student/bishop’s son in “Atlas Shrugged” who did the same kind of thing, taking from the takers to repay the producers?
Aaron: Let’s take with what seems to be your suggestion for a definition of “freedom”, namely, “obedience to God.” A “free market” is defined as “A market economy in which the forces of supply and demand are not controlled by a government or other authority” (from wikipedia). That is, “free” in “free market” does not mean “free”–that is, obedient to God–but rather, follows the Kantian definition of freedom as “freedom from”–a “freedom” that would be more accurately described as libertine (from liber = free), licentious (from licentia = freedom), willy-nilly (from will I-nill I = will I, will I not = choose this, choose that) or arbitrary (from arbitrium = choice). That is,… Read more »
Matthew, I think you are being overly subtle here. A man and a market can never be “free” in exactly the same sense because they are fundamentally different things. It seems perfectly acceptable to use the word “free” in two different senses here. If you click on the tag “The Good of Affluence” there are some great posts of his that help connect the dots from God’s grace to free markets (sorry, don’t have time to go back and link them right now). Now, if you want to say that we don’t live in a society of free men (in… Read more »
Here is a good one: http://dougwilson.wpengine.com/s22-money-love-desire/football-players-or-pirates.html
And another good one: http://dougwilson.wpengine.com/s22-money-love-desire/free-markets-and-free-grace.html
Brent: Sure, it’s fine to use them differently. But “free men therefore free market” is as good an argument as “free men therefore free love.”
Regarding the first link: There was no private property in Israel, but rather familial property. And the commandment not to steal is not dependent on private property. The second link either says “it is good economic practice not to have government interference”, which may be true, but does not support the conclusions about Jesus requiring free markets in this post, or is just a “free men therefore free love” style argument.
Matthew: We seem to be talking past each other. I understand you’re arguing against what you see as Doug’s argument for a market without restriction. But I think Doug agrees that the market should have restrictions and I get that from his stipulations that the kind of free market he’s talking about is one made by free men who have been freed by God’s free grace. So the last part of wikipedia’s definition “…not controlled by government or other authortity” would not fit with what I take Doug to be saying because the forces of supply and demand would be… Read more »
Aaron: Do you think that men who are freed by grace could have their government place restrictions on the market, in order that it be free? And if wikipedia were changed to “not controlled by government or other created authority” would it accurately describe “free market”? If it is, we often put restrictions on things to make them free–a violin string is freed by the tension, a child may be freed by a father’s command–why not here?
Please do comment, I think we’re actually starting to get somewhere.
I think the real issue is whether government has the authority to put restrictions on the market, not whether a “free market” is ideal. But if so, the claims that “If you don’t love the idea of free markets, you don’t love Jesus rightly” don’t work. This is a disagreement between Christians on adiaphora, regarding whether government has authority to speak to to the market. The argument I’ve seen is that we should only use authority we have explicitly been given. But the problem is that whenever we speak we are using authority, and if that law is followed, we… Read more »
Matthew: You said ” But “free men therefore free market” is as good an argument as “free men therefore free love.”” I’d agree with you there. The point of my linking those articles is that Doug has fleshed out his position in much more detail than just “free men therefore free market.” I would still like to see the full argument. Even reading the linked posts it’s not fully clear to me how he arrives at “If you don’t love the idea of free markets you don’t love Jesus rightly.” But he has developed his position more fully than you seem… Read more »
Aaron Richmond wrote: “As katecho mentioned, free men are still sinners, so there will be intentional and unintentional sins associated with such a market, and the government should play a role here with punishment and regulation.” My concern was to distinguish sins from crimes. In a free market,, the government has a direct role in punishing market crimes (theft, safety and health violations, bribery, etc), but not market sins more broadly considered (greed, lust, pride, gluttony, sloth, etc). Just because something is sinful does not make it a crime. In a free market, the government does not interfere to… Read more »
Brent: We roughly agree.
Over the several years I have been reading your blog you have intimated that you believe the income tax is theft. This resonates with me but I have questions (What government taxes are lawful?). Could you recommend any resources that make a more thorough case for your view which also anticipate the objections sure to come from the other side?