A Biblical Approach to Price Gouging

“You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” 

Deuteronomy 23:19-20

110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

Not only such theft and robbery as are punished by the magistrate; but God views as theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to draw to ourselves our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or with show of right, such as unjust weights, ells, measures, wares, coins, usury, or any means forbidden of God; so moreover all covetousness, and all useless waste of His gifts. 

Heidelberg Catechism 

The issue has come up recently whether or not it is Biblical to engage in price gouging. The thinking on the part of some is that price gouging is always perfectly legitimate except possibly for cases where charity is needed for the poor.

I, however, do not agree with that reasoning. I believe, based on a principle that is found in the Deuteronomy passage above that price gouging while allowable is not universally allowable.

In the passage above having different fiscal dealings with different groups of people is clearly limned as acceptable. A foreigner may be charged usury because in such a way a foreigner is decapitalized in favor of God’s people who are capitalized. Usury was a means of taking dominion over the wicked and God’s law clearly allows for such dominion.

“the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous”

However, that very same usury could not be practiced on someone who was part of the covenant community because at that point the person charging usury is capitalizing himself at the expense of his brother.

It seems, therefore, we have a principle here that would apply to price gouging when it comes to fiscal interaction. Price gouging is acceptable when practiced upon those outside of the covenant community but when practiced on someone who shares a common faith in Christ it is not acceptable lest God not bless in all that they undertake.

So, the law concerning usury was kinda a split the difference approach establishing a key spiritual principle of distinction between those inside and outside the covenant/national community. Here we must articulate that with regard to this law, the covenant and ethnic/national community were basically treated as synonymous. This is to say that the covenant community that we are not allowed to decapitalize is inclusive of those who are part of a shared people group but who may not affirm the Christian faith. Even here, not all of Israel is of Israel so to speak. This is as simple as to say that a son would not price gouge his mother even if she didn’t share a common faith.

Per the Heidelberg catechism quoted above, I think a strong argument can be made gouging is a form of theft, especially when used against one’s own people, analogous to the usury case cited. We must be on guard certainly against the market idolatry so prevalent among Libertarians today and strive to look at the matter from a Biblical perspective. The market, comprised as it is of buyers and sellers is not Sovereign if only because the Market is comprised only of humans. To make the Market sovereign then is to make man sovereign then and is to give us a form of humanism. While the dynamics of a free market must certainly be taken into consideration those demands do not get the final word. Entrusting everything to a sovereign market only turns man into Homo Economicus wherein the only consideration is shekels.

For the Christian man as Homo Economicus is to be eschewed as economic theories centered on man as Homo Economicus (economic man), is a concept that teaches that humans are consistently rational and as such are narrowly self-interested actors who consistently pursue their subjectively determined self-centered ends. Yet, the Christian is to be the man who pursues not only his own needs but also the needs of his brethren. Price gouging those who have a shared faith and / or a shared ethnicity is hardly a case of not thinking only of our own needs but also the needs of the brethren (Philippians 2:4). We must not fall into the Gordon Gecko thinking that “greed is good,” forgetting that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

It is interesting that the same people making videos explaining the goodness of all price gouging are the same people who support usury hammer and tong.

Price gouging has been practiced repeatedly in history. In 1862 Major General Ulysses S. Grant issued general order #11 prohibiting the presence of all Jews in the theater he was serving in for the precise problem of the price gouging in cotton in which they were involved.

Likewise, Carpetbaggers and Scalawags took advantage of price gouging during the era of deconstruction to decapitalize the defeated Christian south and in the usage of this price gouging, Southern Christians went from being the head of the social order to being the tail of the social order. This proves, as mentioned earlier, that price gouging, like usury, decapitalizes who is subjected to it and capitalizes those who use it.

So, to make this all concrete let us consider an example. If one had ice in an area that had no power that ice becomes important to someone who needs to store insulin. For Christians selling ice their consideration, per the Scripture above, would be to consider the needs of the household of faith by charging a few lesser shekels vis-a-vis the household of those outside the covenant who would be able to pony up with a many more shekels. This would fulfill God’s command to the Church to ‘care for one another.’ In this example, the Christ hater would have to pay a more substantial per unit price of whatever product is being sold. The Christian, on the other hand, should be given a break and sold the same product as still for a profit but a lesser profit than what would be asked of the buyer outside the covenant. In the former case the Gougers makes a profit in the latter case profit is still made but not as much.

I will gladly concede that in a social order like ours it is extremely difficult to make these distinctions once the gouging begins, but I would hope that some effort to that end might be employed. For example, a Christian who owns a hardware store or gas station in the affected area could go out of his way to not make as great a profit of off fellow members of his Church as he would those he knows are opposed to Christianity but still make a handsome profit.

Now having said all this I do not think the State has any place making laws against price gouging.  Anti-gouging laws would likely make the prices even higher because laws against gouging increase the risk and with an increase of risk the prices go up correspondingly to offset the risk involved. Also, all because anti-price gouging laws exist, doesn’t mean that gouging won’t happen. The black market (which is the free market) will always exist.

Gouging is likely an inescapable reality. It is the way the market works and you can’t make the market unwork by making laws. But woe is the man who prioritizes his huge profit at the expense of those who share a common faith.

Economics 101 Thursday Class Assignments

Interviews for Lessons 2, 3, 4

https://mises.org/library/economics-one-lesson-0

Listen to the first 30 minutes of this lecture

Vocabulary

Apprise
jingoistic
oblique
jocular
garrulity
wend
putative
pyrrhic
quagmire
dementia

Remember your reading Assignment in “Economics In One Lesson,” and your summary notes.

Crony Capitalism … Then and Now

“The mainstream (liberal) historians make much of the working class crisis of the 1870’s – 1890’s, saying that during those decades the federal government was obviously being run to satisfy the selfish interests of the Northern capitalists — and the workers subsequently endured cruel working conditions and bare subsistence. Further, the economy was grinding to a halt because workers and farmers weren’t earning enough to buy the vast array of products being manufactured. And all of that is quite true.

But then historians trot out the Progressive movement cited here to prove that the intrusive, unconstitutional, industrially-oriented big government created by Lincoln and the Radical Republicans in the 1860’s had been justified after all, because under Theodore Roosevelt it could and did react to the needs of the country after the turn of the century by haltering the capitalists. Those historians then have gusty editorial sighs of relief: the system worked! Big government did right, and thereby prevented the class warfare revolution of the poor which otherwise would surely have destroyed the United States. Therefore, they argue, the liberal’s socialistic government of today has precedent and is equally necessary and justifiable.

But in fact, those reform measures from 1887 onward were carefully designed to do very little to restrain the capitalists, even though they expanded the power of the federal government considerably. Viewed close up, they were mostly worthwhile-but-token measures…. None of that (what really turned the US economy around during the early progressive era) resulted from the socialist movement, or from big government per se.”

Frank Conner
The South Under Siege; 1830-2000 — pg. 237-238

______________

A few observations

1.) These united States have been living with Corporatism to one degree or another for over a century and a half now. The “haltering capitalists” that Conner speaks of is the Gilded Age Robber Barons like Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie et. al. These men made their fortunes by being in bed with the Federal Government and manipulating it to pass legislation favorable to them at the expense of any potential competition. In point of fact these men were not “haltering capitalists” but “haltering socialists of the Corporatist variety (Crony Capitalism).

The Corporatism that we have today is merely a continuation of the Corporatism that gripped this Nation as a consequence of the War against the Constitution. This war was funded by Northern Crony Capitalists as they funded Lincoln’s war in order to turn the South into a colonial farm to be milked to the profit of the Crony Capitalists of the Railroad, Textile Mills, and Shipping variety.

2.) Note the pattern. The Feds create the problem. Then they decry the problem blaming the problem they created on Capitalism. Then they offer solutions that will enrich themselves and their Crony Capitalists – Socialists partners. Finally, when the Fed’s solution does not work and only magnifies the problem they again raise a hue and cry about the problem blaming their failed policies that have enhanced and magnified the problem to be the fault of Capitalism, when in point of fact, the fault is that free markets have not been allowed the opportunity to address the problem. This program of blame is being repeated right now with Health Care. Health Care has not failed because of Capitalism. Health Care has failed because the Government involved itself. The solution that the Government has created now (Obama-care) is designed to fail so that the Government can come back and blame somebody in the Capitalist tent with the purpose of finally arriving at the Socialist Single payer program.

Which itself will not work.

3.) Court Historians are epic liars. Our court Historian liars are as responsible for this Corporatist cycle of failure as much if not more than the Feds and the Crony Capitalists. The lying Court Historians keep blowing smoke so that the American public never wake up to the fact that the liberal-progressive-leftist-cultural Marxist-Centralized-Omnipresent Government has never succeeded in “fixing an economy.” Naturally, the court Historians always give credit to the Feds for coming through but the credit inevitably really goes to some free market aspect that survived and flourished despite the repeated attempt by the Feds and the Crony Capitalists – Socialists to choke it out.

4.) All of this suggests that today the people exist, as cattle, for the Government and the Crony Capitalists to milk at their leisure. Those who are not of the Politician and the Elite mega Corporatist class exist as grist to enrich them.

The answer to all this is to smash both Centralized Government and the Elite mega Corporatist class because they are both Marxist to the core in their economics. The failure of the rank and file American is that they tend to see one of the other of these players as the problem instead of understanding that they are both the problem. Consequently, some Americans see the Mega Corporatists as a problem and so they offer the answer of bigger Government to control the Corporatists but these Americans don’t realize that the bigger the Feds are made the better it is for the Corporatists. Similarly, other Americans get ahold of the other end of the stick and suggest that the way to end the problem is to empower the Mega-Corporatists as “Capitalists” and to shrink the Feds. However, empowering the Mega-Corporatists as Capitalists is to, at the same time, empower the FEDS. Both the Mega Corporatists and the FEDS have to be broken at the same time.

Rushdoony and the Limits of a Limitless Libertarianism.

Was RJR a Libertarian? You read this quote from Roots of Reconstruction and tell me.

The current organizations that represent institutional Reconstructionism are no longer faithfully interpreting Rushdoony having drank the swill that is movement Libertarianism. They are no longer standing for the ideas that RJR championed having drank the Libertarian Kool-aide. They are supporting those who have attacked the Trustee family.

http://www.christendomrestored.com/blog/2012/11/christian-culture-vs-clan-culture/

(See Rebuttal here,)

http://faithandheritage.com/2012/12/a-defense-of-kirk-and-kin-a-response-to-bojidar-marinov-part-1/

They are applying Libertarianism, as opposed to Biblical Law, to Immigration analysis,

http://kevinforcongress.blogspot.com/2014/07/bojidar-marinov-on-immigration-crisis.html

(See Rebuttal here,)

http://ironink.org/2014/07/fisking-american-vision-published-blog-regarding-immigration/

They are explicitly insisting that Rushdoony was a full fledged Libertarian,

Is that Rushdoony’s libertarianism, or someone else’s?

But see below.

Currently those reputed to be representing Rushdoony are interpreting Rushdoony through a movement Libertarian grid and they are fouling the well of Reconstructionism and Theonomy. This is why I encourage everyone to go to the primary source (Rushdoony himself) to get the real Rushdoony. You can easily do this through the services of www.pocketcollege.com.

Don’t read these pretenders to the throne. As the bumper sticker used to say; “Read Rushdoony.”

Here is R. J. Rushdoony on his understanding of the Limits of a limitless Libertarianism.

“Reality, in brief was reduced to a particular institution or discipline of which men were the governors or interpreters.

This same fallacy has marked economics, in that all too many free market advocates under the influence of the philosophy of immanentism, have taken this one sphere of law and absolutized it as the only law. We do agree with classical economics as economics, but not as a religious philosophy. When it is converted into a religious philosophy of immanence, it denies validity to any transcendental law of God and to all other institutions and orders of life unless they pass the test of the free market. Free market economics then becomes totalitarian and absolutist: it becomes idolatry. Some hold that the family and prostitution, and normal and perverted sexuality, must compete on a free market basis. Narcotics and good food are reduced to the same free market test. In brief, anything and everything goes, because there is only one law, the free market. (0ne person contends that there should be no title to property, but only the right of access by everyone who is able to command the power and money to take the property, in other words, a free market to power and violence as well.) Any value derived from any other sphere, or any principled judgment derived from a transcendental order, from God, must compete on a free market basis it is held. This is simply saying that the free market is god, and that it is the absolute and sole value in the universe. It assumes there is no God beyond the market, no other law, no other value, than the free market. Moreover, because the free market has its truth in the economic sphere, they sit back smugly, satisfied that they have the key to life. The Marxists no less than other Totalitarians stress one or two partial “Truths”, which they use to exclude all truth and God, and the same is true of those who reduce the world to matter. The free market religionists are really great enemies of free market economics, in that they pervert an instrument of freedom into a form of totalitarianism. It is not surprising that many free market religionists have in recent years been very congenial to the New Left; both are alike in their strident totalitarianism.”

R. J. Rushdoony
Roots of Reconstruction — pg. 809-810
1972

The problem we are having with the current channelers of Rushdoony is that they have an Libertarian agenda that disallows them from reading Rushdoony qua Rushdoony. As difficult as it is, it is time to put aside Institutional Reconstructionism and Theonomy and realize that we have to start anew digging different wells … wells that hold water.

Sad though it may see, I’m quite confident that not even Rousas J. Rushdoony himself would cut a check to support Institutional Reconstructionism as it is expressed today.

From the Mailbag — Pastor I’m For Open Borders … Why Aren’t You?

Dear Pastor,

I ran across this quote from R. J. Rushdoony and I’m pretty sure you would support it,

We must render honor and justice to all men wherever due, but we have a particular responsibility to care for our own. This means first of all our families. . . . Biblical conduct is regulated by relationship, and to subvert this is to lead directly into welfare economics and socialism. If a man must exercise towards all men the same care, oversight, and charity he does towards his own family, then an impossible burden is placed on him. . . . Every system of ‘universal’ ethics is at one and the same time a system of universal slavery.”

R. J. Rushdoony
On illegal immigration and Amnesty
“Politics of Guilt and Pity”, p. 248

Pastor, I see this quote not as an argument for regulation of immigration, walls, and border patrols but rather as an argument against welfare. I do not see how the need to take care of my own family necessitates that I have a government that prohibits an individual from crossing an imaginary line in say Arizona. This is not logical. Furthermore, to construe this to mean that Rushdoony supported immigration laws is not honest. Could you help me see what I’m not seeing?

Lovey Jardine

Dear Lovey,

Thank you for writing. First let’s consider the RJR quote itself to see if it speaks to immigration. RJR says,

“If a man must exercise towards all men the same care, oversight, and charity he does towards his own family, then an impossible burden is placed on him…”

I would say that this indeed is an argument for regulation of immigration, walls, and border patrols as well as an argument against welfare. So, I do believe you misinterpreting the quote when you say it is not about immigration at all. To hopefully help you see where the relation is between “imaginary lines” and taking care of your family, allow me to offer,

1.) The need to take care of our own families includes the idea of having a stable culture and economy. The flooding of our nation with people of a different religion and culture means your family will not be taken care of because the consequence of such policy means the balkanization of this Nation into hostile religion, ethnic, and economic enclaves which demands a Centralized tyrannical Government can keep in order. One reason the FEDS are following this policy Lovey is that it creates a need for their presence since only a strong handed Government can mediate the hostilities that will arise from the policies of purposeful balkanization that they are pursuing.

2.) The depression of wages resulting in the destruction of the middle class is assured by the current immigration policy. This likewise will eventuate in the voiding of care for our current families. Harvard Professor and Immigration expert George Borjas has analyzed the effects of immigration on the middle class and the conclusion is that this immigrations redistributes capital upwards with the consequence that the mega-Rich get richer and the middle class are increasingly impoverished so that what is created by this policy is a have vs. have not social order. I’m sure you’ll agree with me Lovey that impoverishing your children in order to enrich the Mega-Rich Corporatism class, via this immigration policy, is not taking care of your family.

3.) This quote clearly advances the idea that RJR supported immigration laws when the consequence of them meant the voiding of the care, oversight and charity towards one’s own family. The current status quo does just that. Here is another quote from Rushdoony that communicates much the same idea that Scriptures do call for the extension of hospitality and justice, but not an open-borders re-ordering of social life.

“To call for the modern, humanistic society with an open relationship to all men would have appeared to the Israelites as the ultimate tyranny. The law did not require any such a re-ordering of any man’s private life: It simply required justice in dealing with all men.”

Highest Regards Lovey,

Pastor

______________________________
Lovey wrote back,

Dear Pastor,

Part of your answer was that “immigration “brings down wages”? So we should keep wages artificially high by regulating the number of people that can live or move through a particular area? I guess we not thinking in terms of a free market economy.

When Rushdoony said we need to “take care of our own families” I am sure you are right an he meant extending more power to the government to interfere with the natural right of individuals to move about freely. Yep, that sounds like something Rushdoony would say.

Lovey Jardine

Dear Lovey,

Thank you for writing back. Let’s see if we can tease this out for you.

First, I am not the kind of Libertarian that you seem to be. I do not support this free market economy that you are championing because it is most certainly not a Free Market economy. What you are supporting is the Corporatism wherein the Mega-Corporations are in bed with the Mega-Government to the end of turning the rest of the citizenry into slaves for their pleasure and use. This current immigration “policy” enriches the Mega-rich class and destroys the middle class. Statistics (See George Borjas’ work)

National Data | Economic Impact of Mass Immigration Worse than We Thought

clearly show that current policy means a transfer of wealth from the Middle class to the Mega Rich who are in bed with the Government class. I’m all for free markets when they are fair Markets but the game is rigged right now and I do not support a policy which destroys the infrastructure of the middle class in order to worship at the feet of Austrian Economics while at the same time serving the ends of creating a Globalist New World Order.

Second, per RJR, he was not the Libertarian that North is. North has been destroyed by his worshiping at the feet of Austrian economics.

Thirdly, I would challenge you on your individual natural rights language which is straight out of Enlightenment Humanism. Strictly speaking individuals have no natural rights. As Christians, we have duties. Only God has rights. In this case, per the first RJR quote, my duty and responsibility to care for my own is my particular responsibility. Since Biblical conduct is regulated by relationship my duty as a Christian to my family outstrips your Humanist idea of individual rights. I have already demonstrated in the first response how all of this impinges upon my duty to my family.

A good book to help you think through your whole “Individual Natural Rights” language is,

http://www.amazon.com/Whats-wrong-rights-Robert-Ingram/dp/B0006CZ1R4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1406212559&sr=8-2&keywords=T.+Robert+Ingram

Fourth, you warn about artificially high wages but I hardly believe that anybody would make the case that we are currently living in a time where artificially high wages is a problem for our families which reflect the middle class. The real problem here is the artificially low wages that would result were we to turn this country into a huge sweatshop. Also, I would repudiate the idea that immigration restrictions necessarily lead to extending more power to the Government especially when the policies you are advocating concerning immigration works to the end of setting in concrete a Tyrannical state. The immigrants we are speaking of here are a natural constituency for the Marxist (Democratic) party. That party will use the votes of the immigration pattern to grow the Government into a centralized top down Usurping State. So, you chastise me for my alleged support of larger government because I want it to “provide for the common defense and yet your support of the current immigration imbroglio assures the rise of the totalitarian state. I fear you have not calculated the impact of Corporatism enough in your thinking Lovey. I also think that you need to listen to the RJR lectures where he points out that Libertarianism and Marxism are two sides of the same coin.

All the Best,

Pastor