Too many religious people have taken economics out of religion. I find that Christian theology, deprived of its deep economic message, becomes, much like literature, a tantalizing story of the life, death, and miracles of Jesus—a “story” one accepts only suspending one’s disbelief; a story without much human vitality. Hence, a static story. A story of events that, at best, occurred 2000 years ago, and presumably have little or no relevance to the “complexity” of the modern world. What relevance can this story have in an age of disbelief? A materialistic age that cannot touch or feel matters of the spirit?
How theologically sound is our culture today? I call on theologians, historians, and economists to perfect the train of thought I am bringing to conclusion today, a train of thought I have lately explored especially on the pages of Mother Pelican. It is very important work: We need to restore economics to theology.
The least I can say about this task is that, to my reading of the Gospels, Jesus paid full attention to economic affairs from the first public act of his ministry to the words he uttered with his last breath, and much more in between. Indeed, was not a classical perennial misuse of power and money that manipulated the people and turned an adoring crowd on Palm Sunday into a murderous mob on Holy Friday?
A premise. The reason why religious people, in my view and the view of a few other people, do not read economics into the Bible is that, if they did, they would need to confront the elites—violently, perhaps, since the "revolutionaries” and the economists have presented them with two complementary half-truths. Please read "The Creators of Poverty." Concordian economics, instead, reading—in full hope—the Bible and economics “properly,” presents a non-violent solution to “the economic problem.” This, of course, as this piece tries to demonstrate is the solution advocated by Jesus.
The elites alone cannot solve the economic problem. We the People have to help. Working in Concord with one another.
The First Public Act
We know the first public act of ministry that Jesus performed. He threw the money changers out of the temple. That was not a symbolic act; it was real; and its meaning still resonates today. What is that meaning?
The meaning of this act becomes crystal-clear as soon as one realizes that money for the Israelites was part of the common wealth. Hence, it had to be distributed in accordance with the principles of the tzedakah, the obligation that every Israelite—poor people included—fulfilled to fund the productive capacity of other Israelites. What also has to be known, of course, is that the temple was the place where the sacred treasury, the public treasury was kept. The temple was also the public bank. Jesus certainly conceived money as a public entity; the classical injunction is: "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
What I said elsewhere is that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, and they kept coming back, coming back. These are the people who want to use the public bank for their own personal interests. In our system today, where the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) is our public bank, the situation would be remedied by establishing three procedures for the Fed: issue loans only to create real wealth; issue loans at cost; issue loans to benefit all participants in the economic process.
The current cycle, of course, is: create debt to feed growth to induce more debt to feed more growth. This insane cycle is fed by the scarcity of money and its concentration into the hands of the few. The insane cycle will be broken if, as specified, loans are issued to create real wealth—not paper wealth—and the ownership of the new wealth is justly apportioned among all those who participate in the economic process. From scarcity we shall pass to sufficiency.
What also needs to be stressed is that Jesus did not destroy the money nor did he chase the money changers out of their private abodes.
Why? Because money, by itself, contrary to much idealistic/unrealistic ideology prevailing today is a splendid thing. Indeed, properly used, in our age of individualism and human separation, money can become our best tool of community rebuilding. All that we need to change is the procedure of production and distribution of money.
Money used to be produced mostly with gold or silver or copper, because they are unperishable materials. The persistence of the material was faithfully, but mistakenly, carried over to their intrinsic value. The history of the world as well as a glance at the gyrations in the value of these metals ought to disabuse us of the illusion that material objects can ever give value to the accoutrements necessary to live a truly human life. In addition, these materials were scarce and that stands at the root cause of the scarcity of money. Today, we can create an unperishable entity. It is called the computer digit. We can create as many digits as necessary to foster life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Last Words
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." These were the last words that Jesus uttered.
To understand these words fully, let us remember that the ideology that led to his death was all based on the preservation of the wealth and power of the Jewish and Roman elites: On the force of a lie, they thought that Jesus threatened the power that created their wealth. They were so entrenched in their ways that could only think that “might makes right.”
The horrible thing is that, if they understood economics, nay if we today understood economics properly we would realize that Jesus said nothing about power and wealth, because they are both necessary and useful—and everything about how power and wealth are acquired and used. They did not—and we still do not—hear Jesus saying that “love-makes-might.” To grant and to receive economic justice takes above all love. And in a society based on love, there is no call for retribution; no need for re-distribution of wealth; no room for the pitchforks.
If these are the book ends, the economic message that Jesus conveyed in between those two points is more powerful and direct still. Let us see what position Jesus actually assumed toward economics. Let us be very clear about what Jesus made very clear. This is what Jesus made very clear: There is no such thing as an economic problem. Jesus solved the economic problem. He solved it, not miraculously, but technically. What he left for us to solve as the problem of daily living is not an economic but a moral and theological problem.
How Did Jesus Solve the Economic Problem?
We might feign ignorance, but we all know how Jesus solved the economic problem. Not even Jesus was able to say all things at once. To make his thought apparent, we only need to understand the various facets of his thought.
Jesus Relation with the Prophets
We know well what was the relation of Jesus with the Prophets, with the Jewish tradition. He said it in no uncertain terms: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
What was the core of the Jewish tradition in economics? Books have been written on this topic. The core of that tradition is a continuous effort to control hoarding. The Fifty Year Jubilee prevented the hoarding of land; the Seven Year Jubilee prevented the hoarding of money. No hard data unfortunately exists on the effects of these rules. Yet, to the (uncertain) extent they were practiced one has to make an easy deduction: The Israelites were so rich as to be the constant object of pillage by neighboring countries and they were able to restore their wealth as soon as they were freed from captivity. No other small nation seems to have had a similar history.
The relation of the Jewish people with money did not end with the Old Testament. Fulfilling the tzedakah is a living and vital obligation today. And Islam agreed. Indeed, Muslims are left alone in their strenuous struggle against excessive interest, the root of hoarding. This is a practice that the Church Fathers gave a specific name: They called it usury and associated it with the deadly sin of greed or avarice. Yet, when the United States of America abandoned this struggle by refusing to control usury and excessive interest rates (see especially the 1980 Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act), there was not a peep from most religious organizations.
To assume that Jesus did not viscerally share these values would be a gross misunderstanding of Jesus. To assume that Jesus did not practice Judaism would be a gross misinterpretation of Jesus. This is no conjecture. He codified the Jewish tradition in relation to hoarding in his Parable of the Talents.
The Parable of the Talents
If anyone has any doubt on these issues, let him carefully read the Parable of the Talents. There one finds absolute confirmation of the power with which Jesus absorbed and expressed the Jewish tradition in relation to hoarding. While in the Jewish tradition there is a detailed list of prohibitions against hoarding, with the Parable of the Talents Jesus synthesizes the topic and issues such a strong condemnation of hoarding that, while absolving prostitutes and tax collectors of their sins, he uncharacteristically sends the person who hoards wealth directly to Hell. No trial; no appeal.
From Aristotle up until Adam Smith
From Moses to Jesus, through Thomas Aquinas to the Doctors of Salamanca, up until Adam Smith, everyone knew about hoarding. Hoarding is all wealth that is buried under ground, all wealth that is kept in a passive state; all wealth that, as M. L. Burstein suggested, has zero use rate. Any item of real or monetary wealth can be hoarded; the value and the effects of hoarding vary in accordance with the surrounding circumstances; hoarding can be confused with saving, but they are two completely different entities. Hoarding is always passive; saving can be active. While there is no room for hoarding in mainstream economics, there is a special place for saving in Concordian economics; namely, while hoarding is assumed not to exist in mainstream economics, saving in Concordian economics is accounted for as a financial entity: savings deposited in a bank are the lowest form of investment. All religions inveigh against hoarding.
Single words mean nothing. To escape from the trap of meaninglessness into which the world, thanks mostly to Analytical Philosophy, has plunged, we need to insert individual words into their living context. We need to reinsert hoarding into the economic discourse.
Reinsert Hoarding into the Economic Discourse
To reinsert Hoarding into the economic discourse, we have to relate it to income. Take all expenditures necessary for daily living out of our income, and we are (ideally) left with a sum of money. Then we have a choice, a real economic choice. The choice of spending money between Gucci and Pucci is not an economic decision. It is an esthetic decision. The economic decision is between Hoarding or Investing the money left over. This is indeed an economic decision of great moment.
Once we relate Hoarding to Income and to Investment, following mathematical and logical reasoning that can be easily duplicated, we finally obtain the definition of Investment, namely
Investment = Income – Hoarding
Putting this relation into a Lorenz diagram we can easily deduct the essential facts of economics. This relation tells us that, at any one instant, the more investment, the less hoarding—and vice versa. Obviously, more investment in real wealth, more economic growth and (given the right conditions) less poverty. Thus,
“The Economic Problem” is thus technically solved: Do not hoard real wealth, and you shall have little or no poverty (!), more investment (!), hence more future wealth (!), and less inflation. If you hoard money in such situations as the current ones, you are likely to have less inflation. Sorry for the exclamation points. They are used as a shortcut reminder of the existence of all those programs that are designed to reduce poverty, increase investment, and abate inflation. Look at the expenses of words to explain those programs; look at the expense of wealth to implement those programs. And look at the results of those intellectual and financial efforts.
Create money only for the creation of real wealth, take care of hoarding and you will automatically solve all problems of poverty, all problems of jobs and income, all problems of inflation or devaluation of money. The economic system, left to itself, will function as a well-oiled machine.
Is not the economic problem technically solved?
Did not Jesus say:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Yes, do not hoard and a whole slew of nasty economic problems is solved. All that remains is a moral and theological problem.
Hoarding Is a Moral and Theological Problem
Hoarding is a moral problem. How can one hoard wealth in the presence of so much poverty? To eliminate poverty all we need is economic justice; and it requires love, the highest of the theological virtues, to grant and to receive economic justice.
Ultimately, hoarding is a theological problem. One hoards wealth because of fear of scarcity. But scarcity does not exist in nature. A codfish lays a million eggs a year; a tree scatters thousands and thousands of seeds. Scarcity exists only in the minds of economists who have never set foot in a supermarket. Scarcity exists only in the minds of people who have not yet entered the digital age.
Dis-Hoarding Is a Moral Problem
If the laws and the practices of civilized society have been unable to prevent hoarding, dis-hoarding becomes a moral problem. Jesus did say: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” But Jesus did not say: “Strip them of their God-given economic rights; do not give them any responsibility; take their dignity away; give the rich some tax relief, the middle class a job, the poor a warm soup in a cold winter night; and go to sleep in peace.” What to say about this abuse of “high” morality? Pope Pius XI (Quadragesimo Anno # 4) recoiled at the use of “charity to veil the violation of justice.” Can we now judge where did the heart of Jesus lay?
Jesus Was Concerned About the Economic Problem
By focusing intently on the issues, one explosive realization comes to the fore: Jesus was concerned only about the economic problem. He did not come to establish a new religion. He did not come to establish a school of theology. He did not come to establish a school of philosophy.
He came on earth to solve the economic problem—not for its superficial financial aspects, of course, and not even (perhaps) for the redemption of our past sins, but for the redemption of our current sins, for the deep moral and theological sins that we commit while trying to “make” a living. Look at the carnage, look at the moral mayhem that the scarcity of money, the hoarding of money and wealth in a few hands creates. In other words, Jesus solved the economic problem—not to “make” money, but for us to earn the kingdom of heaven by practicing morality and the right theology. What a waste to spend one's life to worry and to care about money.
More explicitly, perhaps, how can we solve the economic problem? Precisely that way: finally acting as true human beings, namely acting morally and practicing the right theology. To act morally and to practice the right theology, we have to jettison mainstream economics and enter the world of Concordian economics.
The Core of Concordian economics
The core of Concordian economics is economic justice. Technically, if we want to be—as we must be—technical, the moral and theological problem is a problem of economic justice. For the life of me, I cannot understand why social workers, lawyers, and political scientists have yet to help their arguments with the historical bounty offered by the doctrine of economic justice.
Perhaps, they are terrified by the mathematics of mainstream economists.
Well, they shouldn’t. As one of them, Professor Alan Blinder proclaimed long ago, “...too much of what young scholars write these days is 'theoretical drivel, mathematically elegant but not about anything real.'" Thomas Piketty has forcefully confirmed: “There is no such thing as an economic science.” As I have concluded elsewhere, the most important economic decisions that we take—at any level of the social scale—are based not on science but on political ideology.
Enoughjy, Basta, Enough for Today
While the dangers are enormous, as pointed out in previous discussions, all we have to do is to start with changing three rules of the Fed and then we have to systematically cancel a bunch of zeros from our accounting books. We can do it; we must do it. Either those changes or The Real Crash.
Indeed, there are many signs that under the banner of The New Economy the world is already doing much in the right direction. The world is crying out for a better way of living. From money controlling people, we have to pass to people controlling money.
The Times They Are a-Changing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carmine Gorga, president of The Somist Institute, is a Former Fulbright Scholar and recipient of a Council of Europe Scholarship for his dissertation on the “Political Thought of Louis D. Brandeis,” Using age-old principles of logic, he has founded Concordian economics, Somism, and Relationalism. Dr. Gorga has fundamentally transformed the linear world of economic theory into a relational discipline in which everything is related to everything else—internally as well as externally. He was assisted in this endeavor by many people, notably for 27 years by Professor Franco Modigliani, a Nobel laureate in economics at MIT, and 23 years by Professor M. L. Burstein, a professor of economics at York University. Mr. Gorga is the author of numerous publications, including The Economic Process: An Instantaneous Non-Newtonian Picture, 2002, a book that was reissued by The University Press of America in an expanded paperback edition in 2009. For details, see the Carmine Gorga website. At times, he blogs at New Economic Atlas and Modern Moral Meditations.