Is Greed Good?
What Happened to the Common Good?
Capitalism cannot be sustained over time in a democracy if people begin to doubt that the system benefits them as well as the wealthy. Such a view throws the system into crisis. In many ways, this is the current public perception of the government bailouts. We all feel tight. Some of us are out of work. But whom is the government helping? Banks and corporations. Now this is not totally fair, as all benefit from a healthy financial system. But as we look at the huge disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us, we are justified in being skeptical as to whether any of these efforts really trickle down.
How do we fix this? Taxes? Public ownership of the means of production? Jacob takes a different approach to answering this question. What we really need is not a different way of thinking about wealth. Instead we need to re-evaluate how we view our fellow human beings.
Jacob says that we should think "of [our] brethren like unto [ourselves]." If we do, then it will follow that we will "be familiar with all and free with [our] substance, that they may be rich like unto [us]" (Jacob 2:17)
I have long valued the second part of this verse, which speaks of giving to others. In particular, it clarifies that the goal of giving is not simply to keep the poor from starving but to bring them up to the level of everyone else. Of course, this is the stuff that stands out to me because my main interest is theories of distributive justice, However, I had failed to give adequate attention to the first part of this verse which says that we should think "of your brethren like unto yourselves."
Ultimately, the obstacle that keeps us from adequately addressing our most pressing economic and social problems is our inability to see others as ourselves. Theorists of deliberative democracy have called this reciprocity, the ability to put ourselves in the position of others. John Rawls referred to this as our capacity to treat others as free and equal citizens. From a Christian perspective, we must ask ourselves whether we view all human beings as valuable children of God.
If we are instead driven by pride, we turn our backs on others and worry only about our own interests. I have my job, why should I worry about those who are unemployed? I have my health insurance and can afford it, why should we change it? Now, even these responses can be viewed as irrational, since everyone would benefit from a more affordable health care system. However, we seem prone, in our pride, not only to keep what is ours but also to get satisfaction out of the fact that others do not. This type of pride is the most dangerous, because we not only want more, but we also want to have more than everyone else.
If we are able to view others as like unto ourselves, the greatest benefit will be a greater ability to work together. Currently, we too often work against each other. We cannot work toward the common good if we do not feel that we have anything in common. Both democracy and Christianity require us to work together as one, despite our differences and disagreements, if we are to achieve higher goals, whether the goal is salvation or economic well being.
But we are so divided, is this possible? With faith in Christ, all things are possible. What about in the public square of democracy? Perhaps we need to have faith in each other.
Chris Henrichsen is a visiting instructor of political science at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho. He will be a visiting instructor at BYU in Provo, Utah starting this fall. He is a doctoral candidate at Idaho State University, the father of three children, and the husband of Lyndee. His blog musings can be found at Approaching Justice (approachingjustice.wordpress.com) and Faith Promoting Rumor (faithpromotingrumor.com).