The Dark History of American Capitalism and How the Bible Applies

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[The following article is an excerpt from the book, Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason]

No system is better than corporate capitalism at creating incredibly wealthy individuals. This should come as no surprise. A system that maximizes financial rewards for success while minimizing financial losses from failure can’t help but broaden the gap between the rich and poor. Those rich enough to own corporations get richer, while those who aren’t stay poor. According to a study published in the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, 46 of the 75 wealthiest people to have ever lived in the history of human civilization were (or are) U.S. citizens. This is a list that includes Cleopatra of ancient Egypt at #21 and Nicholas II of Russia at #3. John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil tops the list at #1, and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, born in Scotland, but a U.S. citizen as an adult, is #2. According to Gladwell, 14 of the 75 wealthiest people were Americans born between 1831 and 1840. All of these owned large, powerful corporations in the late 1800s and even the early 1900s, an era known as the Gilded Age, when pure capitalism was the American way.

So is the system that produced the richest people in human history the best?

Unfortunately, as pure corporate capitalism produced the wealthiest group of men to have ever lived, it also produced some of worst poverty in history at the same time. When a Cincinnati man was asked how he, his wife and three kids lived on $5 a week in the 1870s, he replied, “I don’t live. I am literally starving. We get meat once a week, and the rest of the week we have dry bread and black coffee.” This story differs little from what my great grandmother used to tell me about growing up in the 1920s in a small rural town about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, “When I was growing up, we only had meat twice a week, because that’s all we could afford.” These were the so-called “Roaring Twenties.” But for the working class, the 1920s were more about scratching and clawing for survival than they were about roaring good times. Even though, by this time, corporate capitalism had been producing the richest men in history for over 50 years, a large percentage of working class Americans suffered poverty unimaginable to any American today.

While life in the country was rough, life in the city was even worse for the working class. In New York’s Five Points section, as many as a dozen people would live in apartments as small as 100 square feet under roofs that often leaked. The streets were mired in garbage and sewers were open. The stench was unbearable to all who were unfortunate enough to visit. And life was unlivable for the neighborhoods impoverished tenants.

Meanwhile, at any given time between 1880 and 1920, about 20,000 breaker boys, ages 8-12, could be found inside coal mine entrances separating anthracite coal from shale 60 hours a week, just in the state of Pennsylvania alone! Meanwhile, little girls sorted threads and fabrics in textile mills. Why would parents send submit their children to lives of dank industrial misery while forsaking their childhoods?

Did parents hate their kids back then?

No.

They were so poor that they had no choice but to put their kids to work. Unfortunately, the higher the number of children working for pathetically low wages, the higher the number of low wage workers there were in the workforce taking jobs from adults. This allowed employers to pay lower wages to adults as they competed for jobs, which in turn worsened their poverty and increased their need to send their children to work. This is what I call the Child Labor Trap. The government did not legally force the children into labor. They simply gave them the freedom to work while denying them any welfare assistance or minimum wage guarantees, so that they would have no choice but to work and sacrifice their childhoods to the service of the wealthy.

In capitalism, it’s considered righteousness, and even “good business,” to pay workers the minimum necessary to gain their employment. There’s no such thing as paying a worker too little if the pay is enough to fill the position. The goal of nearly every corporation is to maximize profits and pay them out to its owners in the form of dividends. Profit maximization consists of two components: maximizing revenues and minimizing costs. Employees are a cost to be minimized. During times of high unemployment, when workers compete for job openings, employers usually lower wages for workers, knowing that desperate job-seekers will settle for lower wages and current employees can’t leave for jobs elsewhere.

Even when profits are high, a “good” business executive lowers wages for workers, because adding to the owners’ wealth is more important than the well-being of employees and their families, which is of no concern to the corporation. This is what critics of pure corporate capitalism called “wage slavery.” In traditional slavery, a master had to feed, clothe, shelter, and preserve the health of his workers and their children since they were of financial value to him. But in corporate capitalist “wage slavery”, executives paid workers less than they and their families needed to live a healthy, dignified life. The working class, therefore, led lives not much better than those of slaves. Yes, they had the “liberty” to leave and choose another master, unlike actual slaves. However, the new master was often no better than the former.

Biblical opposition to “wage slavery” can be found on two fronts: the sin of underpaying workers and the righteousness of the workers’ keeping what they produce. Regarding underpayment of workers, Malachi 3:5 says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.”

How are “wage earners” oppressed in their wages?

It’s possible their promised wages were withheld, but businesses that practiced such things probably had trouble recruiting workers after a short time. It’s far more likely that these businesses oppressed their workers by paying them too little. (By the way, notice how adultery is mentioned in the same verse as oppression of workers in their wages. Both sins are equally evil.)

This passage indicates that God’s values differ from those of corporate capitalists. Maybe workers deserve more than being paid as little as the free market requires. Maybe they should be paid wages that reflect the value of the workers’ contribution to their employers’ success. Or maybe they should be paid enough to afford food, shelter, clothing and basic enjoyment of life, since they’re of great value, being created in God’s image. This is not to say businesses struggling to stay afloat are guilty of sin when they pay workers low wages. But when corporate executives and investors earn several hundred times as much as their employees, who are paid as little as necessary to fill the positions, they likely violate God’s message in this quote.

Regarding the workers’ right to what they produce, 2 Timothy 2:6 says, “The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” Conservatives have used this verse to oppose taxation, but that’s not what it’s about. It was written in the Roman Empire where land owners hired farmers to work their land. The owners had first rights to the produce, leaving very little to those who farmed the land. Paul makes the common sense point that workers, not land owners, have first rights to what their work produces. The pure capitalist belief is the opposite: the owner of the capital (land, equipment, etc. used to produce goods and services) has full rights to what the workers produce with the capital; owning capital is to be rewarded, while hard work is not.

Thanks to these anti-biblical approaches to business, pure corporate capitalism has proven to be a system of huge winners and impoverished losers. In it, every person, theoretically, has an opportunity for great wealth. But in its purest form, which is free from regulations and redistribution of wealth, only a small percentage of the population can achieve economic prosperity at the same time; meanwhile, the masses wallow in poverty. The winners reap extraordinary riches, while the losers struggle to survive. That’s why pure capitalism is, essentially, a jackpot economy—the winners win big, but are few in number.

To the contrary, God’s system for ancient Israel minimized disparity of wealth. As the Israelites settled their nation, 12 of the 13 tribes received land upon which they could grow food and build homes. They would pass this land on to their descendants who would build and farm on it when they reached adulthood. A young man didn’t have to wait until his parents died in order to have land to farm and live on. Over 90 percent of the population had what they needed to survive. All they had to do was work the land. Each of the 12 tribes gave a tenth of their produce and earnings to the 13th tribe, the Levites, because they had no share of land on which they could grow food. Their job was to perform acts of ministry, not to farm. Widows who were unable to remarry, orphans, and resident immigrants also lacked land on which they could support themselves, so God required the 12 tribes to support them, too, as we see in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “Every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the word of God may bless you in all the work that you undertake [NRSV].”

God even minimized disparity by limiting the accumulation of property in ancient Israel. Leviticus 25:10 says, “You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.” The Bible explains that land prices were to be based on the numbers of crop growing years remaining until the Year of Jubilee when the land must be returned, “for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you (verse 16).” In the fiftieth year, all land was given back to the original owners or their descendants; and all debts were forgiven, so those who had been enslaved to pay debts were free to start anew. In the Year of Jubilee, the economy reset, and disparity of wealth was kept in check.

First century Christians in the Roman Empire found themselves in a different economic system, created by men rather than by God. Still, in addressing them, the Apostle Paul champions minimal disparity of wealth in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 where he says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little [NRSV].’” I’ll be the first to admit that this quote addressed churches, not governments. Nonetheless, it gives us the general sense that everyone should have enough and not too much. This is not communism, in which everyone owns the same; neither is it pure corporate capitalism, in which the disparity of wealth is amplified.

Speaking of communism, some Christians over the past century have asked if Jesus is a communist. They’ve most frequently cited Acts 4:32…34, which says, “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the Apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as they had need [NRSV].”

This scene horrifies American Christians who see pure capitalism as gospel, because we have in these verses the early Christian equivalent of a commune, and a commune-inspired economic system is communism.

Should we practice communism in an effort to emulate the early Christians?

Not necessarily.

First, let’s look beyond modern economic systems and examine the principles involved. The intent of these actions was to ensure that “there was not a needy person among them.” This has always been God’s desire. Their solution was that everyone in the community would give up what they had in order for this intent to become reality. Today, our society in America is wealthy enough that we don’t have to give up everything to help those around us. However, the argument that we should have to give up nothing to help others is difficult to justify in light of this passage.

Some will argue that this communal act of sharing is not mandated by God’s Law, but is voluntary. This argument is correct. However, notice how “the whole group” fully participated in this system, and that the writer, Luke, seems impressed and eager to report the Christians’ radical other-centeredness. It begs the questions: Would we Christians today even be willing to consider taking part in such a selfless way of life? If joining the church meant sharing all we owned, would we join? Or would we argue for our right to individually possess property and condemn such a communal existence as evil Marxism? If we were to do the latter, it would mean our possessions and the principles of capitalism are more important to us than God, and that we might not even be Christians. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth [NRSV].”

Does Welfare Really Keep Blacks Down, as Conservatives Say?

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a Presidential Town Hall Series at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a Presidential Town Hall Series at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Why, for a while in late 2015, did Dr. Ben Carson consistently poll ahead of every Republican but Trump?

In part, it’s because he’s a black man who grew up poor and supposedly has the inside scoop on how government assistance keep blacks down. He recently said, “It’s not compassion to pat them on the head and say, ‘There, there, I’m going to take care of all your needs, your health care, your food.’ That’s the opposite of compassion…I’m not interested in getting rid of a safety net, I’m interested in getting rid of dependency.”

What’s wrong with Carson’s statement?

It’s totally devoid of even the slightest bit of macro-economic understanding, which is typical of Republican politicians and pundits.

You see, I too have experience with inner city poverty – and it’s business experience. As recently as 2012, I sold credit card processing and POS systems to businesses in Philadelphia, many of which were located in the impoverished areas of the city.

This experience taught me a few things.

First, I never met a business owner in these areas who couldn’t find help because potential workers had chosen to freeload off of welfare rather than work (nor do Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have trouble finding help). Surely, you’ve heard somewhere along the way that the African-American U3 unemployment rate has been around 10% – about twice the national average. And you may have also heard that the unemployment rate only counts those who are “actively looking for work.” So this number proves that there are nowhere near as many jobs available as there are blacks looking for them. The group Republicans repeatedly blame for inner city poverty – “those on welfare who choose not to work,” have nothing to do with causing this number. Their looking for jobs wouldn’t create even a single job, because it’s consumers buying products and services that creates jobs. If looking for jobs created jobs, the unemployment rate would take care of itself. (If you want to argue that Obama is the cause of unemployment, I’d like to remind you that the national average unemployment rate over the last 50 years has been 5.8%, which is lower than today.)

So does ending welfare and food stamps fix this problem?

No. That’s the 2nd thing I learned.

Part of my job included reviewing the credit card processing statements of inner-city markets, and those statements included food stamp totals. Fifty to ninety percent of the transactions processed by these markets were food stamps. So what happens if Republicans take away food stamps? The markets lose more than half of their business, which in turn puts most inner city markets out of business and their hard-working employees out of jobs, which in turn puts more workers out of work, which further decreases spending in the community, which causes even more businesses to fail…and the downward spiral continues.

I’m sure conservatives will argue that inner-cities will be fixed by tax cuts for corporations and the rich, because they invest in job creation. Well, there’s a third thing I learned – corporations don’t invest in impoverished areas; they invest in the wealthy suburbs and downtown areas. Those who invest in impoverished neighborhoods are locals who often have little more money than their workers and customers. If conservatives really supported entrepreneurs like they say they do, they wouldn’t be trying to pull the rug out from under them by further impoverishing their customers.

Yes, I understand that that those who go a long time without work tend to get lazy and often cause trouble. Not working is not good. That’s what Republicans like Carson want to focus on. But high unemployment and low wages are NEVER the fault of the workers or the unemployed! They may be the fault of insufficient consumer spending, greedy business owners who are quick to lay off employees, or government policies such as the high interest rates of the late 1970s. But there’s no way workers or potential workers can ever cause unemployment or low wages. If anything, unwilling workers entering the workforce will increased competition for jobs and drive wages down, not up.

Republicans consistently blame unemployed workers from broken families for poverty. But the truth is that if every American came from a stable family with married parents and had a PhD to boot, and if there were 160 million workers and only 150 million jobs, 10 million people with married parents and PhD’s would be unemployed; and if 30 million of those jobs paid less than $10/hr., then 30 million people with married parents and PhD’s would earn an unlivable wage. Perhaps you could say that it’s the unemployed workers’ fault for being at the back of the jobs line; but it’s not their fault that there aren’t enough jobs for everyone in that line.

The real cause of America’s poverty problem is DEPENDENCY. No, not the dependency on government that Ben Carson talks about, but the dependency on the wealthy, who own what we need to survive. In ancient Israel and in early America, most people owned land they could farm, build houses on, run businesses from, and provide for themselves. Today, most people go into the world with nothing and must rely on wealthier people for jobs and income, and only when that system of dependency on the rich fails do we need government assistance, since charity has never worked well on a national level anywhere in world history.

The solutions for inner city poverty aren’t easy. The only answer is to grow businesses and create jobs, but those businesses only survive if there’s enough consumer spending to keep them afloat. Creating that consumer spending without giving too much of a handout is difficult. So it’s hard even for Democrats to find solutions. But it’s easy for Republicans to make the problem a whole lot worse. And if they take total control of our government one more time, that’s what they are likely to do.

-K. Scott Schaeffer

Why I (as a Christian) abandoned my anti-abortion stance after 30 years

 

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As a teenager in the late 1980s, I was staunchly pro-life. It was a simple concept, really. What could be worse than killing babies? Some argued that it wasn’t really a baby, because it was still inside the womb, in which case it is called a fetus, but that just seemed like a technicality to me. I didn’t see why the location of the child, in or out of the womb, made any difference. So I believed that life started at conception, not at birth. In 1992, despite knowing that Republicans had been exploiting America for the sake of the wealthy, I voted for Republican George H.W. Bush anyway, solely because I believed that voting for pro-choice candidate Bill Clinton was the equivalent of killing babies with my own hands. Even when I started to lean Democrat in 2006 and registered Democrat in 2012, I was still a pro-life Democrat, just like Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

But then in 2014, I started following the feed of “The Christian Left” on Facebook. As time passed, they posted an article about how the Bible is pro-choice – an argument I had never heard, despite my many years in Bible-focused churches. The article pointed out how Chapter 5 of Numbers prescribed what was effectively a supernatural abortion for women who had committed adultery, and how Exodus 21:22 prescribed nothing more than a fine for causing a woman to lose the fetus in her womb, while requiring the more severe eye-for-an-eye penalty for any “further injury” to the mother. But I still wasn’t convinced that abortion was okay with God, since neither of these passages addressed abortion as a form of birth control. The article also said that the Bible never mentions abortion as a sin, but I thought, “Of course, it doesn’t. Abortion didn’t exist until the mid-1900s. How ignorant does the author of the article think I am?”

Well, it turned out that I was indeed ignorant about the history of abortion. Abortion did exist in ancient times! The Ebers Papyrus prescribed an Egyptian abortion procedure a century or so before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and wrote the Mosaic Law. The Code of Assura regulated abortion in neighboring Assyria at the time of the Prophets. And the Jewish Mishna and Talmud, written shortly after Christ, addressed abortion as well, such as in cases where it’s needed to save the life of the mother.

So if abortion was this prevalent in the biblical world, what should we make of the fact that the Bible never condemns it?

My conclusion: Even if abortion as a means of birth control is wrong, it’s not a biblical priority in comparison to the issues the Bible actually does address, such as the 100+ passages condemning greed and oppression of the poor – the most frequently addressed societal issue in the Bible. So how is it right for us politically-active Christians to shun the Bible’s numerous greed and oppression passages in favor of something the Bible never addressed?

The Bible’s exclusion of anti-abortion scriptures then made me wonder, “Could it be that life doesn’t begin at conception in God’s eyes, but that it begins at consciousness, since it’s consciousness that connects us with God?”

So I did a bit of research to see when a fetus develops consciousness.

What I found is that the part of the brain that controls consciousness and connects the experiential part of the mind with the body and its senses, the thalamus, doesn’t begin to develop until after the 24th week of pregnancy. Prior to the 24th week, consciousness is impossible. Thus the 1st and 2nd trimester fetus experiences as much pain during an abortion as your grass does when you cut it – which is no pain at all. This fact obliterated my traditional imaginary vision of an abortion, in which I imagined a little baby suffering excruciating pain and unable to understand what’s happening to it.

But despite all of this, I still struggled to embrace the pro-choice stance. So I did something I had never done in all of my pro-life years – I prayed to God for Him to show me the right view. I had always assumed that my anti-abortion views were correct, thus I never sought God’s revelation with an open mind. In doing so, I remembered how the book of 2 Esdras, from the Apocrypha (which consists of Scriptures written between the Old and New Testaments and is only included in Roman Catholic Bibles), had mentioned a storehouse of souls. So I turned to it to see if it gave me any clues regarding the ensoulment of the fetus. I prayed for revelation of the truth again as I began to read Ezra’s first vision, and I was immediately struck by the following words: “…at your command the dust brought forth Adam. His body was lifeless; yours were the hands that molded it, and you breathed the breath of life into it and he became a living person [2 Esdras 3:4-5].” So when did Adam become a “living” being? Not when his body was fully formed, but only once he breathed. Even if the Apocryphal books are not the authoritative word of God, they still reveal what Jews thought constituted life. Plus, for me, this scripture was an immediate answer to prayer.

Then I received even more divine guidance. I wrote the paragraphs you just read Sept 14th-16th, 2015. Last night, the 16th, as I proceeded through my bi-annual reading of the Bible from beginning to end, I just happened to be at the point in which I read one of the passages most commonly quoted by pro-life Christians. That passage is Psalm 139:13, which says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” They argue this proves that God Himself forms fetuses in the womb. But then, just a few verses later, I encountered a follow up verse that I had never heard a pro-life Christian quote. It (verse 15) said, “I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”

What in the world does that mean?

Are fetuses formed in the earth’s molten core?

Of course, not. Clearly, this psalm is symbolic poetry, as is the case with most Psalms. It is not a literal description of how things work.

Again, the timing of this, just as I’m writing this article that I never in my whole life imagined I would write, is a bit on the miraculous side. It may not prove anything, but it gives me a sense of assurance that God is guiding me through his difficult political-theological transition. And it is indeed difficult. I realize that one’s abortion stance is the political sniff test for conservative Christians. If you are pro-choice, they damn you in their hearts as an evil person from whom no good or righteousness can come, and then they refuse to listen to anything you say. So my change in stance will make it harder for me to reach them. But I cannot misrepresent what I believe has been revealed to me. Perhaps God has a different audience for my ministry.

So will I now appear at a pro-choice rally proclaiming a woman’s right to choose?

Probably not.

I still feel uneasy about abortion and consider that maybe Roman Catholics are correct in the idea that all forms of birth control create a sex-without-consequences world which promotes sexual irresponsibility and makes it more difficult for a family with many kids to survive in a world where most families have only two. Also, I’m grateful that my mother, who was 14 years old at the time of my conception, “did the right thing” and chose to keep me rather than abort me (of course, I’m also glad that she “did the wrong thing” by fooling around at the age of 14 – otherwise, I wouldn’t be here). Yes, we lived in a trailer and Spam was on the menu, but our relationship was far more valuable than any prestigious career she might have had or any extra money she might have earned had I been aborted. So I encourage all Christian women to follow the noble path of bearing their children rather than aborting them.

But when I weigh that uneasiness about abortion with that fact that, according to the World Health Organization, “47,000 women die [worldwide] from complications of unsafe abortion each year,” I can’t vote to increase that number by denying women safe abortions in the U.S. I believe it is far more tragic, disruptive, and heartbreaking to lose a sister, daughter, or granddaughter, because she made a desperate, risky decision to have an illegal abortion, than it is to lose a non-conscious organism whom no one has ever met. And I think Exodus 21:22 backs me up on that belief by demonstrating that a life-in-progress is worth more than a life-not-yet-begun.

And perhaps the most important point of all when it comes to the legalization of abortion is that, regardless of what my religious scripture says, we live in a multi-religion nation that has, since its inception, guaranteed its people freedom from being forced to follow the religious rules of others. If our reason for banning abortion is purely a religious one, the Constitution disallows it. And if we Christians rebel against this constitutional right, Americans won’t join Christianity; they’ll despise it.

-K. Scott Schaeffer

The “Give a Man Fish…” saying is outdated. Here’s a realistic version addressing the realities of corporate capitalism.

Those who oppose government assistance, because it supposedly creates dependency, love to say, “Give a man a fish; he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish; he’ll eat for a lifetime.” That doesn’t reflect American reality, so I extended the saying to make it more accurate.

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.
Unless you hoard all of the fishing rods to yourself,
Then the man must fully depend on you for food.

If the man asks to use one of your many fishing rods so he can fish and feed his family,
Tell him that he first needs a fishing degree from your fishing college,
And the cost for him to get that degree is $100,000.
When the poor man says, “I can’t afford $100,000. I don’t even have $100,”
Tell him that you will loan him the money,
And that he can pay it back with interest and be indebted to you for life.

Once he gets the fishing degree and asks you for a fishing rod,
Say to him, “You may use my fishing rod,
But you must give all of the fish you catch to me, because I own the rod and the lake,
And then I will give you your share for the work you’ve done.”
Once the poor man fishes many hours in the heat of the sun and the cold of the night,
Enduring sunburn, blisters, sore legs, and an aching back,
And then brings you the 100 fish he worked so hard to catch,
Keep 99 of the fish for yourself and give him one fish as compensation.
When he complains that the compensation is unfair,
And that his family cannot survive on one fish,
Accuse him of Class Warfare!
And remind him that you are the hero who educated him, loaned him money, and created his job.

When he and his family become sick from malnutrition and the toxins you dumped in the lake,
And he asks you for healthcare since he cannot afford it,
Tell him that if he were a righteous and hardworking person, he would be able to afford healthcare,
And that he is a moocher for asking someone richer than him to pay for it.

When he and his family die from their poverty, convince yourself that you are not responsible.
And when you die and reach the afterlife,
You will find that you no longer share a lake with the poor man.
He and his family will reside at Paradise Lake,
Where there is a fishing rod for everyone, and everyone gets to keep their fish,
While greedy fishing rod hoarders like you are never permitted there,
Because they couldn’t call it paradise if you were,
Since your greed would ruin it for everyone.

You will reside at a different lake.
It is called the Lake of Fire.
And the swimming there is unlimited.

How corporations are a system of stealing

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[The following excerpt is taken from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.”s”]


The Failings of Corporate Capitalism

In the two decades or so since the demise of the Soviet Union, many people have proclaimed that socialism and communism have been defeated and that capitalism has won. Well, this is true, and yet it isn’t. Pure socialism and communism (which were invented by those who suffered under pure capitalism) indeed lost the economic war. But they lost not to pure capitalism, but to a modified form of capitalism that we’ve practiced since the mid-1930s founded on the New Deal – the legislative incarnation of the Social Gospel. So, in a sense, pure capitalism was also defeated in America and in Western Europe many decades ago, not by communism and socialism, but by modified capitalism. It’s on this modified capitalist system that the western world’s prosperity in the post-WWII era has its foundation.

The working class peoples of the western world rejected pure capitalism. They voted to modify it and were, for many decades, delighted with the improvements. Of course, those who witnessed the change from pure to modified capitalism are no longer living, so today many of us take for granted the better life that modified capitalism has brought. To better appreciate our present system, it’s important to examine the flaws of pure corporate capitalism, the system that Republican Christians insist we return to.

Flaw #1 – Socialized Losses

As I stated earlier, the corporation is effectively a non-living person who bears the responsibility when things go bad, but who pays its owners profits when business is good. When things go awry, the great sacrificial act of the corporation is bankruptcy. When a corporation goes through Chapter 7 bankruptcy, its owners are forgiven their debts and the corporation bears the debt burden for them, kind of like Jesus does with our sins. But unlike Jesus, corporations are not human beings (nor are they the Son of God), so they cannot bear anyone’s debt burdens. Therefore, what happens in bankruptcy is that those to whom the business is indebted bear the debt burden, even though they did no wrong.

For example, if a life insurance company goes bankrupt in pure capitalism, its policy holders, who have been paying premiums for years, receive no benefit when they have claims (all states today have guaranty funds that pay policy holders up to a certain amount when their insurer becomes insolvent; but remember, this is “big government,” not pure capitalism where the government avoids involvement in the business world). Even though the policy holder entered into a contract with the insurance company and has upheld his end of the deal by paying premiums, the insurance company can break its contractual promise to pay his claims by going bankrupt and out of business. Without corporate liability protection from the government, the insurance company owners would have to sell personal property to pay claims to the policyholders. But thanks to corporate liability protection, the owners are relieved of responsibility for their risky business decisions; they get to keep all of the money the corporation has paid them (through dividends) when business was good, while their customers are left holding the bag, having paid out money for services they were promised but never received. To put it another way, a business owner can make millions of dollars when the risks he takes pay off, but when his risk-taking blows up in his face, and he owes millions of dollars, he gets to keep the millions he’s already been paid by the corporation, while society is stuck paying what he owes.

This is stealing.

Unlike a thief taking your purse, corporate owners steal your money ahead of time by over-paying themselves, while not leaving enough money in the corporations’ reserves to cover expenses when hard times arrive (which they inevitably will, sooner or later). In this manner, they steal from their creditors, customers, and suppliers through bankruptcy. In the case of creditors, they steal bank depositors’ money that was leant to them to grow the business. In the case of suppliers, they owe money for supplies received but not yet paid for. In the case of customers, they may owe services the customers already paid for, like car warranties. In every case, society bears the debt burdens that should be the business owners’ responsibility. In other words, the corporate model socializes losses when business goes bad, while privatizing gains when business is good.

Some may say that government bailouts, like those received by many banks, AIG, GM and Chrysler in 2008 and 2009 are also examples of socialized losses. Indeed they are. Many people make the mistake, however, of thinking that the owners of these companies would have been held responsible for their debts had the government not bailed them out. This assumption is incorrect. These companies would have filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy and gone out of business, and the owners and executives would have walked away with the millions they had already earned, while creditors, customers, and suppliers would have effectively paid their debts for them. Also, the financial system would have completely frozen, as it did in 1932, and millions more people would have lost their jobs than actually did. Everyone would have paid the price but those responsible for the failed companies.

The Bible, on the other hand, repeatedly calls for justice, as we discussed in the chapter on God’s Law. A definition of justice is “full liability.” As I’ve already stated in this chapter, if someone owed a debt in ancient Israel, they were fully responsible for paying it; if money was stolen, the thief had to pay it back and be punished. In fact, Exodus 22:7 says, “…the thief, if caught, must pay double.” However, under corporate “limited liability” protection, the thief gets to keep what he has stolen, and society is denied justice. Therefore, “limited liability protection” is the definition of injustice. And injustice is of Satan, not of God.

Not only is corporate liability protection injustice, but it’s the worst kind of injustice. Proverbs 22:16 says, “Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss [NRSV].” Corporate liability protection steals from society to “give to the rich” and encourages their irresponsibility; thus it violates this verse’s message. Republican Christians repeatedly label taxation of the wealthy to help the needy as “stealing”. However, with the Bible’s calls to seek justice for the needy, we have cause to believe that such “stealing” is permissible. But nowhere does the Bible indicate that it may be right to steal from society to enrich the wealthy.

So do we abolish the corporation for justice’s sake?

If we could go back in time and snuff out liability protection at its inception, it might not be such a bad idea. Our lives today might then resemble those of the Amish, and they seem reasonably happy with their agrarian, small trade lifestyle. However, from where we stand today, our socio-economic world is built on corporations. We rely on them for gasoline, the internet, telephones, airplanes, major appliances, and much more. The layout of our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and so on, differs greatly from what it would had corporations never existed. Ending corporate liability protection would end corporations, collapse our economy, and destroy the society we know and depend upon. Millions, if not billions, of lives would be thrust into poverty in an economic crisis more severe than any the world has ever known. So I think we should stick with corporate capitalism.

What’s important here is acknowledging that corporate capitalism is not righteousness in and of itself. It is not a morality. It is not from God. It is not sacred. So when a Republican Christian calls you an evil socialist because you believe in “stealing” from the rich to help the poor, you can counter that he or she, being a corporate capitalist, believes in “stealing” from society to enrich the wealthy. So now that you’ve established that you both support “stealing,” you can abandon the “what’s right” argument and move on to a discussion about “what works” for the majority of the population. Of course, I’ve already covered “what works” in pure corporate capitalism. Now let’s take a look at what doesn’t work (i a later post).

The Immoralities of Corporate Capitalism – Part 1

 

[The following excerpt is taken from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.” It is the 1st of a 6-part series taken from the chapter entitled, “Pure Capitalism – How it Failed without Merciful Modifications”]

Opposite Evil: Socialism

Economics is complex. Throughout the history of civilization, nations would sometimes enjoy great prosperity. At other times, the very same nations would know nothing but want and suffering. Sometimes these crises resulted from war or famine, but in many cases, they simply happened without obvious causes. Economics is, in large part, the study of how these crises happen and of how to minimize their severity. Over the last two centuries, these complex problems have been addressed with three incredibly simple solutions: capitalism, socialism, and communism.

Capitalism promotes private ownership and private control of property, including businesses. Socialism, by dictionary and text book definition, is the public or government ownership of businesses (taxation is not the definition of socialism, contrary to what you may have been told). Communism is a communal ownership of all property, both business and personal, in which society shares all wealth equally.

Republican pundits and politicians tell us that pure capitalism is godly righteousness and that socialism is ungodly evil. They warn that any modifications to pure capitalism, such as taxation and business regulation, are socialist and therefore evil. By condemning any modifications to capitalism, Republican politicians and pundits condemn all economic solutions that don’t fit the simple-minded extreme of pure capitalism. (The pure capitalism of the late 1800s and 1900s was called “laissez-faire” capitalism. “Laissez-faire” is a French term, meaning “let it make.”) To Republicans, if this simple system can’t fix our problems, then there must be no fix, because all other solutions supposedly lead us closer to evil socialism.

The quote on how Satan attacks us with “pairs of opposite evils, so that we despise one so badly that we cling to the other,” applies to these Republican teachings every bit as much as it does to political party allegiances. History has shown that neither pure socialism, pure communism, nor pure capitalism have come close to solving humanity’s economic problems. This is why, unlike 50-100 years ago, nations have largely abandoned these systems. The Soviets and the Chinese ultimately abandoned pure communism and pure socialism, while Europe and the United States have abandoned pure capitalism. None of these systems worked, yet Republicans force us to choose between these simple-minded extremes and nothing else. They do this so we’ll despise the extreme of socialism so badly that we’ll cling to the extreme of pure capitalism, which favors the interests of the corporate power and wealth they represent.

Capitalism: What’s Good about It?

There are two major components to the version of capitalism we and much of the world practice: the free market and the corporation.

The free market has been around as long as people have conducted business transactions. It simply means that no laws interfere with the freedom to conduct business. No civilization practices it purely, as there are always some laws to prohibit unethical business conduct, but many have practiced it generally. Unlike government-planned economies (like socialism), the free market exists naturally. If a civilization has no system at all, it still has a free market.

The free market has great advantages over government-planned economies like communism. For example, a communist economy in which all people earn the same and share all property creates a disincentive to be productive. People in a communist economy know that working hard and working little have the same reward. Righteous people may work hard for the well-being of society, but selfish people will freeload as much as possible. In a free market economy, on the other hand, people can, to some extent, determine their earnings by how much and how effectively they work, and this increases economic productivity and innovation.

Socialist governments, unlike free market economies, bear the burden of having to control the allocation of resources. In other words, they must determine every price on every shelf and determine how much corn goes to one town and how much bread goes to another. The results are disastrous, because this task is far too large for any government to handle. What works better is letting supply and demand determine pricing and resource allocation. If a product fails to sell at one price, businesses lower the price to at least get some money for the product instead of taking a total loss. If a product sells out too soon, businesses raise the price in order to prevent a shortage and maximize revenues. Prices may vary from one neighborhood to another as supply and demand vary. These variations are best managed by many independent business managers than they are by one big government.

When socialist modifications are applied to capitalist economies, they sometimes fail. For example, if the government limits the price of tomatoes, because people say they’re too expensive, then farmers, who now earn less for each tomato grown, may stop growing them in favor of something more profitable, like asparagus. The result is a shortage of tomatoes. Now, instead of the people who most want tomatoes finding a way to pay high prices for them, nobody can buy tomatoes at all.

The free market is far superior to government-planned economies at providing products and services to the people who want them most. It also better aligns with the ways of God’s nation, ancient Israel, than a government-planned economy does. In fact, the free market is so biblical, even the Amish practice it! There is, however, a difference between Amish capitalism and the capitalism most of America practices. That difference is the corporation.

In capitalism without corporations, all companies are either sole proprietorships or partnerships. If a company falls on hard times and goes into debt, its owners are fully responsible for paying that debt, even if it means selling all of their personal property. In fact, in biblical times, if selling all property wasn’t enough, the owners would have to sell themselves and their children into slavery to pay debt. For example, Leviticus 25:39-40 says, “And if a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner with you, until the year of jubilee.” Exodus 22:3 says, “…A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft [NIV].” And 2 Kings 4:1 tells us, “The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Throughout history, the devastating consequences of debt kept companies small, since becoming part-owner meant your partners’ mistakes could cost you your freedom and possessions. Also, businesses took few risks with new products, services, or business practices, because the risks outweighed the rewards.

Corporate capitalism solved these debt problems. In corporate capitalism, the government provides liability protection for businesses that choose to become corporations. If a business’s owners run up large debts, they can declare bankruptcy, so that the corporation bears responsibility for the debts, while the owners are free to keep their personal possessions. The worst that can happen to a business owner in bankruptcy is that he or she loses money invested in the company. If the owner has 10 million dollars of property, but only invests one million in the business, the most the owner can lose is one million dollars, even if the business owes 10 million dollars. The corporation is effectively a non-living person who bears the responsibility when things go bad, but who pays its owners profits when business is good.

This system eliminates debt’s constraints on company size and risk-taking. Business owners are willing to take more risk and pursue profits more aggressively, thanks to the liability protection they receive when strategies fail. But even more important, corporations can raise money to become very large. While most people are afraid to invest in (and thus become part owner of) a business run by other people if doing so could cost them all they own, they are eager to invest in a promising company if the most they can lose is the money invested and nothing more. For them, there’s no limit to earnings, but there’s a strict limit to losses; they enjoy the benefits of ownership without the responsibility of ownership. Thus, a corporation can raise millions of dollars from many owners eager for gains and, in turn, grow far larger than any sole proprietorship or partnership ever could.

The benefits of large corporations are numerous. First, they can produce items en masse. A corporation that manufactures 1000 socks a day can produce them more cheaply than a one or two person operation can. They can buy supplies in bulk and can operate assembly lines in which many people and machines work simultaneously on different stages of the production process. Lower costs of supplying socks lead to lower sock prices for consumers. Second, corporations can produce products that no individual ever could, such as cars and jets, which make our lives more enjoyable, and washing machines, showers, and refrigerators, which have reduced the amount of time daily chores take from our lives. While socialist/communist countries, like the Soviet Union, also produced these products, they were far more expensive to produce than those of corporate capitalism, thanks to inefficiencies in the socialist/communist system.

[Next week – “The Failings of Corporate Capitalism”]

 

Trump’s bankruptcies prove why the wealthy should pay higher taxes

During Thursday’s Fox News Republican Presidential Candidate Debate, Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump about his most recent bankruptcy in which the banks to which Trump’s company was indebted lost over one billion dollars. Trump responded that the banks were evil in an attempt to convince us that the bankruptcy was no big deal. He may have been correct that the bankers were bad, but that’s missing the point.

We have to ask ourselves, “Where did the bankers get the billion dollars they lent to Trump’s company and then lost? Whose money was that?”

It was the depositors’ money.

It belonged to those who placed their money in the bank’s investment vehicles. These people expect to get their money back – with interest. And the banks have to make up for the money they lose in corporate bankruptcies by charging higher interest rates, more fees to their customers, and higher fees to businesses when they accept payments through corporate credit cards. So the money Trump failed to pay the banks was effectively stolen from the banks’ customers.

Corporate bankruptcy is legalized stealing!

In fact, a corporation is a system of legalized stealing!

Unlike sole proprietors and partnerships, who are held personally liable for their debts, corporate owners receive “liability protection” from the government. They get to make millions of dollars when business is good, but when their risk-taking goes awry, and they owe millions or billions of dollars that the company cannot afford to pay, they are personally free from having to pay any of it. The “company” goes bankrupt, but the owners of the company get to keep the profits they’ve been paid out during the years in which business was good. If it weren’t for corporate liability protection from the government, the owners might have to spend all they have in order to cover the debts, even if it makes them homeless and personally-bankrupt (which Trump made very clear in the debate that he has never been), and that would make corporate ownership financially dangerous and unattractive to the point that corporations and the stock market might not even exist.

It’s this “ownership without responsibility” that enables corporations to attract thousands of owners, which are commonly called “investors” or “shareholders,” and thus become so large that they can sell products nationwide or even worldwide, making their owners richer than was ever possible throughout all of human history. And these owners don’t have to put all of their eggs in one basket. They can own portions of many companies by owning stock.

So are you guilty of partaking in this system of stealing if you are financially well off but not a corporate owner?

Most likely, yes!

If you own stock to any degree, you are a corporate owner who benefits from liability protection. (You wouldn’t risk investing in stock if you might have to pay more than you invested because the company accumulated debts it couldn’t pay.) Yes, the shares you own might be very small in comparison to wealthier shareholders. And even if you don’t own stock but get a hefty paycheck from a corporation (ballplayers being the most extreme example of this), you still benefit from this system of stealing. No matter how you slice it, if you’re rich, you got rich because you took advantage of a legalized system of stealing.

So how can we justify having a liability protection system that steals from society to enrich the wealthy?

The only way I think it could possibly be justified in God’s eyes is if we require those who get wealthy from this system (which is just about all wealthy people) to pay a higher percentage of their income to taxes, and for those taxes to serve the common good and better the lives of those crushed and left out by the system. In fact, if we don’t insist on balancing out the system in this manner, we are evil, because we will effectively endorse a system in which the wealthy force the debts on society without allowing society to share in the gains. That’s the opposite of the Bible in which God required a national, mandatory redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots, but had no system that enabled the wealthy to legally steal from society.

Some might say we should abolish corporate liability protection, but then world as we know it would collapse. You wouldn’t even be able to get gasoline without corporations. To live in the modern world, we need them. Therefore, I don’t have a problem with a system that makes society share in the debts caused by the risks that wealthy investors take, as long as society is entitled to share in the gains that wealthy investors make.

7 Bible Quotes of Social Justice as a Purpose of God’s Law

breaker boys

[This article is an excerpt from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason”]

Republicans and Evangelicals have found common ground in their opposition to social justice. Naturally, justice for the poor flies in the face of what the Republicans have been doing since the 1870s – representing the wealthy oppressors of the poor. The evangelical church, however, tends to oppose social justice for a different reason: Many churches, especially mainline denominations, have had a tendency throughout the 1900s to emphasize social justice while ignoring the importance of personal salvation and relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In other words, they embraced the great commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” but ignored the great commandment of “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” So the evangelicals countered this error by embracing the “love the Lord your God” commandment while despising the “love your neighbor” commandment, at least in terms of social justice. Today, many Bible-believing evangelical churches teach little more than, “You’re saved! Now praise the Lord for it, and get others to join the club!” This fits perfectly with the Republican Party’s agenda. The last thing they want is for the Christian voters they depend upon to second guess Republican support for the wealthy at the expense of the lower class.

Salvation, praise and evangelism are all cornerstones of the Christian faith. But they are not the only ones. If they were, the Bible would be a much smaller book. Common sense tells us we can love God and our neighbors, on both personal and social levels, simultaneously. The Bible never gives the slightest indication that choosing one over the other is ever an option. Thanks to Republican evangelicals burying social justice, I feel a need to resurrect the Bible’s social justice commands. Here are several:

Isaiah 1:17, “…learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow [NRSV].”

This is not a call to simply hand money or food to the needy. Doing so is not justice; it’s assistance. The Bible calls us to this as well, but assistance does not replace justice; it compliments it. We are to rescue the oppressed from the harm of those who oppress them.

How do we do that?

Do we kidnap them from their workplaces and set them free in the woods?

No.

This verse commands us to plead their cases, to defend their causes. Only politically-oriented action will accomplish this. Similar to the word justice is the word judicial. The judicial system enforces the law, which is established by legislatures, which consist of legislators who, in a democracy, are chosen by voters. This passage calls God’s people to political action.

Isaiah 10:1-2, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless [NIV].”

What does it mean to enact unjust laws and oppressive decrees? It’s rare that a law literally commands people to oppress the poor. Rather, oppressive laws give power to oppressors and give their “prey” little or no recourse. We’ll examine some unjust and oppressive laws in the Liberty and Small Government chapters.

Isaiah 58:3…6, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers…Is this not the fast which I choose; to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’ [NRSV]”

God ignores our worship of Him when we do the opposite of His will. If we commit and permit injustice against the poor, then our hate, hurt, and neglect of God’s children hurts God more than our praise pleases Him.

Jeremiah 5:28-29, “They have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things…? [NRSV]”

Again, here God requires that His followers who have political power or input “Defend the rights” of the needy – yet another call for political action, because rights can only be defended by the strong arm of the law.

Notice that God wants those in power to “make” the orphans prosper. He denies the wealthy the right to do whatever they want with their money and power. When they assume such a right, God’s punishment follows.

When we seek, establish, and uphold a system of justice for the lower income people of the working class, they actually prosper; they don’t fall into poverty. This is what the Bible calls us to. Unfortunately, many Republican Christians think God wants us to let these people plummet to rock bottom, and only then, after they’ve lost it all, are we to assist them with handouts. This is cruel. God, on the other hand, is gracious; and He desires that none of us lose it all and then have to rely on the whims of the wealthy to meet our needs.

Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously; defend the rights of the poor and needy [NRSV].”

Again, this is not about handouts; it’s about speaking up for the poor. In any non-democratic government, the poor had no means of representing themselves. In America today, they do. But if we vote for politicians who oppose the well-being of the poor, their cries are rendered ineffective.

Proverbs 29:7, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern [NIV].”

This is a strong statement. If you have no concern for protecting the powerless from the powerful by political means, the Bible says you’re “wicked!”

Jeremiah 22:15-16, “’Do you become a king because you are competing in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and the needy; then it was well. Is that not what it means to know Me?’ declares the Lord.”

Many Republican Christians today disagree with the last line of this passage. They do not believe that pleading the cause of the afflicted and needy has anything to do with knowing God (many of them would condemn pleading the cause of the afflicted and needy as “class warfare”). To them, knowing God is just about praying, singing songs, praising His name, and avoiding such personal behaviors as drinking, smoking, swearing, etc. The focus of their entire faith is on God and their own rule-following, but rarely on the well-being of others.

To the contrary, this passage tells us that if we don’t plead for the well-being of the needy and the afflicted, and seek justice on their behalf, then we really don’t know God. In this case, the god we praise is just a figment of our imaginations – an extension of our own selfishness that we claim to be the God of the Bible, but that better represents His adversary.

14 Bible verses proving that God’s laws are for the well-being of others

What does the purpose of God’s laws have to do with politics?

Well, politicians, especially of the Republican variety, often have principles that they say are more important than the well-being of people. For example, if we promote a healthcare solution, they argue that, even if it works, it’s evil, because it doesn’t preserve the higher principles of small government, or liberty, or pure capitalism. As the self-proclaimed “Christian Party”, the Republicans should align their morality with the Bible, if they do not want to be hypocrites. So let’s see if the Bible is more concerned with these man-made principles, or whether God’s laws are about the well-being of people.

(By the way, in looking at the purpose of God’s laws, I am in no way saying that our nation, which has guaranteed its people religious freedom from the beginning, should make its laws according to the Bible. I’m simply saying that if the Republicans are going to oppose solutions in the name of “that’s not right,” and they claim their morality comes from Christianity, then their ideologies must be biblically supported. That’s why I wrote the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.” It tackles their false moral arguments in depth using the Bible, economics, and history)

Fortunately, determining the purpose of God’s laws is easy, because in some cases, God even includes the reasons for the Old Testament laws in the passages in which they are given. Here are some of those passages (the reasons for the laws are in italics):

Exodus 22:21-24, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

Exodus 22:26-27, “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.”

Exodus 23:8, “And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted, and subverts the cause of the just.

Leviticus 19:16, “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.”

Deuteronomy 5:14, “…but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.”

Deuteronomy 6:24, “So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.”

Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the word of God may bless you in all the work that you undertake [NRSV].”

Deuteronomy 20:5-7, “The officers shall also speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use his fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man begin to use its fruit. And who is the man who is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.”

Deuteronomy 22:8, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.”

Deuteronomy 24:5, “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.”

Deuteronomy 24:6, “Do not take a pair of millstones – not even the upper one – as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man’s livelihood as security [NIV].”

Deuteronomy 24:14-15, “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it [“livelihood depends on it” in the NIV]; so that he may not cry against you to the Lord and it become sin in you.” [notice that God doesn’t blame the poor for class warfare here; he blames those responsible for the poor man’s condition.]

Deuteronomy 24:21, “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.”

Deuteronomy 26:12, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

The overwhelming other-centered nature of God’s Law is a great testament to who He is and what He is about. His Law is selfless, because He is selfless. He always places our interests ahead of His, just as He did when he sent Christ to save us from the consequences of our sins.

If anyone is to say that they oppose a political policy because it is evil in God’s eyes, then they must show that it hurts people more than it helps people, because God’s law is concerned with helping people. Any man-made ideology that gets in the way of the well-being of the needy is an evil ideology.

Republican Tax Lie #4: “Reducing investment taxes is beneficial”

[The following excerpt is from my book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.”]

Capital Gains Taxes

I’ve heard some Christian Republicans say it’s morally wrong to tax capital gains, as if it doesn’t count as income. This is nonsense. Let’s say you buy a restaurant for a million dollars. You own it for five years and make nice profits from your customers. Then you sell the restaurant for 2 million dollars. So, in addition to your operational profits, you get a bonus of 1 million dollars when you sell the place. Why should that money not be taxed?

Some will say the Bible has no capital gains tax, so neither should we. In the Bible, however, all Israelite males inherited land; they never paid for it. And most land sales were made to pay off debts, not to get rich. And then, every fifty years, in the Year of Jubilee, lands had to be given back to their original owners or their descendants, so all land deals were temporary, not permanent. It’s quite a different set up from what we have today. Also, the Israelites had no stock market, which, as I stated before, is founded on liability protection for the shareholder. The fact that you receive liability protection when you buy stock is all the more reason why you should pay taxes on your gains.

Those who argue against capital gains cuts plead the cause of the rich, not the needy. They’ll say almost everyone benefits from a capital gains cut, because a lot of lower income people have a 401k that invests in stocks. This is true to a small extent, but 96% of capital gains are realized by people earning over $100,000 per year and 67% from those earning over $1,000,000. Capital gains tax cuts clearly favor the rich.

Republicans proclaim that capital gains cuts make the stock market boom, and that’s good for everyone. Indeed, it makes investors richer, but it’s less beneficial to low income non-investors. What they fail to proclaim is that economic crashes, which hurt the working class, follow soon after. Three of the four biggest stock market meltdowns of the past century were preceded by large capital gains tax cuts within 5 years prior. After most WWI debts had been paid, the Harding and Coolidge administrations gradually lowered taxes (capital gains were taxed the same as income back then) from a top marginal rate of 73% in 1921 to 25% in 1925. For 5 years, the Dow soared from a value of 100 in 1924 to 380 in 1929, but then came the massive crash that ushered in the Great Depression. In 1997, the capital gains rate was cut from 28% to 20% to encourage investing, even though the Dow had already grown from 4000 in January of 1994 to 6000 in January of 1996. Three years after the cut, the market crashed again in what some call the Dot-Com Bust. In 2003, capital gains were cut to 15% to help the market rebound, but 5 years later, the market crashed again, losing half its value. One might argue that this crash was due to the housing bubble, but let’s not forget that tax savings from the Bush tax cuts were often invested in real estate, where capital gains rates also apply, because people were afraid to invest in stocks after the Dot-Com Crash. Crashes like these will continue as long as there’s insufficient consumer spending money to buy the products that stock investments create.

Lower tax rates are a horrible reason to invest in stocks. What happens after a capital gains tax cut is that people rush to invest without caution, because they anticipate the market will boom due to the lower tax rate. So many people think this will happen that it actually does. In fact, Republicans love to point out how capital gains tax revenues increased even though the rate decreased. But this is only temporary. Eventually, the stocks become overvalued, and the prices plummet, causing a panic and crashing the market and the economy along with it. A smart investor invests in a company’s stock because he expects the company to become profitable, and he wants to become part-owner of it (which is what happens when you buy stock), so he can share in the profits (dividends). That’s the only legitimate reason to invest in stocks.

Unfortunately, every time a Republican gets elected president, his first order of business is to lower taxes in the name of boosting the economy. If he doesn’t cut spending to match, the economy will heat up, maybe even become too hot, but then it will return to recession as it has at least once in every decade in U.S. history. When it does, the tax rates are so low that the government can’t come close to paying its bills, and the nation’s debt skyrockets. All that’s accomplished in the end is an increase in the gap between the rich and the working class, which I believe is the ultimate goal of the Republicans and the wealthy people they represent. Tax cuts should not be used to manipulate the short term economy, just so a new president can get re-elected in 4 years. They should be set at a rate that’s fair and can pay the nation’s bills and be left at that rate.

Perhaps the discussion should not be whether tax revenues increase every time we cut capital gains tax rates. Perhaps, instead, we should examine which capital gains tax rate is most effective over the long haul at maximizing revenue, and then stick with that rate. Let’s compare the 20% rate instated in May 1997 to the 15% rate of May 2003 (these numbers come from the most recent capital gains study at the Treasury Department website that goes through 2009). And let’s compare the amount of capital gains realized (not taxes paid, but gains reported) under each rate as a percentage of GDP (GDP comparisons allows us to factor out inflation that would make more recent numbers larger than older ones). What we find is that the average capital gains realizations as a percentage of GDP from 1998-2002, under the 20% rate, were 4.28% per year. Under the 15% rate from 2004-2009, the realizations were also, amazingly, 4.28% per year. (Both periods, by the way, started with a stock market boom and ended with a bust, so we’re comparing similar situations.) In other words, the 15% tax rate did not produce the slightest bit higher capital gains realizations than did the 20% tax rate. All it did was tax the gains at a lower rate and decrease tax revenue. The 20% rate provides investors with all of the tax incentives they need to encourage investing, and lower rates add no further incentives. So it appears that rates below 20% do nothing to increase capital gains realizations, and rates over 20% (such as the 28% rate from 1987-1997) hurt realizations. Thus, 20% is the optimal capital gains rate. So let’s stick with it!

The Tea Party Religion

So, again, the Republican claim that tax cuts always pay for themselves is untrue. So are the claims that taxes hurt the economy, that Democrats spend more than Republicans, that low tax countries fare best, and that income taxes are evil. These deceptions, along with all Tea Party anti-tax rhetoric, are rooted in a single motive – the love of money. As Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. When good things increase, those who consume them increase; so what is the advantage to their owners except to look on (‘see them with his eyes’ in the NRSV)?”

Human nature hasn’t changed one bit since Old Testament times. Worshipers of wealth still can’t get enough. And today, they run a 24 hour-a-day propaganda campaign to get voters to favor their greed over others’ needs. The new religion they’ve established is called the Tea Party. At its heart is loving money so much that paying taxes makes your blood boil, especially when you suspect that your tax money will go to someone you think is less worthy than yourself. If this describes you, then you love money more than God. And Jesus made it clear that you can’t serve both God and money. You’ll love one master and hate the other.

I understand it stings a little to see a significant chunk of your pay taken from your paycheck. The next time you have that feeling, just remember that the rest of us pay taxes, too. And those who don’t are usually not in enviable positions. If we all stopped paying taxes tomorrow, we’d all have more money to bid on houses and cars, which would simply drive up prices. More money wouldn’t create more goods, houses, or land. It would just mean that we all pay more for them. (Of course, on the back end, everyone who works for the government or companies that are contracted by the government would lose their jobs, and entitlements would go away, taking money back out of the economy and crashing it.) If you make enough money to pay one of the higher tax rates, your life is pretty good, at least financially speaking. You have far more comfort, enjoyment, and good food than anyone in the Bible ever did. Appreciate what you have, thank God for it, and focus your energies on the well-being of others rather than on your efforts to hoard wealth.