Regulating Sinful Man
With the onslaught of the banking crisis in late 2008, a public outcry arose to reign in the evil bankers who had single-handedly destroyed our economy. As that message was busy working its way deep into our national subconscious another, contrary idea arose: the banking industry was not to blame, it was the evil government who had already overreached with its regulatory power that set up the financial meltdown.
Two opposing ideas representing our country’s two political extremes. On the Left are those who have come to believe that the free-market will always stick it to the little guy, that the only thing to keep the invisible hand of laissez-faire from beating the little guy to death is a strong, regulatory government. A government that looks out for those who would otherwise be swept away in an unrestrained economy. In the other corner we have those on the Right who have bought into the idea that the only thing that keeps a nation’s economy from flourishing is government regulation. A bureaucratic mess of red tape and hyper-involvement from the feds, the more D.C. gets involved the more businesses are kept from growing, the fewer employees they are able to hire, and the worse the economy gets.
The problem with both of these extremes is that they have enough truth to be believable, and enough naiveté to be dangerous. Who can deny we need some form of government intervention when free enterprise abuses either their customers or employees for the raw financial benefit of them and their stockholders? Tell my friend who was fired six months before he was eligible for retirement that the free-market will always work out best for everyone involved. At the same time, I dare you to wait in line at the DMV, or any government office of any kind, and tell me that government is not inefficient, cumbersome, and hyper-regulated.
So here is the rub of it. Mankind is indeed sinful, and thus, if left to their own designs, the free-market will abuse those in its path. At the same time, however, we must also apply the tag of sinfulness to government itself. Historically an unrestrained government has left more carnage in its wake than an unrestrained economy ever has or ever will. The same sinful human beings that occupy the offices of big business also occupy the offices of big government. Who will save us from our saviors?
The core of the problem is not that the free-market needs to be regulated, neither is the crux of the issue regulating and reigning in government. It is the human soul that needs to be regulated. Focusing on anything else is fixing your leaky faucet while your house is on fire; you aren’t really addressing the main problem. Put simply, what the world needs is not more or less government, it needs the same thing it has since the Fall: more of Jesus.
Now, let us tie this back into the economic and regulatory issue at hand. A quote may prove useful here:
“Smith also saw as necessary fundamentals of a free market the core biblical values of justice, benevolence, and prudence…Justice is necessary because employees, customers, business partners, and fellow citizens fulfill their roles better if they have a high level of trust. Benevolence or goodwill is required because neither individual business nor an economy can grow without a community.” –Paul de Vries
Of course the “Smith” under discussion here is none other than Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations and one of the most influential people concerning the notion of the invisible hand guiding an economy. But as we see here, an economy cannot be driven by greed alone. Greed must be tempered by goodwill, and love of money will never replace love of neighbor. But on this side of heaven, where sinful hearts still roam unregulated, the best answer to our economic woes is for business to deal with some regulation, for the government to not overreach, and for the Church to demonstrate the power of a transformed heart by caring for those whom the free-market neglects and the government can’t reach.