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Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Golden Rule and the Rule of Gold

How do you tell the difference between honorable wealth and unjust riches? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1309).

In pure capitalism prices are determined by the market. But in terms of labor the market alone is not sufficient for a fair and just distribution of wealth; in capitalism, almost by definition, capital rules. That is, the labor market sets a price below the true value of the worker who generates wealth for the capitalist. The owner of capital usually has sufficient labor supply available such that labor scarcity does not enter into the equation in many instances. Thus unpleasant as it may be ideologically speaking, it is necessary to administer the price of labor to a certain degree (as with minimum wage legislation).

Another way of saying this is that the concentrated power of capital trumps the weak and vulnerable position of labor . The power imbalance is often egregious. This may not be the case in some exceptional instances – such as the power imbued by the limited supply of brain surgeons. But we must get accustomed to the idea that exceptional cases make for bad general policy.

How is the price of wages to be administered? What is a fair wage? In many instances the answer is imponderable and the prescribed red-tape prohibitive and paralyzing. Thus regulation cannot determine all prices. However, it should be clear that if a person is working two jobs totaling 40 hours or more, he or she should be able to make a living wage and not be imprisoned in poverty. The capitalist is clearly favored by the status quo and has the upper hand and will no doubt resist change that would increase the power and influence of labor, especially of the most humble sort. Unfortunately within the political economy, the capital/labor remuneration equation can be a zero-sum game. Nothing can obfuscate this unpleasant fact.

Public policy must reflect fairness and justice rather than economic ideological purity even in a system patriotically characterized as capitalistic. To do otherwise would be to make an idol of a conjectured economic structure, a configuration that is inherently imperfect when applied in the real world. And why are corrective measures necessary?—because we are a nation “under God” which acknowledges principles of justice and fairness not realized by egocentric drives for power and profits. Right is not determined by might—not even that of economic power and property or the invisible hand of self-interest. Any unlimited drive—especially that of self-interest in an imperfect market—is self-defeating and ultimately self-defacing. Only in theory are markets free. The characteristics of capital (such that it can be stored over time) ensure that vast inequities exist in the market making it singularly hostile to establishing a fair playing field and severely burdening some by the heavy weight of history. That is, some make their entry into economic life severely handicapped. Are we really ready to assert before God Almighty who through providence can level any playing field with one sweep of his mighty hand that we are not in the least interested in His Golden Rule plainly set before us as the abiding standard for addressing social needs?

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