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Putting the “free” back in free markets
Nov 11, 2011
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If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to freedom is rocky, uphill, and lined with thieves lying in wait. The path to restore freedom in markets and even to arrive at a totally free marketplace is the strait and narrow way indeed. Traveling it to its end will require personal integrity, fortitude, sacrifice, patience and endurance. It will also require these qualities on a wide scale socially speaking.

In simple terms, the road to free markets requires a personal and corporate return to the principles that headed up this chapter: non-violence to person or private property, and enforcement of contracts. We must personally embrace these principles, and discipline our lives, work, and businesses accordingly. More importantly, we have to maintain this discipline: we absolutely must refuse to depart from God’s laws even when it is more profitable, easier, and widely socially accepted to do so. Before we have a moral leg to stand on to demand the same from other people politically, we have to practice fiscal integrity ourselves. The model here is the Messiah, of whom David said:

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved (Psalm 15).

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This guy refuses to do anything dishonest in all, and this includes, certainly, in his business dealings. More importantly, he “swears to his own hurt and does not change.” This does not mean he swears to his own hurt on purpose, necessarily (even though Christ did go to the cross on purpose, voluntarily), but when circumstances turn against him, he does not try to alter the promises or contracts he previously made simply to maintain profits or prevent losses. He bears the brunt of the deal and takes the sacrifice.

He will even go further. When he sees that society has departed from God’s laws—that fraud and extortion have become socially-accepted ways of life, that most people accept and even depend, and many thrive, upon coercive, rigged markets—he refuses to participate anyway. He will suffer the burdens of inconvenience, lower profits, decreased business, social stigma, and even persecution in order to remain faithful. Anyone who wants to return to freedom in the marketplace will have to embrace this level of sacrifice and commitment from the beginning.

This embrace will mean a clear application of the principle, “Don’t take the cheese.” Only now, it’s not only to avoid the trap, it’s also—perhaps more so—because it’s morally wrong, unbiblical, unethical, ungodly to take the cheese to begin with. This is not merely about personal and practical consequences, it’s more about principle. It’s about faithfulness to God’s law.

A large part of this effort will be mental and thus spiritual. People need to accept the mindset that the use of government force to gain advantage is equivalent to theft. It is an unstated—ne’er to be stated—political maxim among conservatives: socialism is bad, except when it benefits me. When the modern conservative says, “Socialism is bad,” he really means “The other guy’s socialism is bad. Mine is good, right, laudable, and necessary.” Until we get beyond this psychological hurdle, freedom is a distant goal.

Of course, getting people to do this by just stating it here is almost equivalent to asking, “Can’t we all just get along?” Getting from where we are today to the point where the biblical mindset is both widely believed and widely practiced will require the same discipline and sacrifice for many people that we have already discussed in previous chapters. And these are key: sacrifice and discipline. Both will be needed 1) to prepare a faithful remnant as a foundation and example into the future, 2) to facilitate the transition from where we are today to a free society, and 3) to maintain markets free of corruption, tyranny, and graft after a transition is effected.

Before I address the best way to make an impact, let’s discuss a couple ways this commitment could change your personal lifestyle. Embracing this commitment will likely mean changing where and how you shop and do business, and likely what you buy to eat, wear, etc., including where you live and what you live in (if such a change could be made practically at this point), and what you drive. You will no longer choose the best bargains, or make simply self-interested economic decisions. Self-interest is now replaced by sacrifice and discipline to God’s law. If you don’t believe in government-funded corporations, then why would you support them through your purchases if you have other options? Even if more private options cost you a little more, why not prefer the slightly more expensive, slightly less comfortable, or slightly less prestigious principle and integrity over small personal gain?

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The purist (like your author), however, who wishes ideally to live completely without supporting companies that receive government subsidies will find it very difficult. Virtually everything in our economy today is in some way, at some level, to some degree, tainted by government interference. Of course, since the entire monetary system is rigged to begin with, as we have seen, then virtually no economic decision we make will be truly free of government manipulation and intervention. No bank we use is or can be truly honest at this point. The only way to avoid this is to swear off the use of Federal Reserve money altogether, and this would mean living by barter and self-sustaining agriculture—Amish style—and even then you could not totally escape the government’s hand.(1) So, in many ways we are stuck in the unfair system of bank subsidy and privilege—and that leads to unfair investment and market subsidies as well.

One market that is seeing a resurgence of resistance is the food market. Many local people and towns, as we have already seen, are fighting to establish freedom and local sovereignty over food. The fact is, nearly every aspect of agribusiness today is massively subsidized. Between 1995 and 2010, the Feds have dumped more than $260 billion into agribusiness subsidies.(2) Subsidized (and overproduced) corn, wheat, and soybeans find their way into almost everything sold in grocery stores in the forms of corn syrup, enriched wheat flour, and soybean oil. Pick up any packaged or processed food and you will likely find at least one of these ingredients if not all. It does save you a few dimes here and there, but comes at the cost of continual government intervention, and dependence of farmers upon government handouts, not to mention the loss of nutrition in the processed foods. Why not buy as much food as you can from local growers? Why not find a local milk producer who will sell direct? Why not buy as often as possible from local farmers’ markets? Same with chicken, eggs, meat, and much more.

Same with sugary snacks, by the way (and I am no health-food Nazi!). American sugar is subsidized—by limiting the amount that can be imported. There are only a handful of American sugar producers, and they fight to maintain special protection from many foreign competitors. Since so sweeping a program provides so great an advantage to so few producers, the subsidy is actually staggering. Analyst James Bovard writes, “Since 1980, the sugar program has cost consumers and taxpayers the equivalent of more than $3 million for each American sugar grower.” He concludes, “Some people win the lottery; other people grow sugar.”(3) Since this market is so rigged, and sugar admittedly is a luxury item anyway, why not cut it from your diet as much as possible? This would eliminate your contribution to the subsidy of one sector. (Meanwhile, major candy companies have closed some operations in the U.S. and moved to Mexico where both the Sugar and labor are cheaper. And since what they import to the U.S. is a finished manufactured good—not the raw material sugar—they dodge the sugar tariff problem.)

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Another consumer issue can be transportation. Here’s the best formula for personal automobiles: buy used, pay cash, drive it until the wheels fall off. This helps minimize contributions to autoworkers unions whose collective bargaining rights leverage government power to increase worker benefits of all sorts. This is especially important for automobiles manufactured in States where collective bargaining rights hold sway and workers are forced to unionize. Due to their government-rigged market, auto workers make on average about $55/hour in wages and benefits.(4) That’s a six-figure package per worker compared to the median household income in the U. S. of $45,000. United Auto Workers is so proud of its accomplishments that it produces a yearly updated website listing all the automobiles its unionized workers produce. I would suggest downloading this list, reviewing it, and making decisions on what to buy and what to avoid accordingly.

Purchasing used vehicles as opposed to new compounds the power of your decisions on what to avoid. In buying used or pre-owned, you only support the local dealer, not the manufacturer necessarily. The previous buyer already paid the inflated price to the manufacturer. Of course, you will also support the financier unless you pay cash. But to make your used purchase have the greatest economic impact, drive it forever. This keeps one more customer (you) from further supporting a union-rigged market.

This type of thinking can be taken to any extent you wish, and into every facet of every market you desire. I have only included a couple examples here—food and personal transportation—to demonstrate how to think in this regard. How can you apply the same principle—avoiding companies that leverage government coercion for their profits—in every other area of your life? I leave that up to you.

Another step you can take is to support organizations which fight for the free-market principles you believe in. There are public interest law firms that specialize in all manner of property rights, free market rights, gun rights, and many others. There is, for example, a National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation based in Springfield, VA.(5) Firms like these are usually non-profit and can be supported via tax-deductable donations. There are certainly many more. You should search for one regionally, or one which you prefer; research it carefully; talk to staff and leaders if possible to determine a sense of their values and goals. And then, if you wish, support their cause.

But the best way you can personally impact society in regard to free markets is to start a business. Legitimate, honest businesses generate wealth, provide services to communities, and create jobs. Sure, this will not in itself decrease the number of taxes, subsidies, and regulations in society—if anything, you will discover various taxes you never knew existed. But this in turn will give you further incentive to fight for a free society. Greater Christian, ethical entrepreneurship is the key to spreading the interests of freedom in society.

Business and entrepreneurship will require education for some people. It should be an educational priority especially for your children as well. Without proper guidance, children are indoctrinated to socialistic principles from early ages. A study done years ago by John Hunter revealed no significant difference in economic worldviews between Christian and secular colleges. Thus, despite having the Ten Commandments allegedly at their base, Christians have no advantage in learning and embracing free markets. This is true not just in college but at an early age. The Nehemiah Institute has conducted extensive tests that show significant departures from biblical thinking can begin as early as fifth and sixth grade. This organization offers educational resources on biblical economics and government. There is also the similarly named but independent Nehemiah Project, which offers many training courses, books, and resources on biblical principles for entrepreneurship and business. The latter group appears to have more of a charismatic flavor.

As Christians, we must attend to more than just the economic, political, or legal aspects of free enterprise. Christian business is as much an endeavor of stewardship as it is anything else. If we are to perpetuate a free society, we must value more than just the bottom line. Indeed, in many cases, people and values should come before profits. This does not mean that we need government interventions for wage and price controls, etc.—far from it. But it does mean that God’s moral laws call us to treat workers with dignity and respect, pay them well, as well as reduce waste in executive expenses, etc. Sure, it should be left perfectly legal to do otherwise, but it’s still poor practice in God’s eyes. Businesses owners, officers, and executives that embrace such license—exploiting employees for gain, etc.—should recognize increases in government regulation and socialistic tyranny as God’s judgment against a society where such things abound. This is not by any means to defend government-labor relations or the vast body of regulations as “godly” in the way some liberal progressive “Christians” do. Rather, just as God used pagan Babylon to enslave a disobedient nation of Israel, so He today will use tyranny to punish careless, heartless business practices in society.

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Some great companies have already set precedents in this regard. The Guinness brewery company spread God’s kingdom-charity through the care it showed for its workers. It has historically paid its workers much higher wages than average (thereby recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent, while helping others who might otherwise have been left poor). But this was not all. Journalist Stephen Mansfield relates the following Guinness company benefits from a 1928 company report (at the height of international corporate greed right before the Great Depression):

  • All employees with their wives and children enjoyed the services of an on-site clinic staffed by full-time doctors night and day; these doctors also made house calls.
  • Medical services included company-dedicated dentists, pharmacists, nurses, home sanitation consultants, and a masseuse.
  • Retirees received pensions, in some cases even when they never contributed to the fund. Pensions extended to widows.
  • Most funeral expenses for company families and family members were paid by the company.
  • The company had its own bank, and provided mortgages for company families.
  • The company spurred living standards with domestic skill competitions. It gave cash awards for sewing, cooking, decorating, gardening, and hat making. The same was true for crafts, trades, and sports of all kinds.
  • The company provided concerts and lectures for moral and intellectual improvement, especially for housewives.
  • Guinness paid for employees’ education:  they could advance in technical school, trades, side-businesses, or more advanced education. The company paid all and provided a library and lounges for study.
  • The company provided paid vacations including train fares and spending cash.(6)

Many of the workers enjoying these benefits had just fought a decade earlier in World War I, but they did not fear losing their benefits: Guinness guaranteed their jobs would be available for them when they returned.(7)

Yet these workers were entitled to none of these things (and the government was involved in demanding and/or requiring none in this case). No business owes anything to its workers except a fair-market compensation (and thus whatever the parties agree upon, Luke 20:1–16). All of these special benefits were private, voluntary subsidies—Christian charity distributed through regular business.(8) Christian businessmen should emulate this example with their employees, in some cases above and beyond the minimum governments mandate.

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Other great examples to review are the efforts at leadership and employee relations successfully revived and reformed by Christian business leaders such as Wayne Alderson. He developed the “Value of the Person” program to rescue labor management at a struggling Pittron Steel company. It was Christian-based and was highly successful. So much so that a young R. C. Sproul, Sr., wrote a book about the episode called, Stronger Than Steel. Other great conservative success stories include Lemuel R. Boulware’s awesome but unfortunately-titled book, The Truth About Boulwarism, and the wonderful private charity and leadership of William Volker, described in Mr. Anonymous by Herbert C. Cornuelle. All of these deserve greater elucidation which I plan to provide in supplemental articles and videos to this project.

If you really want to expand the principle of freedom, you should aim not only at the reduction of taxes and regulations, but also at the privatization of roads, bridges, ports, parks, libraries, museums, education, and every other government subsidized or owned area of life. Of course, this is a very large goal which is beyond even the capacity of some people even to imagine as feasible, let alone embrace as a practical goal. While there are workable and viable long-term plans for such goals, the general public is no more ready for them than it is for the great revival necessary to make them happen.

These more radical goals aside, the steps I have outlined here are very practical, simple, and honestly do not require that much lifestyle sacrifice. If we are serious about freedom and desire to have a return to free markets, then we should be able to start making minor adjustments to our lifestyles to begin with, and then working toward educating ourselves and others, including our representatives, on free market principles and reduction of government interference in markets—local, state, and national. Beginning of course with the education and lifestyle changes described in topics one and two of this project, these later measures fall right in place for the person committed to long-term sacrifice and discipline for the cause of liberty.Endnotes:

  1. Study, for example, the difference between fee-simple ownership of property, and tax-free alloidal ownership which is almost non-existent and difficult to obtain.()
  2. http://farm.ewg.org/. This group has a fabulous website in which you can discover farm subsidy recipients by name and amount down to the level of your local ZIP code. If you wish to avoid subsidized companies, here’s a tool. This is a great resource, and is funded through donations. Their major flaw comes in not opposing subsidy and regulation in principle, but only those they consider destructive to the environment. The group aims to continue subsidies, but merely shift them to other areas. This is not a free market solution, although they offer a powerful free-market tool.()
  3. “The Great Sugar Shaft,” April 1998, http://www.fff.org/freedom/0498d.asp (accessed November 10, 2011).()
  4. See “Auto Worker Salaries,” http://www.factcheck.org/2008/12/auto-worker-salaries/.()
  5. http://www.nrtw.org/.)) They exist for the purpose of “defending America’s workers from the abuses of forced unionization.” There is the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento which “fights for limited government, property rights, individual rights and a balanced approach to environmental protection.” ((http://www.pacificlegal.org/.)) Southeastern Legal Foundation in Marietta, GA is another. ((http://www.southeasternlegal.org/.()
  6. Stephen Mansfield, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xix–xxii.()
  7. Mansfield, xxviii.()
  8. I have excerpted these comments on Guinness from my book, What Would Jesus Drink?: A Spirit-Filled Study (White Hall, VA: Tolle Lege Press, 2011), 121–123.()
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About author

Dr. Joel McDurmon

Dr. Joel McDurmon

Joel McDurmon, Ph.D. in Theology from Pretoria University, is the Director of Research for American Vision. He has authored seven books and also serves as a lecturer and regular contributor to the American Vision website. He joined American Vision's staff in the June of 2008. Joel and his wife and four sons live in Dallas, Georgia.

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