Topic: Where in the Bible
My next fundamental disturbing question of political economics is where does the Bible prescribe a corporate "free market?"
That is, where does the Bible teach that government must leave corporations free to do whatever the market allows?
This question must be raised because, whenever someone in government proposes any major restrictions on what a class of corporations may do, or talks of changing to a method of providing or distributing anything that doesn't depend on corporations competing in a market to make the largest possible profit for their shareholders, Christian conservatives tend to scream about improperly interfering with the "free market." They tend to imply that any such interference is ungodly and blasphemous. The best current examples of this are health care reform and the President's plan to keep some control over what corporate recipients of economic stimulus money do with that money (instead of simply giving them money to do whatever they want to do with it, the "free market" approach to a subsidy!).
Now I have been an utra-conservative in the past, and I am well aware that, among conservatives, the term "free market" is a buzzword--an emotionally charged term that has been carefully conditioned to draw a knee-jerk response and has largely lost its original denotational meaning. (Thus, it is somewhat similar to the term "freedom of choice" among liberals, a term which no longer refers to freedom to choose careers, or friends, or food, or clothing styles... I explain the use of buzzwords much more fully in my entry on the Buzzword Fallacy, elsewhere). Any attempt to limit corporate greed is immediately labeled as a threat to the American "free market" system, a system which it is usully implied God Himself endorses. Therefore, for the government to enact, or for me to support, the anathematized change (whatever it is) would be a grave sin.
Leaving aside for a later entry the question whether any of the "free markets" we are urged to protect at all costs are really free (I don't see any evidence that they are, they are simply regulated for the benefit of those corporations that presently dominate them), I now raise the question where God has said that corporations must be left free.
I suspect that some one will attempt to answer this question by directing my attention to Jesus' parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16. In attempting to explain his statement that "the last will be first, and the first last" in the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus told a story about a rich landowner who needed workers for his vineyard. So he went to the marketplace, and hired workers throughout the day. Each of the workers agreed with him individually to work that day for a denarius. At the end of the day, the landowner brought the workers who had been hired last, and had worked only one hour, in first and paid them each a denarius. He then brought in those who had been hired just before them, and paid each a denarius. When those who had been hired first, and had worked the whole day, came in, he also paid them a denarius, as agreed. These workers who had worked the whole day expected to be paid more, and grumbled about it. I have heard preachers use the fictional landowner's answer to these workers' complaint as an argument that all markets must be left free. The landowner said: "Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" Matthew 20:13-15. The italicized language is taken as a statement that the rich must always be left free to do whatever they want with their own money.
However, that is not what Jesus was saying at all. He was saying that, because God is generous, he will ultimately richly reward all who labor in his Kingdom--those who came to him with only a little time left equally with those who have walked with Him a long time. For all who walk with Him, His reward will be exactly what he promised. Our eternal rewards depend on His generosity. The passage has nothing to do with the prerogatives of wealth in the world--it simply assumed the existence of one of those prerogatives, with which Jesus' listeners would have been very familiar, to make a point about God's generosity and fidelity to His promise, and our equality before Him.
Two other things need to be noted about the Matthew 20 passage. First, Jesus' never answered the fictional landowner's rhetorical question, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?" He left the listener to answer it the way any wealthy person of that day would have answered it ("yes"). That unstated, rhetorical answer can't be taken as God's command for all time.
Second, the fictional landowner in the parable was a real human being--and a real human being who had decided to be generous, at that. He was not a corporation, a fictional person who exists only for legal purposes on paper. In fact, corporate executives generally would not understand themselves to be free to perform the act of generosity that Jesus' fictional landowner did. If a corporation had agreed with the first set of workers that they were to work a 12-hour day for a denarius, it would undoubtedly have paid the last set of workers, who worked only one hour, only one-twelfth of a denarius. Any other approach would overvalue the labor used, reduce the corporation's profits, and therefore be a breach of the corporation's fiduciary duty to its stockholders!
As I have written previously, I do post responses. If you can point to anyplace the Bible supports the corporate "free market" concept, send a comment and I will post it.