Monday, November 17, 2008

Building Economic and Social Models-

Occasionally I spend some time speculating about how the world will be in the not-too-distant future. At times my intuitive speculations work out. I foresaw the period of economic stability in the 1990's, and was actually surprised that the bubble burst so far from the turn of the century. We had five more years than I anticipated.

What was my prediction based on? Mostly my understanding that people don't really want to mess with something that is working well at the beginning of a period of prosperity and stability. I remembered the periods of inflation and shortages of fuel and some items such as sugar. Most people making decisions were familiar with those things, as well. Huge interest rates, big swings in the market.

I think that most of the people monkeying with the system gave up after those volatile times, and the economy was permitted to flow more naturally and freely. As it stabilized and some emergent technologies began to integrate into the general flow of the economy, nobody wanted to do anything particularly radical.

Perhaps the best example was when the Republicans pretty much reelected Bill Clinton for his second term. Not that anyone was actually thinking that Clinton was responsible for the period of prosperity. Just that nobody wanted to alter things too much. Don't mess with it. Let it grow naturally.

So, we had a good run. However, it became comfortable enough for some people who made a crap load of money in this period to try to turn that crap load into a shit load of money. Monkeys. It finally tipped a bit, and other monkeys put in their hands to get a piece before it all fell apart.

Of course, emerging economies such as China and India had a significant impact as well. It shifted the demand side of the equation and certainly opened things up for speculation. The comfortable became uncomfortable, and they began trying to control things. Too many monkeys.

Along with this is the unknown element of multinational corporations. People could no longer align their interests simply along national lines.

Add to the mix the massive flow of information across the Internet. Not just "things I want to know" information. Money. Property. The blurring of the lines between virtual worlds and the world we perceive as real. Information is power, but power flowing out of control is chaotic. It is explosive.

While I truly believe in Libertarian principles, I recognize that they won't really form the foundation for a model for societies or their economies. I will continue to promote liberty, because I see it threatened. However, the Libertarian model really won't work.

I really can't come up with a model. The world has become smaller even in my individual experience. In recent years I have interacted with people around the world. I have touched and been touched by people in distant lands and different cultures via the Internet. Each day, as I reach out through the new media, I am changed and being changed.

A small world does not really allow for great personal liberty. In this I think Japan is a model. A large population living in a limited space created a culture that is not particularly Libertarian. It is a culture that is ruled by conventions.

That being said, Japanese people have found ways to be creative and inwardly free. I do not know how to think and feel Japanese, so I really don't know to what degree an individual living as a member of that culture might long for and realize personal freedom. Still, when I look upon that culture from outside I see things that look like individual expressions of personal liberty.

I don't think Japan is our model, however. Nor the changing cultures and economies of Europe. American culture has a large influence, but it is not big enough for the world. For all of our American bluster and shared egos, we are not sufficient. The Neo-Cons are wrong in thinking that America should dominate the world in this century. We are not big enough.

No existing nation or culture is big enough. This is a huge shift, and nobody really has a model that is comprehensive enough to represent what is going on in the world.

I will keep watching, and keep thinking. I may not have a model, but my intuition tells me that things will be exciting.

Exciting, in the best and worst senses of the word.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Gentle Marxist-

Some years ago a friend of mine, Mike Wilson, invited me to come and visit his philosophy class. The class had a Marxist coming in as a guest speaker. Mike and I had spent much time in discussing our Christian faith and what kind of philosophy might come from that faith. He respected my opinions and even more he valued my questions.

Questions have always been my strength. I tend to be good with questions, especially questions that would lead myself as well as the person I was questioning toward deeper understanding of ourselves and our subject matter. Mike wanted to bring this strength into the class and see what happened.

A large part of what happened was me probing gently into the nature of this man's Marxism. He was a gentle soul, and truly believed that Marxism offered a step forward out of the selfishness and emptiness of our current society. I used my questions to aid him in clarifying his position.

His Marxism was remarkably pure. Most of the expressions of Marxism since the days of Marx have been modified forms, often brutal. I do regret I cannot recall this Marxist's name, but I cannot. To me he is the Gentle Marxist, because of his choice of how he was spreading the Marxist doctrine.

We both agreed that Marx considered his social and economic model to be an evolutionary step in human development. A kind of economic Darwinian evolution. We also both agreed that no state in our present world had really "matured" (in the Marxist sense) to be ripe for true Marxism. We even both agreed that the Communist states then in existence were not truly Marxist states, but something else entirely.

This Gentle Marxist was working in adult literacy. He was using the same tool that Christians had used in advancing Christianity. The power of the written word. However, instead of teaching literacy using the Bible he was using the teachings of Marx. He was acting in kindness and a genuine belief that he was laying the groundwork for the coming Marxist revolution.

To be quite honest, I understand the drive toward true Marxism under the circumstances Marx described as catalytic to the revolution. Great wealth held by few who dominated by using that power and repressed the working class. Such a circumstance would demand some form of revolution, and an ideal state such as Marx's pure communism would be a fantastic alternative.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that humans are on the verge of a great evolutionary step, and that this evolution would lead to a pure communist state. Even under the circumstances that would bring about the worker's revolution the workers remain selfish and imperfect. They would ultimately seek their own good over the good of the masses, and some would seek more than their share.

The Christian doctrine is of humanity in need of redemption. We do not need an improved economic model, we need a fundamental change of our sinful nature. We need the salvation that is in the completed work of Christ on the Cross, not a redistribution of wealth. We need people motivated by the love of God, acting out that love in whatever economy they might happen to live within.

I sometimes wonder if the Gentle Marxist I met that day might have eventually come to embrace the Christian faith, and experienced a shift in his philosophy. Several of the Communists I had previously known had done so. Would the zeal survive the transition? It doesn't always.

The Gentle Marxist did set a valuable example. He was meeting real needs, and sharing his philosophy as he did so. He was acting as a secular evangelist. The best Christian evangelists generally act in the same way. Meeting needs and sharing Christ. Many other Christians fall far short of the example of the Gentle Marxist. That is quite sad.

I am not sure that the economic model under which we live is particularly important. More important is freedom. Freedom to think, and freedom to share thoughts. Freedom to meet needs and have needs met. In an environment of that kind of freedom the love of God could be freely shared. An economy that allowed for such freedom could be lived within, no matter what name it held.

In the end the Gentle Marxist and I found ourselves in two different philosophical camps. Religion in general and Christianity in particular do not fit within the teachings of Marx, and so a true Marxist must oppose such philosophies. Our Gentle Marxist ultimately could not allow the freedom of which I just wrote to stand.

That said, it is not the communist economic model that is a problem but the opposition of Marx to religion. In that point there is conflict. Indeed, the problem with the economic model is not a failure of the model itself, but the selfish nature of humans. Without compulsion they would not hold to the altruism of mutually shared resources. Always there will be the feathering of nests.

Like Plato's Philosopher Kings the voluntary communists of Marx's philosophy sharing the means of production and the fruits of labor equitably is nothing but a dream. Humans are flawed individually and corporately, and in need of redemption and resurrection to make them whole.

Only Jesus Christ offers that. I hope our Gentle Marxist finds the way.