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Wealth, Poverty, and Human Destiny Hardcover – August 1, 2003
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Bandow's authors are markedly more pro-capitalism than Schindler's authors, who express serious reservations about the adequacy of capitalism for the task. Many of the Bandow authors cite historical evidence of reduction in material poverty as a strong case for capitalism. This proves difficult for Schindler's group to refute. They instead identify a spiritual poverty in capitalist societies that they label as "homelessness." In Schindler's own words, "`homelessness' refers to a lack of one's proper place in the cosmos" (351). He states, "man is rightly said to be at home insofar as he realizes the relations that most profoundly constitute his being as a creature" (351). He fleshes this out through four different relationships: man with God, man in community, man in family, and finally "liturgical-eucharistic community" (353).
This `homelessness' argument, coupled with an argument regarding `gift-giving,' constitutes the majority of the material from Schindler's authors. Adrian Walker initiates the thread of gift-giving, writing "the best, most central paradigm for understanding free economic exchange is not contract among self-interested strangers, but gift-giving among neighbors" (23). The question arises as to how to promote this mentality of gift giving. While most of Schindler's authors seem to leave it in the hands of the individual actors, one does propose a role for the church: "From a Christian point of view, the churches should take an active role in fostering economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation. This requires promoting economic practices that maintain close connections among capital, labor, and communities, so that real communal discernment of the good can take place." While I agree that much can be accomplished through the church, I am not sure of the tangible first steps advocated by this mindset.
Bandow, in his summary at the end of the book, concludes the following: "In the end, the problem of humanity is not liberal economics, but humanity. All men are fallen and sinful; greed and envy are our inevitable lot, no the products of particular social systems" (343). While affirming of capitalism's positive aspects, Bandow is clear about his conviction that capitalism is not Christian. "It neither advances human virtue nor corrects ingrained personal vices; it merely reflects them. But socialism and its weaker statist cousins exacerbate the worst of men's flaws" (345). This calculated affirmation of capitalism is wise and proves to be too much for Schindler's authors to outweigh.
One of the primarily difficulties in reading a book of this nature is that it is difficult for any of the authors to truly get going within their argument. The interplay between various articles is on the surface at best, save the summaries by Bandow and Schindler. Many of the authors reference Novak in their essays but it is clear that the majority have not been able to read and respond to each other's arguments. This leaves the reader with an unfinished feeling, not because of the need for further thinking on a broad topic, but rather because of dropped questions that never get picked back up. More tightly defined topics, such as Lewis' "Wealth, Happiness, and Politics: Aristotelian Questions" or Davis' "`We Are Not Our Own': George Grant's Critique of Science, Technology, and Capitalism" seem to have greater impact in the end because of their defined limits. While these may not specifically propel the debate, they are satisfying in their success at accomplishing their stated tasks.
I am unable to recommend this book to a wide audience. While it would be possible for anyone to glean tidbits of insight from the reading, I am convinced there must be better books and articles available (although this review will not serve as a bibliography directing the reader towards greener and more fertile soil).
In my opinion, the essays from P.J. Hill, Daniel Griswold, and Jennifer Roback Morse have particular merit for a wide audience. Hill, Professor of Economics at Wheaton College, argues convincingly against using government to redistribute income. Griswold, Associate Director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, overwhelmingly shows the need for international trade in alleviating poverty. Morse, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, writes sensitively about the need to embrace "those who are legitimately dependent on us." Morse's voice, one of the most engaging of the compilation, rings loudly in an arena that all too often ignores human dependence. I do not mean to discount the other side of the argument by highlighting these three essays. It is simply that there must be a better forum through which to learn the information that Schindler's authors attempt to present. Perhaps my frustration is largely due to their lack of plausible proposals for tangible first steps. Perhaps my frustration is simply that I am unconvinced (and frankly, tired) by their belaboring of gift and homelessness. Or perhaps my frustration is over their needlessly obtuse arguments. Whatever it may be, I would encourage the determined reader to pick and choose rather than bind himself/herself to reading this entire volume.