Frugality vs. the global economy

Eli, my counter-culture alter ego of 40 years ago, who was introduced back in “How Eli got his name,” comments on “Think outside the bottle.”  

Eli: Hey RR, I’m glad to see you’re still a tree-hugger after all these years.

RR: Yeah, I guess I am, although my emphasis was on the biblical virtue of frugality.

Eli: Well, tree-hugging might be a biblical virtue, too. Remember that JW who used to come to our place quoting Bible verses, who worked as a logger? I started actually reading the Bible he left us (starting with the book of Revelation, of course) and it said that God was going to destroy the destroyers of the earth (Rev. 11:18). So I hit him with that verse the next time he came by, and he came back at me with the verse that says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). Seemed like an easy out for him.

 RR: Yeah, I’d agree, although I’m not absolutely against all logging. Even you used to cut vigas* to earn some extra money. (Or not extra, exactly, since it was usually the only money you saw, period.)

Eli: Hey, those were vigas from trees that needed thinning anyway or were already dead. But that raises the main point about frugality, as you call it. You say you’re not against all logging, but the capitalist system is always going to need more and more logs to feed on, more and more oil to burn, more resources to make more stuff for more people to buy, so that the stock market can keep rising up and the whole system doesn’t collapse. Frugality would get the whole global economy crashing down. It depends on endless growth, so where do you draw the line if you’re not against the whole ever-expanding system? I mean you’re not going to try to defend capitalism from the Bible are you?

RR: I’d call my self a Roosevelt capitalist—Theodore, that is. He’s OK with people venturing out to work hard, compete, and make some money, which often benefits the people around them, as long as there’s enough government regulation to make sure that everyone gets what he called a Square Deal. It’s not a black-and-white thing. Capitalism is based on greed, but with the right constraints, it can work for everyone, or most people anyway. That’s where the big argument is today. Even the protestors in Wisconsin agree that free-market capitalism is OK; they just want to keep their regulations in place. And even the right-wingers agree that you’ve got to have some regulations. It’s just a matter of where you draw the line.

It’s like the yetzer ha-ra, the evil impulse in human beings. It’s bad, but the rabbis say that without the yetzer ha-ra no one would work hard, marry, or build up his household . . . Besides what alternative do you have? What system can you point to that has worked any better?

Eli: That’s an old comeback, dude, and it’s beside the point. You’re claiming to follow Yeshua, but you’re arguing like a pragmatist.

RR: So what would you suggest?

Eli: Well, maybe your Yeshua said it best: “Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). Maybe you need to figure out how that applies in 21st century America.




* A viga is a wooden beam made from a whole young pine or spruce tree, used in Southwestern architecture.


2 thoughts on “Frugality vs. the global economy”

  1. Hi, Russ,
    You seem to have the same internal tensions I do with respect to profit and capitalism. But I wonder, do you think there is a biblical description of the economic system that pleases God? In the millennium, if there is money at all, how will it be handled?

    I am also pursuing a theme about power: even though we have many evil power-mongers, power itself can be and usually is beneficent, and fighting against it is a loss for both those who have it and those who seek it in this way. In Wisconsin now the old cry of the left against the evil of power and evil of profit-seeking has risen up. I hear this all the time at work, of course. I guess I am a true conservative, because for all the sins of the powerful it seems futile to entrench ourselves against it. I have a blog that I am not keeping up with called the 5th commandment that explores this.

  2. Hi Jerry,
    I don’t know whether there’s an economic SYSTEM that pleases God, unless you’d consider the instructions about tithing, care for the poor, and the Jubilee regulations a system. It’s clear that Torah legislates against accumulation by the powerful and for some level of redistribution. The problem, though, is that whatever system is created to regulate such practices becomes corrupt and needs steady confrontation from the godly. People sometimes claim that Yeshua would have been a leftie or a Socialist, but I don’t see him supporting the level of statism needed to maintain such systems. I don’t think he’d have been on the right either–more in the prophetic mode that is ready to stand against whatever system or ideology takes advantage of the weak and disenfranchised.

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