Modern Socialism and the Bible

by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr.

 
[ene_ptp]A common defense that modern supporters of socialism use is to claim that it is the model practiced by the early church in the book of Act, and thus it is the model we should seek to follow.   Acts 4:32 states,
Now all the believers were one in heart and soul, and nobody called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything they owned. (ISV)
While at first blush socialism seem to be a reasonable inference of this passage, there are a few problems with this view. First off, there is the question of whether this passage is prescriptive or descriptive. Is this something we are commanded to follow, or is this just describing what they did? That it is descriptive is supported by the fact that this certainly did not last very long, and we do not see other churches being told to follow this practice.
Nor does it seem to have worked out very well, for what we do see is other churches being asked to contribute funds to support the church in Jerusalem.  It should be noted here that had sharing everything in common been a universal teaching of the early church, there would have been no need to make the plea for support. Also Paul makes it clear that “each of you should set aside and save something from your surplus” (1 Cor 16:2) showing that funds were not held in common.
So it would seem that the socialism of the early church in Jerusalem was not a universal teaching, and did not end up very well. Nor is it really hard to see why.   Acts 4:34 goes on to describe that,
none of them needed anything, because everyone who had land or houses would sell them and bring the money received for the things sold
This is all well and good, but accumulating the money needed to buy land or a house takes considerable time. Selling such an assets can generate a lot of money, such that it is not surprising that at first “none of them needed anything.” But as is pretty clear to most, it is easier and takes less time to spend money than earn it. If the people were earning enough money to keep up with the need there would have been no reason to sell property in the first place.
Since they did sell it, it means the need exceeded their incomes. Selling the property, and the resulting inflow of cash, fixed the short term issue, but it did not address the long term one, and thus it was only a matter of time until the money ran out again.   Yet this time, the property was already sold. With nothing else to sell, now they were all in poverty, and thus the appeals to the other churches for support. This is an inherent problem of socialism. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” It can produce short term gain by tapping into accumulated wealth but the gains are short lived.   In the end, as Winston Churchill pointed out, “The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”
But even if one takes the early Jerusalem Church as a model to follow, there is still a very big and significant difference between the socialism of the early church in Jerusalem, and modern socialism. While the socialism of the early Jerusalem church “shared everything” the sharing was voluntary. This can be seen in Acts 5 and the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira. While they also sold some of their property and gave the money to the church, they secretly held back some of the money they received. The key point here is that they were not punished for holding back some of the money, but for lying about it. Note Peter’s response in Acts 5:3-4,
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you should lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the money you got for the land? As long as it remained unsold, wasn’t it your own? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? So how could you have thought of doing what you did? You didn’t lie only to men, but also to God!”
 According to Peter, Ananias and Sapphira owned this property and could do with it as they saw fit. There was no obligation to give this money to the apostles. Their sin was to lie and say they gave all when they did not.
Peter’s words are words the modern socialist cannot say. While those in the Jerusalem church would say, ‘what is mine is yours’, the modern socialist says ‘what is yours, is mine.’ The former is a statement of generosity, the latter is coveting. It may be disguised as concern for some need, but at its core it is seeing what someone else has, and wanting it for their own purposes.
It is important to note that in the 10th commandment, there is no exception clause. It does not say do not covet unless you have a good reason. Where Peter could say “wasn’t it your own” the modern socialist say “give it to us or else.” The later just does not strike me as a very Christian message.
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14 Responses

  • I understand all of what you are saying, Elgin, and it does raise questions and concerns on what this scripture passage means based on socialistic ideas of Jerusalem and today’s world. You have done a wonderful and thought-provoking post on this subject. To me, the most important point to ponder in this scripture is “all the believers were one in heart and soul”……that is the church’s (total body of Christ) goal is to become unified as the body of Christ or complete (perfected).

  • Having lived in places that practiced some variety of socialism, I have both concerns and hopes about it. I certainly agree that the experience of the early church doesn’t set the standard for governments. It does seem to me, however, that we, as a church, are to take care of one another.
    So my question would be more what does this passage say about what the church should do in modern times to keep from having Christian believers dependent on the government. If our citizenship is in heaven, should we not provide for one another? I would want to answer this question first.
    Having said that, I would approach application to government from a pragmatic point of view. I’d remind my more socialist friends and colleagues that wealth must be produced to be distributed, and I’d remind those who are capitalists that in any system involving human action, there will be glitches. As a Christian who is a resident alien in this world, and yet a citizen of my country, I will not neglect any workable solution that may keep people from falling through the cracks.

    • Henry,
      Given the length, my post was focused on addressing one argument I have commonly heard to support the modern socialist/welfare state. I would point out however, that I do not restrict glitches just to capitalism. Nor do I reject that there is a role for the state, as a resource of last resort. The question is frankly much more in terms of how aid is delivered. I would also point out that the studies are pretty clear that as a whole those who support capitalism given more of their time and money, than do those who support socialism.
      I am all for helping those in need, but taking money from those who are struggling to fund a bloated government system where the average government worker gets paid much more than their private sector counter parts, and have benefits beyond the dreams of most in the private sector, so that some money can be sent to the poor is hardly being a good steward of funds.
      And BTW, I do not restrict this only to Government. There are many charities whose employees live lavish lifestyle in the name of some worthy cause or another. But just because they claim some worthy cause, does not mean they are effectively or efficiently addressing the problem. Government’s track record is pretty clear in this area, and it is not very good, at least here in the US, and mixed at best elsewhere.
      The goal is not the issue here and the point of my post was to address the question of whether or not Christians should compel others to give to causes the Christian deems as worthy by pointing to Acts as a justification. I would say no.

  • Elgin, your post suffers from lack of definition. You never defined socialism, but only claimed it’s a form of theft and covetousness. Most of us know that both communism and socialism in today’s world are state run institutions. In its most extreme form, the state owns the major means of production and distribution. In Democratic Socialism, the economy is largely capitalistic, but supports a broad safety net. Those who claim, as some do, that Social Security, Medicare, and universal health care are socialistic, fail to recognize that the societies that embrace these do so voluntarily, not by edict from the state.
    Your critique of socialism has nothing to do with what was practiced in the early church, and its failure to endure. Just as the communes in Israel and elsewhere are described as communism in form, but lack state sponsorship and are totally volunteristic, so the Jerusalem community practiced, not socialism, but a form of communitarianism that prioritizes the needs of the community over the needs of the individual. The operative text is, as you rightly noted, Now all the believers were one in heart and soul, and nobody called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything they owned. (ISV)
    and nobody called any of his possessions his own. Where do you suppose that notion came from? Could it be from Psalm 50, where God declares that “all the world and everything in it is mine”? Or perhaps Jesus’ call in Luke 4 for a “Jubilee world”? Regardless of how well the notion that God owns everything and we are but stewards took hold, it remains the ideal. It is the reason they shared everything they owned. As stewards, the early church realized that they were to live for the sake of each other, not merely for themselves. As Paul put it in Philippians 2.4: Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
    So I find that your critique is not so much against socialism as it is against the communitarian ideal of “all for one and one for all.” Until the church reclaims this ideal, we will be just one more gathering of self-serving individuals.

    • Steve,
      As I explained to Henry above, space restricted me to address a single argument that I have commonly heard. You claim that “the societies that embrace these do so voluntarily, not by edict from the state.” That is at best a half truth. Universal Health care may or may not be implemented in a socialistic fashion.
      As for Social Security and Medicare, I know lots of people who would want out, or did not want to be forced in. Both programs are basically Ponzi schemes that are going bankrupted, as politicians have promised far more than they can deliver based on what people have paid in.
      Frankly I consider Social Security to be immoral in the way that it was run. Earlier generations have accrued benefits well in excess of what they paid in, and what surplus the system did build up was borrowed and put into a mythical lock box. As a result younger generations will have to make up the difference between what was paid for and what was promised, plus they will also have to pay back all the money that was borrowed out of the lock box by earlier generations.
      It is as if you wanted a retired program, but you only put away a faction of what was needed and then borrowed much of what you did save, replacing your saving with IOUs. Then at retirement you expect your children to pay back the loans you made and to also make up for the shortfall. That is not moral as it is putting future generations into bondage to pay for previous generation’s retirement. The system is unsustainable.
      I would agree that my “critique of socialism has nothing to do with what was practiced in the early church” but then that was my point. Remember I am responding to argument made by some supporting socialism and who do so by pointing to the early church. If people want do this voluntarily, then I have no complaint. If they can make it work, all the better for them. My point is that while this was done in Jerusalem, it was not a universal teaching of the early church and has nothing to say about what governments should be doing now.
      Thus I find your last sentence puzzling, and can only conclude you missed the actual point I was making. As for self-serving individuals, that is one of my critiques of socialism, as its emphasis on entitlements often produces individuals who are more focused on what they can get, rather than on what they can give. This is, I believe, one of the reasons that as a whole, those who support socialism are less generous with their time and money, than those who support capitalism.
      For example, during the worst of the downturn following the collapse of the housing market, revenues to my city had fallen and the assessments for taxes that year had already occurred so they could not raise taxes at that time. The city needed to cut back. When it came to the schools, they had two alternatives. One they could lay off a number of crossing guards. Two they could delay a fixed raise that had previously been negotiated by the teachers union and schedule to shortly take effect. Despite the economic hard times when people were suffering, the teacher’s union refused, and the crossing guards were laid off. Sadly, I was not at all surprised.

      • You did not address the essence of my argument that what we see in Acts is, in fact, a model for the church which is a form of socialism or communitarianism. The fact that it did not endure is not an argument against it. By bringing the supposed excesses of the state into the discussion you are making an irrelevant argument. I contend the voluntary socialism of the early church is as necessary now as then. It’s an extension of our stewardship responsibility for all that is God’s, including humanity.

        • I am sorry you think that I ignored the essence of your argument, but I was responding in the context of the article I wrote and I saw your argument as at best tangential. Again I was addressing a specific argument used by supporters of the modern socialist state to defend their view. I was not writing a general critique of socialism. Given this, I find it mystifying how pointing out what I was actually arguing in my article could be irrelevant to a comment about my article.
          As for your claim that “The fact that it did not endure is not an argument against it,” I would say that would depend on why it did not endure. On the other side, just because something was tried, does not make it a pattern we should follow.
          When it comes to the goal of concern for those in need and our obligation to help them, I suspect we are in agreement differing mainly in the best way to accomplish this. For me a key question is whether or not it makes people’s lives better.
          I think this is a big part of John’s injunction to respond not just in love but also in truth. The reason words are not enough, is because they do not actually help people. Similarly what good does it do to take actions, if in the end it does no good, or actually makes things worse?
          Short term the Jerusalem Church seemed to have made things better, but long term they were left worse off. Given this and the fact that we see no other injunctions from the Apostles for other early churches to follow their example, I see this as a strong indication that this was descriptive. It was a failed experiment.
          If you want to say this is a model for today, you can of course make that claim. If you want to structure your own church on that model, go for it. But I would point out that as soon as you try to impose this on others as a mandate they must follow, realize that you are no longer dealing with the example set by the Jerusalem church, much less the other early churches.
          Finally if you are saying that the early Jerusalem church has nothing to say about how Governments today should be structured and run, then you are in agreement with the main point I was making in my article.

  • As it happens, I share your view that the radical communitarianism practiced by the church described in Acts was a failure in terms of not producing a long lasting system, and I suspect this was at least partly for the reasons you describe. I also suspect that the collection which Paul later talks of raising to support the Jerusalem Church may have been needed because of the apparent failure of the experiment.
    I think another reason for its failure was that it only addressed the needs of one community among a wider people, and in those circumstances there is a strong probability that the wider community would take advantage of the situation.
    However, I also think that the restriction to the immediate faith community was the one aspect of its practice in which it failed to follow the directions of Jesus (and I note that they were a lot closer to Jesus’ time than we are, and so those commands would be far fresher in their consciousnesses).
    Otherwise, I think the story as told evidences strongly that the community were actually taking the commands of Jesus regarding money and property seriously. The story of Ananias and Saphira, as you remark, does place the blame on them for lying rather than holding back – but we should not forget that the probable reason for lying was that the injunction to the rich young man was to sell everything he possessed and give it to the poor, not half of it. Of course, Jesus did not say “the poor of your faith community” either, just “the poor”, but he did indicate that the rich would find it difficult (or impossible) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven – which is what I anticipate the Jerusalem community were trying to live into. (I reference only two of the many passages from the gospels indicating Jesus’ directions).
    Of course, quite a few of Jesus’ other injunctions and examples to us appear, from the point of view of a practical 21st century person, to be courting disaster. Following him “even to death on a cross”, for instance, suggests a blithe indifference to life and the avoidance of suffering. Speaking truth to power has a tendency to get you at the least vilified, if not imprisoned or killed, even today. It is not sensible.
    However, I do not think we should criticise Jesus’ commands for not being sensible and ignore them; at best we should admit that our fears for economic welfare, life or liberty are stopping us following him (and God) “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might”. They certainly have this effect on me.
    It is a shame that the experiment proved so short lived. Had it not, it may have been that the community would have found their way to cooperative structures which CAN run businesses and industries (there are many instances of these, now and in recent history, such as anarchist cooperatives in Spain during the Civil War, cooperative societies in the UK and organisations such as the John Lewis partnership, a chain of UK department stores, and Brittany Ferries, a French farmer’s cooperative providing transport for their products as well as for passengers). The UK also has plenty of examples of local councils running village shops, post offices, bus services or pubs where otherwise there would be none.
    There are also enterprises which need a much larger community, such as a nation, to build and run, Yes, they could equally be run by large corporations, but where, for instance, the objective is to provide transport (such as our rail network), a nationally run system will be run in the interests of ensuring that the people can move from place to place freely and as cheaply as possible, while a private company will look only to profit. We used to have a nationally run system here; we now have a system hacked into bits, and the result is more costly to the traveler, more costly to government (which needs to subsidise it in order to maintain anything like a widespread service) and serves people less well in general. We created the national system because the previous privately owned systems had broken down and were no longer fit for purpose.
    Socialism does not, of course, see itself as depending on other people’s money, it sees itself as applying the money of the whole community in the interests of the whole community and as ensuring that those who actually work and produce things share equitably in the fruits of that labour. Where you see government as taking your money, a socialist sees government as applying the money which happens to be in the hands of one member of society for the benefit of that society; holding all things in common, one might say.
    And, as Steve Kindle rightly says, Democratic Socialists hold capitalism and socialism in tension, the rights of the individual and of society in tension – and in the process produces countries which are better to live in for the vast majority of their populations. I am not sure that you could pay me enough to make me want to live in the America which you envision!

    • Chris,
      Much of your response goes far beyond the subject of my article and in fact much, if not most, I would I would agree with. For example in terms of the poor, not only would I agree that our concern should not be limited to the poor in our faith community, but that it would be wrong to do so.
      I would also point out that I agree that we should not “criticize Jesus’ commands for not being sensible and ignore them” or ignore them for any reason. But I do not believe Jesus has that much to say in specific terms on economics and politics. I believe this is deliberate because these system depend on a whole number of factors that change with time, and as such for any system to work it must correspond to the times. At the moment I believe the best system and the most moral system is Capitalism. But I think it highly unlikely that it could have worked in the first century. Nor do I assume that it will be the best in the future. I do not even rule out that “cooperative structures” will be found that would make socialism the best. I just do not see that to be the case now, and certainly do not see it in socialism as it is currently practiced.
      By their fruits you shall know them and thus I find it instructive, but not surprising that the average capitalist is more generous than the average socialist. Also modern socialism is very closely allied with secularism and I do not think it is a coincidence that the rise of socialism is strongly correlated with the decline in Christianity, and religion in general. Despite the claim that it is based on concern for others, it seems to produce people who are far more concerned on what they get, than on what they can give, thus the stats on generosity.
      As for government vs business, I know this is how socialist see things, I just have seen far too many examples to the contrary. For example, a private business got permission in California to build a toll road in the space between the opposing lanes of traffic to allow people for a fee to bypass the gridlock. After a while opposition arose because a private companying was making money on this, so eventually the states bought them out and took over running it, at which point the main thing that changed was that the prices went up.
      If pursuing the best interest of the people really were the goal you might have a point. But if nothing else, there is often a disagreement over what is in the people’s best interest? I know that here the EPA is not even allowed to consider the impact of its rules on people, and attempt to get them to consider this has been blocked by the democrats.
      Then again there are lots of other competing interests and quite frankly people in government are just people. Often they put their interest first. A major case in point is that education here has been declining for decades and one of the biggest problems is teachers unions who talk about the interests of the children, but are really blocking needed reforms because they put teacher’s interest first.
      Socialist may not see it as other people’s money, but that does not change the fact that it is. Again perhaps it is different over there, but over here both Sanders and Clinton have campaigned trying to outdo each other in how much they will give people and when asked out they will pay for all this, have responded that they will get the rich to pay. Nor are they aberrations.
      As the facts I have in my book Preserving Democracy point out the upper incomes brackets pay that vast majority of the income taxes, far more than the proportion of income they earn. The lowest 50% pay only about 4% of the income taxes, and for the lowest 40%, because of tax credits, the income tax is not something they pay, but something they get. So what does it mean when the majority who pay little or nothing, vote to increase taxes? How is this not helping themselves to other people’s money?
      As for holding it in tension I do not see that tension, at least in the Democratic Party here. Nor do I see it as successful in Europe. As we have discussed before, American economy drives the world economy, and Europe and the rest of the world depend on it to a large degree. When the US economy suffers, the world suffers. In terms of size there is no reason Europe could not take on this role, but it doesn’t. Like the Jerusalem Church, things can be good for a while, but it is not a long term solution. Granted socialism is not the only problem, but I think it plays a large role, and is part of the reason I believe there is a real question whether Europe as we know it will make it to the end of the century.
      As for the America, or world, I envision, I am not sure you really know what it is, but that would be a much broader discussion.

      • We do disagree when you say that Jesus doesn’t have much to say in specific terms about economics and politics, though the word “specific” might be enough. Jesus, for instance, extolls poverty “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” and condemns the rich as camels who cannot pass through the eye of the needle. He condemns the pursuit of wealth – “you cannot serve God and Mammon”. He criticises saving up for a rainy day (Luke 12:16-21) and encourages concentration on merely having enough for today (our daily bread, consider the lilies).
        Against this, you set a system which values only wealth. The nub of your argument against socialism is that it spends money on actually keeping people reasonably fed, clothed, sheltered and healthy as, in effect, waste – it cannot then, your argument suggests, go on to create more wealth (which is the only reasonable objective), because the poor will just spend it. In fact, what is spent on these basic human needs immediately goes back to those who produce the food, clothing, shelter and health, and circulates again in the economy, whereas the savers sit on it and are the real wasters.
        Jesus does of course praise generosity (though a sceptic could see this merely as part of his argument against wealth). I do question your suggestion that capitalists are more generous than socialists, though. It is true that the rich give much more than do the poor (I haven’t seen figures using their political outlooks as a point of division, and there are a significant number of somewhat socialistically inclined rich people who give a huge amount). I do not think, however, that this holds as a percentage of free income. My own admittedly anecdotal experience has been that those who are proportionately most generous are those who are giving their whole free income after subsistence (or sometimes more than that) to others, very much following the story of the widow’s mite, though most I’ve seen do this don’t have that story in mind, and these are the poor, not the rich. This should, I think suggest why those with higher incomes should pay a far greater percentage of their income to the common good?
        I will grant you that those who are starving do tend to be rather concerned with what they can get, compared with those who are well provided for. I don’t see that as a criticism.
        I note your story of the privately constructed highway. We used to have a privately owned bridge in town, connecting the two sides (the only river crossing for some miles). Toll collections created huge traffic backups for many years; finally a consortium of local councils and local businessmen bought out the owners, and the bridge is now toll free and isn’t an obstacle to traffic (well, unless it’s opened for river traffic). I was one of the businessmen in question. Obviously our local government operates rather differently from yours – your example looks to me more like a case of local capitalism with a power of expropriation, which is obviously not what I think local government should be. That said, there were some conservative councillors who suggested that the tolls should be continued in order to retrieve the public expenditure – they were voted down…
        I am perplexed why someone who authored a book called “Preserving Democracy” would be in any doubt about the best way to make decisions in the interests of the people as a whole – obviously, the answer is democracy. Yes, people will disagree, but if democracy works reasonably (which I concede is not necessarily the case in either of our countries) then we have our representatives who will speak for us, and if they don’t we can vote them out and get a new set. I personally think it works a lot better in countries with a strong tradition of social democracy, which I would argue works pretty well in most of the north-western European countries, currently with the exception of my own (which has a government which seems to want to be crony capitalists).

        • Chris,
          I believe you are incorrect to argue that capitalism values only wealth. If anything, at the core of capitalism, would be efficiency and avoiding waste. To see this consider the fact that one can operate effectively and be very successful in a pure capitalist system and care little about wealth or its accumulation. One cannot do so, however, if one is not concerned about efficiency. In addition, capitalists encourages one to be concerned with others. As I have pointed out before, just look at all the books about meeting customers’ needs and expectations, and how to keep employees happy.
          You wrote “The nub of your argument against socialism is that it spends money on actually keeping people reasonably fed, clothed, sheltered and healthy as, in effect, waste.” As someone who knows what I believe fairly well, this is flat out false. That I believe socialism to be wasteful is true. But my real complaint is that it in the end leave people worst off and in the long term is unworkable. In many respects Europe’s mix way is an admission of this, and the only remaining question is how much socialism an economy can afford before collapses. But in any event I believe there is a much better way to accomplish the same goal, and one that well leave all people far better off. (There will be more on this in an future article I plan to write)
          You wrote, “In fact, what is spent on these basic human needs immediately goes back to those who produce the food, clothing, shelter and health, and circulates again in the economy, whereas the savers sit on it and are the real wasters.” There are two problems here. First, you are correct that government spending on the poor does go back into the economy. The problem is that the economic stimulus effect of such spending is less than 1. If this were not the case then everyone could go on welfare and the economy would boom!!
          The second problem is that in a capitalist system, (unlike earlier era’s) few if any just sit on their money, it is invested back in the economy, even if it is just put in banks. This is why the stimulus effect of money left in the private sector is, on average much greater than 1.
          As for the generosity of supporters of capitalism vs socialism, all the studies I have seen were adjusted for income, i.e., they compared those of like income. I would point out that at least here in the states, despite the stereotype the left is strongest with the very poor and the very rich those who are connected to government and unions. The right is strongest in the rest, particularly small and medium business.
          As for being “perplexed why someone who authored a book called “Preserving Democracy” would be in any doubt about the best way to make decisions in the interests of the people as a whole – obviously, the answer is democracy” I would suggest you read the book. I do not argue for pure democracy, which as I say in the book is akin to 4 wolves and 1 sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Until modern times, all attempts at democracy have failed and most of the time due to internal problems rather than external threats. Sure the US as lasted over 200 years, but some earlier attempts lasted longer. Those who set up the US understood these problems and tried to construct a system to avoid them. At least in the US, we are abandoning those safeguards, with somewhat predicable results. Thus my book.
          on

          • Oh, Elgin, would that you were right about waste. Unfortunately, to a capitalist, efficiency is expressed purely as selling for the highest possible price something produced at the lowest possible cost, i.e. the maximising of the wealth (i.e. money) produced. The capitalist’s wet dream is to produce for nothing something which people don’t need (but desperately want), which they use up rapidly (or waste) and which they want to replace immediately it’s used or wasted.
            Unless there is a clear cost to waste, waste is not a concern to them. Thus it is only environmental protection legislation which will prevent them from dumping all their waste into the environment, and as long as they can do this freely, they aren’t bothered. Take as an example the kind of chemical processes I currently work on improving – they were typically first tried in the 19th or early 20th century, they are incredibly profligate with use of materials, sometimes actually yielding as little as 5-10% of the weight of materials introduced, the rest often being useless material which would at the time have been pure waste. Not infrequently the waste stream is extremely heavy with (taking examples I have recently seen) concentrated sulphuric acid, carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons or heavy metals. As long as the raw materials are reasonably cheap and the end product expensive (for as little labour and energy as possible), the original industrialists were not bothered. They weren’t even bothered to maximise the yield (which would have been an efficiency they might have understood); we have recently managed to produce 35% on a process which was listed as 12-21%.
            The sulphuric acid process I mentioned stopped in the UK about 50 years ago, as environmental legislation stopped them dumping the waste in our rivers; if moved to India and China where they weren’t so bothered. China caught up with the environmental side about 10 years ago and cleaned up their act (we think with significant government investment), the Indians have recently closed down their factories, their government having started enforcing regulation but not being prepared to put money into keeping their industries going. The result is that a number of Chinese companies now have a monopoly, and know they have, and we’re trying to work out how to repatriate the process to the UK but on an environmentally sound basis. On the aromatic hydrocarbons we’ve consulted (with success) on how to clean up a surreptitious dumping by a now defunct UK company in a quarry, just on top of the main aquifer serving our region. The heavy metals are now recycled.
            Of course, the propensity of industry to make goods with as short a lifespan as possible (which markedly increases waste) is well known.
            As to meeting the customers needs and expectations, it would seem that the major effect of marketing and advertising is to induce people to think they need things they don’t and value highly something with little or no use value. One might think that the plethora of information now available on the internet would curb this trend, but it doesn’t seem to.
            You say that the economic stimulus value of spending on the poor is less than 1. The figures I have seen indicate that tax cuts for the rich do indeed produce a stimulus value of less than one, whereas money to the poor typically produces a value of 1.7 or better.
            I still think I was right as to the nub of your argument. Otherwise, why would you not contend that for every citizen, a basic right should be to be fed, clothed, housed and healed, as a priority over matters such as maximising GNP?
            Now, I do not in fact suggest full blown socialism (in which all property is held in common) is either a good thing or produces a viable economy. Granted, the “held in common” part has in every widespread attempt involved “held by the state”, and the almost immediate effect of that has become “held mainly on behalf of an oligarchy” – just a differently constituted oligarchy from that which eventually holds and/or controls the vast majority of property under capitalist systems. I do suggest that democratic socialism, in which there is a mixed economy and the interests of the people as people (rather than just as consumers or as labour) is given due weight, is a better system than either socialism or capitalism.
            I merely need to look to the levels of happiness and contentedness with their systems which I see in most of Northern Europe (which, may I remind you, includes some very strong economies indeed, and no truly disastrous ones), or Canada, Australia or New Zealand, compared to those in more blatantly capitalist-leaning societies to be confident that democratic socialism produces the best result for the people in general.

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