Economics, Second Lesson: WORK, the First Foundation of Prosperity

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. (II Thess 3:10)

 In case I haven’t said this before, I am not a professional economist (I make my living as a Military Education and Training Manager), nor do I have a degree in economics (but I do have a BA in Religion and Philosophy, Sterling College, 2010), nor has economics been the focus of the larger portion of my studies (that honor goes to the Bible and all things related to it).  However, a lifetime of observation, along with a couple of college courses in Economics, and a great deal of independent study has led me to certain obvious conclusions concerning economics.

 One of those obvious conclusions is that we (America) are NOT HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!  How is that, you say?

 Well, let me summarize it this way:  We are violating God’s Word every day.

 No, that’s not hyperbole.  It’s no exaggeration.  Stealing is a violation of the 8th Commandment, and the U.S. Government steals every day.  We covered that in our first installment of our economic commentary.

 Another way we violate God’s world every day is by allowing people that will not work to have food.  Yes, you read that right.  The Bible plainly says that if anyone will not work, neither should they eat.

 Now to save myself from the indignation of those that may not understand this law, let me say that I do not wish or desire in any way that non-working people will begin starving in the streets of our country.  No, I do not mean that at all; nor is the biblical passage I quoted to be taken to that extreme, absolute understanding.

 The key to the passage is the word “would”, which indicates that the violators of this law is not those who cannot work, but those who will not work.

 Unfortunately, in today’s society, work has lost its full original meaning, its vital role in imparting meaning to life, and separating the human being from the automaton world of animals.  This and other higher purposes of work will be the subject of future installments, but for now I’ll concentrate on the most basic purpose of work – sustenance.

 The scripture with which I opened the post makes it very plain – if a person will not work, that person should not eat. 

 Is the Bible the Word of God?  I say yes, but I’ll let the read abide by his or her own conscience.  But let’s be perfectly clear that the biblical rule is plain.  If a person wants to eat, that person must work.  It’s just that simple.

 Many people have a dreamy, euphoric, utopian idea of God’s economy.  We’ve watched movies where people sit quietly around the feet of Christ and everyone seems happy and well fed.  But the fact is that Christ’s first disciples had to work to eat, the Church fathers had to work to eat, I have to work to eat – EVERYONE has to work to eat.  Those that eat but won’t work are stealing from those that do work.  This is a take-home truth for all people and societies, whether Christian or not.

 But again, this rebuke has nothing to do with people that cannot work, or has left off of working for an income because they have accumulated enough savings to do so, or are receiving a pension.  People that cannot work are to be the recipients of charity (a subject for a future post), and people with savings or pensions earned their income through work.  But this rebuke DOES apply to those who see nothing wrong with living off the labor of others.  Indeed, I will drive this home to our present situation.  I am advocating the total elimination of state-sponsored welfare.  Giving people who will not work money and food is a violation of God’s word.  Stop it!

Now, let me explain that the elimination of welfare must be accompanied by the elimination of the minimum wage.  The elimination of welfare and the minimum wage together would have the effect of practially ending unemployment.  Every able-bodied man would be expected to work, and most of them would gladly work.  Many men are on welfare, or selling drugs, or just bumming around that would work if they had an expectation of finding a job.  Not only would eliminating the minimum wage make jobs abundant, it would actually drive wages UP for many workers.  Money otherwise spent on over-paying part time teenage employees could be spent on better pay for experienced and skilled workers.  So we see that doing away with two American idols – welfare and the minimum wage – would bring about a tremendous boom in the area of economy and also in the area of societal morale.

We’ll continue our little discourse on work next time.  In the mean time, the reader should exercise his mind on the following article by Jordan Ballor on the Acton Institute website, access on 25 Aug 2010 at

 http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2010/07/28/lutheran-world-federation-misses-mark-work-and-wea

The eleventh General Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation wrapped up yesterday, and the theme of the conference was a petition from the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). There was a good deal of reflection and self-expression from the hundreds of delegates gathered in Stuttgart, Germany, on topics related to global poverty and hunger. And while the assembly’s introduction explicitly noted the contribution of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the LWF meeting would have been improved if there had been a more substantive integration of Bonhoeffer’s views on the ecumenical movement, poverty, and work, into its proceedings.

 The LWF is a global ecumenical body consisting of 140 member churches in 79 countries, representing over 70 million Christians. The LWF, founded in Lund, Sweden in 1947, has much to learn from the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in the prime of his life by the Nazis two years earlier. This year’s LWF assembly opened on July 20, the sixty-sixth anniversary of the failed Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler, in which Bonhoeffer was implicated. This year also represents the seventy-fifth anniversary of one of Bonhoeffer’s most significant essays, “The Confessing Church and the Ecumenical Movement.” In this essay, Bonhoeffer challenges the ecumenical movement to identify itself as either an institutional form of the Christian church, with all the attendant responsibilities and duties, or as a simple gathering of interested Christians, with no binding authority or official purview.

In the latter case, says Bonhoeffer, the actions of such a group would have “only a neutral character, not involving any confession, and this conversation might only have the informative character of a discussion, without including a judgment or even a decision on this or that doctrine, or even church.” In the intervening decades, Bonhoeffer’s challenge continues to resonate, since the LWF, for instance, continues to waver between its self-understanding as an expression of Christian communion on the one side, and its political and social activism on the other.

The problem with the social witness of the LWF and the broader ecumenical movement is not simply that it addresses problems like hunger or poverty. It is, instead, the way in which it has done so, as typified in the recent Stuttgart meeting. Here we saw statements decrying “illegitimate debt,” the privileging of “profits over people,” and in the words of LWF general secretary Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, “the gap between those who do not have enough to eat and those who have far more than they need.” But beyond this kind of activist jingoism, or pietistic bewailing, there was precious little in terms of helpful analysis of the complex realities of a globalized world.

Rather than engage in the difficult work of providing a coherent and normative basis for responsible social proclamation, the LWF preferred instead — as is so often the case in the deliberations of mainline ecumenical groups — to point to “neoliberal globalization” as the structural injustice causing extreme poverty in the world. The missing element in the LWF’s poverty discussions, most recently at the General Assembly, has been a nuanced and comprehensive valuation of the role of creative work and entrepreneurship in the creation of material wealth. The social witness of ecumenical groups like the LWF have, for the better part of the past 50 years, consistently undermined work and labor as God’s order of blessings to provide material sustenance for humankind.

Bonhoeffer himself identified the mandate of “work” and “culture” (in the sense of human cultivation of God’s creation) as one of the four arenas (in addition to the family, church, and government) in which we fulfill our calling to serve God through our service to others. There are certainly cases in which God miraculously or specially provides material goods for our wellbeing, such as manna and quail from heaven (Exodus 16) or the seemingly bottomless baskets of bread and fish (Mark 6:30-44). But the regular means that God has graciously ordered in the world for meeting our physical needs is the realm of work.

We can see this in the Apostle’s injunction, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Far too little of the LWF deliberations about the nature of food and hunger, work and poverty, have focused on the role of human labor in economic relationships. The difference between the productive worker in a modern economy and the subsistence labor in primitive societies is the extent to which the worker and the fruits of his or her labor are brought into relationship with neighbors: local, regional, national, and international.

As the Reformed author Lester DeKoster writes in his little classic, Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, “Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind.” This connection of work to civilization is achieved through the kind of relationships made possible in a globalized world. And the ideological opposition to globalization manifest in the ecumenical movement would relegate the labor of those in the developing world to the margins of civilization itself.

As Bonhoeffer writes of the relationship between work and our daily bread, “the bread is God’s free and gracious gift. We cannot simply take it for granted that our own work provides us with bread; rather this is God’s order of grace.” It is precisely this “order of grace” that the developing world needs most, and the social witness of the ecumenical movement offers least.

 

Future topics: 

The Three Classes of Work:  Sustaining, Productive, and Fulfilling

Charity

The Elements of Prosperity: Work, Freedom, Innovation, Creativity, Rights.

Poverty:  Where the elements of prosperity do not exist, prosperity itself does not exist.

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