As I round the corner at number 75 in my project of memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism this summer, I realize that our nation’s economic woes — all of them — are rooted in violations of the eighth commandment, Thou shalt not steal.
Americans have been stealing from themselves. Assuredly there has been predation tantamount to stealing from others, as well as consequential reduction in asset values, unemployment, and yet no decrease in prices in most of the cost of living sectors. Americans are immobilized. They cannot sell their homes easily and move as they used to. Their freedom is gone, and their net worth is reduced. And Americans, along with the rest of the world, I believe have flaunted their success and pridefully acquired things largely to their own undoing to the point that they have stolen from themselves and broken God’s commandment.
The eighth commandment requires the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. (WSC Answer 74)
If we buy absolutely the biggest and best of something that we can afford under optimal circumstances, are we furthering our wealth, or jeopardizing it in event of a market hiccup?
The eighth commandment forbids whatsoever does or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate. (WSC Answer 75)
More food for thought here. If we are running behind where we thought we would or should be by now financially, did we willfully, or at least proactively, hinder ourselves by presuming a uniform trend in God’s provision, or simply by pridefully reaching beyond our means because we could? Did we steal from ourselves by turning over the keys to a burglar?
As for our neighbor, I’ll say one thing for our tax structure. Our system of redistribution by taxation most surely takes into consideration our neighbor’s interest, whether or not he has looked after his own. Once we begin stealing from ourselves, we can nearly count on seeing a uniform trend in the decline of our wealth and outward estate. Redistribution by taxation requires whoever has anything left to turn it over to his earthly sovereign, who presumes to know best to whom it should belong.
Another thought: debt is the American way. That can be a practical, even wealth building thing. We used to be able to count on taking out a mortgage to buy a house and seeing our house grow in value, and so increasing our net worth in the long run. But the long run appears to have stopped short, and this was not entirely unpredictable. Is owning a home really an entitlement? Pretty controversial.
Americans are catching on. They are saving rather than spending as much as they can. And the government is mad. Its spokesmen are stamping their feet, insisting it is unpatriotic to save money, and patriotic to spend. The government spokesmen are urging us to steal from ourselves. If you have been robbed, pilfering what you have left is no way to recover your loss.
I am going to be simplistic here, because God’s moral law is very straightforward. Just stop stealing. Before buying one more thing on credit, or even for cash, what if all Americans thought before signing or turning over their money: “Am I furthering my wealth and outward estate — or am I stealing from myself? Is this necessary, or is this theft?”