A Good Principle

29 04 2008

One of the biblical principles for economic life postulated by Donald Hay (Fellow and Tutor in Economics at Jesus College, Oxford, and a Reader in the Church of England) in Economics Today, A Christian Critique is:

Principle 5: Work is the means of exercising stewardship. In his work man should have access to resources and control over them.

This principle is derived from the creation story. Man is given resources with which to work, and he is given the dominion over those resources.

The law concerning the land is a particular example. Each family was provided with a piece of land, which was to be held in perpetuity. The normal pattern of work was to be labour on the family land. Wage labour was a social safeguard (Deuteronomy 24:15) for those who had lost possession of their land until the Jubilee. Decisions about the use of the land were made within the family: so those who did the work also controlled the land. Returns were earnings representing the labour and initiative of the family. They shared directly in the prosperity (or lack of prosperity) of the enterprise. The prohibition on usury within the community meant that savings would be applied within the family enterprise, rather than lent for interest. There were no returns on resources without a direct exercise of stewardship responsibilities in deciding the use to which they were put.

To me, this principle concisely draws a couple of interesting distinctions between an economy built on God’s principles, and an economy built on the principle of the free market (Vox populi, vox dei).

By giving families land and banning usury (among other things, obviously), a framework is created that produces a rooted, productive, and cohesive community built on intra and inter-family relationships.

In contrast, we have an economic framework that wars against those things and tends to produce a rootless, parasitic, faceless community. Cohesive family units struggle against it constantly.

Land is taxed onerously, so that even those who have no mortgages are in an annual danger of losing their land should they not pay the tribute.

Wage labour is not a social safeguard but the norm, the only way most can survive.

Usury draws capital away from the family unit and builds corporate and government interests which are hostile to them.

Usury and limited liability separate work from stewardship and responsibility.

So how do we change our economy into a more Godly one? Removing usury and the ability to invest in limited liability corporations from our way of life would help immensely and immediately. The land issue would obviously be more difficult to sort out, but abolishing property taxes would be a big step.

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