[box]Someone asked me to review and evaluate the book Truth and Transformation by Vishal Mangalwadi. (You can order it from amazom.com here if you’d like to read it for yourself: Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations) Iwill try to do that in a short series of essays. Please keep in mind that this is about the validity of the arguments and possible actions presented. It is not about the author’s character. I have no reason to doubt his good intentions, just his conclusions about economics and politics. I will do this by sections of the book until it seems redundant. I expect to learn things along the way. I hope you do to.[/box]
Summary of chapter 2 – Rationality:
In this chapter, the author presents the idea that Western societies prospered because Christianity taught them to value work, while at the same time encouraging thinking for the sake of creating better ways of doing things. He says God is shown as a worker, thus work is seen as godly. Then, he turns around and says ‘toil’ is dehumanizing, which is not further clarified. He gives examples of how Buddhist and Hindu religions discourage interaction with the physical world, instead telling adherents to empty their minds. He gives a lot of credit to monks for inventing things. He also continues to describe education that is controlled and driven by so-called Christian religious organizations as an important source of capitalistic theory and civil order.
On the other hand, he says, the availability of written material is not what stimulates discovery and invention. The Chinese and Koreans had superior printing methods 500 years before the West, but did not tend to read the books that were printed. He did not say what was in the Asian books. He goes on to say that rational thinking and reasoning, and therefore Christian worldview, that have been part of Western culture for the last few hundred years, began being abandoned for mystical thinking in the early 1900’s. It is supposedly this lack of Christian rationality that inhibits prosperity in other countries.
There is no doubt that a proper and correct view of the world will aide in a person’s ability to make the most out of life. The more people in an area that understand truth, the easier it will be for people in that area to learn to make the most of the resources available. However, the religious organizations that are being given credit by the author for inculcating the population with this proper view of truth were, in fact, just as often guilty of wielding their own oppression, which led to stifling prosperity. While there are many false rumors about who persecuted whom and why, there is sufficient indication that religious positions of power were abused by Catholic and Protestant alike. Certain persons would gain political power and they would tell others what they could and couldn’t do. Less freedom always results in less economic growth. Bill Jackson’s out of print book, The Noble Army Of “Heretics”, gives much of history religious politics and can still be gotten used through amazon.com.
Sequestered living in a communal style, i.e. monasteries (which is not a strictly Catholic phenomena), has been idealized spiritually, but based on what has been proven about communistic living, there is reason to question it working as well as we have been led to believe. Maybe the monks came up with some things to make their lives easier. Maybe they used other people’s ideas and got credit for it. But almost certainly, their way of living did not stimulate them to invent and produce like they would have if they were free men or supporting families. Consider that their choosing to live this way is really a political statement, rather than a spiritual one. There is plenty in the Bible about living out and about in the world at large, doing business, and taking part in your God-given, earthly family. Choosing an economic mode is not a spiritual choice, per se, although it is often done in an effort to feel and appear more spiritual. I suggest this article on religion and its compatibility with libertarian political ideas to explore this further. Bottom line is that saying we owe some sort of economic debt to what the monks used in their monasteries is like saying future generations will be better off because of things discovered in Cuba during our century.
Christian groups are just as likely as anyone to not understand basic economic realities, thus misleading their followers. The original communism tried by the Pilgrims is one example of this. Even though these people were well taught Christians, things deteriorated horribly when the wrong economic system was chosen. All that they knew about working hard did not make a difference. People died because of this. Another thing that comes to mind is that if Christianity was such a great influence on economic growth, why were there really only pockets of such growth during the times when the purportedly Christian forces were leading. Even in America, which according to the author has been predominantly Christian up until the last couple of decades, there was severe economic hardship due to poor political policies. The economy was put in a tailspin by Hoover and Roosevelt from the late 1920’s to 1940. No amount of Christian work ethic could save it from foolish politics that destroyed jobs.
In both Europe and America, ostensibly Christian religion was used by monarchs and city fathers alike to limit economic choices and impose approved ways of living. Then, history was written by them to record for the rest of us what a good job they did. Inventions and progress made by individuals not associated with the political powers of the day have no clear history or get claimed by those with influence. Economic prosperity that was occurring without the tyrannical benevolence of the latest ruler was often not recorded, or worse yet, was mislabeled as an period without proper governance. As I have said before, the evaluation of recorded history is a tricky thing, because it is generally written by whoever was in charge at the time, then revised by those who come to power later. Things have to get mixed up in the telling.
Giving great credit to religious institutions for providing education when they were frequently closely controlling everything that was being taught is odd. They kept tight reins on what they thought was proper to study or not study. Not only that, but just like how our government manages education today, what was taught often did not translate into useful job skills. There is nothing wrong with things like logic, philosophy, and literature. But, for one thing, people CAN and DO learn them on their own. For another, such educational facilities have a tendency to make it all seem more complicated than it needs to be in order to justify their existence. And last, but not least, these things might not be very important to spend time on when a person is going to build machines or run a grocery store. The importance of specialization and division of labor is lost when these areas of study are illogically elevated compared to vocational studies. So, it is not more rational to use precious time studying things that have little practical value in making a living.
There is some record that there was economic prosperity in non-Christian countries (China, Arab localities) before they succumbed to a more centralized, and often despotic, leadership. The everyday people would work at prospering until someone came along and confiscated all private property (land, goods) in the name of some imperial ruler. Even if some people tried to follow teachings that revolved around begging or sitting and chanting, the bulk of the population realized someone had to work. And besides, they liked the results.
To be honest, I did not feel this chapter was written very coherently, so I found it difficult to review. It seemed to repeat the misconceptions about economics from the first chapter, with a slightly different twist. He wants to make the point that truth sets us free, a quote from Jesus. Jesus is very specifically talking about being free from sin. He is not telling his listeners to expect economic prosperity by following Him.