Meet James Jerome Hill

Consider the following example of how capitalism is supposed to work from Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book, Thou Shalt Prosper:

James Jerome Hill was born in log cabin in Ontario, Canada in 1838. His father died while the boy was young, and he supported his mother by working in a grocery for $4 a month. Through great energy and hard work, Hill came to build a railroad across the Northwest. His concept was to build the line slowly and first develop the economy of the area before continuing on further. To attract European immigrants, Hill offered to bring them to the Northwest for a mere $10 each if they would farm near his railroad. He organized farming instruction classes that taught the newly arrived farmers all about local conditions and such techniques as diversifying crops. He imported 7,000 head of cattle from England and handed them over free of charge to settlers near his rail line.

Hill told the immigrants who worked near his railroad that he and they were all in the same boat together. He explained to them that they would all prosper together or all be poor together. To make sure that they prospered, he also set up experimental farms to test new seed, livestock and equipment. He sponsored contests and awarded rich prizes to those farmers who most successfully produced meat and wheat in bounty.

Was he doing this out of selfless altruism? No…he did these things to build up the future customers who would ship goods on his railroad. By helping them prosper he prospered as well. But for sure…those pioneers who received $10 passage from overcrowded tenements to a land of opportunity, and farmers who received gifts of 7,000 English cows and bulls and all the others who build new lives along Hill’s railroad felt only gratitude toward this man. Though not without faults, Hill was a generous, Christian man who genuinely governed the principles of capitalism and helped to elevate many around him to prosperity.   

So in addition to this example, what has capitalism really done you might ask? For one thing life expectancy in the past 150 years has more than doubled, from fewer than 30 years in 1870 to 72 years in 2015. Meanwhile billions of people have risen out of poverty…150 years ago more than 75% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, consuming less than $1 a day, in 1985 money. This year the World Bank expects extreme poverty to fall below 10% for the first time in history.

Economist Milton Freidman says it this way, “The only cases where the masses have escaped poverty is where they have embraced capitalism and largely free trade. Where are the masses the worst off? Where capitalism is not practiced! The record of history is crystal clear. There is no alternative way to lift people out of poverty. It is the productive activities that are released by a capitalistic, free enterprise system.”

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Do Not Covet

As we have been discussing I believe the Bible teaches that the principles of Capitalism are God’s intended economic system but they should be governed by God’s laws to operate as He intended them. I have learned this concept of God’s laws governing capitalism from Harold Eberle’s book Compassionate Capitalism – A Judeo Christian Value. We have found a lot of these laws in the Ten Commandments and there is one more we will look at…the 10th commandment. Don’t Covet.

God taught his children to work hard and expect the benefit of their work. So when the 10th commandment tells us not to covet what our neighbor has, it is encouraging us to enjoy the fruit of our labor; and allow our neighbors to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Whenever people waste their energy desiring other people’s possessions they have less energy left to take advantage of what is presently available to them. They miss the opportunities and blessings right in front of them; this leads to a dissatisfied life. Right here is where greed enters in…when people become obsessed with what they don’t possess and what others do. The Biblical command to avoid coveting safeguards us from greed, which corrupts capitalism.

The Bible teaches us to enjoy the fruit of our labor and its related prosperity. We should not covet our neighbor’s stuff. We find this in Ecclesiastes (2:24): “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil…”. If our neighbor has more possessions than we do maybe we should go learn from them how they do things. Perhaps they have a wisdom or work ethic we do not. It might help our finances. We will have the greatest blessings when we enjoy what we have worked for with our family and friends. We are never in a race to get ahead of others. We are in a race to find and complete the Lord’s plan for our lives. Paul spoke of “running the race that is set before us”.

In blogs going forward we will look at how is capitalism supposed to work when it is governed properly? Have you ever heard of James Jerome Hill? What about capitalism in the New Testament? All to come…

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Bernie Madoff’s Own Sons Turned Him In

On December 10, 2008, Bernie Madoff’s sons told authorities that their father had confessed to them that the asset management unit of his firm was a massive Ponzi scheme, and quoted him as describing it as “one big lie”. The following day, FBI agents arrested Madoff and charged him with one count of securities fraud resulting in robbing his clients of over $50 billion dollars. He is the admitted operator of a Ponzi scheme that is considered the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.

He employed his brother Peter; Peter’s daughter Shana Madoff, and his sons Andrew and Mark. Peter has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison and his son Mark committed suicide by hanging exactly two years after his father’s arrest. Andrew died of lymphoma on September 3, 2014, which he attributed to the stress and shame of his fathers colossal scam. His sons, who turned him in to authorities, never forgave their father for betraying their love and trust. Bernie Madoff is a Jew. He should have known better. How sad.

Don’t Lie

So far we have looked at the Biblical safeguards God gave the Hebrews to govern the capitalist principles he was teaching them…The Fear of the Lord, Sabbath, Tithing, Care for the Needy, Inheritances, Savings, and Honoring Parents. We find another safeguard right in the 9th commandment (Exodus 20:16): “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” Or simply stated…don’t lie.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin states: ” … Integrity is God’s idea.  Propagated by obedient Christians and Jews throughout the world, it is arguably the number-one asset in the effort of businesses and governments to make their economies stronger.  That is why integrity is one of the most important assets of a system of ethical capitalism.  It has certainly helped to build America’s economic machine.”

Any businessperson who lies to their customers or vendors will ultimately be out of business. If they purchase something from a vendor and say they will pay for it and don’t, then the vendor will stop supplying them. If they tell their customer their product or service is of a certain quality and quantity and it is not, the customer will stop buying from them and tell their neighbors to stop as well.

Bernie Madoff found out the truth of Proverbs 13:11Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it. His compromised integrity cost him everything, even his family. We understand the Lord can bless us without compromise and grief. It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, And He adds no sorrow to it. Proverbs 10:22.

Man was created to think, be honest and not lie. He is not like the animals. He is not made to function on some kind of animal instinct of survival of the fittest…to lie, steal and cheat to get ahead of others. No…we are not competing against others, but helping to lift them by creating a job for them or a product that helps them do what they are called to do; and consequently we are lifted too.

As Rabbi Lappin says, “If there is no integrity, there is no ethical capitalism.”

Note: Bernie Madoff research is from Wikipedia.

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Inheritances, Savings and Honoring Parents

Let’s look at some more of the restrictions God taught the Hebrews so they could righteously take advantage of the principles of capitalism He was teaching them.

Inheritance – God taught the Hebrews that it was a good and proper to leave an inheritance to the next generation. This became so central to Hebrew thought that it became expected of those living righteously. As mentioned previously, the fact that God gave the tribes and families their own land to own and pass on to their children had this idea already engrained in the minds of the Hebrews. It is specifically taught in Proverbs:

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children…Proverbs 13:22

Save – It followed logically that the Hebrews must not spend all of their resources but save some, and find a method to store them up for their children. People are motivated to work for themselves and their loved ones. So they worked hard and lived thriftily so they could save and store wealth. Again in Proverbs we find:

There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up. Proverbs 21:20

In contrast, the pagans of the day gave no thought to living economically and saving. They didn’t save for the future because they thought fate determined their future and it was foolish to even make long-term plans. They had no understanding of accumulating capital so they consumed or wasted all that they had, leaving them and their children in poverty.

Honoring Parents – The 5th commandment taught the Children of Israel to honor their parents. The financial side of this adds structure to society and establishes lasting family relationships. Parents cared for and provided financially for their children, and then later in life, children reciprocated and did the same for their parents. These honoring family ties give purpose to the wealth that is accumulated over time as it is passed on from one generation to another.

Saving and storing an inheritance for children, and honoring parents helped to govern capitalism. But coming up…what about Enron, Bernie Madoff and other abuses of capitalism? What went wrong?

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Helping the Widow, Orphan and the Poor

As we have been discussing God instilled certain restrictions on capitalism to protect his people from abuses and oppression. The Biblical principles of capitalism must be governed wisely and incorporate compassion.

Consider the Tithe – In the Hebrew world the tithe…giving ten percent to God…was at the core of their financial worldview. It was not considered to be generosity but a requirement to remind the tither that everything they had belongs to God. It was an act of surrender to God and honored his ruling of every area of their lives. I have blogged extensively on the tithe in the past so I will not spend much time on it here. Additionally people gave offerings to God after the ten percent, which expressed their joy of having relationship with God.

Care for the Needy – In the Hebrew world the widow, orphan and the poor were to be taken care of financially because as we have stated many times all people are created in the image of God so all life is to be respected and valued. This Hebrew view God gave was distinctive and divergent from the ancient pagan religions of the day, which offered not motives for charity. The Greeks taught it was disrespectful to associate with the poor and the Romans were brutal towards the needy. So the early Christians created a stark contrast with both of these worldviews.

God taught the Hebrews charity in many ways. In Deuteronomy (24:19-21) farmers were instructed to harvest their crops only once so the poor could come along and get what was left as financially destitute Ruth did in the field of Boaz. Leviticus (25:35-39) teaches the Hebrews to loan money to the poor without interest as a vehicle to help them get a new start. Additionally…The Hebrews believed God would bless financially those who helped those in need. Proverbs states:

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done. Proverbs 19:17

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.       Proverbs 11:29

These Biblical restrictions to govern capitalism are so important we will spend another few blogs on them. When these restrictions are in place it creates what Rabbi Lapin calls “ethical capitalism” and Harold Eberle calls “compassionate capitalism”.

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Biblical Safeguards to Govern Capitalism

In order for the Christian today to apply the strengths of the principles of capitalism to their personal finances and experience God’s prosperity, it is important to note the negatives of capitalism and the Biblical safe guards. In the words of Harold Eberle capitalism must be “governed wisely” and the values of compassion must be included. The term “governed” makes us think of civil government but in actuality it is best if the individuals applying these principles govern themselves voluntarily.

As you might have read in previous blogs, God went to great lengths to teach the Hebrews to be self-governing. Hebrew government was built on law with the foundations being the Ten Commandments. So the safeguards for each individual to self-govern start with the first three commandments: worship the Lord and have no other God’s before Him, reverence him (no idols) and fear him (don’t take His name in vain). Only people who maintain an attitude of the Fear of the Lord will govern themselves properly as we find in Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Simply stated, the individual who knows The Fear of the Lord, know they are accountable to God for every decision they make, financial or otherwise. So they will make decisions that are good for both them and for others…whether that is employees, customers, neighbors or family. Why? Because God created and loves all those people too. As the Christian lives in the Fear of the Lord they will be self-governing. Also their involvement in the local church and the relationships developed there; help to provide some real accountability for this governing of self.

Government intervention at even the highest levels cannot control sin, selfish ambition and rebellion. Self-government is best. But if individuals do not self govern, then civil government should step in, although this is far less effective. An example would be those incarcerated and languishing in prisons because they have not self-governed well.

Another safeguard to moderate capitalism is found in the fourth commandment. It is the principle of the Sabbath. For the Hebrews this looked like working six days each week tending his or her own garden. God worked six days and rested one, so we, created in the image of God, should do the same. This is a safeguard against workaholism, greed and putting work ahead of the family.

One day each week was totally set aside for God and family. Working to accumulating money is not the end or a person would work seven days a week. No…God is the end of all things. Though it is not always possible to have a Sabbath every Sunday, like for those of us who preach Sundays or work in healthcare, this becomes a principle we can honor on another day of the week. It keeps things in perspective.

To come in upcoming blogs…more safeguards as well as some examples of how capitalism is supposed to work.

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The Biblical Principles of Capitalism

As we have been examining the Biblical Worldview for these months we have looked at the initial lessons that God was teaching the Hebrews in their early days as his adopted children. Many of these lessons formed the early Jewish economic system and helped the Hebrews to identify a sense of “capital” which was separate from the individual.

So we have connected what God was teaching the Hebrews in Old Testament times to what is identified as the principles of capitalism today. It is a historic fact that the principles of capitalism are a part of the Judeo-Christian ethic. Notice I am talking about the “principles” of capitalism and not necessarily capitalism as we see it today. So what is our working definition? I will use Harold Eberle’s definition:

“When we say capitalism we are referring to an economic system that allows people to own personal property and benefit from their own labor, wisdom, education and experience. It is based on the understanding that an individual must be responsible for his or her own success. People should be able to use what they have accumulated – their capital – and have it produce more wealth for them. This means that a person who invented a tool should be able to use that tool to produce wealth…Capitalism is the economic system which has allowed individuals to be creative (in the image of God) and industrious, thus producing the abundance we see in the modern Western world today. It has allowed the human spirit freedom to release its potential, resulting in the advancement of society in almost every area, including agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, transportation, communication and technology.”

Let’s note that the Biblical form of capitalism goes hand-in-hand with compassionate social values, including the care for widows, the elderly and orphans. God also instilled certain restrictions on capitalism to protect his people from abuses and oppression because capitalism does have a negative side, which we will examine next week. The Christian should take advantage of the principles of capitalism, but also know that capitalism must be governed wisely and incorporate compassion.

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