The Financial Seminary
Money, Morality, and A New Millennium
Ten Golden Rules for Financial Success:
Riches I've Gathered from Legendary Mutual Fund Manager Sir John Templeton
By Gary Moore
Published 1996, Now Out of Print
Golden Rule: Looking Out for Number One, Doesn’t Make You Number One.
“John Calvin taught that people will instinctively worship, but if not taught to worship God, they will create idols to worship. Today more people worship idols than God, but those idols are often the institutions and governments created by men themselves.”
Sir John M. Templeton
John Templeton once told me that the greatest spiritual challenge of his life was learning to love Joseph Stalin. I must have looked surprised, but I gradually understood. John believes that life is a school for the spirit, instructing us and testing us to see if we can handle its challenges without anger or losing out faith, hope and charity. While hates the things Stalin did to tens of millions of people, he also tries to live the teaching of Jesus by loving his neighbor – even his enemy. It is an old challenge of the Christian life to hate the sin but love the sinner, John sincerely believes Jesus challenges us to do that – without exception.
Shortly after that conversation with John, I attended a business function at which someone asked me if I thought John was “really a Christian.” I replied as I would have if I had been asked about Billy Graham, Pope John Paul, Mother Teresa, Pat Robertson: “God alone knows.” But the serious expression of the inquirer prompted me to ask his reasons for wondering. He said that though Templeton has devoted virtually all of his time and talent, as well as most of his money, to progress in religion, he rarely talks about his Christian belief. Others have expressed the same concern. (I wish they could see John’s interview on the Canadian television show called CrossCurrents. In a scene that would probably be edited in the U.S., he spoke about Christ and the Bible being the greatest influences of his life.) Futhermore, neither liberals nor conservatives are able to pigeon-hole him onto one camp or the other. And others don’t think he is “American” enough.
So I began to reflect on the fact that many Christians today talk about Jesus but don’t model his behavior. (Christians are often accused of preferring faith to works; more often I think we prefer words to works. We might reflect on John 14:12.) Though Jesus said we would be able to recognize his disciples by their love for one another, many of us find it difficult to love Christians in other denominations, of other lands, or of different political persuasions – much less atheists and communists. But to understand John’s belief that true success is a loving state of mind, we need to take a hard look at the thinking that shapes both virtues and the failings of people – many of whom are dedicated Christians – on both the liberal and conservative ends of the political and theological spectrum. I pray that you read this not as yet another cause for division but as a plea for frail and diverse humans beings to come together as the Master intended.
Worshiping Governments and Markets
“There are those of who say that conservatives must make a choice between a message of economic growth and a message of cultural renewal. Take your side, we are told, and the fight can begin. Make your decision between economics and cultural values. Moments like this call for clarity. So I want to argue as directly as I can: This choice is false. It is false in the realm of ideas because it ignores the full range of human needs.”
Jack Kemp, Imprimis, August 1994
Rush Limbaugh once published a political cartoon of a man bowing to a statue of Karl Marx. The man was labeled “The Religious Left.” I thought the cartoon arrogant and divisive – even by Limbaugh’s standards. (Perhaps that is why a recent survey said, “Many Bible believing Christians see political liberals as the enemy. Two thirds of the conservative believers say it is difficult to be both a political liberal and a true Christian” [Christianity Today, April 29, 1996.]) Still, I have to agree that many of my liberal friends would do well to reflect on a remark by Sir John Templeton: “Never did Jesus advocate government welfare for the poor!” He went on to say:
A century ago governments in general, particularly America’s, had no responsibility for the poor. But now they do, which is a wonderful thing. Consequently, there is not the great need that there once was. But it would have been better spiritually if that had not happened. It would have been better spiritually if the people had been giving individually through their churches or other charity organization, or person to person. Because by doing it through government, you love the joy of giving. Maybe the recipient will be just as well off, but the giver is better off if he does the giving instead of having the government do it for him.
In other words, at times the religious left may be at risk of gaining the world but losing its soul by mixing the thoughts of Jesus and Marx. I could write more about this trend among liberal thinkers, but I suspect the idea is already familiar to most of my readers. What may not be as obvious is that conservative thinkers make a similar mistake – one that may be every bit as damaging.
Conservatives too are guilty of confusing secular philosophies with religion – a practice theologians call “syncretism,” and in the vanguard of conservative syncretism are those who often inadvertently embrace the thought of Ayn Rand, a woman of profound influence on America’s political economy. Though many people have never even heard of her, she was the only woman listed on the Economist’s recent “Good Guru Guide,” which said:
Ayn Rand – heroine of America’s libertarian right – argued that big business was “America’s persecuted minority.” Rand died in 1982. Her philosophy thrives and her books still sell half a million copies a year, thanks to a plethora of outfits designed to acquaint the world with her thoughts. Rand labeled her philosophy objectivism and described it as ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’ The Reagan presidency provided opportunities for a few objectivists to try their hand at their most hated institution: government. The most celebrated Randist even survived the passing of the Reagan years. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was an acolyte of Rand’s in the 1960s. Presumably he no longer believes Rand’s argument that ‘every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others.’
If we are ever to reduce the role of government without causing anarchy in our financial future, we need to subject Rand’s version of conservative thought to some serious examination, for I believe it may explain some rather ungodly thinking that may be shaping the America our children will inherit. Such examination may also explain why many leading Republicans, who say there are “fiscal conservatives with a social conscience,” aren’t totally sure that either political can stake a claim to absolute truth. As others look at my life, rather than listen to my beliefs, would they see the influence of Jesus or Ayn Rand? (I trust my liberal friends will read with empathy and ask, “Jesus or Marx” about their own lives.)
Every few weeks an ad in the Economist refers to Rand as a ”prophetic genius” whose concepts have “sparked a fire in the hearts, minds and hands of a new generation of prime movers.” It invites readers to inquire about seven utopian communities around the world that offer life “without government rule,” which would be fine, I guess, except that many of her disciples are prime movers not only in the government itself but in our national thinking about our life together here in the United States. The idea that utopia can be achieved by simply eliminating government demands serious reflection.
Focusing On The Eternal Unseen…
Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man with reason, but with no morals.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At one point in the Bible (1 Samuel 8), when the people of Isreal come to the aged prophet Samuel to demand that he give them an earthly king, Samuel warns them of the tremendous economic burden that will mean. Certainly, big government has always been a burden on our economic well-being. But we forget the consider this: minimal government oversight of morally confused people can be a burden on our economic resources as well. Take the savings-and-loan bailouts, the limited partnership failures, the junk bond defaults, and the collapsed insurance companies that we experienced during the eighties. Randist, anti-government thought played a major role in creating those disasters and their resulting financial burdens. And yet, in spite of its failures, such thinking may actually be gaining more influence than ever.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan was featured in the cover story of Worth magazine called “Playing God at the Fed.” It is definitely worth a trip to the library, as more recent issues of Worth warns: “We seem to be moving from a world of seller beware to one of buyer beware” in the regulation of the investment world again. The first story began, “Alan Greenspan seems to believe we should all just butt out and let him run the world’s economy. His mentor, Ayn Rand, would approve, but others would find it more troubling.” It goes on to describe how Rand, who was in the front row at the White House when Greenspan was sworn in, “must have been amused by the sight of the ardent atheist placing his right hand on a Talmud.” The story noted that Greenspan later denied the great “I Am” of Judeo-Christian realist by saying, “I think I exist but I can’t be certain. In fact I can’t be certain that anything exists.” I don’t know about you, but I would feel better knowing that the moan who most influences my financial future knows that I exist.
The story goes on to detail Greenspan’s “love of the free markets, deep suspicion of do-gooders and righteous hatred of the state apparatus.” It says he “masterminded a proposal to set Wall Street free from regulation” as the stock market went into frenzy in 1968 and crashed in the next few years. It then details how he almost single-handedly deregulated the savings-and-loan industry during the eighties while serving as a consultant for Charles Keating of Lincoln Savings and Loan infamy. The article concludes, “What he couldn’t imagine was that freeing heroes such as Charles Keating from the shackles of bureaucracy would only make matters worse. It was a prime example of how the Randian view can collide with reality.”
French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said reality is that man is created neither beast nor angel. If everyone in the free marketplace were angels, as Rand and Greenspan seemed to believe, we could free the Keatings of the world and they would behave themselves. But such an expectation is unreal. After all, one of Rand’s own books was titled The Virtue of Selfishness.
Hollywood conservative Arnold Schwartzenegger personally endorses Rand’s books and testifies that her thinking changed his life. You may remember that Schwartzenegger stood beside George Bush as he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination at the rather low-spirited Houston convention in 1992. I have often pondered whether his presence on the platform didn’t signal that the “kinder, gentler” approach of George Bush was being replaced by the more “survival of the fittest” mentality of the Randists. Many observers have suggested that the harsher spirit of Bush’s second presidential campaign may have helped boost Bill Clinton into the White House.
Convicted junk-bond king Michael Milken is another disciple of Rand. Barron’s interviewed him while he was serving time in prison and commented:
The interview is valuable in one sense, in that it warns the rest of us about what Milken has been spending his time in prison doing: re-reading Ayn Rand. If Milken still commands a personal fortune of more than $1 billion, and if Milken has been spending his time in the slammer re-reading Ayn Rand, we all have serious cause to worry some months hence, when Milken is sprung.
Of course, Milken has been sprung. Recently he has been helping to shape mega-media companies like Time-Warner – companies that will, in turn, shape your children’s thinking well into the next millennium.
A number of revolutionaries in the U.S. House of Representatives have also been influenced by Rand’s thinking. They often rally behind Majority Leader Dick Armey, who eve has a doctorate in economics. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, “Libertarians tend to think that the best way to accomplish good things, economic or social, is simply to get government out of the way… Rep. Armey tends toward libertarian thinking.”
Armey likes to invent what have come to be called Armey’s Axioms. For example, “Markets are rational, government is dumb.” Thinking like that certainly suggests he has been reading too many books influenced by Ayn Rand and too few by the Founding Fathers, who often made great sacrifices in their personal lives to establish our government in the first place. Armey’s axiom reminds us that putting libertarians in charge of Congress is a little like putting atheists in charge of a seminary. Not only will it stop the growth of the institution but it may also inhibit its primary function – which is to regulate those who lack the social conscience to consider your well-being as they pursue their own.
Armey and his fellow revolutionaries have also been influenced by the libertarian Cato Institute, which The Wall Street Journal calls “a think tank considered to have much influence over the rebellious mood of the new Republican Congress.” The Cato Institute, it added, is headed by “Ed Crane, the canny, plumpish fifty-year-old former Libertarian Party boss.”
Moderation In All Things
Though many voters probably don’t even realize it, much of the angry sentiment coursing through their veins today isn’t traditionally Republican or even conservative. It’s libertarian…utterly disdainful of government.
The Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1995
To understand the world’s political economies, imagine a line running from the left to the right.
Communists would be on the radical left end of the line. These people were an intellectual elite who thought they could engineer a utopia on earth as long as the government managed everything in the political economy. Notice I used the past tense. Communism seems comatose and many have finally died beneath the ruins of the Berlin Wall, which was built on its shaky moral foundations.
In the middle of the line is what we call socialist thought. It is prevalent in the nations where governments control about half of the economy through taxation and spending. Many nations are rethinking this model as well.
About two-thirds of the way to the right are the “mixed economies” or capitalist democracies – like the United States, Japan, and Australia – in which private citizens still make most of the economic decisions. In the past, believers in this system of economy have been called “conservatives”. Curiously, however, those who believe in this form of economy and work to maintain the present balance between private and government control are increasingly called “liberals” in today’s political environment. The Wall Street Journal recently said many of these liberals are Republican members of Congress who have always thought of themselves as traditionalists. Moderates too seem to be passing into the history books as they rethink government welfare, social security, and other issues.
A little farther to the right are the neoconservatives – this is, the “new” conservatives. These are people who would like to see the government less involved in the economy, especially in the area of middle-class and corporate entitlements. While they respect the intentions of federal planners, they also worry about unintended consequences of too much control. The road to hell, they would suggest, is paved with good over-regulated intentions.
While liberals might quote the biblical story of Joseph – who stored a portion of the people’s grain during seven fat years and accepted their gratitude during the seven lean ones – neoconservatives remember the rest of the story – that this plan led to bondage for coming generations. That is a lesson that we too are now learning as we deal with our welfare, Social Security, and Medicare problems. While neoconservatives may sometimes consider big government to be a product of human folly, they do not usually believe, as the Randists do, that it is the root of all evil. Neoconservatives may believe the free market can satisfy people’s material needs, but they don’t expect it to create heaven on earth by meeting all human needs.
Neoconservatives generally believe that religion is essential to a culture. They believe religion can help regulate market behavior through the internal mechanism of personal virtue; though when that internal regulation fails, they accept the need for government to regulate behavior through external coercion. That is not a very pretty picture, of course, but it beats anarchy.
That brings us to the radical right-hand end of the line: the libertarians. (Actually, there are some libertarians on the left who want government to cease functions like the military, but they are hardly the political force today that they were in the sixties.) Libertarians usually have an absolute faith in the free market. They are theologically certain that government is the giant that prevents us from entering the promise land, so they sling a lot of stones to cut it down to size and wouldn’t mind beheading it. Aside from manipulating political alliances with religious conservatives for their own purposes, they have about as much use for traditional religion as Karl Marx did. In their view, the Judeo-Christian teaching of “moderation in all things” is entirely too tolerant of government. (They would hardly appreciate Romans 13). And religion’s moral constraints can conflict with their belief in the absolute freedom of the individual.
Conservatives often attribute the rampant individualism and social turbulence of the sixties to the liberals. But it is interesting to note that at that time Ayn Rand was hardly a paragon of traditional values. She had a public and messy affair with Nathaniel Branden, her closest disciple, who was young enough to be her son. Being rational people who determined their own sense of right and wrong, they simply asked Rand’s husband and Branden’s wife to leave the house one day a week. This went on for over a decade. But then Branden had an affair with another woman, famously described as “someone not old enough to be his mother.” Ironically, Rand excommunicated him from their group.
Also, there has been considerable speculation that Rand used drugs – which wouldn’t be too surprising since leading libertarians have long advocated the legalization of street drugs.
In the words of one political analyst:
Libertarianism is a philosophy of radically limited government…It is attractive to those well-off professionals who have nothing in common with the religious right but would just like to be left alone…The libertarians have also replaced the Marxist as the world’s leading utopia builders.
Obviously, I sound harsh toward libertarians. But my point is not to be judgmental as much as to make religious conservatives aware that the secularism they seek to combat does not emanate entirely from the left side of the political spectrum. Just because we disagree with those on the left does not mean that everyone on the right shares our values. By the same token, this understanding may even encourage us to stop pointing our fingers at the religious left and start extending our hands to them. Many of them may be our best allies in meeting the secularist and humanist challenges of our future.
To The Left, To The Right, Or Straight Above?
Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.
Many politically conservative religious leaders take it as an article of faith that Rand’s philosophy will help usher in the kingdom of God. Yet they seem to forget many of the political lessons of the Bible. Moses was a lawmaker, plain and simple; King David was a political leader of great honor; Jesus refused to join the zealots in their effort to overthrow the unjust government of their day; and both Peter and Paul said Christians should honor the pagan political authority of Rome.
In short, the Bible nowhere endorses the creation of an earthly utopia by the throwing off of governmental rule. Yet many people I counsel do endorse such a concept, and I believe their expectations of such a utopia are frustrating their journey to success. It is just one of those unrealistic expectations that will leave us disappointed when we discover it is out of touch with reality. Yet, it seems even many Christians are forgetting that this world is not our home but simply a training ground for better things to come.
Take Pat Robertson, for example. He has written, “The aim of free people everywhere is to limit the power and the scope of the government in any way they can.” I can’t imagine a more explicitly anti-government libertarian thought, and I also think that phrase “any way they can” is potentially quite dangerous.
Ralph Reed, the executing director of the Christian Coalition, echoes the same thoughts, though he moderates his rhetoric somewhat. In the Wall Street Journal he wrote, “Traditionalist ends can be advanced through libertarian means.” In essence, he seems to be saying that it is justifiable to stir up feelings of hatred toward the government in order to move the country a little more to the right. Again, that approach seems careless at best and, at its worst, irresponsible, atheistic, and anti-Christian.
Then there is Pat Buchanan, another pessimistic media-personality-turned-politician who would like to save us. He is a curious synthesis of anti-government sentiment and a desire for politicians to determine how we invest, who we trade with, and who we hire. In a recent editorial entitled “An American Economy for Americans,” Buchanan lamented the desperate condition of the American economy and suggested that we should “work, save and invest here in the land of the free…Let’s replace ties with foreigners with ties among Americans.” While Buchanan might agree with the old Sunday school song that “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World,” he obviously does not intend for us to love them as Jesus did – at least in financial ways. That may be good politics, but it is bad economics. (God will judge its morality.)
Just a few days after Buchanan’s comments were published, Robert Lucas accepted the Nobel Prize for Economics. He has an entirely different perspective on our economy: “The U.S. is a low inflation country without major unemployment. We’re doing great, and have been for a long time.” Buchanan seems to be unaware that the United States receives more than twice as much “foreign direct investment” from other nations – more than ten times as much as Japan – than any other major nation.
All this suggest that Buchanan’s politically motivated philosophy might even be harmful to your soul. On a more temporal level, it could also be dangerous to our economy and your personal financial success in the not-too-distant future. The U.S. stock market may soon reach the stage of greedy euphoria that typically accompanies market peaks. (The Templeton funds moved from their heavily over-weighted position in the U.S. to one that is underweighted as our stock market streaked toward the 6000 level in early 1996.) That euphoria will probably occur when most of us finally see through the political smoke and realize the American economy is in fact number one and has been – “for a long time.”
At that point, adopting Buchanan’s isolationist thinking might lead to your losing money in overpriced U.S. stocks rather than making money in under-priced stocks around the world. More success will probably come from Templeton’s philosophy of loving the little children of the world rather than flirting with the Randian philosophy of looking out for number one.
I am not convinced that economic nationalism is good for our nation. While Buchanan once described himself as the greatest free-trade advocate in the Reagan White House, the Economist has noted that his thinking changed with the political polls during the difficult economic transition of the early nineties:
Before the Second World War, it was Republicans who stood for protection and Democrats for free trade. Indeed, it is often forgotten that Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley, champions of the punitive tariff, were members of the Grand Old Part; and that it was Roosevelt’s secretary of state, Cordell Hull, who was mostly responsible for undoing the damage they did. (Note: Many economists believe their desire to build an economic wall around America played a major role in bringing on the Great Depression.) Those protectionist leanings never disappeared among Republicans, recently cropping up most visibly on the nationalist, far right wing of the party in the persons of Mr. Buchanan and Jesse Helms.
Ordinary mortals often judge the value of economists on their ability to forecast accurately the next recession. Governments, in turn, are judged by voters on their ability to avoid it. And on both tests, economists and governments seem repeatedly to have failed. In fact, the ability to forecast (or, still better, to prevent) recessions is a bad test of the worth of anybody.
That doesn’t seem like the America I grew up in. In the fifties, my father seemed to have a different job or stat a different business every few years, and he thought it perfectly normal. The media and politicians had not told him he was in the “anxious class,” so he just confidently worked us into the middle class. Everyone I knew thought he was a success. That doesn’t seem like the America I grew up in. In the fifties, my father seemed to have a different job or stat a different business every few years, and he thought it perfectly normal. The media and politicians had not told him he was in the “anxious class,” so he just confidently worked us into the middle class. Everyone I knew thought he was a success. Yet today we seem to expect somebody to do something that will give us perpetual security, which may be why Wall Street entices us with “securities” and the government promises us “Social Security.” But even the ancients knew there is no security in secular and human affairs. That is a divine proposition.
So I wonder why so many Republicans are attracted to what is often called “root-canal economics,” which says that if we want the minor pain of layoffs and sluggish growth to stop hurting us, we have to perform major, painful surgery on the economy. Frankly, I have never understood that prescription. I am sure there are times when our economy can use a checkup. But as long as respected, conservative economists say we are the richest, freest nation on earth, I can see little reason for attempting major surgery, especially when politicians prescribe that they would like to attempt it – without anesthetic. These politically inspired sentiments may be why Billy Graham once remarked, “I’m conservative theologically, but I don’t consider myself on the religious right.”
Traditional conservatives, by contrast, know that overthrowing the government, building a wall around America, and looking out for number one won’t create a utopia. Unlike Ralph Need, we believe that traditionalist ends are best advanced through traditionalist means – like more religion of the biblical variety, more focused on love, virtue, and charity than on political activity. As a result, we are less angry, more at peace with our neighbors, and more hopeful about the future of our country and world. And we believe this spiritual peace is more likely to lead to material blessings.
As our country approaches the Third Millennium in a more conservative mood, it might be timely to spend a few minutes comparing, point by point, Ayn Rand’s objectivism with John Templeton’s traditionalism, for these forces could determine what kind of America our children will inherit.
Ideas About God, Humanity And The World
Over the years, I’ve been convinced nothing exists except God. There is no other reality.
Sir John M. Templeton
Faith is a malignancy that no system can tolerate.
A primary tenet of Rand’s and Branden’s philosophy is that reason is the “only absolute.” This is Enlightenment rationalism at its purest. While Rand taught that everyone should live according to their own conscience, the truth is that she could not tolerate anyone in her commune who differed from her views. Like Marx, Rand was a devoted atheist who essentially created her own secular religion to suit her purely materialistic version of reality. She referred to traditional religious people as “mystics and sacrificial animals” – people who could feel but not think. While Jesus asks us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, Rand asserted that this inability to think explains the religious person’s dependence on the revelations of Scripture and on the great minds of the past.
John Templeton’s basic philosophy, on the other hand, speaks of “the inadequacy of our senses and intellect to fully comprehend…Intelligence, logic, is a gift from God, but it’s very limited.” In other words, while John may value the human mind, he thinks it is irrational to make of it a god.
Once Rand convinced herself that traditional religion is wrong about the existence of God, Rand insisted that man’s goal is to reshape “the earth in the image of his values.”
The Scriptures teach that Jesus was the ideal human, but Rand’s bible, her novel called Atlas Shrugged, says her ideal human was named John Galt. We will get back to him later.
Ideas About Our Neighbor
I think that God supplies all of our needs if we are trying to help other people, so we do not need to be too concerned about our own welfare.
Sir John M. Templeton
The idea that man’s self-interest can be served only by a non-sacrificial relationship with others has never occurred to those humanitarian apostles of unselfishness, who proclaim their desire to achieve the brotherhood of men.
Like Marx, Rand’s thinking cut the heart out of mankind. While Saint Augustine may once have said that the heart contains a God-shaped vacuum that can only be filled with God, Ayn Rand thought that if God had ever existed, he was now dead, so there was no longer any need to love our neighbors as ourselves. Instead, we were to selfishly love “our own happiness as the moral purpose of our lives.”
In her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand explained the role of humanitarianism in her philosophy:
It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it’s in one’s power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers – though not at the expense of his own life. But this does not man that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving his fellow passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis, or whatever other troubles they might have.
If taken seriously by public officials, such a philosophy would have enormous public policy implications. The problem is that some do take it very seriously. For example, do you remember the entertainers Sonny and Cher? Sonny, as you may know, is now a congressman. The Wall Street Journal has said this about his concern for others, “I’ve got mine, Babe: GOP Rep. Sonny Bono, lamenting bashing of the rich, says, ‘Nobody handed me anything. I don’t think I have to share it with anyone. I did it, and it’s mine.’”
Combine Rand’s metaphor of the shipwreck with Congressman Bono’s thoughts about sharing with the poor an you’ll understand why the normally conservative columnist George Will wrote that current efforts at budget balancing have given “a whole new meaning to the phrase: women and children first.”
Yet Randist thinking also afflicts the more fortunate. Worth said this about Chairman Greenspan:
Referring to the disastrous advice given by a Merrill Lynch who sucked nearly a $100 million in commissions from Orange County, Greenspan declares that both brokers and their customers should be “unburdened by any perceived need to take into consideration the interest of their counter parties.” It sounds dull enough - until you realize what he’s driving at. Greenspan expressed that same radical belief more clearly during the 1960’s in a book of essays assembled by his mentor, the novelist and free-market zealot, Ayn Rand.
Are you still with me? The most powerful economic player in the world today does not believe you’re financial advisors need to consider your interest – and he doesn’t believe you need to consider their interest either. Nor do you and your advisor, by extension, need to consider the interest of your neighbors or future generations. It is every man for himself.
Greenspan spoke those words before Congress, and yet there is no evidence that anyone in Congress challenged the Chairman’s philosophy. Some may have actually nodded in agreement since another Congressman Armey’s axioms is: “Social responsibility is a euphemism for personal irresponsibility.” In other words, if Good Samaritans would just stop caring for others along the road of life, they would have to take care of themselves.
Do you see why I believe this thinking may influence the America you children will inherit? Consider this interview by columnist David Broder:
I asked Armey if he believed sufficiently in the morality of the marketplace to dissent from the many Republicans and Conservatives who have been calling on the T.V., movie and record industries to stop producing material celebrating violence and degrading women. He said that he personally didn’t care for much of the popular fare on the market today and wondered why there couldn’t be more Lion Kings. But as a man of influence, he would not jawbone those executives. Why? Because, he said, “If I run a movie company, my job is to sell movies.” And then he leaned across a plate of fajitas and quoted an axiom he attributed to Andrew Carnegie but which actually was uttered by another nineteenth century tycoon, railroad magnate, William H. Vanderbilt: The public be damned! I work for my stockholders.” If that isn’t a slogan for our times, then Dick Armey and his disciples would not be writing the nation’s laws.
Ironically, many religious conservatives who put Armey in power are now wondering if corporate leaders shouldn’t consider employees and communities as well as shareholders.
The attitude is also associated with Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. Friedman was probably the most influential economist of the eighties and Senator Phil Gramm recently named him the economic policy adviser he would most listen to if elected president. Friedman is often quoted for his statement that “Our only social responsibility is to make money. Period.” In other words, if the Good Samaritan had simply gone back to work and made money, everything would have been just fine.
David Selbourne, a best-selling social critic in Britain, has written: ”Milton Friedman has done more damage to the concept of civic good than any previous political or economic philosopher… You cannot remoralize citizen behavior when the civic order itself is being sold.”
Fortunately, economist Peter Drucker, who is respected by many of us in traditional religious circles, has written: “It is futile to argue, as does Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, that a business has only one responsibility: economic performance.” Drucker maintains that economic performance is the first, but not only responsibility of a corporation. He adds, that accepting social responsibility for not only shareholders but customers, employees, and communities as well, will be a primary task for all of us. In the very different world he believes we are creating.
While some of Friedman’s associates in Chicago have recently begun talks with the Vatican, Friedman once reviewed the important economic pastoral letter from Pope John Paul called Centesimus Annus, which went a long way toward embracing responsible capitalism. Echoing Pilate, Friedman concluded by writing: “But I must confess that one high-minded proposition, passed off as if it were a self-evident proposition, sent shivers down my back: obedience to the truth about God and man is the first condition of freedom. Whose ‘truth’? Decided by whom?”
Indicating that he prefers for God to stay in heaven and leave this world to economists, Friedman once told Religion and Liberty: “The growth and development of Britain and the United States and other advanced countries did not owe anything to organized religion…I am concerned that as of now the organized church is more likely to be an obstacle to the achievement of the right kind of economic institutions than it is to be a source of strength…The church tends to believe that it should exercise control not only over the spiritual realm but also over the material realm, and that’s where all the difficulties arise.”
Unfortunately, I often hear Judeo-Christian leaders quote Friedman’s views as if they were gospel. In short, religious leaders should understand what even George Bernard Shaw knew when he said, “Whether you think Jesus was God or not, you must admit that he was a first-rate political economist.” The traditional Judeo-Christian position has always been that “love thy neighbor as thyself” means personal responsibility must be balanced with social responsibility. If it is not, personal responsibility simply becomes a code word for taking care of number one.
The sign of the cross symbolizes the truth that we are to love God and our neighbor unconditionally. This love is the organizing force of the universe. By contrast, in the final sentence of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has her hero, John Galt, make the sign of the dollar over the world. It symbolizes her belief that the selfish pursuit of money should be the organizing force of the universe.
This is why Jack Kemp felt so uneasy about the idea that conservatives must choose between economics and cultural renewal. It is why so many Americans seem frustrated that our only political choice is between communists on the left and barbarians on the right. And it may be why Bill Bennett has written:
The conservative agenda is politically dominant but fundamentally incomplete. Republicans eventually must stand for more than shifting the focus of funding from Washington to Sacramento....Even if government directly undermined civic society, it cannot directly reconstruct it.
There are few political solutions to moral problems. If there were, Jesus would not have fled when the people wanted to make him king.
The Cattle On A Thousand Hills
The secret of success is giving, not getting. Those who are grown up give. The immature do not. It is wise to practice giving in every area of life.
Sir John M. Templeton
Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights. No man, neither Negro or white, has any claim to the property of another man.
Arianna Huffington is a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a think tank often associated with Newt Gingrich. She heads its Center for Effective Compassion, which promotes private giving to replace the welfare state. She recently spoke on C-Span concerning the question “Can Conservatives Have a Social Conscience?” One of her primary contentions is that we Americans have grown selfish during recent years. Conservatives usually assume that as deep cuts are made in welfare, private giving will take up the slack. But will it?
Obviously, selfishness has been around since the fall of man. In the opening chapters of the Bible, Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Many of us have consciences that remind us to do more for the needy of the world, and personally, I hope we never lose that holy discomfort-for it means that some spiritual life remains in our hearts and souls.
So is Randist selfishness any different than Cain’s? Yes. It is very different. As Nathaniel Branden wrote, “What is new is the Objectivist validation of the theory of individualism and the definition of a consistent way to practice it.” In simple terms, Rand’s disciples now have a moral justification for the abandonment of their brothers. Perhaps for the first time in history of civilized people, selfishness is considered a virtue rather than a moral feeling.
Despite Rand’s assertion that each of us possesses an absolute right to “our” own property, Judeo-Christianity has always maintained we are simply stewards of property that belongs to the true Owner. The laws spelled out by Moses allowed limited access to property that “belonged” to others (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). And thought Jesus and his disciples were not property owners, they were not stealing as they plucked grain and were challenged about working on the Sabbath.
John Templeton’s assertion that giving is more important than getting is a reminder that creating wealth must be balanced with its distribution. (Where would we be if after creating the world, God refused to share it with us?) With government shifting responsibility for the needy back to churches and individuals, that kind of thinking will be needed more and more. The Wall Street Journal has estimated that every church in America will need to raise between $200,000 and $300,000 annually to match the projected cuts in welfare spending.
Nevertheless, Congressman Armey originated the effort to eliminate the tax deduction for charitable giving. (Remember that statistic about economists and giving?) The Wall Street Journal has said that most politicians are reluctant to eliminate it, but economist Armey “is willing to tackle colleges and churches by halting the deduction for charitable contributions.” “Tackle” strikes me as a most appropriate word here, since it denotes “stopping the progress of something.” Unless humans suddenly become angels, eliminating the tax deductions will hardly encourage more private charity at a time when we are reducing welfare and aid to education. (Personally, I wonder if a 5% to 10% tax credit, which would be a dollar-for-dollar deduction against your federal taxes, might not be more effective in solving America’s social and moral problems. It would free each of us to choose between personally caring for our neighbors or having the government do it for us, a somewhat biblical, and realistic, approach in my view. And it might bring us closer together as neighbors.)
I also thought it rather sad when The Wall Street Journal reported, “[Jack] Kemp declined to run [for president] after his incessant calls for Republicans to reach out to racial minorities drew lukewarm reactions from party activists.”
I have never been more embarrassed to call myself a religious conservative than at the conclusion of a Christian radio interview in which I discussed the South Shore Bank and Opportunity International. Both are voluntary, market-oriented efforts in which I have chosen to invest in order to help those with whom Jesus most closely identified. They do this not through welfare, which can unintentionally foster dependency, but by helping people help themselves, to build self-esteem and a future. After the show, several callers complained to the host for allowing a “liberal” on the air. I felt a tear fall from heaven.
So let me be as clear as I possibly can: you can advocate that our government run on a more fiscally conservative basis and still have a social conscience.
My second greatest embarrassment as a religious conservative may have been when Larry Burkett wrote:
As cruel as it may sound, from the long-term perspective of the economy, it would be better to raise taxes on the poor than on the wealthy. It is only the wealthy-the people who have surplus money-who are able to invest in industries that create the jobs and wages that make it possible for the poor to escape their poverty.
Such thinking may have encouraged the libertarians to work to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit for the poor. In essence, rather than penalize the poor for working by reducing benefits, this program allows them to keep more of what they earn in the workplace. In a special section titled “American Survey: A Slap in the Face for the Working Poor,” The Economist noted that then-governor Ronald Reagan first thought enough of that idea to advance it. When as president he signed its expansion in 1986, he thought it was “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job-creation measure to come out of Congress.” President Bush thought enough of it to expand it once again, with the endorsement of the conservative Heritage Foundation. And traditional conservatives like Jack Kemp have recently voided support for reforming, not eliminating, the credit. So we might take note that The Economist quipped that when today’s new “Republicans say they are not balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, that they are serious about work-based welfare reform, and that their tax policies are not skewed to favor the rich, think of the EITC and reach for the salt.”
That Old Devilish Pride
This is the Humble Approach: To assume a realistic attitude before the Creator and admit that we are not the center of the universe…Egotism is still our worst enemy…. Humility is the gateway of knowledge…The question before us is whether theologians and religious scholars, clergy and laity, are also taking the humble approach.
Sir John M. Templeton
Humility is, of necessity, the basic virtue of a mystical morality; it is the only virtue possible to men who have renounced the mind…to gain the virtue of humility, one has only to abstain from thinking.
John Templeton has written a personal theology, called A Theology of Humility, which is based on two verses from the Scriptures: “Moses was the most humble man on earth” and “Not my will, but thine be done.” In part, it says, “The Theology of Humility does not encourage syncretism but rather an understanding of the benefits of diversity.” In essence, John finds no need to mix his belief with the secular religions of either the left or the right. Yet true unconditional love for those secular humanists with whom he disagrees is an absolute tenet of his faith – exactly the kind of love that I, frankly, find to be the most difficult to achieve.
Still, I will admit that God still works in strange ways and all of us may have benefited from the diverse opinions that the objectivists and libertarians have brought to America’s political economy, even if I don’t fully understand them. I remember standing once in the dark, damp catacombs outside Rome. I wondered how the people of those days felt when they read Paul’s letter that said the Roman authorities could serve only if God willed it and they should therefore be submitted to and obeyed (Romans 13). When my clients seem particularly worried and unhappy about the government, I encourage them to seriously reflect on this passage to honestly evaluate whether their mindset is closer to Paul’s or Rand’s.
Yet Paul traveled over the roads and shipping channels developed by the Roman authorities to spread his Good News throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe. Later, the Good News spread to the other continents of the world, including North America. Perhaps he knew what he was talking about after all. Perhaps we should just trust that God is indeed using political leaders – perhaps without their even knowing it – to further his kingdom.
Nevertheless, Ayn Rand, like Marx, was one more self-proclaimed prophet who denied the existence of a loving God – One who asked us to love others as he has loved us. Before she died, Rand wrote, “Today, the world is facing a choice: if civilization is to survive, it is the altruist morality that men have to reject.”
Let us hope there are enough of us who disagree with Ayn Rand. Forty years from now, I will hate to explain to a young person that the greatest challenge of my life was learning to love Ayn Rand – despite what she did to America’s soul. Think of those young people for a moment as you reflect on these words from Bill Bennett:
I think we have made enormous gains: material comforts, economic prosperity, and the spread of democracy around the world. Yet even with all of this, the conventional analysis is still that this nation’s major challenges have to do with getting more of the same. But to look any or all of them as the solution to what ails us is akin to assigning names to images and shadows, it so widely misses the mark. If we have full employment and greater economic growth – but our children have not learned how to walk in goodness, justice, and mercy, then the American experiment, no matter how gilded, will have failed.