Lesson 77- From Barter to Communism
In my last program, I tried to show how Hegels theory, reinterpreted by Karl Marx, became the basis for Communism. I also tried to give a quick historical review to show how the influx of new ideas after the Crusades laid the foundation for the development of Secular Humanism of which Communism is just one expression and, how to this very day, these same forces are still working to create an international New World Order based on the humanistic principle that there is no God to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself. In other words, like those who worshipped Human Reason during the French Revolution, it will be human reason, through science and technology that will create a utopian world in which all the problems and woes of human existence will disappear. Anyone who is paying attention to what is going on today would have to agree that both science and technology are certainly taking us down new paths that our ancestors never even dreamed about.
Like the ancient people of Babylonia who built the Tower of Babel, the sky is the limit. And, also like these ancient people, we might be done in by our own ingenuity and pride as both science and technology are capable of cutting both ways. They can either increase our freedom and enhance our humanity or they can become the very tools that enslave and dehumanize us. According to Aldous Huxley, whose book, Brave New World, I will describe later, the 21st Century will produce a technological and scientific dictatorship which will never end because, unlike previous dictatorships, it will never run out of bread, which refers to welfare benefits, and circuses, which refers to amusements and entertainment that keep the people distracted from realizing that they are not free. In the past, says Huxley, Rome and other super-state dictatorships failed because they ran out of both.
What is really interesting and ironic about this is that both science and technology are connected to the left hemisphere of our brain and, as I have demonstrated in previous programs, the left hemisphere is the Logos or Light of Understanding, who, according to St. John, is the Jesus found in every human being. How can this be? How can the Jesus within, the Logos which separates us from the animal kingdom, and the source of science and technology, lead to the worst dictatorship that our minds can imagine. The answer is that Logic, of itself, leads you no where. It simply leads you where your own premises take you. In other words, it causes you to reap what you have sowned. If our premises are true, it will lead us to the Truth but if our premises are faulty it will lead you to their logical conclusion. And this, of course, is the greatest flaw in the Secular Humanist premises that there is no God to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself.
If our premises come from our limited and faulty human wisdom, then we are headed for a disaster. We will end up creating a Brave New World in which a super state in which an enlightened few enslave everyone else through soft slavery by taking the struggle out of everyones life and replacing it with a debilitating, paternalistic and hedonistic welfare system. Whats wrong with that? Well remember what Hegel and Frederick Douglas said. Hegel said that the law of life and growth and development is struggle. Frederick Douglas said, Without struggle there is no progress. And, finally, Jesus said, If you want life and you want it fully, pick up your cross and follow Me.
If, on the other hand, our premises are based on Divine Wisdom, which is committed to following the Will of God, then we are headed towards the Kingdom of God, a place where the laws of God have been written on each of our hearts and each of us takes personal responsibility for our lives. The choice is ours! Will we like Adam and Eve seek to become Gods equal or like Mary declare ourselves the servant and handmaiden of the Lord?
Before we can answer the question, we have to understand more about the historical processes that have brought us to this point in history. So let me return to my historical analysis.
I have already talked about the roots of Communism and its relationship to Secular Humanism. However, Communism was an antithesis to the economic system of Capitalism that, in turn, was an antithesis to an economic system of Mercantilism that, in turn, was an antithesis to that which preceded it. And each of these systems had its day in the sun and was ultimately replaced by another system that sought to correct the flaws in them. So let me give you a very broad and basic description of economics and the systems created to carry out its aims and objectives.
In debate we are told that before discussing anything that we should define it so that those who are listening understand what we are talking about. Economics is a social institution created by the left lobe of the brain for the purpose of using the means of production to make and distribute the goods and service that a society needs and wants for its survival.
Let me break this definition down so that we might better understand it. First of all, the term social institution. When human beings were living on a primitive level in small groups, each person was capable, for the most part, of providing for his own or his familys survival. However, as population grew, Logic or Jesus said that it didnt make sense for everyone to be doing the same job, and, the Law of Specialization and Organization kicked in. In many respects this corresponds to how we begin as biological beings. In the beginning we were a ball of stem cell that were all identical. But as they divided and subdivided, groups of them began to organize and take on specialized functions. Some took on the function of detecting light and became eyes; other became sensitive to sound and became ears; still others formed themselves into a pump that was able to pump blood and became a heart. This suggests another law called the Law of Correspondence where two things that are different correspond to each other in principle. Thus, in many ways, biological and social bodies correspond to each other because they follow similar laws.
Anyway, as population grew groups of people started to organize themselves to perform specialized functions. Some remained farmers and herders; others became carpenters; others teachers; still others became soldiers etc And, as the population continued to grow and the process of organization and specialization became even more complex, problems arose that Logic had to solve. When a good answer was found, it became institutionalized or built into the culture so that it would be passed on to succeeding generations. For example, let assume that all women were housewives who spent their days caring for children and taking care of their homes. However, one of them had learned how to read and write and each day she took some time to pass these skills on to her own children. When other mothers heard about this they began to send their own children over to her house to sit in on these lessons. Eventually, her house was packed with children and she had no time for her other duties. At this point either she had to stop giving the lessons or to find some way to be relieved of her housework. Since the society valued what she was doing with the children, they decided to build a separate structure called a schoolhouse. They offered her a salary; established a curriculum; set standards; tried to find other teachers; and established a hierarchial grade system that rewarded the children with a diploma when they finished. Thus, the personal act of teaching ones own children was turned into a social function that became institutionalized. The same could be said for father or mother who cut their childrens hair who then became institutionalized as barbers.
Thus, we could conclude that most, if not all, of the social institutions, such as marriage, the government, the court system, traffic laws etc, that make up a complex society were created by the logical left brain that has a flair for structure and organization. Theologically, we could make an even greater logical leap by saying that each of them was created by Jesus, the Logos within that is the source of our own logic. Thus, when we saythat we believe in Christ Jesus from whom all good things flow we are recognizing that this thing that we call civilization is a direct product of His presence in our lives.
The economy is just one of these social institution and it was created to perform a specific function. As our definition says, Economics, (or the economy) is a social institution created by the left lobe of the brain for the purpose of using the means of production to make and distribute the goods and service that a society needs and wants for its survival. The means of production simply refers to those things that are necessary to make goods and services. Economists say that there are four of them: the raw materials, the workers, the necessary money and tools, and someone to manage and plan the whole thing. Thus, all economic systems have to decide how much they have of each of these means and what is the best way to use them for the good of the society. Finally, after they have decided what to make in the way of goods and services, they have to decide some method for distributing them. How much food, clothing, housing, medical care, schooling, etc does each person get? Will it be the equal distribution of Communism where each person will work according to his/her ability and receive according to his/her need? Or will it be the unequal distribution of Capitalism in which ones job or contribution results in a greater share of the wealth? And that is what we are concern with here because the 20th century witnessed a Cold War between these two economic systems that threaten to take the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. So let me trace the development of some key economic steps that brought us to the present moment.
Most economic texts say that the first type of economic system was a barter economy in which one person traded with another for things they both needed. However, although it works up to a point, it has some serious difficulties. First, I have to find someone who has what I want and who wants what I have to give. Second, the things that we exchange must be near each other in value. For example, you wouldnt want to trade your cow for my basket of apples. Third, it is difficult to store value so that I can take my smaller item and put it aside until I have enough of it to equal the value of your cow. You may not want that many apples and they would rot anyway before I could get enough to equal the value of your cow. Thus, a barter economy has some major flaws and it needs an antithesis to challenge them.
The answer is a money economy in which some rare but relatively useless thing is assigned a high value that can be used to measure and store value. Thus, gold and silver, which aside from their attractiveness and artistic use, are both rare and, at least until the present time where they have become good conductors of electricity, had little practical value. Therefore, it didnt matter if you stored them away for long periods of time in a bank vault.
Looked at objectively, gold, silver, diamonds and other precious gems are simply ores and rocks taken from the earth. In St. Thomas Mores book Utopia the children were taught the wearing of them was an indication of mental retardation and when visiting dignitaries arrived in Utopia decked out in their symbols of wealth, the children would roar in laughter as they paraded down the street. In other words, they only have value so long as we agree to it and thus their value is arbitrary. Among the Spartan large stones were used for money and the American Indian used shells called wampum. However, whatever is used, all that matters is that the people using it agree upon its value and are willing to take in as a medium of exchange in economic transactions. In fact, today we have moved beyond gold and silver by replacing both with paper and paper is being replaced by plastic. We are starting to realize that anything will work so long as other will accept them in exchange for their goods or services. Thus money is a logical solution to the problems in a barter economy because it allow me to sell my tomatoes over a long period of time and save up the money that I made until I have enough to equal the value of your cow. Also, it allows us to measure each persons contribution to the common good through the amount of money that they are paid.
I think you will agree that the invention of money was a big step in solving the problem of distributing goods and services in a large complex society. And, once again, it was the Logos within us that led us to this solution. In fact, we could even say that the circulation of money in an economy corresponds to the circulation of blood in our bodies and thus whoever created our bodies was simply applying the same principles to our social institutions. Just as each cell receives its share of nourishment through the circulation of the blood, so each person is the society receives his/her share of the goods and services through the circulation of money. If the blood ever stopped circulating the body would die; if money ever stopped circulating, the social body would die.
Anyway, ever solution brings with it its own problems. As Hegel said, Any good idea taken to its extreme becomes a bad idea and that is what happened with money based on gold and silver. It appears that social institutions begin on the conscious and logical level and, after a time, they move to the unconscious and alogical level. In other words, in the beginning, people understand that the value of gold and silver is arbitrary and that they only work as money so long as people continue to agree on their value. However, as time passes, succeeding generations come to believe that they have some intrinsic value in themselves. In other words, we no longer know the logical reason or purpose that they serve.
For example, there is a tribe on the East Coast of Africa whose women have large extended lips that result from the insertion of larger and larger sticks into a hole in their lower lip. Eventually the hole is the size of a dinner plate and a clay disc is placed in it. Anthropologists tell us that this began as a logical response to the raids conducted by Arab, Muslim slave traders who, unlike the slave traders on the West Coast who were looking for field hands to work on the plantations in America, were looking for women to fill the harems and brothels of Arabia. Thus, they would raid a village and steal the young women. If this continued to happen the tribe would become extinct. Therefore, they began to disfigure the young women so that the slave traders would reject them. It was a logical solution to a serious problem and in the beginning everyone understood why it had to be done. However, hundreds of years later, when the Muslim slave traders no longer invaded the villages, this tribe continues the practice. An abnormality had become normalized and institutionalized and now they defended the practice, even though it caused pain and health problems for the girls, simply because, within their memory, it had always been done. In fact, the men in this tribe valued girls according to the extension of their lips.
In the same way, as time passed gold and silver in Europe became valued in their own right independent of their value as a medium of exchange. This led to an economic system in Europe known as Mercantilism which was the reigning theory around the time that America was discovered. The ruling monarchs of that time believed that the wealth of any nation depended on how much gold and silver they had stored in their vaults. Thus, Europeans explorers, such as Cortez and Pizzaro, lusted after the gold and silver of the native Indians. In fact, the Indians, who did not value these metals in the same way, questioned why these explorers were willing to go to such extreme lengths in order to get them. When the explorers claimed that Europeans had a disease for which gold and silver were a cure, the Indians, when they captured Spanish soldiers, would pour molten ore into their mouths.
Therefore, because of the reigning economic theory, all the European nations were trying to acquire as much gold and silver as they could without surrendering any of it to any other nation. They were willing to sell to other nations to get their gold but they tried to not buy anything back in order to preserve their own gold supply. They also tried to keep all money in the family by forbidding their colonists to trade with any other country than the Mother country. This became one of the major causes of the American Revolution as the colonists tired of paying higher prices for English good and being forbidden to sell their own goods and services for a higher price to other nations.
Trade, instead of expanding to everyones benefit, was restricted by laws designed by the crown to keep their gold supply intact. Eventually, the economic theory of Mercantilism developed an antithesis known as Capitalism. In 1776, Adam Smith, a Scotch professor, wrote a book called The Wealth of Nations in which he said what good was it that the kings treasury was full of gold and silver if the economy did not produce enough goods and service to satisfy the needs and wants of the common man. The wealth of any nation, he said, was not the amount of gold and silver that it possessed but the amount of goods and services that it produced and so long as the government place restrictions on economic activities, there would never be enough for everybody. Therefore he called for a free economy in which every person would be free to follow his own self interests without any restrictions from a central authority. It sound so simple and obvious now but it was neither to the people of that time. It was a revolutionary insight that is still having repercussions throughout the world.
Smith called for a free economy in which each person would be free to choose his own economic self interest. His motto was laissez faire which was French for keep your hands off. Dont tell people what job or trade they must follow. Dont tell merchants what prices they must charge. Dont tell producers what goods and services they must produce or the quantity in which they must produce them. Dont tell people where they can buy or sell. In short, dont try to control the economy. Let everyone free to make his own economic decisions.
Of course, like any new theory, there was an immediate reaction against it. How could you let people chose their own work or trade? If society is to survive the jobs that are being done now must be taken over by the next generation if they are to continue to serve society. Therefore, every child should be required to follow the same trade as his father to assure that it will be done in the future. Also, if the government doesnt fix prices and control profits, then merchants will be free to overcharge their customers and, if the government doesnt set quotas for the amount of goods and services that should be produced, then there will be surpluses in one area and shortages in others. Well have too many toothpicks and not enough shoes. And, if people are allowed to buy and sell where they please, the gold supply of the nation will dwindle if they choose to buy foreign goods. A free economy sounds nice but it will ultimately lead to chaos.
To illustrate how peoples initial reaction to the idea of a free economy was, I say to my students that I always throw a cookout party for them at the end of the course. However, since I dont have enough money to pay for all the food, each of them will have to bring something. Then I list the things that we will need: hamburger, hot dog, chicken, rolls, salt and pepper, soda, pickles, etc However, no one should tell anyone else what they intend to bring or the quantity that they will provide. My students look at me in disbelief. This cookout is going to be a disaster they protest because we going to end up with too much of some items and not enough of others. People might bring rolls and nobody will bring the hamburgers and hot dog to go on them. A cookout like this has to be planned. You just cant allow people to decide what and how much they are going to bring.
Exactly! And that is how people reacted to the idea that the economy should be free and that people should be allow to work where they wanted and produce what they wanted at the price they wanted to charge. It would never work. An economy, like a cookout, has to be planned.
And yet here we are over two hundred years later with the most vibrant and productive economy in the history of Mankind. How is this possible?
Well, it seems that Capitalism operates according to the laws of nature where a natural balance is created automatically through self-interest and competition. Each species is totally dedicated to its own survival and is competing with other species for the means that are necessary for its survival. The zoologist call this the laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest. If at any time a species fails to meet the demands for survival it will decrease or become extinct. By the same token, if at any time a worker or a businessman fails to meet the competition from other workers or businessmen, they too will decrease or cease to exist. The worker who demands too high of a wage will lose his job to someone who will work for less; the businessman who charges too much for his product will lose out to his competitor who charges less. The whole system is automatic and self-adjusting and is controlled by the invisible hand of self-interest and competition. As strange as it seems, the natural greed of competing human beings will drive them to make a better product at a lower price even though their basic motive is their own self-interest. However, there were other problems with this system. By the very fact that it was based on the laws of nature, it was jungle law which, although it might work for animals, was too cruel and crude for human beings.
Thus, there were moral objections from churchmen who were suspicious of any system based on profit and self interest. After all, werent we all brothers and sisters and shouldnt we avoid taking advantage of each other. A good Christian should not lend money at interest; nor should he take advantage of his neighbor by trying to profit from his misfortune. For example, suppose your neighbor had just bought a $2000 entertainment center and a few weeks later discovered that his wife had cancer. Faced with rising medical bills, he indicates that he needs to sell the entertainment center and you see this as a opportunity to pick it up cheap. Wrong! says the Church. You should see this as an opportunity to help him by giving or lending him money, not as an opportunity to benefit yourself. Or, suppose you bought a dress for $50 and a friend starts to admire it and offers to buy it for $75. Do you sell it to her for $75 or do you tell her where to buy it for $50. Once again the Church during this time says that you may not sell something to someone else for more than you paid for it. Or, what if you sell fans and a sudden, unexpected heat wave hit your area. People are sweltering in the heat and the demand for fan far exceeds the supply. Would it be alright for you to take advantage of this situation by charging whatever the market will bear? Again, the Church says No! You have a moral obligation to sell your product at a fair price independent of the law of supply and demand.
Thus, Capitalism when it was first introduced was opposed for economic and moral reasons. However, fundamentalist preachers in their zeal to oppose Communism, often act like Capitalism is part of our Christian heritage. They seem to be totally unaware that it was once considered by their ancestors to be a spawn of the devil. Of course, part of the reason is that Marxist Communism, even though it was based on cooperation and community, was atheistic, while Capitalism, which was based on self-interest and competition, at least gave lip-service to God. Thus, a strange paradox has resulted. Communist who say they dont believe in God, often act like they do. And Capitalists, who say they do believe God, often act like they dont.
Communist countries tend to be very Puritanical in their morals. They ban things like rock and roll, pornography, and decadent Capitalistic styles in clothing. In fact, because of their desire to plan everything, we could rightly say that they favor the left lobe of the brain. Capitalistic countries, on the other hand, under the banner of freedom and free expression are often the greatest producers of sexually explicit movies, magazine, and styles. We might also says that Capitalism is a right lobe economy because of its amoral attitude and its great creativity.
And what is the Churchs opinion about these two systems. The Church, as it does on so many other issues, sits squarely between the two. It is neither Capitalistic nor Communistic. It accepts and rejects parts of both system.
When it comes to Capitalism, it supports the idea of private property and the natural right of each person to keep what he or she has earned. However, it rejects the cut-throat type of competition which show no concern for the needs of the workers or of our fellow humans beings. Pope Leo XIII wrote extensively on the needs of the workers and the obligation of the employers to pay their workers a just wage.
When it comes to Communism, even our present Pope says that there are aspects of Communism that he finds acceptable. The Church supports the Communists emphasis on social justice and their desire to provide for a more equitable distribution of the wealth. However, it opposes it atheistic attitude and its elimination of the natural right to private property. It also opposes any system that places loyalty to the state above all other loyalties.
In fact, the Church from its inception included elements of Communism. In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that they sold what they owned and placed the money into a common pot. And, of course, all of the religious communities are communistic in the Christian sense of the word. The only people I know who ever really followed Marxs ideal that everyone should work according their ability and received according to their needs were the nuns that taught me.
Thus, today, as the world moves towards a New World Order, we are trying to sort out what is best in both systems so that we might create a synthesis. Those who favor Communism, like the Secular Humanist, yearn for a paternalistic welfare state that , through taxation, will act like a Robin Hood who takes from the rich to give to the poor. Thus, in Socialistic nations like Sweden, the tax rate ranges somewhere between 50 to 75%.
Those who favor Capitalism want to reduce the governments role in all of our lives by privatizing as many government functions as possible. Their motto is the government that governs least, governs best and this is related to another one of their pet issues, the government that taxes least, governs best. Thus, we see this drama being worked out in the political contest between the so-called tax and spend Democrats and tax reducing and program eliminating Republicans. It remains to be seen whether there is a center ground where a creative synthesis can be formed.
It is my belief that the Church, when it finally recovers its vision, is the synthesis for which we are looking.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom