Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Discovering Bad Thinking and Bias of Which I Was Unaware

In the experience of my Christian Life I am from time to time faced with the hard fact that I have been harboring an unfounded bias; that in my processing and my world view, I have held to untruth; that my thoughts processed the world around me with a plank that was rotten. Because the air I breath is so pregnant with the false concept I don't even smell it. Unawares until somehow it is brought to light and raised to my conscious evaluation for the first time. THE BOOK I AM NOW READING is exposing me to biases I never knew I held. It is revealing my own ignorance in certain areas. And best of all, so-called AXIOMS and TRUTHS which I years ago adopted, when drinking unawares from the influences around me are now falling away as the LIGHT of Understanding dispels the darkness of my own embraced falsehoods. Maybe I'm overstating the case - but I'm excited about the content of what I'm reading in Jay W. Richards book, Money Greed And God - Why Capitalism Is The Solution And Not The Problem.

Pretty strong words, huh?

When I hear the phrase: "That man is a capitalist." or if I am to say, "By all means I myself am a capitalist in which I favor a capitalist free market system," there is something within me that cringes. The word, "Capitalist" for some reason has connotations of greed and twinges of guilt afflict me. If I do use the word, it is very important that it be qualified as in "I don't mean that greedy kind of capitalism." Culture and Hollywood has colored my feelings for a market system that has made the citizens of the United States of America much more prosperous than their socialistic, or communistic, or tyrannical counterparts across the globe. The far majority of us that are poor, are poor so relative to those that are quite rich. But yet the majority of us that are poor have a car or two, a TV, even half of us that are poor own our home, have satellite. But in those countries where the property rights of individuals are not protected providing ability and incentive to invest and improve upon what they have there is a horrific amount of ABSOLUTE POVERTY. Children dying of starvation and preventable diseases (every year 10 million), slavery, massive slums, over 1 billion people living on less that $1 a day. Whereas in the United States of America even the income for most of the poorest of us increases annually yet in poorest African countries the income per person has fallen by 25% in the last twenty years.

It is absolute poverty in situations where 11 million children die before their fifth birthday.

The book, Money Greed and God, speaks to poverty and methods to alleviate it. And the author believes and sets forth that Capitalism Is The Solution And Not The Problem.

A couple of quick examples from the book, Money Greed and God:

(1) Richards shows that the free market system of Capitalism is a WIN-WIN system. No time for me to reiterate his argument here, but his case is compelling. I probably before reading his book might have acquiesced with this statement. But yet with some nagging reservations that someone must lose while someone else wins. But very strongly and in easy-to-understand illustrations Richards demonstrates why this is so.

(2) For me to gain in wealth someone else must lose. Again Richards shows how this view is patently false. He uses a Cherry Pie to illustrate how we wrongly view wealth or capital like a fixed baked pie cooling on our kitchen counter. If you have a family of seven and one person like ME receives a great big fat piece of pie then by default everyone else must share a smaller remaining piece of pie. I got more pie and they by necessity must get less, the pie can't grow. Richards writes "The cherry pie is actually a pretty good analogy, but for the wrong thing: it completely misrepresents a market economy. What it represents perfectly is the myth about the gap between rich and poor in a market economy. " Richards demonstrates with examples, statistics, and illustrations that wealth grows, that capital grows. That it has been growing. A pie can't grow. The pie analogy fails to portray that wealth is created, it is not static piece of matter.

(3) I certainly didn't have a bias against the ownership of private property. but Richards in his book demonstrates the importance of a rule of law that protects an individual's title to his property. Without it you don't really have security in it. Rule of law is critical to the success of a free market economy. You can not use property with a shaky title as collateral in future investments. You will not sink hard work and effort to improve upon and build up property which because of the lack of LAW to protect it, may no longer be yours next year.

I think maybe, I'm boring in my examples, Richards isn't.

To illustrate how engaging and well written this book is, tonight I read out loud from selected portions to both my wife and twenty-two year old daughter for over an hour and half. They listened with great attention, conversations were sparked, observations were made, anecdotes were shared. When I paused to catch my breath, my wife encouraged, "Keep reading - don't stop - read some more." Who would have expected this from a book on economics?

I purchased this book after reading the following endorsement from Pastor Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries, when he recently listed his top ten books read in 2009. This book was his number 1.
Sam Storms said:
"You may find it strange that the best book I read this year is on economics, and in particular a rigorous defense of capitalism. But in a season where our country is drifting all too swiftly in the direction of socialism, this is precisely the book everyone needs to read. You don’t need to be a scholar to understand it. Richards is clear and concise and convincing. Please don’t pass it up. [JT note: hardback is 60% off at Amazon, probably while supplies last.]" That last note was from Justin Taylor where I read this list.

Also from Justin Taylor's blog:

Here’s the table of contents along with list of the myths that Richards sets out to dispel:

  1. Can’t We Build a Just Society? Myth no. 1: The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
  2. What Would Jesus Do? Myth no. 2: The Piety Myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
  3. Doesn’t Capitalism Foster Unfair Competition? Myth no. 3: The Zero-sum Game Myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser)
  4. If I Become Rich, Won’t Someone Else Become Poor? Myth no. 3: The Materialist Myth (believing that intellect cannot create new wealth)
  5. Isn’t Capitalism Based on Greed? Myth no. 4: The Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
  6. Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Capitalism? Myth no. 5: The Usury Myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitive)
  7. Doesn’t Capitalism Always Lead to an Ugly Consumerist Culture? Myth no. 7: The Artsy Myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
  8. Are We Going to Use Up All the Resources? Myth no. 8: The Freeze Frame Myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming population trends will continue indefinitely or treating “rich” and “poor” as static categories)
  9. Conclusion: Working All Things Together for Good
  10. Appendix: Is the “Spontaneous Order” of the Market Evidence of a Universe without Purpose?

Links to the above two articles:

Click here for the first article

click here for the second article

So whether you favor socialism or consider your self quite conservative you may, like me, find some of your own biases challenged. For myself, I love it when what I formerly held as an axiom of truth is discovered to be nothing more than a preconceived notion, or a culturally generated bias.

ht: JT


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Anonymous said...

Opulently I agree but I think the post should prepare more info then it has.

Scott said...

Anonymous: I'm still reading the book. I might try to post some follow up in the future. If possible though I'd strongly recommend obtaining a copy for yourself. I'm really enjoying it.

Anonymous said...
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