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IS MONEY MORE IMPORTANT THAN PEOPLE? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 28 December 2009

IS MONEY MORE IMPORTANT THAN PEOPLE?

By Jim Jordal

Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For your judgment has come in one hour. The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise any more; merchandise of gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet, all expensive wood, every vessel of ivory, every vessel made of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble; and cinnamon, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, sheep, horses, chariots, and people's bodies and souls.

Rev. 18:10a-13 (WEB)

I’ve written on this Bible reference before and no doubt I’ll do it again, at least until our political, economic, and religious leaders get the idea that God considers human welfare more important than making money. The reference above clearly states that to economic Babylon the amassing of precious metals and choice consumer goods is far more important than the bodies and souls of people. I’m continually amazed at how our leaders can without shame announce more and more job cuts, continuing mortgage foreclosures, increasing debt at every level of society; and all this seemingly with no understanding that something is drastically wrong in our system of values.

When I taught economics I remember explaining that America’s economic system of mixed capitalism was based upon six major values: freedom, growth, efficiency, security, stability and justice. But in the intervening years we’ve pushed economic freedom, growth, and efficiency far beyond their original meanings into literal monsters eating up our people, way of life, standards of public decency, and the environment. Left in the trash heap are the last three values—security, stability and justice.

Consider the effects on people of this sea change in what economic policy makers and public opinion molders consider important. Overemphasizing freedom turns an important value into an icon. Free enterprisers laud Adam Smith as their patron saint; yet Smith believed that it was necessary for government to reign in the excesses arising under conditions of laissez-faire (hands-off) capitalism. Smith also spoke of the "invisible hand’ that controlled market decisions; but we know now that when unrestrained that hand can also result in conditions where "the rich man’s dog drinks the milk the poor man’s child needs to survive" (Paul Samuelson, Economics).

And what about economic growth? This value has come to be the panacea for solving all other problems. What’s the way out of recession? Growth! How do we solve poverty? Growth! How do we provide jobs? Growth! How do we work our way out of debt? Growth! How do we achieve the American Dream? Growth! How do we find happiness and meaning in life? Growth!

The concept of economic growth has become so powerful a mantra that anyone speaking against it or even suggesting that it be controlled is often labeled a crackpot or worse. I’m not against growth because I realize it’s a major component of our way of life and has contributed immeasurably to the rise of the middle class. But does it have to trump all other values?

It’s not that growing the economic pie is so bad. That can be very helpful. What’s so damaging is the way we define growth—almost exclusively in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, GDP measures the production of material goods and the provision of services in the economy, but ignores the true costs of these items in terms of resource depletion, ecological degradation, human suffering, and loss of quality of life for large segments of the population.

We have also grossly perverted the meaning and applications of economic efficiency. The textbook definition means the combination of the factors of production (resources, labor, capital and management) in the manner best suited to produce cheaply and in sufficient quantity to meet the needs of society, all done within the restraints of economic security, stability and justice.

But the modern predatory mega-corporation pushed by their business school ideologues defines efficiency far differently. To them it means to pick out the factor of production—labor—that is easiest to shortchange and then to squeeze it as far as possible. That’s why labor has failed over the past generation to share fairly in the productivity pot-of-gold gained from technological innovation.

In the corporate world economic efficiency also means not counting the true social costs of production. Economists call this the externalizing of costs, meaning that costs due to environmental pollution, resource exploitation, and human disease and injury are not considered in the price of any article. Thus, consumers do not pay the real cost of what they consume. So guess who does? Taxpayers, future generations, and the earth are expected to absorb the cost.

Yes, it’s truly an insane way to operate. It cannot be sustained, and cannot be morally justified. But yet it continues to exist. We’ll look at the last three economic goals—stability, security, and justice next week.