This is the sixth program in a new series of talks dedicated to addressing the current world economic crisis. I hope that I am not losing you as I rummage through the historical background of our present economic collapse. I know that it might be hard to absorb all that I am trying to convey about how our present Capitalistic economic system came to be and that for many people economics is a dry subject that they would rather avoid. However, if we are going to understand how we got into this mess we have to understand “where we were” before Capitalism was adopted, “how we got to where we are now”, and “where we should go from here.”
During most of our lifetimes we have witnessed a Cold War between two competing economic systems for dominance in the world: The Soviet Union and Communism and the Western democracies and Capitalism. However, this conflict was only the most recent example of a contest between two basic principles of reality that have contended throughout history in different forms. It can be expressed in various ways as the contest between order versus freedom, control versus no control, stability versus creativity; security versus progress; uniformity versus variety; cooperation versus competition; the group versus the individual.
The examples could be multiplied but I think that it is sufficient to note that we live in a universe in which, there has always been a dynamic tension between two opposing poles like those in a magnet. Like a pendulum, reality seems to be constantly swinging from one extreme to the other, never seeming able to balance the tension between the two. Too much order or control leads to a dictatorship and stagnation; too much freedom and change leads to anarchy and chaos.. It is an age old conflict that has expressed itself in various ways at different times. In ancient Greece it was the oligarchial dictatorship of Sparta versus the democracy of Athens; in Ancient Rome it was the Senate versus the Emperor; in the Bible it was the law and order of the Old Testament versus the freedom and spirit of the New Testament or the unquestioning faith of the Dark Ages versus the rational freedom of the Renaissance. In modern times it was the economic and political dictatorship of the Soviet Union versus the economic and political freedom of the Western democracies. And on the atomic level it could be compared to the large size and stability of the protons in the nucleus versus the small size and mobility of the electrons that circle it. There is something basic to our reality in these seemingly oppositional relationships which could probably be described as the dialectical nature of reality. Later, I might return to this in more details. But for now let me single out just one of these relationships that I think might be the most basic one, that is, the relationships between order versus freedom.
Both seem to play an important part in our survival as human beings but it does not appear that they are of equal value. In my last program I quoted the historian Will Durant, who after spending his life study history, came to one major conclusion: “When freedom destroys order, the need for order will destroy freedom.” By this he meant that the human mind is an “order-seeking” mechanism that is constantly trying to organize reality so that it can better predict and deal with it. Thus “order” seems to be an essential ingredient in our survival. Yet, we also seem to have a need for freedom and this causes us to ask what are the roles that these two principles serve in our survival. We might say that we need order to survive and freedom to develop and survival always trumps development since it is always the objective towards which development is aimed. Thus, what Durant is saying is that when freedom becomes an “end in itself” and undermines the order that is its proper objective by leading to chaos, it will destroy itself. Freedom is always a “means to an end” which is the progressive reordering of society to better deal with the problems of survival. Too much order leads to an inflexible stagnations; too much freedom leads to a too-flexible chaos. Since as Christians we believe in a Judeo/Christian Linear, Utopian View of History and Reality, we value the concept of freedom because any utopian or progressive view of history involves the freedom to change by repenting and reforming our sins and mistakes. However, change of itself is not always progressive. It can also be regressive. When a society forgets this and starts to treat freedom and change as ends in themselves, it has taken it first steps towards its own self-destruction. And that is basic to what is happening now. We are viewing the results when freedom and change have gone wild by losing their moral compass. So let me now return to my analysis by first reviewing some of the major concepts from my previous programs and the historical steps that led to our present condition.
First, the left-hemisphere of our brain is the source of language and logic and it is the essential difference between ourselves and other animals. Without it, we would have, functionally speaking, two identical non-verbal right brains that operated on intuition, instincts, and feelings.
Next, according to the Bible, what makes us different from other animals is that we are made in the image of a Rational God who created the universe. This Rational God is composed of three Persons: a Creator or Father, a Craftsman or Son, who is His Logos, Logic or Wisdom, and a Creative Spirit who flows from the love and agreement that exists between the other two.
Next, according to John I in the Bible, this Logos, Logic, or Wisdom is the Light of Understanding that is found in every human being and it became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ who had come to show us the way to eternal salvation and the fullness of life
Next, modern brain researchers have located language and logic in the left hemisphere of the brain in most persons and it is this left hemisphere through its linear pursuit of Truth that is responsible for the progressive movement of Mankind through science and technology
Next, the left hemisphere of the brain is the source of most, if not all, social institutions that result from the attempt by human beings to find logical solutions to social problems that occur as they join together in larger and more complex societies
Next, when a logical solutions succeeds, it becomes institutionalized by being integrated into the cultural patterns and passed down to future generations
Next, once a logical solution to a social problem becomes institutionalized, as time passes, it moves from conscious, logical awareness to subconscious traditions that are defended out of habit
Next, some of these social institutions are government, marriage, and the economic system which were all invented as a response to some particular social problem. To understand them, one has to know why they were created. To know this we have to define them.
Next, government is a social institution created by the left hemisphere of the brain for the purpose of making, judging, and enforcing laws that are necessary for social order and justice
Next, marriage is a social institution created by the left hemisphere of the brain for the reproduction, care, training, and rearing of children so that society may expand and survive in the future
Next, an economic system is a social institution created by the left hemisphere of the brain for the purpose of deciding how the “means of production”, consisting of the raw material, workers, tools, and managerial skills, will be used to produce and distribute the goods and services that a society needs and wants.
Next, things are evaluated according to how well they serve the purpose for which they were created. Thus, a good eye sees; a good ear hears; a good heart pumps blood etc…
Next, social institutions, or anything that is created with a purpose, are evaluated according to how well they serve the purpose for which they were created
Next, a government is good to the degree that it best makes, judges, and enforces laws that result in social order and justice and if it fail in any one of these functions, it diminishes the quality of its goodness. For example, some governments are good at making laws, but poor at judging or enforcing them or, perhaps, create social disorder and injustice through them.
Next, the institution of marriage is good to the degree that it best succeeds in the reproduction, care, training, and rearing of children that are necessary for the expansion and survival of the society. To the degree that it fails in any of these objectives, it fails in its stated purpose.
Next, an economic system is good to the degree that it best uses the “means of production” to produce and distribute the goods and services that a society needs and wants. If it is good at production but poor at distribution, it fails in one of its stated purposes. Or, if it is good at distribution but fails in production, it fails again. Or if it is good at “wants” but poor at “needs” or visa versa, again it fails.
Next, by using logic to analyze a social institution according to its stated purposes, it allows us to identify its strengths and weakness and thereby know what to change and what to leave alone.
Next, history is the piecemeal story of Humanity’s attempt to create, reform, and revise its social institutions to come closer to those that are most compatible with our basic needs as human beings and we have inherited both the successes and failures of previous generations
Next, each generation must reevaluate the attempts of previous generations when the built in deficiencies of these social institutions are revealed through experience. In doing so, we have to distinguish between what is working and what is not.
Next, the Barter System was created to provide for the exchange of good and services when society, through the Law of Complexification became more complex and led to the Law of Organization and Specialization, in which different people assumed different functions in society. Thus, there had to be a way for a farmer to exchange his goods for the skills of a doctor or lawyer and vise versa.
Next, money was invented to correct the limitations of the Barter System, which made it difficult for people to exchange what they had to give with people who had what they wanted, especially when the exchange dealt with things of unequal value e.g. a chicken for a cow
Next, gold and silver, which eventually became the standard for money, took on a life of their own when people forgot or didn’t know that they had been arbitrarily invented to solve the problem of exchange. As a result, gold and silver moved from conscious awareness to subconscious habit and began to become “ends in themselves” rather than “means” to provide for the exchange of goods and services.
Next, the Mercantalistic economic system, which replaced the Barter System during the Middle Ages, adopted the theory that the wealth of a nation was based on the gold and silver reserves that a nation held. This led to the economic practice of trying to sell to other nations to acquire their gold and silver while trying to avoid buying anything back so as to not diminish your own supply.
Next, To accomplish this the economic activity during the Mercantilistic period was tightly controlled by the government, traditions, trade guilds, and the moral standards of the Catholic Church. The government limited trade between nations; tradition required sons to follow the same roles of their fathers , the trade guides set quality standards and limited those who could enter the craft; and the Church frowned on becoming involved in profit making enterprises, leaving the Jews the role of becoming the bankers and merchants of Europe.
Next, the Crusades in 1095 brought Europeans into contact with and an advanced Islamic culture in the East that led to the rediscovery of the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans thinkers and also exposed the Europeans to goods, like silk and spices, from India and China. The influx of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers led to a Renaissance or rebirth of Art and Science in the European West bringing them out of the circular existence of the so-called Dark Ages, where survival from barbarian invasion was the major concern, and placing them on a linear, progressive path based on science and technology. The growing interest in trade with the East led to the Age of Exploration as European nations tried to break the monopoly of Venice and Genoa on trade by finding a new route to India and China.
Next, As the Renaissance replaced the Age of Faith with the Age of Reason, there was a growth in the spirit of individualism that began to undermine both clerical and civil authority. People wanted to know “why” and to participate in the decisions affecting their own lives. It was this spirit of individualism which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation in 1517 with its challenge of Papal authority and its emphasis on the right of each individual to interpret the Bible for himself. At the same time, the authority of the king was being challenged as other groups sought representation in government.
Next, Eventually, there developed an intellectual movement known as Humanism in which the emphasis was on progress on this earth during this lifetime through science and technology rather than on waiting for our reward in heaven. There were Christian Humanist, like St. Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, and St. Thomas More who integrated Christian beliefs with rational thought and Secular Humanist, who rejected anything that could not be demonstrated and proved empirically through science.
Next, the search for a route to India, led the Europeans to discover and colonize lands in America, Africa, India, China, South East Asia, and the Pacific. These colonies became both markets and sources for raw materials for the Mother Country.
Next, as trade increased, the Jewish merchants and money lenders rose from their lowly, despised position during the economically stagnant Dark Ages to become important and essential players during the economically vibrant Renaissance period following the Crusades. Families, like the Rothchilds, became the bankers and major financiers of the wars and projects of European countries.
Next, the feudal system, based on castle, lords, and knights, began to crumble as weapon like guns and cannons changed the whole complexion of warfare. In its place there arose town and cities that were created by traveling merchants who paid the lord of the manor for a charter that gave them the right to establish permanent buildings in place of the tents that were characteristic of the medieval fairs.
Next, From these new towns and cities there arose two new social classes: the bourgeoise and the proletariat. The bourgeoise were members of the upper or merchant class who lived in the towns they had created. The proletariat, who were often former serfs on medieval manors, were the free, hired workers they employed.
Next, as the Feudal System crumbled and the spirit of Capitalism based on trade and business grew, lords, who traditionally had an obligations to the serfs on their land, began to expel them so that the land could be turned over to pasture for the grazing of sheep or any other profitable enterprises. The displaced serfs, who had a humble but secured position on the manor, now became landless, wandering drifters who were seeking jobs in the newly evolving Capitalistic system. They ended up in the towns and cities where the newly formed bourgeoisie businessmen were creating factories to keep up with the growing demand resulting from the developing world trade. Charles Dickens in works like Oliver Twists described the fate of many of these dispossessed people who crowded the slums of London looking for a way to earn a living. Often they became the debtors and criminals that England was only too happy to lose by shipping them to America and Australia as indentured servants. Society was falling apart as a new system based on new premises and principles was replacing an older system that was unable to respond to the changing conditions. In other words, as the Bible says, the old wine skins were unable to contain the new wine and they were bursting at the seams.
Next, manufactured goods, produced by machines, which allowed women and children to perform tasks that before were limited to men, were quickly replacing the hand-made products of the medieval craftsman. And although these machines were increasing the output of manufactured goods at a fantastic rate, they were also changing the way that people lived and thought about things. We might say that they were shifting people from the artistic and holistic right hemisphere that was more concern with beauty and form to the analytic and specific left hemisphere that was more concerned with production and function and it was having a long term impact on how the brain itself functioned. Marshall McCluren, a Canadian professor, in more recent times, wrote a book entitled “The Medium is the Message” in which he addressed the impact that television was having on us. Whereas others were concerned with the effect that the type of programming was having on us, McCluern said that the more important impact was the medium or method through which we received information. His point was that people who lived in the pre-television days who sat around a radio and listened to the news and stories were required to form images in their minds that corresponded to what they were hearing. This required the performance of certain areas of their brain and how they processed information that was different from people who grew up watching television. In other words, technology was changing the structure and functioning of our brains. Today we see the same thing happening with our children as the computer and video games affect them in the same way.
Next, Europe was going through a paradigm shift and social revolution in all areas. Christian, who before were discouraged by the teachings of the Catholic Church from participating in profit making enterprises, now sought to become part of the growing wealth resulting from commerce and business. At this point, John Calvin’s theory of predestination brought about a religious paradigm shift when he taught that the sign of one’s assurance that he was predestined to go to heaven was economic wealth and success. This became known as the Gospel of Wealth and it greatly influenced Protestant areas of Europe and the history of the United States. It resulted in a hard-working Christian man who lived a very simple life and reinvested his money to make even more money. He was an “economic man” who lived by the clock and continued to work even after his basic needs were satisfied.
Next, in 1776 these new trends, fired by the individualistic spirit of the Renaissance and the growth of trade and commerce, became formalized in two documents: the Declaration of Independence, which declared the right to be politically free, and Wealth of Nations, which declared the right to be economically free. Politically the rising merchant bourgeoisie class began to demand the right to participate in the power of government since they were the major source of taxes. Their cry became “No taxation without representation!” Eventually, they challenged the Divine Right of Kings Theory, which held that God gave power to kings through heredity, and sought to replace it with the Social Contract Theory, which said that God gave power to the people who made a contract with a leader to rule them. And whereas only God could remove a king under the Divine Right of Kings, the people themselves, under the Social Contract Theory, could remove any leader when he failed to live up to the contract that he had made with them. At the same time, the growing influence of this merchant class was demanding that they be set free from the limitations placed on them by the government, tradition, and moral principles established by the Church. Under the theory of Capitalism developed by Adam Smith, they called for a policy of “laissez faire” or “hands off” whereby the only control of the economy would come from the automatic forces of the market resulting from the interaction of “self-interest” and “competition.”
Next, what many of these changes indicated was the growth of left hemispheric thinking with its emphasis on the individual, time and freedom. And, since the left hemisphere, which is the sight of logic and language and the source of science and technology, is the Logos or Logic that St. John says is the light found in every human being, as Christians, we could see these trends as the growing impact of Jesus on our world.
Next, the Protestant Reformation, as part of this individualistic spirit, declared the right of each individual to interpret the Bible for himself and let loose a fragmentation of Christianity into a multitude of different interpretations and churches. Luther disagreed with the Catholic Church, Calvin disagreed with both of them, and eventually all of Europe was a hotbed of fighting between different religious groups each of whom were declaring themselves to be the correct interpreter of various scriptural passages. The scandal created by this in-fighting among Christians, caused many people to despair of religion as a solution to society’s problems and fed the growth of the spirit of Secular Humanism which erupted into the French Revolution of 1789. It set out to create a New World Secular Order based on “Liberty, Fraternity and Equality.”. Their motto eventually became, “There is no god to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself.” By this they meant that human reason, rather than religion and God, was the solution to whatever ailed us.
Next, when the French Revolution turned into the chaos of the Reign of Terror in which one group after another seized power and beheaded the previous group, it was clear that it had failed to live up to its promises. However, the true believers behind it predicted that there would be other revolutions that would succeed and secular states would rise up and either control or eliminate religion from society. The Communist revolutions of the 20th century were a fulfillment of this prediction and the erosion of Christianity in Europe and the weakening of it in the United States through the bogus idea of “separation of church and state” are further examples of its success.
Finally, it is clear from this overview of history that much of the decline of Christianity in the West was due to its own fault. Pope John Paul II recognized this when he publicly apologized for the Church to the Jews, Protestants, Muslims, atheists, and others for the mistakes and actions of our ancestors. Surprisingly, nobody else seemed to see any need to apologize for the past actions of their ancestors and, as we shall see, there was plenty of guilt to go around.
Now let’s begin by looking at some of the impact that the early form of Capitalism had on people.
These are the actual words of testimony taken from a Parliamentary investigation into the working conditions in England between 1832 and 1840. It is significant to consider that it was shortly after this that Engel, with Marx, wrote the Communist Manifesto that called upon the proletarian workers to unite and create a “classless society” by overthrowing the bourgeoisie business class. Although Marx was an atheist and considered religion to be “an opiate of the people” that drugged and pacified them so that they would not rebel against their oppressors, his yearning for a “classless society” based on “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality was just an expression of his Jewish roots’ historical yearning for a Kingdom of God and a continuation of the failed French Revolution of 1789. The conditions that provoked him and many others, including Pope Leo XIII, are described by the following testimonies given before Parliament.
Peter Smart, a young boy who has worked in a mill from the age of five is called in for examination:
Where do you live?... At Dundee… Have you worked in a mill from your youth?... Yes, since I was five-years-old… Had you a father and mother in the country at that time?... My mother lived in Perth, about eleven miles from the mill and my father was in the army… Where you hired for any length of time at the mill?... Yes, my mother got 15 shillings for six years and I got my meat and clothing… What were your hours of labor at the mill?... We began at 4:00 in the morning and worked till 10:00 or 11:00 at night; as long as we could stand on our feet… Were you kept at the factory…night and day?... Yes, night and day. I never went home during the six years that I worked at the mill… Do the children ever attempt to run away?... Yes, I ran away twice… And were you caught and brought back?... Yes, and I was sent to the master’s loft and beaten with a whip… Do you know whether the children were allowed to rest during their working hours?... Yes, they were… Was this because there was a law?... I cannot say that it was by any law… I never saw any law used there but the law of their own hands..”
Next, Ann Eggley, 18 years of age who has worked in Mr. Thorpe’s coal mine since she was seven
“I’m sure that I don’t know how to spell my name. we go to the mines at four in the morning and work until four or five in the evening. We work the whole time, except for an hour for dinner. Sometimes we don’t have time to eat. I gather the corves of coal that the miners hammer from the mine’s wall. They are very heavy and the work is far to hard for me. … I am very tired at night. Sometimes when we get home at night, we have no strength to wash, and we just fall into bed. I am quite sure that we work constantly for twelve hours except on Sunday… I have never learned to read and I don’t know my ABC’s. I have never learned anything. I never go to church or chapel and have never heard that a good man came into the world who was God’s son to save sinners. I never heard of Jesus at all. Nobody has ever told me about him, nor have my mother and father ever taught me to pray.”
It is interesting to note that at this time England and other European nations were sending missionaries to other parts of the world to convert them to Christianity.
Next, a coal master by the name of Payne, who is interviewed, tries to give some justification for child labor in his coal mines.
“It is a fact that children are employed generally at eight or nine years old in the coal pits…The children are not mistreated or worked beyond their strength. Although it is true that a good deal of sexual depravity exists but they are certainly not worse in morals than in other coal pits… The morals of this district are improving because Mr. Bruce, a clergyman, has been zealous and active in endeavoring to help their moral and religious education.”
Stories like these could be multiplied but I think that these two examples are enough to give us a sense of the harsh conditions that resulted in the early days of Capitalism. It is hard to believe that conditions like these could exist in a civilized Christian nation but the Capitalistic principle of “laissez faire” claimed that any attempt by the government to interfere with the operation of the businessman would rebound in a negative way in the long term. However, as time passed and the brutal consequences of this attitude harmed more and more people, it soon became clear that some type of government regulation was necessary to control the harsher aspects of this theory. However, that will have to wait for my next program because I see that my time is up.