Economics in Theological Thought

 

 

Money: Man’s Invention

A Poem by Mike Garner

 

Theology – Economy

Endless accumulation

Appropriation without morals

Making legal - systemic suffering of the poor

Gluttonous abuse devouring humanity

Where is God?

 

Introduction

        I will approach this subject from the recognition that the study of economic systems requires the thought of theology, the demands of justice, the critique of philosophy, and the regulation of law so that a well-informed person can speak about economics in a way that is healing to the people of the world. The globalization of economics has heightened the impact of a monetized world with the distribution of power to persons that govern the earth’s resources who are not elected officials. Elected officials are to be held accountable to the people and the law, in the case of billionaires their power is not drawn from the state, and the law is on their side rather than the demands of justice.

      Billionaires and corporate executives have become the god’s of the earth with personal wealth, power, and influence that disallow the workings of democracy. The economic holdings of these persons are transnational and rule over the land and the labor of humanity at large. The endless appropriation of wealth present in our economic systems is inconsistent with scripture and indicative of an evil that produces more pain and suffering in the world than war.

 

A Summary on Scriptural Teaching for Just Economics

 

Foundational Teachings from the Mythopoeic Stories of Genesis

 

       The story of Cain, who commits the first murder and the first act of fratricide, is scripture’s first critique on economic development, development that is dependent upon the building of the first city. A theology of the city begins with this ideology that the cities are built on murder. Cities require economic exchange so that tax can be accumulated even on perishable items or temporary services such as labor. The city must be built, must be maintained and as an ideology supports a broken ethic that presents the survival of the city as more important than its citizens. On the other hand, cities give birth to hospitals and universities and a home for the arts, a place for painters and thespians, for intellectuals and philosophers, for inventors and scientists. Yet at the heart of the city lies the driving power of its growth, which is the abstract value placed on human production and participation in society. It is this social stratification that opposes the egalitarian claims of the preceding creation narratives where every person bears the image of God and every human life is sacred (even Cain’s).

      The story of the ‘sons of god’ and the ‘fallen ones’ of Genesis six is about the end of social stratification; meaning social stratification is a self-destructive practice. The billionaire class of Genesis chapter six take women for purposes of multiplying their seed. This is their attempt at eternal life, to be remembered as fathering superior human beings.  Women are merely for breeding and selected based upon their beauty; it is feasible to include height and intelligence. The ‘sons of god’ or ‘fallen ones’ through longevity have acquired wealth and power. They are the beneficiaries of the cities and follow the way of Cain. The violence of social stratification, of abusing women (taking), of eugenics (breeding) all result in the earth’s rejection of humanity’s world (the flood).[1]

     The final story in the collection of Genesis 1-11 is the tower building enterprise of humanity to unite collectively and withstand the hostility of the world. Eve reached for the fruit and defied the structures of reality; humanity reaches for the stars in an effort to escape their groundedness rather than receive life as gift from God. The misplaced effort to achieve life, to be qualified as spirit, is halted by God. God’s design for humanity, our diversity is maintained through the limits of life that produce language. Language is culturally influenced; language and culture are complicated and resist the empire building plans of humanity so the place is called Babel (Babylon). Theologically the story asserts that all empire’s fail. Humanity cannot be united as one and all attempts to do so will collapse economically or through warring or both. Failure to respect God’s diversity in humanity is anti-Christ, crossing borders is to be an act of peace not power.

The Economics of Moses

       It is apparent in Deuteronomy chapter fifteen that Moses recognized the endless appropriation of wealth to be as problematic and unhealthy for a people as unending debt. Wealth divides human beings, divides families, divides in a destructive way; forgiveness unites human beings, families and heals. Of course indebtedness and poverty are the result of numerous causes. So Moses follows up his thought in the first three verses of Deut. 15 with a command that the constant effort to abolish poverty is to work towards ‘no poor among you’ (Deut. 15:4). Meaning a just society is to provide more than a safety net, they are responsible to share the wealth of the land with all members so that the economic system can be set aside and resources provided for people regardless of ability to pay.

   As Deuteronomy fifteen unfolds further Moses portrays an economic policy where lending to people who are not members of Israel is permitted. However, they are not to indebt themselves as an economic power to other nation states. The ability to accomplish this feat is dependent upon Israel’s obedience to abolish poverty through social structures of debt forgiveness and sharing the resources of the land. The land is God’s gift in scripture and there is enough for everyone. Sharing is an ethic for living that brings God’s blessing. Within the heart of this passage is the inclusion of others into Israel’s economic practices and sharing if those persons recognize Israel’s God. It is also within the heart of the passage to claim that the endless indebting of other peoples is inconsistent with Israel’s God. Scripture always leaves room for human beings to work out their decision-making processes free from the exercise of legal dialectics. The chapter continues to encourage with warning and blessing.

It is theologically correct to say that every economic decision is an ethical decision to be made in relation to others.

     Moses’ declares that God is watching each person’s heart, concerning his or her use of money. He warns them not to hold back lending because the appointed time for debt forgiveness of every seven years is near. The fight against poverty in Deuteronomy is perennial. This suggests that the law is insufficient because it allows for indebtedness to last up to seven years when God would prefer that we learned to live without indebting one another.

     Employees were to be treated with dignity and contracted labor (slave or servant) must come to an end. In only seven years a person if they so choose is to be blessed enough as to be able to go out and start their own self-sustaining living. The boss or employer was to treat his / her contract servants so well that they would voluntarily choose to stay and serve their entire lives. The seven years was to either be an apprenticeship blessed with the ability to live apart from their employer, or a permanent opportunity to work for a human being of kindness and exceptional managerial skills.

The Prophets and God’s View on Excess

    The prophets demand justice and they do not explain on how to implement it. They speak from the vantage point of God. Poverty is oppression and regardless of how one becomes poor, the wealthy are held accountable for the state of the poor. The prophets suffer from the call to speak when darkness is all around and before judgment arrives. They are salt and light, vestiges of hope and purveyors of doom. The pathos of God overcomes them and their speech is electric, radical, immediate, and without diplomacy or respect to the powerful. I will offer a few examples:

 

   Amos rebukes the excessive living of Israel.

 

Thus says the LORD:

For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals—

they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,

and push the afflicted out of the way;

(Amos 2:6-7a,b)

Amos rebukes excessive living.

 

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,

and lounge on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock,

and calves from the stall;

who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,

and like David improvise on instruments of music;

who drink wine from bowls,

and anoint themselves with the finest oils,

(Amos 6:4-6)

   

 

Jeremiah warns of economic entrapment of the innocent.

 

For scoundrels are found among my people;

they take over the goods of others.

Like fowlers they set a trap;

they catch human beings.

Like a cage full of birds,

their houses are full of treachery;

therefore they have become great and rich,

they have grown fat and sleek.

They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;

they do not judge with justice

the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,

and they do not defend the rights of the needy.

(Jer. 5:26-28)

Jesus’ Philosophical Theology on Money

    

      Jesus’ vision of God, his grasp of the reign of God, of the existential facets of eternal life, of God’s rest, and of the way of God for humanity, all culminate in Paul’s understanding of being in Christ. It is from this reality that Jesus speaks the following words on money.

 

No man can serve two masters:

for either he will hate the one, and love the other;

or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.

Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

(Matt. 6:24)

 

     Jesus’ offers an aphorism that reflects the consummation of a theological statement on economics as money. Jesus presents the power of money as an invading reality on human beings; invading because money competes with God for our love.

       Jesus’ portrayal of God and Mammon as masters requires the servant to be obedient; we learn the identity of the two masters in the last line. Love is the appropriate way to relate to God; therefore since Mammon competes as a master, then hate is the appropriate way to relate to money. In parallel lines Jesus’ drives his point with synonymous emotions of love and hold or hate and despise. In the final line, Jesus’ personifies money as mammon setting God alongside Mammon.

     Money is a human invention, an abstract reality that places the value of a human beings life with metal (and paper, even digits in a computer).  The person that loves God must learn to hate the power of money that rules over humanity. Jesus mocked money by paying taxes out of a fish’s mouth. God created the fish, it brings life and nourishment, a coin is an image bearing power in conflict with the Decalogue. Jesus’ exposed the Pharisees who loved the image bearing coin of Caesar and quickly displayed their coin when seeking to indict Jesus for a crime against the empire.

     ‘How to hate money’ is a legitimate Christian question. Teaching people to hate money in a way that produces life, in spite of the presence and imposed need for money is a Christian activity.

   John the Revelator presents money as a consuming power ready to imprison the entire world in its grip. A power that halts bartering, stops sharing, demands payment, requires life for failing to possess its power.

 

A Monetized World

     

      Special Economic Zones and Exploited Labor

 

       SEZ’s or special economic zones are areas within developing (poorer) nations where foreign investors are enticed with special regulations that are different from the rest of the host nation. These special regulations include tax incentives and lower tariffs. In these zones, corporations avoid direct accountability for labor law violations through the use of subcontractors and employee labor contracts. Economic zone businesses seek to establish an environment free from labor law implementation.

       Economic zone terminology identifies EPZ’s as regimes. This authoritarian term is also applied to the governance of employees. The suspension of a nation’s laws for the courting of international commerce creates areas where the presence of global capitalism functions under regulations that can be negotiated and benefit the corporation without concern for the welfare of the host nations people.  SEZ’s are known to be labor-intensive areas of production.

      In nations like the Philippines and Panama, former U.S. military bases possess the natural isolation and infrastructure that is particularly inviting to foreign investors. China’s use of economic zones includes ports, cities, and an entire province. There is over 4,300 economic zones in the world; this number represents the attempt of developing nations to attract global capital and business. Not all zones are successful and SEZ failure results in closure. The success of SEZ’s in China has come at the expense of exploited labor. This is also so for the success of the Hanjin corporation in Subic Bay, Philippines.

      Hanjin’s shipbuilding operation in Subic is owned by the South Korean conglomerate HHIC (Hanjin Heavy Industries Corporation) and includes Korean Air. In February 2006 the Hanjin Corporation began their shipbuilding business in the Philippines.  The shipbuilding enterprise employees over 26,000 persons and is set to add an additional 10,000 employees in 2016, it is the fourth largest shipbuilding business in the world.

      The economic zone in Subic is managed by the SBMA (Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority). The former U.S. military base is a sprawling 262 square miles of prime land surrounding the deep-water port. The two major U.S. bases of Clark and Subic are both designated economic zones and are connected by a Japanese built expressway that allows ease of travel whether driving from Manila or from one zone to the other. Public transportation (buses and jeepneys) and those unable to pay the expressway fee must use the winding roads that pass through the many towns lining the countryside.

      The neighboring city of Olongapo lacks any developmental evidence of benefit from the wealth held in the economic zone or from the prosperity of the Hanjin shipyard. The economic zone serves as a getaway for the wealthy. The SBMA hosts two zoos, zip-line rides, a sea-world like park, a world class mall, multiple warehouse type shopping centers with food that most Filipino people cannot afford. Former military officer housing is leased and rented by the SBMA and sublet by leases. On the SBMA are first-class restaurants and a marina for yachts. The majority of the 222,000 people of Olongapo cannot afford to eat on the Economic Zone. 

      Prostitution in the area was first established to service the troops of the U.S. military. The new visiting forces agreement is sure to increase the sale of women that takes place on both sides of the river that separates the economic zone from Olongapo and Subic Zambales. The economy of the area has not changed enough to rid the area of the blight of prostitution brought on by poverty and maintained by the excess wealth of a few. 

      HHIC (Hanjin) shipyard in Subic has achieved 5billion dollars in sales in five years. The shipyard sits on a 200-hectare area and its estimated value is 1.7 billion dollars. Yet the current wage (2015) of a Filipino shipbuilder (welder) is $.94 cents per hour. It is difficult to nail down the net income of the HHIC shipyard, use of subcontractors and statements of income are not readily available. However, Hanjin is flourishing and it is certain that lots of money is being made. The investment of Hanjin was recovered in four years; at this rate, a minimum estimated net profit would be around $300,000,000 per year. Unfortunately, the cost in human suffering for the success of Hanjin’s shipyard is borne by Filipino workers who are not paid a living wage.

      Hanjin’s shipyard has difficulty keeping their shipbuilding employees. During my times working in the Subic Zambales area, I noted that I continually met local men who had been schooled as welders but left Hanjin. Their complaints included unsafe working conditions, failure to receive a copy of the employment contract they were required to sign, and coerced to work double 10 hour shifts. All of these men expressed the attitude of the Koreans toward Filipinos to be one of superiority.

       There are nineteen subcontractors that manage the workers. These employee management firms serve as a buffer for any liability by Hanjin. Technically the employees work for the management firms. After completing their training the workers pay is attached with a 3 percent deduction to cover their training expenses. One-fourth of their pay is spent on bus fees or other forms of transportation to get to and from the shipyard. At 94 cents per hour, it is apparent that providing a living wage is not the goal of Hanjin.

      The employee management companies have imported young men from across the archipelago to work at Hanjin. These young men do not speak the local dialect, are separated from their families and often do not even know how to operate an ATM machine (their paychecks are electronic deposits). When arriving they are placed in the former Quonset hut housing used by U.S. Marines. They will pay for their training and housing and be subject to signing a five-year contract without knowing the challenges and conditions they will work under. They will also sign a document stating they are responsible for their own safety.

       In my exposure to the Korean community it was apparent they viewed the Filipino populace as people unequal to Koreans. The evangelical Korean church did not see the Filipino populace as persons to be served with the benefits of education. Korean cultural ideology of superiority over Filipinos is present in the complaints of Hanjin’s Filipino employees. Since its inception the shipyard’s Filipino employees have complained of mistreatment, charges include being hit in the head with a Maglite, kicked and punched by Korean bosses. Korean’s have also entered the sex-industry in the Philippines and Koran owned bars for Korean sex tourists are common in Angeles City and other areas of concentrated sex tourism.

       As of September 2014, 38 Filipino workers have died in accidents at the Hanjin facility. Their families receive a payment of 85,000 pesos (around $2,000). The money is released after family members sign documents releasing Hanjin from all responsibility. The number of men injured passed five thousand in 2009. Still, the Filipino workers do not have government representation for worker’s rights. Filipino workers have attempted to unionize with their organization Samahan but have been refused registration with DOLE (Department of Labor Employment).

Born in Debt 

Across the earth millions are born debtors, their lives set on a course of suffering, their nation is a debtor nation and their lives, their land, their economy is determined by a monetized world and a few nations who hold them hostage.

       Not all debtor nations are poor. However, poor nations are held in unrelenting debt through programs that inhibit economic growth and cause abject poverty. These programs are the efforts of the IMF and the World Bank to bind a debtor nation to economic policies that allow international corporations access to the nation's resources; both land and people. The programs were initially referenced as structural adjustment programs (SAP) and later named poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSP). These programs are forced upon a debtor nation through more loans that are provided if the nation adheres to the economic strategy of the PRSP.

      International banking systems of the IMF and World Bank serve the political power of economic colonizing by these eight nations; France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, Canada, and Russia who collectively decide the poverty reduction strategies.

     The PRSP is a legal device to require that a nation allow more imports, export more of its resources, liberalize its markets for foreign investors, and in order to make payments cut back on social services including health and education. The PSRP agreements include requiring the debtor nation to offer public owned enterprises for sale to international corporations. Often G8 nations have withheld aid during times of great need until a debtor nation agreed to the terms of an SAP or the later PRSP.

In effect, a bank runs the whole world.

       Debtor nations held in the bondage of debt are unable to produce or use the technology to compete with developing nations. For example a debtor nation is required to ship its unprocessed lumber, along the way the lumber must be processed in a developed nation and the processing adds more to the cost of the lumber than the initial purchase from the developing nations. This kind of activity keeps the wealthy nation rich and powerful and the debtor nation subject to exploitation and instability. The instability is not limited to economics, but inward because the people suffer and seek change in their government.

     The poverty so easily viewed across Africa, Central and South America, parts of Asia, all from the window of a jetliner is indicative of a world of injustice. The god named mammon rules the world from ivory towers. The alleged complexity of the global economic system is all a façade to allow academics to write lengthy studies on how to end poverty through a failed system of indebtedness. The world has become a microcosm reflective of Egypt, and the land ofGoshen, the land of slaves, is the home of God’s people.

     Moses understood a long time ago that a people living in a monetized world must learn to forgive debt; in particular the debt of the poor. Moses understood that a people seeking to be a model for others would flourish through the practice of debt forgiveness within their own borders and be able to loan to other nations. I think Moses knew that such a nation would be able to forgive debt to another nation that learned to live justly and instituted the Torah legislation of debt forgiveness for their people.    Excessive living is the practice of a person who is disconnected from reality. It is the practice of the rich man who ignored Lazarus and woke up in his tormented state of separation from the father of Israel. Excessive living is un-spiritual; it is the enemy of the poor.

 

[1] Mabbul is the Hebrew word for the flood and is applied to the eruption of chaotic waters. The mythopoeic stories of Genesis culminate in the rejection of humanity’s path for living. God in the stories is the creator who structured reality in a way that rejects the way of humanity. So, God is the originator of the mabbul. However, the theological message that links to redemption is that God saves humanity in spite of their violence and in spite of their self-destructive ways lets them live. It is the redemptive work of God that follows. It is the story of God entering history through Abraham and his descendants to reveal God’s desire for humanity and show us the way.