Tuesday, July 04, 2006

5 Reasons Christianity Conflicts with Socialism (#2)

Aside from taking the role that God designed for the individual, family and church, socialism retards personal initiative, creativity, productivity and prosperity for all classes.
Capitalism is often criticized for relying on individual desires to fuel the economy. The problem is that critics fail to distinguish between proper desires and improper desires. The Bible agrees with critics that greed (Luke 12:15) and the desire to get rich(1 Timothy 6:10), especially at the expense of the poor (Proverbs 22:22), are bad motivations for gaining money. However, the Bible affirms certain reasons to work for gain such as feeding one's self and family and being able to give to the poor in need (Ephesians 4:28).
The key verse in my mind is "The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on." (Proverbs 16:26) God designed our desires to be used for good ends. Our desire for sexual intimacy is properly fulfilled in marriage, which brings us into a loving relationship and produces offspring to give God glory on the earth. Our desire for food and desire to care for our families is properly fulfilled through work, which allows us to provides for our needs. The Creator gave humankind free will (Genesis 2:17) to see what was in their hearts. Sin caused a break in man's relationship with God and passed on a sin nature to future generations (just like we have a physical nature passed on to us by our parents). However, man's original drives remain as neutral motivators that can be harnessed for good or evil purposes.
Unfortunately, socialism, while sincerely (I think) seeking to remedy the ills caused by evil, actually only superficially corrects them and ultimately ends up detroying the good foundations. Socialism's weakness is that it can not change the heart. Greed will still be present. Greed is greed whether it is in the upper or lower classes. It is easier to see in others' lives than our own. Capitalism can not change the heart either, but it allows humans to individually choose what their fate will be. Christ offers a person the freedom to leave greed behind and work for the right reasons (John 8:36). Even the unregenerate can work for the right reasons. The foundation that needs to be maintained is that people should have consequences to their actions. The proverbs say the lazy will go hungry (20:4) and God wants to use that catalyst to drive the lazy to work. Subsidizing the lazy only encourages more laziness. Unemployment payments only delay a person from feeling the need to find a new job. Public health care only discourages savings and encourages other spending. I believe it was Aristotle who said, "that which is public is least taken care of." Pooling the means and results of production only retards the individual will to work and thus retards the economy.
I am able to think of many examples in my own life of these principles. In addition, I have observed and heard of others who have experienced these truths.
For example, welfare programs are awarded based on income and savings, etc. When researching these programs it was apparent to me that they would fail to discern those really in need and thus hurt everyone by wasting public money. Someone may be making little but saving a lot by living frugally. This person may be denied assistance. Thus saving is discouraged.
I know a man who saved for retirement. That meant he recieved less social security money. Is it fair to penalize him for saving while others who may have had more money than him were less responsible with their own money? Is it right to tax a person extra to pay for the lazy or to subsidize the foolish and wasteful?
Another example is minimum wage. Minimum wage superfically raises the wages of the least desireable employees and thereby lowers the wages of better employees. Why should I work harder then my peer when we will be in the same collective barginning contract anyway? Why seek to excel when those not seeking to excel will still be rewarded?
The graduated income tax is a major component of the socialist system. Why work harder to earn more just to have a higher percentage of tax taken out? Why not just be a taker instead of a giver? If a politician takes from Peter and gives to Paul, Paul will always give the politician his vote. Thus corruption, inefficiency, and ultimately poverty for all classes will result from the socialist system.


Phugebrins said...

You're right in many respects, in particular, this observation holds true for many welfare systems:
"When researching these programs it was apparent to me that they would fail to discern those really in need and thus hurt everyone by wasting public money. Someone may be making little but saving a lot by living frugally. This person may be denied assistance."

It's my view that welfare is a crude tool for a broken system. Progressive taxation, while better than flat taxes or regressive taxes, is also rather clumsy.

The only flaw in your argument is that these are not policies of a socialist system, but of a capitalist system. Now, they're policies that socialists will often prefer to no assistance to the poor, but they are by no means part of a socialist society.

You're right that some socialists do believe that, given a society in which moral action is not stifled, humans will be nicer people (in fact, you yourself stated "but we do know that people will often do good, whether motivated by conscience, necessity, or the love of Christ"), and some socialists (I should perhaps say anarchists or communists) ultimately advocate a society without any sort of currency - but their views are hardly universal, and in any case, even they normally agree that it would a distant ideal indeed.

A socialist society is by no means incompatible with wage differences. The crux of the matter, however, is that those wage differences be proportionate, rather than the disproportionate ones we have in today's society between, say, the money-dealers who contribute nothing and reap millions and the farmers who put bread on our table and scrape together a pittance. Rather, if you work long hours and hard labour, you are entitled to the value of that labour. If you are perfectly able-bodied and able-minded, but refuse to work, society owes you - and gives you - nothing.

Individual desires will fuel the economy, whatever the system. The criticism is that under capitalism, the desires of a few can control the economy, and ruin it for the rest of us. And the people who hold the reins are, generally speaking, the ones who've so far been keen to further their own interests enough to accumulate all that wealth.
In a socialist system, if you want to benefit from what society has to offer, you've got to be prepared to earn it: there is no easy way around it, no cushy jobs or quick ways to the top, you can't feed off others' goodwill without reciprocating with your own.

Nikodemos said...

Citizen, you assume that all the unemployed are unemployed because they are lazy, and that everyone could afford any kind of health care if they only saved enough money. These assumptions need to be justified with more than just examples (certainly there are some unemployed people who are lazy, but I would argue that the vast majority are not).

However, that is not what I wish to talk about. It appears to me that once again we are using the word "socialism" to mean different things. You use it to refer to the kinds of policies supported by American liberals (only in a more radical form), while we - and, I would say, the majority of socialists - use it to refer to an economic system that is entirely different from capitalism. Both welfare and progressive taxation are liberal attempts to "fix" capitalism.

One of the most important goals of socialism is to provide every able-bodied person with a job (preferably a job that is as close as possible to his liking). "Welfare", if you wish to call it that, would only be given to those who are physically unable to work.

The graduated income tax is not a component of the socialist system. In fact, a socialist system would not have any income taxes at all. Logically, since the government is paying you in the first place, it would not make sense for the government to give you some money and then take it back from you.

A government that runs the economy does not need taxes to support itself. The role of taxes is to transfer money from the private sector to the public sector. If the whole economy is in the public sector, there is no need for taxes.

As a side note, I would like to point out that there were no taxes in the Soviet Union and the other stalinist states. These states were not socialist, of course, but they did show how a government does not need taxes if it runs the economy.

You say that "socialism's weakness is that it can not change the heart". That is of course true - no economic system can change the heart. But this is where Christianity comes in. I believe socialism and Christianity are complementary. A good Christian can easily be a good socialist; socialism provides for the people's material needs and Christianity provides for their spiritual needs.