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By Force? or By Persuasion?

By Tom Rose
October 01, 2003

When analysts have difficulty determining the major trend of stock prices because of the “static” of conflicting price signals in daily market activity, they often resort to comparing daily or weekly price trends with longer-term trends (like a 200-day moving average). This longer view helps smooth the static of conflicting signals generated by fluctuating daily or weekly price actions, thus enabling the analyst to more accurately discern long trends.

Similarly, taking a long-term view of history is useful in discerning trends in society, especially in the growing intrusion of civil government into our private lives, and the political and economic activity we do to generate our personal incomes.

For instance, if we take a panoramic view of the entire 20th century, we see that in the early 1900s, during the so-called “Progressive Era,” radical spiritual and political changes occurred in America that generated a gradual drift during the rest of the century. None of these changes increased economic freedom or political liberty. Rather, they gradually shackled our economic freedom through a fascist bureacracy.1 What happened in the spiritual sphere is that our country shifted from a negative concept of law that previously limited the power of the state to punishing wrongdoers, to a positive concept of law that now empowers the state to invade every facet of our public and private lives.

R.J. Rushdoony ably discusses the difference between the concepts of Biblical negative law and humanistic positive law:

A negative concept of law confers a double benefit … It states, “Thou shalt not steal.” … A negative statement thus deals with a particular evil directly and plainly: it prohibits it, makes it illegal. The law thus has a modest function; the law is limited, and therefore the state is limited. The state, as the enforcing agency, is limited to dealing with evil, not controlling all men ….[A] negative concept of law insures liberty: except for the prohibited areas, all of man’s life is beyond the law, and the law is of necessity indifferent to it. If the commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal,” it means that the law can only govern theft: it cannot govern or control honestly acquired property …. The negativity of the law is the preservation of the positive life and freedom of man.
But, if the law is positive in its function, … then the state has total jurisdiction to compel. The immediate consequence is a double penalty on the people. First, an omnicompetent state is posited, and a totalitarian state results. Everything becomes a part of the state’s jurisdiction, because everything can potentially contribute to the health or the destruction of the people. Because the law is unlimited, the state is unlimited. It becomes the business of the state, not to control evil, but to control all men. Basic to every totalitarian regime is a positive concept of the function of law.
This means, second, that no area of liberty can exist for man; there is then no area of things indifferent, of actions, concerns, and thoughts which the state cannot govern ….2

This seismic shift in the concept of civil law reflected an inner, spiritual shift that gradually occurred in the American mindset. The entire 20th century saw a vast “continental drift” in Americans’ concept of law, civil government, and economic exchange.

In the early 1900s Americans were generally independent and self-reliant. They zealously saved and invested for the future. When workers were laid off from work, they immediately searched for new employment or undertook entrepreneurial activity to generate income. They did not look to the state for unemployment benefits, welfare payments, or food stamps. Christian diaconal outreach programs were active. In contrast, seven decades later a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, received a call from a young mother with her two children whose car had broken down. When the pastor and deacon went to see her, she complained:

I phoned 14 churches, and you are the only one that responded Biblically! All the other churches referred me to a government agency, but I want to be helped by Christians!

The pastor and deacon got her car started, filled it with gas, and sent her on her way. Can you imagine the statist mindset held by the spiritual leaders of the other 13 churches?

How Do We Earn Our Incomes?
This historical review brings us to consider a very important question: Is the income we personally receive generated by force or by persuasion? That is, do we live by income that is earned voluntarily through the competitive free-market economy, or do we rely on coercion exerted by civil government for our income? And, in either case — by force or by persuasion — is our way of getting income Biblical or unbiblical? This question is extremely important today. Why? Because the public’s view of the proper role of civil government has shifted tremendously during the 20th century; today many facets of income received by individuals rely on the coercive arm of the civil authority.

Making one’s income from monies coercively collected by the state is not necessarily evil or unbiblical because the state has a Biblical mandate to exist through taxation (Rom. 13:6-7). But, the state’s proper role in society, as pointed out by Rushdoony, is to exert a negative force of law (Rom. 13:3-4) and a limited role of authority (Dt. 17:18-29) that does not invade the liberty and self-responsibility of individuals in their service to God (Ex. 8:1).

Coercive incomes that are Biblical are policemen, sheriffs and their deputies, judges and employees of the court system, tax collectors, military personnel, and business firms and individual contractors who sell necessary goods and services to those mentioned.

However, not everyone who draws income from the state gets it Biblically or honestly. Why not? Some of those mentioned can receive part of their incomes from under-the-table payoffs — judges, police, and other government employees, for instance, have been known to be bought off. The Old Testament prophets complained about these practices thousands of years ago (Am. 5:12, 6:12; Is. 1:23, 5:23). Are we to believe that the hearts of men have changed over the years? Hardly! If anything, the tactics of milking members of society for money have grown more sophisticated: Speed traps to generate more fine money from motorists; purposely shortening the time of yellow lights at traffic signals, plus automatic cameras, to generate additional fine income; passing intrusive, hard-to-understand laws that turn average citizens into lawbreakers, confiscatory income and real estate taxes that pauperize citizens; inflationary government borrowing and central bank monetary policies that insidiously debauch the purchasing power of people’s money and savings; allegedly “protecting” citizens through licensing laws, seat-belt laws, and confiscatory RICO-based property forfeiture laws; sending military personnel who blindly trust their political leaders to engage in unconstitutional foreign wars, or to station them in foreign countries; and wasting multi-billions of taxpayers’ income in so-called “foreign aid.”

The list could go on and on, but my point is this: While the institution of civil government is indeed Biblical, the use of civil power can easily be used in ways that are clearly unbiblical and unconstitutional. That is why Paul admonishes us to pray for those in authority (1 Tim.2:1-2). Our task as Christians is to take Bible in hand and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ as we cast down unbiblical institutions and erect Biblical institutions in their place (2 Cor.10:3-5). This is neither an easy nor a much-appreciated task because it calls for people to change their world and life view and their basic way of thinking about the proper role of civil government in society. But in seeking to follow Biblical principles, we must refrain from judging individuals who might mistakenly believe their incomes are earned Biblically.

Our goal as Christ’s followers is to demolish ungodly systems while not attacking the persons involved. But the problem is that, over the last century, the “politically correct” role of civil government has expanded into so many areas of life that well-intentioned individuals have been suckered unthinkingly to accept unbiblical and unconstitutional roles of employment.

But, on a lighter note, sometimes even I am surprised: While speaking at a conference in Boise, Idaho, a few years ago, I was introduced to a medical doctor. I commented, “You know, I don’t believe that the state should license professions.” He quipped, “Neither do I!” It turned out that he is a Christian and was serving as president of the American College of Physicians and Surgeons, the free-market sector of the medical profession which staunchly opposes licensing laws! How wonderful!

In a July, 2003, letter to financial supporters, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas writes, “I end up voting ‘No’ on most bills that come before the House of Representatives, because most of them are just flat out unconstitutional.” Then he continues:

[T]he voters didn’t send us to Congress to get too comfortable or to live a lavish life of ease at the expense of the taxpayers. After all, we are supposed to be your servants … not the other way around. That’s just one reason why I have consistently voted against pay raises for Congress and why I have refused to participate in the lavish pension program that Members of Congress give themselves.

The Challenge That Faces Us
If we are really interested in doing away with the omnipotent, totalitarian state to which both R. J. Rushdoony and Ron Paul refer, we must recognize that very few incomes earned through state coercion are legitimate. When the coercive power of the state is used to transfer wealth or income from one set of citizens’ pockets to others — through price controls, licensing laws, government grants, “welfare payments,” and government subsidies — it amounts to what Frederic Bastiat referred to as “legalized theft.”3 It is nothing less than breaking the commandment “Thou shalt not steal,” even though it might be legitimized by legal fiat. Let us be guided, in seeking ways to generate income, by the apostle Paul’s advice to Philemon:

But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. (Phil. 14).

Notes

1. It is important to understand the difference between orthodox socialism and the specific form of socialism called fascism. Under a regime of orthodox socialism, the state owns and controls the means of economic production. Examples are: Boulder Dam, the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), and tax-supported education. But under fascism, which is a more sophisticated and deceptive form of socialism, the state allows the legal title of ownership of the means of production to remain in the hands of private individuals and corporations; but effective control of the means of production rests in the hands of government bureaucrats who then have the power to dictate how the means of economic production must be used. Some examples are the many “alphabet-soup” federal control agencies, which now number over 85: the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission); the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), the FDA (Federal Drug Administration), the FRB (Federal Reserve Bank), the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Commission), the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), etc.

2. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p.: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), pp 101-102.

3. Frederic Bastiat, The Law (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 1974).


Topics: Economics, Statism

Tom Rose

Tom is a retired professor of economics, Grove City College, Pennsylvania. He is author of seven books and hundreds of articles dealing with economic and political issues. His articles have regularly appeared in The Christian Statesman, published by the National Reform Association, Pittsburgh, PA, and in many other publications. He and his wife, Ruth, raise registered Barzona cattle on a farm near Mercer, PA, where they also write and publish economic textbooks for use by Christian colleges, high schools, and home educators. Rose’s latest books are: Free Enterprise Economics in America and God, Gold and Civil Government.

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