Making All Things New (Good of Affluence #2)

In his first chapter, Schneider sets out to explain why it is that modern capitalism is not in fact open to the kind of objections routinely leveled against it by modern theologians, and why modern affluence is a good thing, free from the condemnations that have been typical of the Christian ethical tradition.  Believe it or not, I actually have some positive things to say about Schneider’s approach, and, to keep these reviews from having too negative a tone, I’m actually going to organize this post around three things that Schneider does right (under each, though, I will discuss the weaknesses and shortcomings that relate to each of these strengths).

First, briefly, the basic structure of the chapter: Schneider’s main argument consists of claiming that modern capitalism represents a fundamentally new achievement in human history.  As something “new,” he will suggest that older critiques of wealth and acquisition do not necessarily apply to capitalism anymore; as an “achievement,” he will argue that, far from being critiqued, capitalism should be celebrated for the enormous good it has done in the world.  Then he will address moral critiques of capitalism–that it is founded on injustice–followed by spiritual objections–that it leads to materialistic vices.  All this being done in just the space of 27 pages, one should not expect him to do any of these things very thoroughly–the purpose is merely to clear the ground somewhat, attempting to establish a predisposition in favor of capitalism and affluence before embarking on his theological vindication.

Of course, this does pose rather a problem for the rest of his book.  For Schneider is honest enough to acknowledge that many of the objections he canvasses, if true, would thoroughly undermine his case and necessitate a very different evaluation of capitalism and affluence, and a very different use of the biblical material he is going to look at.  So to the extent that most of these objections are left relatively unaddressed, he embarks on the remaining seven chapters with a very shaky foundation indeed.  More on that below.


What is Capitalism?

Now, the first thing that Schneider deserves compliment on here is his relative restraint in praising capitalism’s accomplishments over the past couple centuries.  Of course, the key word here is “relative”–there is a real tendency to idolatry in some literature on this subject, even among Christians, hailing capitalism as the savior of the human race in terms that seem appropriate only for Christ himself, and suggesting that it has transformed the world for good more than any other development in history–surpassing, it would seem, even the preaching of the Gospel and the birth of the Church.  Schneider generally avoids that sort of rhetoric, though he does make fairly dramatic economic claims for capitalism’s success in liberating the human race from poverty. 

And of course, this leads to a potential objection: what exactly do we mean by “capitalism”? As I feared in the introduction, there simply is no real attempt to answer this question.  Schneider appears to mean something like “the advance in technology and economic development originating in the late 18th-century,” but if that’s what’s meant, then one might ask whether or not we should credit the Industrial Revolution, rather than capitalism per se, with all these accomplishments.  (Presumably Schneider would reply that the Industrial Revolution depended upon capitalism, but that merely continues to beg the definitional question.)  Adam Smith is, as usual, identified as being somehow or other at the root of all this, but there is no real engagement with his work or analysis of what, if anything, he did to create “capitalism.”  At one point Schneider says that, prior to the nineteenth century, “Except in Adam Smiths’ book, the concept of [economic] development did not exist” (20).  But that is manifestly false, ignoring the fact that Smith’s work stands at the end of a long discussion among eighteenth-century proto-economists on the rapid economic development they were witnessing.  Schneider, thankfully, does not use the term capitalism in the vacuous sense so often employed by its right-wing defenders–“respect for private property,” “economic freedom” or something like that (although at one point he does say that capitalism stands for fundamentally Christian ideas like “the validity of private property, the primacy of the individual, the importance and dignity of work, and the basic character of freedom”).  Indeed, in his emphasis on the newness of capitalism (see below), Schneider stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from co-belligerents like David Hall, who sees “capitalism” beginning with the Reformers, or Rodney Stark, who sees it as the legacy of the Christian Middle Ages.  I appreciate Schneider’s honesty at this point, but in the absence of clearer definition, it leaves us with the impression that “capitalism” might mean merely “modern technology and industry,” in which case its accomplishments might be achievable under a more just system of production.  

But the problem with this lack of clarity is that Schneider apparently has something very specific in mind, even though he never tells us what it is.  For he is confident enough of what capitalism is that he can inform us that, whereas in 1941, there were only two capitalist countries in the world, the US and the UK (huh?), there are now precisely twenty-five, no more, no less (though he doesn’t say which twenty-five).  This is, to say the least, mildly maddening.    

Moreover, when he credits capitalism with enriching not merely the rich, but also the poor, it is important for us to understand exactly what it is he is talking about.  For it may be plausibly argued that the dramatic decline of real poverty in the US and Britain in the twentieth century, which Schneider makes much of, is actually the result of governmental restrictions upon industry, protections of labor, and redistributive programs–otherwise, we would have a few Rockefellers and a bunch of paupers.  Schneider himself seems to confess as much when, after describing how well off the “poor” are in modern America, explains that this is due to “welfare, food stamps, unemployment provision, and rent subsidies, all of which supplement the earned income of the poor.”  If all this may be described as an achievement of capitalism, then Schneider’s capitalism is clearly not the government-free free-marketeerism that most Christian capitalist literature endorses.  

 

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Second, I appreciated Schneider’s emphasis (already mentioned) on the newness of modern capitalism.  This means (as I mentioned in the introduction) that he does not ignore the fact that the Christian ethical tradition is against him on most of his core arguments, nor does he try to argue that the Bible gives us a model of a capitalistic system, as is the rule in similar literature.  On the contrary, he maintains that since we now have to do with a fundamentally new phenomenon, the concerns voiced by Scripture and tradition, while they should be listened to respectfully, may be set aside as antiquated–they just don’t really apply to current economic realities.  Whatever you think of this, it is better than distorting Scripture to fit your script.  Of course, at this point, it might be easy to score cheap rhetorical points by labeling this as a kind of liberal relativism, but I won’t do that–Schneider’s argument here is in fact potentially legitimate.  It follows the same logic by which we might argue, for instance, that I no longer have a duty to marry my brother’s wife and “raise up seed to him” if he should die childless.  But Schneider will have to demonstrate that the relevant changes have, in fact, occurred.  And here, I think, is one of the weakest points in his argument.  

Essentially, this is the change that Schneider identifies: in the ancient world, wealth was all based on land, and hence static.  The only way to increase one’s wealth, then, was (according to Schneider) by means of war, taxation, or outright theft.  Nowadays, however, the rich do not make their fortunes at the expense of the poor, says Schneider, but by wealth creation.  So when Augustine said that the rich had a duty to give all their surplus to cover the necessities of the poor, he was quite correct, since there was no way to create wealth for the poor, and the rich had probably come by their gains by injustice.  But today, things are quite different, and we can safely disregard these concerns.  There is actually perhaps something to this, and I found some of what Schneider said here helpful in understanding the shocking rhetoric of the early Church Fathers.  

Unfortunately, it would seem that Schneider has to give both an unjustifiably negative portrait of ancient economic realities and an unjustifiably positive portrait of modern economic realities in order to make his dichotomy hold.  For it is simply not true that in the ancient world, the only way you could get rich was by outright forcible annexation.  Of course, that was common enough, but often, I expect, it worked something like this.  Your neighbor has a small farm, and you, by fortune, inheritance, whatever, have a somewhat bigger and better one.  Your neighbor has a stroke of bad fortune–say, his milk cow dies–and so you decide to take advantage of your superior position and offer to sell him milk at a very high price.  You thus grow somewhat richer and he somewhat poorer.  Similar things happen from time to time, and gradually you increase your competitive advantage over him, which enables you to make better connections, sell more produce than him, etc.  Finally, he falls on such hard times that he offers to sell his farm to you and work on your land in order to make ends meet.  So he becames a day-laborer and you a landlord, and you pay him minimal wages, thus growing richer and going through the same process toward other small farmers.  

In other words, a process not very different from how many modern rich people and large corporations got to be so prosperous.  

But of course, it’s also rather worse than that, for Schneider is frightfully naive if he really thinks that the modern West’s affluence doesn’t come at the expense of anyone else.  Modern technology and industry does allow for wealth-creation, to be sure, but except in industries like finance (which has its own perils), this has to be primarily based on underlying natural resources, just like in the old days.  And unfortunately, these resources did not simply land in the grateful lap of the US, or the UK before it.  Does Schneider really think it is a coincidence that the US’s vast economic expansion has occurred over a century in which it has been almost constantly at war and has deployed its military all over the world (in over 150 countries as of current count)?  Or that the nineteenth century expansion of British GDP that he raves about occurred at the same time that it was conquering India and South Africa (to name just two of the colonies with the most extensive natural resources)?  One gets the feeling that Schneider doesn’t know the first thing about modern geopolitics.

On this point, it’s also worth noting that Schneider’s attribution of the whole Christian tradition’s stance on wealth to “ancient economic realities” is rather difficult to sustain.  After all, he himself notes that this tradition includes Aquinas (13th century), John Calvin (16th century), and John Wesley (18th century).  As Rodney Stark notes in The Victory of Reason, trade, commerce, and technology (in short, the instruments of Schneider’s “wealth creation”) were advancing rapidly already in the time of Aquinas, and it’s a joke to pretend that an ancient Near Eastern models dominated the economy of John Wesley’s England.  The fact is that Aquinas, Calvin, and Wesley were all well aware that it was possible to get wealthy without directly stealing or killing.  But, however one became wealthy, they were very concerned about the moral implications of remaining wealthy, especially while others were poor.

Of course, there is another dimension to Schneider’s “newness” claim, though it is much less clear than the first part: that the capitalism we face today is fundamentally new even compared to nineteenth-century capitalism, so that Marx and Weber’s assessments really don’t apply anymore.  Unfortunately, though he makes a great deal of this point, it really isn’t clear what he means by it–all it seems to boil down to is that now we are even richer by far than the nineteenth century was.  But why that makes older objections to capitalism outdated is not clear.  For myself, I am largely convinced by Benjamin Barber’s thesis that modern capitalism is fundamentally different from that of Weber’s day–but in ways that make it much worse.  Barber argues that capitalism is no longer about producing necessary and highly useful tools and resources, and making basic necessaries more obtainable, as it was in the nineteenth century, but instead about trying to persuade people (through a constant and overwhelming barrage of marketing) to buy things they don’t really need.  Interestingly, Schneider actually appears to concur–what we are now witnessing is the rise, he says, not of a middle class but of an “overclass”–a group of phenomenally wealthy people who spend almost all of their income on luxury items.  And this, he seems to think, is a great thing.

 

This, then, is my third compliment to Schneider.  He does not beat around the bush, and pretend that what he is arguing for is an obvious good–like the end of poverty, or minimal prosperity.  No, it is not capitalism’s ability to produce these that he is out to defend (although he does give it credit for this as well).  He is out to defend affluence–the existence of multi-millionaires and billionaires, of Mercedes and jacuzzis, and of an economy ever more geared toward such people and such products.  This is courageous of him, I think, but it also of course raises the bar enormously of what his theological argument will have to demonstrate.  But this will have to be discussed at more length in a follow-up post.


36 thoughts on “Making All Things New (Good of Affluence #2)

  1. Bradley

    "Modern technology and industry does allow for wealth-creation, to be sure, but except in industries like finance (which has its own perils), this has to be primarily based on underlying natural resources, just like in the old days."Ha, that's ironic. If you asked me out of the blue, I would phrase it in just the opposite way. Wealth creation is possible when you're dealing with natural resources, like farming or building, but it's rarer in the financial industry. Abusive lending doesn't create wealth, it only takes advantage of people; and stock trading is usually a zero-sum game (though I realize that many disagree with me on that point). Same point made in different ways I think, but just funny that you jumped to finance first whereas I jumped to farming first. 🙂

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  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Sorry, lack of clarity on my part. The point I meant to make was this: Schneider seems to think that in the ancient world, wealth was something of a zero-sum game because it consisted only of natural resources–there was a finite pool of resources, and if someone was getting rich, it was often at the expense of someone else. Nowadays, however, he seems to think that by means of finance and technology, most wealth is simply created by human intelligence, and therefore does not impoverish anyone else, but enriches everyone. But my point is that, on the contrary, most real wealth still depends at root on natural resources, and so concerns about where those underlying natural resources are coming from (e.g., oil wars, blood diamonds, etc.) are highly relevant, and perhaps we are getting rich at others' expense, like ancient Romans. Finance is an industry where this is not really true, and much of the wealth "created" is notional, rather than grounded in natural resources; but therefore, as you say, this "wealth creation" is mostly illusory. Of course, I think you are right to also contend that Schneider's notion that wealth based on land is zero-sum is silly. Trying to be concise, I think, made my original sentence very confusing. Hopefully this helps.

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  3. AJ

    "There is a real tendency to idolatry in some literature on this subject, even among Christians, hailing capitalism as the savior of the human race in terms that seem appropriate only for Christ himself, and suggesting that it has transformed the world for good more than any other development in history–surpassing, it would seem, even the preaching of the Gospel and the birth of the Church." When I spent about a year flirting with Austrianism, I saw this 24/7. LewRockwell.com is mad with godlike praise for capitalism.

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  4. Brad Littlejohn

    Alas, very true, AJ. I've had many unpleasant run-ins with the LewRockwell.com crowd, having very briefly identified myself as a Ron Paulite for a spell back in 2007-08, before realizing that he simply wanted to substitute one absolutizing idol–the State–for another one–the Market. And now, of course, since I've rejected that Austrian orthodoxy, its adherents consider me to be a full-blown statist, or socialist, or one of those s-words they like to throw around. 🙂

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  5. Rick Littlejohn

    In the ancient world, one could increase one's wealth without increasing the total amount of one's land by improving the productivity of the land…irrigation, long term soil enrichment, etc.Also, I don't buy the idea that societies benefit a lot by military adventurism. It seems, rather, that such adventurism drains the economic lifeblood out of nations (Rome, UK, US). It doesn't seem to that military conquest or puppet regimes are necessary to gain access to natural resources, only a currency, goods, or services that the supplier of natural resources wants. For example, China has, to date, used its military very little, yet is a welcomed purchaser of natural resources from Africa, Australia, etc. On a smaller scale, the Nordic countries are fantastically successful economically (much more so than the UK or US) and haven't been known to be particularly rapacious in the way they approach the rest of the world. The only reason they don't have a greater impact in Global GDP and politics is because of their small populations, not any economic shortcomings.

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  6. "Courageous" – nearly always an excellent backhanded compliment.What an odd book, and we're only up to post #2. US and UK only capitalist countries in 1941? Which planet is he on? In any case, I'm enjoying this series (I realise I have more to catch up on yet) and your critique.On a slightly side note, do you think he has anything interesting to add about what constitutes historical/ethical novelty? Given that I'm hoping to make something of a similar claim as part of my thesis (though for a very different purpose – not in order to excuse us from paying attention to the scriptural witness!), this is something that O'D has got me trying to think more about recently and I'm yet to get very far.

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  7. @ Rick: the Nordic countries are fantastically successful economically (much more so than the UK or US) and haven't been known to be particularly rapacious in the way they approach the rest of the worldAt least, not in the last nine hundred years or so!(Though that said, Denmark and Sweden have both had modern empires, of a kind.)@Brad: concerns about where those underlying natural resources are coming from (e.g., oil wars, blood diamonds, etc.) are highly relevant, and perhaps we are getting rich at others' expenseWars and slavery are only part of the picture. It will come as no surprise that I would content that by far the most significant way in which modern economic activity is at the expense of others is through ecological degradation. But I agree with your point, just want to supplement it.

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  8. And a third bite at the cherry to fill out the argument very slightly in another direction. It is not as though US expansionist/imperialist policies began in the 20thC. The appropriation of the land from indigenous population through all kinds of foul means and then various wars of expansion with other colonial powers in the 19thC make the argument that US wealth has come at no-one's expense even more problematic.

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  9. Rick Littlejohn

    @ByronI started to mention the Vikings, but didn't really think they had that much to do with recent Nordic successes. Of course, Denmark recently ruled Iceland and Greenland, but not in an exploitive manner to the best of my knowledge. In what sense have the Nordic countries exploited others in recent (last two centuries) times?

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  10. My viking comment wasn't intended very seriously.As for more recent exploitation, Sweden ruled Norway (taking over from Denmark) for most of the nineteenth century and almost went to war when Norway voted for independence in 1904. There was exploitation, but I'm not familiar enough with the details to say a great deal about it. I have quite a lot of respect for the Nordic countries, so I am not putting them up there with the imperial bad boys, just pointing out that they don't have an entirely squeaky clean record.

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  11. AJ

    "On a smaller scale, the Nordic countries are fantastically successful economically (much more so than the UK or US) and haven't been known to be particularly rapacious in the way they approach the rest of the world." Much moreso than the US? That sounds like an overstatement to me.

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  12. That sounds like an overstatement to me.Depends what you are measuring.GDP per capita in international dollars (World Bank, 2010):• Norway 56,920• USA 47,084Human Development Index (UNDP, 2010):• Norway 0.938• USA 0.902Inequality-adjusted HDI (UNDP, 2010):• Norway 0.876• USA 0.799Ratio of top 10% income to bottom 10% income (UNDP 2007/08):• Norway 6.1 • USA 15.9(In 1960, the USA and Norway were roughly equivalent for inequality)Heath expenditure per capita (OECD, 2009):• United States 7,290 (16% of GDP)• Norway 4,763 (8.9% of GDP)Life expectancy (CIA World Factbook, 2009):• Norway 80.2• USA 78.3Unemployment:• Norway 3.4%• USA 9.1% (official figure, which does not include those who have stopped looking for work)Percent of population living below poverty line (not directly comparable as standards may differ):• Norway 4.3% (2007) – couldn't find anything more recent• USA 14.3% (2009)Mortality rate (under 5 years), World Bank, 2009:• Norway 3.3/1000• USA 7.8/1000CO2 emissions per capita (tonnes) IEA, 2008:• USA 18.3• Norway 7.9CO2 emissions grams/kWh (IEA, 2008)• USA 535• Norway 5GDP (international dollars) per tonne of CO2 (IMF, 2006):• Norway 5778• USA 2291Internet access (users per 1,000 people):• Norway 89.4%• USA 78.6%Corruption Index (Transparency International, 2010):• Norway 8.6• USA 7.1Intergeneration economic mobility (OECD, 2010)• USA, 3rd worst in OECD• Norway, 3rd best in OECDI'm sure we could go on and on. What counts as "much more so" is a relative term. It is clear that on a huge range of widely accepted measures of economic development, Norway is superior to the US. It is consistently in the top 10 globally for pretty much all these stats, and on a number of them is #1. Numerous measures that seek to combine a wide range of stats put Norway at #1 or at least in top 3, while the US ranks considerably lower (generally somewhere between top 10 and top 50, often sitting at about 20th on overall rankings).

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  13. AJ

    Okay, my impression is that "Nordic Countries" includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Taken in aggregate, those do not smoke America.

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  14. Taken in aggregate, those do not smoke America.That is a claim you would need to back up with stats. I picked Norway because I was there recently and so was able to see its economic situation firsthand. I don't have time to compile stats on all the others. On some measures they might not all be as impressive as Norway (especially Iceland after the crash, though from an ethical perspective at least they have the guts to bring criminal prosecution against the politicians and bankers who gutted their country), yet from compiling the stats for Norway I'm pretty confident that the Nordic countries more generally would outperform the US on nearly all those stats (Iceland is tiny and would only lower averages very slightly). Denmark, Sweden and Finland are either ahead of Norway or breathing down its neck on most of those stats.For instance, on the inequality-adjusted human development index, here are the top 12 countries: Norway 0.876 Australia 0.864 Sweden 0.824 Netherlands 0.818 Germany 0.814 Switzerland 0.813 Ireland 0.813 Canada 0.812 Iceland 0.811 Denmark 0.810 Finland 0.806 United States 0.799Or to pick another meta-index that attempts to compile multiple stats, the HPI scores for 2009 are as follows:Sweden 48Finland 47.2Norway 40.4Iceland 38.1Denmark 35.5USA 30.7

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  15. AJ

    Bryon, those nations are a lot more homogenous and don't have the same social interaction dynamics that (while overall a blessing) lead to increased complications. I never claimed America has less violence. Drive a 2 mile radius in my big city and you'll see every type of person from everywhere. Not so in Scandinavia. Anyways, this is off topic.

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  16. AJ

    Here's something America is #1 in: Nation that people want to move to. Somehow these stats haven't persuaded the millions upon millions of people who move here every year. And I'm glad to have them.

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  17. AJ

    Top 10 foreign born counties for U.S.: MexicoChinaPhilippinesIndiaVietnamCubaEl SalvadorDRCanadaKoreahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_the_United_States

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  18. AJ

    That stat shows percentage growth based on people who want to move there. That doesn't prove more people want to move there. 219% of one country doesn't equal 219% of another.

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  19. Top ten migrant native countries for Norway:SWEDENDENMARKUSAIRAQPAKISTANUNITED KINGDOMGERMANYBOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINAVIETNAMIRANFor Sweden:FINLANDIRAQPOLANDIRANBOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINADENMARKGERMANYNORWAYTURKEYCHILEFor Finland:SWEDENESTONIARUSSIAN FED.SOMALIAGERMANYCHINAIRAQTHAILANDTURKEYUNITED KINGDOMApologies for the capitals. As you can see, Scandinavian nations have very significant numbers of non-European immigrants. There are very useful and readable stats on international migration flows here.

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  20. OK, just because I was putting these together for a very similar discussion on another thread. Here are more stats across all Nordic countries. Whatever the reasons, there is plenty of evidence to back up Brad's initial claim about the relative success of the Nordic societies on all kinds of metrics. As for their lower levels of rapaciousness on the international stage, Norway hosts the Nobel Peace Prize, Iceland maintains no military, Sweden has not been involved in any declared war since 1814, Inequality: Ratio of top 10% income to bottom 10% income (UNDP 2007/08):• Finland 5.6• Norway 6.1• Sweden 6.2• Denmark 8.1• USA 15.9Intergeneration economic mobility (OECD, 2007). Lower score indicates less correlation between children and parents economic situation and so greater economic mobility:• Denmark 0.15• Norway 0.18• Sweden 0.28• USA 0.48Unemployment (most recent stats I could find, none more than 6 months out of date)• Norway 3.4%• Denmark 7.0%• Sweden 7.9%• Finland 8.0%• USA 9.1%Infant mortality rate (under 5 years), World Bank, 2009:• Sweden 2.8/1000• Iceland 3.0/1000• Finland 3.2/1000• Norway 3.3/1000• Denmark 4.0/1000• USA 7.8/1000Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders, 2010)• Finland 0 (1st)• Iceland 0 (1st)• Norway 0 (1st)• Sweden 0 (1st)• Denmark 2.5 (11th)• USA 6.75 (20th)CO2 emissions per capita (tonnes) IEA, 2008:• USA 18.3• Finland 10.6• Denmark 8.8• Norway 7.9• Iceland 6.9• Sweden 5.0Internet access (users per 1,000 people) ITU, 2011:• Sweden 903• Norway 894• Denmark 859• Finland 839• USA 786Corruption Perception Index (Transparency International, 2010):• Denmark 9.3 (1st)• Finland 9.2 (4th)• Sweden 9.2 (4th)• Norway 8.6 (10th)• Iceland 8.5 (11th)• USA 7.1 (22nd)

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  21. More people in total want to move to America than to Singapore.Yes, but dealing in per capita statistics is usually a far more insightful way of measuring the success of a society, unless you think that biggest is always best.

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  22. AJ

    My contention is that neither aggregate stats nor per capita stats alone is sufficient. I want to consider your points without arguing back, and I'd ask you to take a step back and consider this. I live in a city that is roughly, with metros, approaching the size of Singapore. If you take the millions in the city limits, we're already less than 50% caucasian. It doesn't matter where you go – there are tons of people from everywhere; the richest princes get their cancer and heart treatment here, and the immigrants from South (whom I love) also come here for health care. This is not a comparable immigration situation as Scandinavia. No matter what stat you show, I cannot buy that. I've never heard Scandinavia noted for its diversity, and even those stats don't seem that compelling – 9% foreign born when you eliminate other Svandinavian countries. I have nothing against Scandinavia, and I think your economic points are compelling. But I think you'd be hard-pressed to have someone walk Scandinavia and honestly say it is as booming from immigrants across China, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East as America. It's hard to overstate how mixed ethnically most big cities are here. As far as Singapore, that's a great find. Hard to compare because it's like the size of a big US city, but it's a good counter. I accept it. In closing, I have to ask: do you hate America? I get the impression that you were finding stats across the board to dis America. For instance, press freedom, which seemed off topic. I suppose I could point out fertility rates of Norway versus America and stuff like that, but I'm not trying to get in disputes about every aspect of the cultures. I love America. I am fine with Scandinavia. But no way they have the same level of ethnic diversity as America. I can't buy that.

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  23. Rick Littlejohn

    AJ,The issue isn't loving our hating America. The point I originally raised, was that it was not necessary to have an empire type foreign policy (UK in 19th Century, US in 20th) for a nation to be tremendously successful. I raised the Nordic countries were an example of those who had been more successful in most measures than the US (on a per-capita basis) despite basically minding their own business. Indeed, I would contend that countries that mind their own business are more successful than those who create empires, because the empires always cost the society more than they provide that society–although certain special interests may benefit.It is possible to point that America is not #1 in every measure and still love America. But as Christians, we should always be careful to restrain any strong nationalistic feelings in favor of our global unity in the church.

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  24. AJ

    No question we aren't #1 in everything and that empire has cost us. That's fine. Byron was listing stat after stat for the explict purpose of ripping America. I.E. Here's something America is #1 in… Seems condescending – of course we should love the church more. I get that.

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  25. I apologise for the remark that came across as condescending. My point was not to express hatred towards the US, simply to give some statistical support to the claim that Rick has very nicely laid out in his recent comment. As I said, I was having a similar conversation in another thread on another blog comparing Nordic countries and the US in which my interlocutor clearly has firmly established assumptions of US exceptionalism and superiority. This was the source of my frustration and I apologise for bringing it over here.My point in raising the immigration statistics was not to say that the Nordic countries are as diverse as the US, but to point out that they are considerably more diverse than they are usually assumed to be (and this was amply illustrated by my experience walking the streets of Oslo recently). Having lived in Sydney and London (two of the most multicultural cities in the world), I am familiar with the challenges and delights of high levels of foreign born residents. (In passing, I note that a polity having less than 50% caucasians is quite a different claim than its being highly multicultural. And also that even high numbers of foreign-born residents do not necessarily equate with being highly multicultural in situations where the foreigners are concentrated in specific nationalities. Edinburgh has a lot of English people living here!)Press freedom seemed to be another aspect of a flourishing society (a topic much on my mind over the last few days given the events in the UK).So I hope you'll accept my apology but also continue to reflect together on what it is that makes a society flourishing or successful (which is really part of the point of this series, I take it).

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  26. Brad Littlejohn

    Good gracious, gentlemen! If I didn't know any better, I would say this was merely the result of some silly attempt to break the comment count record on this blog (I think it's around 60, so you have a ways to go, unfortunately). I think statistics like Byron's are very helpful because we in America have, like many dominant countries tend to do, deluded ourselves into thinking that we are the greatest, freest, most desirable country on earth, and everyone else around the world must be green with envy, wishing they could be part of our grand society. In reality, most people in most developed countries are perfectly happy where they are, and indeed are often glad not to live in the US. And the statistics that Byron has given demonstrate why. As a country, we do reasonably well in a number of things, and we also do pretty terribly in other things (incarceration rates was a particularly damning example). And unless we face up to that and decide to be realistic, we're living in a dream world with little grip on reality.It's the same problem, of course, that many evangelicals, or Reformed people in particular, have with their churches. We imagine that our church or our denomination is somehow exempt from the pros and cons that characterize all others, we have nothing but pros, we are the ideal church, and everyone else should want to be like us. In the New Testament, the sin of pride is usually targeted as a corporate sin, not an individual sin. An individual who is arrogant about his own accomplishments is foolish, but harmless enough. But when people become blinded by by pride in their group–their club, their class, their church, their society, whatever–it is quite dangerous.

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