As we continue to reflect on the global economic crisis, we have said that the root of the problem is not technical or lack of money. The root of the problem is in mental infrastructure between Theism and Atheism, and between their corresponding economic paradigm of oikonomia and chrematistics. These two different mindsets create two very different sets of values–or should I say virtues and vices.
In the Atheistic world of moral relativism, we speak of values – “my values vs. your values,” “what I value.” Everyone determines what is right and wrong in their own sight and situation. But in the Theistic world of moral absolutes, we speak of virtues and vices; these words are largely gone from the modern vocabulary. Virtues refer to “moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law.” Vices refer to “any moral unfitness of conduct.” In short, virtue is the practice of moral truth; vice is the living out of a moral lie. The practice of virtues leads to economic health for a family or nation. Carrying out vices lead to economic breakdown and poverty.
Students of economic history have called the virtues that lead to economic development The Protestant Ethic. What are some of the virtues and their corresponding vices that we have forgotten in the modern world?
WORK vs. SLOTH: Cultures that develop economically understand that work is part of mankind’s dignity. Diligence and industriousness are virtues. Cultures and people that are underdeveloped economically see work as a curse. Because work is a curse, people devise schemes that allow them not to work. People want to survive or get rich without working. If work is a virtue, then idleness, sloth and laziness are vices.
THRIFT vs. WASTE: Cultures that develop economically have future timeframes and thus have delayed gratification and are in the habit of saving. In these societies, thrift and frugality are virtues. Saving patterns are high. Envy and waste are vices. People and cultures that are underdeveloped economically have short-term timeframes, seek immediate gratification, and use credit cards to live beyond their means. Saving is low to non-existent. People squander their time and resources for consumption-oriented lifestyles.
GIVE vs. GREED: Cultures that thrive economically practice the virtue of personal generosity. People do not live for themselves but for their family and the larger community. Giving, compassion and personal charity are virtues. Cultures that die economically are self-centered and narcissistic. People “look out for #1!” Greed, stinginess and selfishness are vices.
The wealth and poverty of people and nations are largely determined by the ‘habits of the heart” – pursuing virtue and avoiding vice. The root of much of the current economic crisis is rooted in the vices of greed, waste and sometimes sloth and the loss of the virtues of personal charity, thrift and hard work.
-Darrow L. Miller
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