The realist in me these days easily suppresses the romantic. So I am capitalist rather than Marxist. The socialization of the means of production is a disastrous way to ensure distribution of wealth. In reality it is likely to produce less than capitalist ownership and so the poor still suffer. The standard of living for the poorest still rises in capitalist economies, but governments do need to raise a dollar or two through taxes to assist the process. One of the great questions of our day is what a 'fair' tax rate might be, where 'fair' is both about how much one might take from the wealthy and how much the government might take in total without wrecking the 'production' of wealth. It is a question which is tearing American politics apart.
Marx in my view is an important thinker because, whether we love him or loathe him, he reminds us that the material conditions of life are integral to life itself. We are not pure spirits. Our bodies matter and thus where we find (say) food cannot be disconnected from where we find (say) spiritual nourishment. Theology is economic theory! Any theologian worth her salt should be able to spell out the material difference her arguments make to the world.
Thus two articles catch my eye this morning. One is an analysis of the actuality of Obamacare re cost of medical insurance for Americans, an analysis which includes this intriguing line:
"Who's right? At some level, this is a theological debate, not a technical analysis. I am going to argue that rate shock does matter, for a number of reasons. Then you can decide for yourself which aspect matters more."
In fact Megan McArdle doesn't mean anything like what I have been saying in the previous paragraphs. By 'theological debate' she means 'debate about principles, values, and commitments of protaganists and antagonists in that debate'. For readers here, for whom many debates exhibit high degrees of 'technical analysis', I suggest McArdle poses both a false alternative and a poor understanding of true 'theological debate'.
The other article, much more to the taste of a theological interest in economics, is Paul Krugman saying something I find myself, surprisingly, in great agreement with. His post is about a Ben Benanke speech which addresses economic theory in society. Here are the (bad pun) money paragraphs:
"OK, this is, whether BB realizes it or not (he probably does) basically a Rawlsian view of the world, in which you think of life as a kind of lottery in which you draw a ticket that includes things like your genetic endowment as well as the wealth of your parents. And what you’re supposed to do, ethically, is support the economic and social system you would choose if you had to enter that lottery not knowing what ticket you were going to draw — if you were making political choices behind the “veil of ignorance”.
As soon as you portray the choice that way, you’ve introduced a strong presumption in favor of redistribution. After all, if you should happen to end up as a member of the top 1 percent, an extra dollar at the margin won’t mean a lot to you; but if you should happen to end up as a member of, say, the bottom quintile, an extra dollar could make a lot of difference. So you should, other things equal, favor a system of progressive taxation and generous aid to the poor and unlucky.
So why not favor complete leveling, America as Cuba? Because for many reasons, both economic and political, we favor a market economy in which people make decentralized decisions about working, saving, and so on. And this means that incentive effects become important; you can’t levy 100 percent taxation on the rich, or completely insulate the poor from any consequences of low income, without destroying the incentives you need to make the economy work.
The question then becomes one of numbers. In particular, how high should we set the top tax rate?"
You will need to read the whole post to find out what that rate should be. I note the neat way in which he deals with the possible Marxist (i.e. Cuban) implications of where his argument leads.
Meantime my body needs breakfast and my family needs me to earn a dollar or two ... tomorrow, hopefully, it is back to some Anglican theological concerns. Should we say, "Stuff tradition"?
PS I agree with paying the top rate proposed in the Krugman post in the sense that, if I am ever paid that much, I am happy to be taxed at that rate :)