A fresh read of John Wesley, The Use of MoneyAllen Parker
Winter Spiritual Life Retreat, Congregation at Duke University Chapel
February 11, 2012
Our thoughts on money cover every emotion - from fear to greed, anger to euphoria - and few topics evoke such strong response. If you think about it, our thoughts about money often run in loops of suspicion, panic, and smug satisfaction in the span of a few moments. Why?
On one hand we hear calls for our time, talents, gifts, and service, and almost in the same breath we hear chastening cries against consumerism, income inequalities, and perceived injustices of the economic system. Some cry for the end of the very market system that, if you think about it, enables them to have a place to share such feelings.
We'll explore a classic text, John Wesley's sermon on the use of money, and discuss ways that his wisdom speaks to our current struggles.
The 18th century finds England in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, with groups in America and France building on Enlightenment thinking to foment revolution. Goods, services, and literature become more widely available, and with that new access comes a rising outrage, a foreshadowing of movements against corporate greed, unequal distribution of wealth, and the plight of the poor. From the midst of this we have a text, a sermon by John Wesley (1703-1791) titled "The Use of Money," that speaks directly to the rising pressures and criticisms of wealth.
Modern times bring us similar criticisms and pressures - the 2008 financial meltdown, political campaign rhetoric, and Occupy Wall Street demands, to name a few. We hear essentially two lines of thinking: either an individualist track that leads toward greater division, or a collectivist track that leads toward social justice. What if a third track exists? Enter Wesley's text from centuries ago. Get ready to be surprised and fascinated by the way this theologian challenges conventional wisdom and provides an alternative to the bipolar rhetoric of today.
Money as the...
George Frederic Watts, Mammon
- grand corrupter
- bane of virtue
- pest of society
Chairman, Davos 2012
- “We have a general morality gap, we are over-leveraged, we have neglected to invest in the future, we have undermined social coherence, and we are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations...”
- “... solving problems in the context of outdated & crumbling models will only dig us deeper into the hole...”
- “...capitalism in its current form has no place in the world around us...”
- Where it means clean water
- Clean living conditions
- Access to medical care
- and if Jubilee never happens
- despair, without hope
Money and Anxiety
- If we understood the true role of money in our lives, we would not think simply in terms of spending it or saving it.
- Money exerts a deep emotional influence on who we are and what we tell ourselves we can never have.
- Our long unwillingness to understand the emotional and spiritual effects of money on us is at the heart of why we have come to know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
- Money has everything to do with the pursuit of an idealistic life, while at the same time, it is at the root of our daily frustrations.
Is money like manna?
Bernardino Luini, The Gathering of the Manna
- manna ( Exodus 16) — survival, sufficiency
- distributes likes human height, weight?
- money - stored time, talent
- Black Swan effects
- distributes like human creativity, talent?
Georges de La Tour, Paid Money
- Stored unit of value for time, talent
- Relief from barter
- Allowing for trade across different resource-rich or specialty regions
William Gropper, Piece Work
- Wages evolved from piece-work, to wage-labor, to salaried positions
- Depersonalized exchange
- Separate public, private spheres
- Freedom to enjoy the private sphere
- Save all you can
- Viewing money as a store of God-given time, talent, gifts
- Spending becomes an expression of who you are and what you believe
- Why cast it into the sea?
Velocity of Money
- Middle Class
Berthe Morisot, Getting Out of Bed
- Who is the best steward of the hours you are given?
The Unjust Steward
Marinus, Parable of the Unjust Steward
Luke 16:1-13 — cannot serve both God and money
- diaskorpizo — scattered, squandered
- oikonomia — household management
- Wesley: if the world is shrewd, comfortable with money, why not also people of faith?
- Providing for your household to live simply, not throwing it into the sea
- Taking care against risks that may arise
- Surplus happens...
- What needs to be true for us to trust ourselves to be good stewards?
- Can human beings can be left free as individuals and families to live their lives as they see fit?
- Can they come together voluntarily to solve their joint problems?
A Great Irony
Donna Walker, Simple Living
- Living simply leads to abundance & surplus
- Living extravagantly leads to scarcity
- True for individuals
- ... for households
- ... for institutions
- ... for creation
- Who is the individual?
- Maximize individual utility?
- Maximize community utility?
- Cultural norms
- Madison Avenue
- Species competition
- Community of faith
- Discretionary spending
- Private sphere
Leveraging our numbers
- Work group
- ... Compulsion?
- ... Necessity?
Tragedy of the Commons
- Hardin, 1968 — Individual utility vs Common good multiple individuals,
- acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest,
- will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource,
- even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen
- but what is “un-owned property”?
- what arrangements constitute “common” property?
- To what extent...
- On what basis...
- ... do others have a claim on the hours you are given?
- What needs to be true for us to trust a collective body to be a good steward?
Raphael, School of Athens
- Society of Luxury — corrupts the individual, and then the state
- Society of Need — minimal, but who guards us from the guardians?
- The American project
Polybius and Anacyclosis
Polybius (200-118), Histories
- [cyclically repeat from below]
- Federal Republic
- [cyclically repeat to above]
- Charles Murray - America’s four “founding virtues”
- 1960-2010 America - from similar rates between the classes to markedly different
- Each virtue
- Limbic response
- Neo-cortex response
|Prisoner B's Strategies|
|Do Not Confess||Confess|
|Do Not Confess||
- Do cultural factors matter?
- More individualist cultures (US, Western Europe)
- More collectivist cultures (China, Korea, Japan)
- Command economies
- Market economies
- Knowing yourself and God
- Without harm
- Without delay
Creation of Wealth
Keep it local
- Community context
- Phenomenon of Local Currencies
- Less private
Does keeping it local work?
- Community context
- “Least worst” intersection?
- Maxim 2 of 3: Disparity of wealth...
- ... is not natural
- ... is the result of sin
- ... must be mitigated by the community of faith practicing wealth redistribution
- Which are finite?
- manna, height, weight, water
- Which are limitless?
- talent, creativity, imagination
- What defines human value, worth?
- United Nations: freedom, equality, dignity, rights
- Judeo-Christian (Gen 1:27-28): imago deo
Kinsler & Kinsler, 1999
- Worse now?
- Years, decades, centuries, millenia
- Are we talking about...
- ... starvation?
- ... stuff?
- US poverty level, family of 4 = $22,350
- say, living on 70% of that, saving the rest
- Ranks in the top 12% of the world
The Wicked Rich and the Poor Lazarus,
- If wealth is not what defines human value...
- ... then is disparity of wealth “wrong”?
Poverty as pathology
- David Wilson (Binghamton University)
- “poverty” and “pathology” are not synonyms
- social capital and financial capital are not interchangeable
- Colin Campbell, The China Study
- Diseases of poverty, affluence
- What causes disparity of wealth?
- Internal factors, both elective and fixed
- External factors, both circumstantial and structural
||Key for factor-driven economies|
||Key for efficiency-driven economies|
||Key for innovation-driven economies|
|STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT|
stage 1 to stage 2
stage 2 to stage 3
|GDP per capita (US $) thresholds||<2,000||2,000 - 2,999||3,000 - 8,999||9,000 - 17,000||>17,000|
- The left tails...
- The right tails...
- Extent of participating in economic growth
Speedbump: Do No Harm
- Is this possible in a distributed ownership, depersonalized, market economy?
- Effects of rooting out inefficiency
- Schumpeter’s waves
Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950),
History of Economic Analysis
|The Shumpeterian Cycle of Innovation and Entrepreneurship|
|Shumpeter's waves accelerate|
|Pace of Innovation||
|First Wave||Second Wave||Third Wave||Fourth Wave||Fifth Wave|
Kinsler & Kinsler, 1999
- Wrestling with mammon is not new
- Organizing to make decisions in the face of disparate...
Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834),
Essay on the Principle of Population
- Classic economics (Adam Smith)
- “Dismal Science”
- Zero sum, scarcity
- Thomas Robert Malthus
- “sooner or later population gets checked by famine”
Viktor Vasnetsov. Four Horsemen of Apocalypse
The Great Divergence
Another Great Divergence
- Maxim 1 of 3 (Myers)
- World as created is abundant, provided:
- Human restraint on appetites
- Live within limits
- Echoes of Plato
Back to Manna
Bernardino Luini, The Gathering of the Manna
- Collective: from each according to ability, to each according to need
- Zero-sum: hoard (& rot)
- Welsey’s 3rd path...
- Individual surplus, spills over to the household, then to the community
Classics Illustrated No. 7
- Maxim 3 of 3 (Myers)
- The prophetic message is “good news” to the poor because it calls people to practice redistribution
Life at the margin
Navid Eghbalieh, In Wait
- Should we...
- How do we...
- ... best help the poor, those at the margins?
- health care, food, shelter
- old age, disability
Surplus v Charity
Adolph William Bouguereau (1883-1950),
- Generosity / Charity
- we’re in control, doing good works
- having lived simply and met our obligations to self, household
- the natural result
- no other use for it
- Having earned all you can
- Having saved all you can
- Give all you can
7 Generations vs. 3
Robert Albrecht (1966-), Iroquois
- To the extent that we remain silent on...
- ... we cede to the default curricula of the society around us
(Government, CNN, MTV, limbic)
Resources on the Web
- The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 50, The Use of Money
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan - The Impact of the Highly Improbable, 2007, Second Edition 2010
- Garrett Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons, 1968
- Sabbath Economics
- Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, 2012
- Beginning of a five-part critique of Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 which does not differ with the data (or the statement of the problem), but which is concerned with the interpretations, reactions, and conclusions (or lack thereof).