Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Capitalism, Greed, and God Part II

Wendell Berry's ideas concerning human sovereignty intersect the ideas of another great book—Idols For Destruction by Herbert Schlossberg. Schlossberg writes, "The culture of Western nations in which humanitarian thinking is dominant is a rentier living off the moral capital accumulated by its predecessors and giving no attention to replenishing it. When it runs out, the horrors begin in earnest… Humanism is a philosophy of death." (pages 81-82)

I suspect it would be helpful to define "rentier." A Rentier is a rent-seeker. Wikipedia defines rent seeking as, "when an individual, organization or firm seeks to earn income by capturing economic rent through manipulation or exploitation of the economic environment, rather than by earning profits through economic transactions and the production of added wealth."

Schlossberg like Berry, recognizes the usurpation of God's sovereignty. He writes, "Humanitarianism is saviorhood, an ethic perfectly suited to the theology that divinizes man. But the theology that divinizes man, it turns out, only divinizes some men." (page 87)

Our system of government was founded upon checks and balances, distributing power broadly, to restrain tyranny. We still give lip service to these ideals, though in practice they were long ago abolished. Those with ambition for power have long sought positions of influence within government. The merger between corporate and government interests has led to oligarchy—where power is vested in few. The oligarchy is not only self-serving, but self-perpetuating. The rich and powerful have gained access to lawmakers through money, who in turn make the rich richer, and the powerful more powerful.

Government controls and regulations are not so much designed for accountability, as they were to enshrine the rich and install barriers for competitors. Large corporations are in large part, responsible for the "new intensity of greed" as Berry puts it, because they have become the model for industry. Who better to imitate than the successful? The successful, at least broadly, have arrived there through stimulating the government to manipulate the market and monetary policy.

This is the point where Schlossberg continues the argument further, at least more broadly, than Berry. Schlossberg recognizes man's longing for God's creative power, and how it has recently manifested itself in civilization. Schlossberg discusses the medieval alchemists who attempted to turn base metals into gold—effectively "creating something of value without work." (page 92) Modern man believes he has found a way to do this—money printing.

To be continued...

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