Jesus was a socialist

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EDITORIAL Christmas Day, here in the city of St. Francis, seems like a fine time to look at Jesus Christ, what he advocated, and what his legacy is today. Because this traditionally Catholic city has temples filled with crass money changers these days, and a mistaken elevation of "the market" to almost divine status — developments that are antithetical to everything the Bible teaches about Jesus.

While the Guardian isn't regularly in the habit of using biblical citations to support our arguments — yes, we're still the same godless heathens that you've all come to know and love or hate — this is an exercise worth undertaking for a couple reasons. One, many of this city's power brokers are people of faith. And two, because morality still matters, maybe more than ever in these heady times of myopic, buccaneering capitalism, so it's worth discussing the moral framework that we've inherited.

Let's start with a clear truth: Jesus was a socialist. He was one the early socialists to have his ideology laid out so clearly and at such length, calling for the wealthy to give away their riches to the poor and expect nothing in return, not their names on monuments or even so much as a thank you.

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," Jesus said in Matthew 19:23.

San Francisco's namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, took that tenet as far as it could go, giving away all his worldly possessions and joining the poor in the streets of Rome and begging in front of churches, the kind of homeless person now treated with such disdain here.

Jesus was the guy who "poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables," according to the John 2:13, one of the four gospels that chronicle that high-profile clash with the capitalists of his day. It was the only time in the Bible where Jesus, always a serene and resolute fellow, is actually pissed off and acting out aggressively.

San Francisco's religious critics love to compare this city to a modern day Sodom or Gomorrah, the cities supposedly destroyed by God because of their citizens' wicked ways. But on the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who befriended the destitute and the prostitutes and the freaks of all kind, it's worth remembering that his ire was aimed at the greedy rich and not the bedraggled poor or the animated activists.

It is those who aspire to good socialist values — compassion, integrity, sharing (not renting, which is actually what most "sharing economy" companies do), caring for the Earth and all its creatures, and yes, hard work as well, albeit in service of humanity and not personal wealth — who most embody the true Christmas spirit.

Comments

So you like what the Pope says on economic inequality but of course not on abortion or gay marriage?

Jesus never advocated punitive levels of taxation on the successful. He did suggest charitable giving, and the role of churches and volunteers to help the poor.

The US has a long and proud tradition of voluntary and charitable support for the poor, along with low taxes, and I would offer up the idea that Jesus would feel right at home if he showed up here tomorrow.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

You don't have to agree with somebody on every issue if you agree with them on something. The pope isn't the arbiter of all things Christian anyway.

And nobody's advocating "punitive" taxation. Punitive is punishing you for something. Taxing you is merely giving less immediate reward, in favor of other benefits. So it's not technically punitive unless it's a rate over 100%. Tax rates like those we had under the very conservative Dwight Eisenhower seem pretty reasonable.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 24, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

from working harder, working more hours, or taking risks.

It stifles enterprise and competition, which is why almost every nation in the West has spent the last 35 years reducing marginal tax rates.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

because their owners dictated that because they wanted to keep more of their largesse. If it was to improve the lives of the citizenry, those efforts have clearly failed.

Most work harder and more hours for less money except for the top 10% or so. The real incentives--starvation, homelessness, preventable illness or death. These are all rising. It must be god's will.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

The poor pay much lower marginal tax rates too.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

Lowering taxes corresponds to increasing the percentage of poor.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

They encourage the envy game.

And a new billionaire on your block increases inequality but doesn't make you poorer. In fact, if he offers you a job, he makes you richer.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 6:24 am

even if it were so, that's just not the way human nature works. Humans have an innate sense of equity, and when that sense is violated, you get strife -even if materially you're no poorer.

But of course the other side of the coin is that it's not so. Accumulation of wealth by the top 1% has meant an impoverishment of the 99%, even as the country becomes wealthier overall.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 8:25 am

Everyone wants more, but so what? Are you suggesting that you are only happy with X amount of money if nobody else has more than X?

You really just paraphrasing envy - feeling resentful for no reason other than that somebody somewhere has more than you.

If you make the average SF salary, you are in the top one percent globally and so are well off. The fact that you don't have a billion, doesn't change that.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 11:41 am

Wealth isn't something finite so that if I have more, you have less.

Wealth is something that is created, enabling everyone to be better off.

That doesn't suit your redistributive aspirations, but it is no less true because of that. Your attitude is that "nobody should be rich if anyone is poor". And it's a spiteful statement of envy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 11:44 am

OK, suppose we go along with your assertion that wealth is created.

Created out of what?

And is it possible that wealth could be both created and accumulated?

Perhaps wealth can be understood as a natural resource.

Is it not true that the supply no known natural resource is infinite?

Posted by Travis McGee on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

It is simply the value that is created through economic activity. And therefore is potentially unlimited.

Some create much value; others, very little. And the rewards that accrue reflect that.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

Fair enough, wealth can be created.

But it seems clear that wealth also accumulates.

Creation and accumulation are not mutually exclusive.

It is not an either/or premise.

Posted by Schrodingers Cat on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

Wealth is accumulated profit.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 26, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

The word "profit" implies corporate net revenues and there are other ways of creating wealth and prosperity.

But the real point is that wealth is not finite and that inequality doesn't mean that anyone need be poorer as a result.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 8:12 am

mean that people are poorer as a result. You're jabbering Econ textbook fantasy. I'm talking about reality.

And, even if it weren't so, inequality itself does pernicious things to the psyche of human beings. Call it envy. Call it whatever you want. The phenomenon I'm talking about is still real, and if you want to reduce a whole host of social ills, then you need to tackle inequality.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:03 am

constant and finite. That self-evidently is not the case.

Suppose this. Day one, you and I both have a net worth of 100K Then, on day two, I am worth a million and you are still worth 100K.

There is now more inequality but you are no poorer because the aggregate amount of wealth has increased. In fact, if I now start to pay you to mow my lawn, you are better off as a direct result.

You are too focused on how wealth is distributed but the real issue is how it is created.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:49 am

I think it is about time this country had a serious discussion about exactly how all this wealth is really "created."

Posted by Greg on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 11:05 am

the amount of goods and services that people are willing to pay for. IOW, it is the value placed on economic activity.

The amount of economic activity depends on the net returns that are available. Tax me more and I will work less hard and produce less, since marginal increases in work are no longer so attractive to me.

The way SFBG focuses only on how wealth is distributed presupposes that we are slicing a pizza of finite size. But in reality the size of that pizza can be increased so everyone gets more, even if the differential in size between my slice and your slice is huge.

If you ignore the fact that your pizza slice is bigger than it used to be, and focus only on the fact that my slice is huge, then that is classic envy, which is no basis for deciding public policy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 11:50 am

your understanding of economics is or how simple you make your examples, no empirical evidence supports your narrative.

The pizza isn't getting bigger, and your friends are eating almost all of it. They feed more to their pets than they distribute to the rest of us.

I can just as easily say, "If everyone were rich, no one would be poor," and be more accurate than the facile nonsense you peddle here.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

and that it should be distributed among people regardless of the economic value they contribute.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

Profit is income minus cost.

Wealth is accumulated profit.

When banks and the Fed can print up funny money at will, then there are no bounds on accumulation.

But detached from economic reality, such funny money is not sustainable.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:48 am

At least get your accounting terms correctly.

Wealth is broadly equal to the profit less the dividends, i.e. the retained earnings.

But the point here of course is that wealth isn't a fixed or constant thing. It is created by those who take risks and commit capital.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 10:53 am

Wealth is finite. Are you suggesting that wealth is infinite?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

destroyed. So it is variable, not fixed or finite.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2013 @ 7:54 am

So there is a finite bound on how much wealth can be created. That bound probably has mathematical properties that can describe its economics. Do you have any thoughts on what that limit might be?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2013 @ 9:21 am

You are trying to over-complexify what is a simple intuitive notion i.e. that if people work more and harder and smarter, and they use more imagination and creativity, then our national economic output can increase.

The proof is that we have been going it for centuries. And it gives the lie to the slef-serving notion that wealth is somehow fixed and it's just a matter of how we allocate it. Rather, you already have control of how much wealth you produce - the issue is whether you take advantage of it, rather than whining that you want somebody else's wealth.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2013 @ 11:19 am

There is a finite supply of money, accumulated money is wealth. The amount of money reflects perceived levels of supply and demand for real goods and services in the economy. Thus, there is a finite amount of wealth that can be accumulated that is related to the amount of money in the economic system.

This has nothing to do with the work ethic, it is simple mathematics.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2013 @ 9:07 am

Fed can just print it. However, that tends to deflate the currency.

The amount of wealth isn't about money at all. It's the sum total of the value of resources, services, products and other forms of economic output.

The fact that that measure of nation wealth is variable is self-evident - it goes up every year with productivity and growth, except in the odd recession.

So the idea that wealth is a fixed value that gets distributed is totally flawed. Wealth isn't distributed at all; it is created through risk-taking, investment and application.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2013 @ 10:06 am

There are finite bounds on the amount of wealth that can be created in an economy.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 30, 2013 @ 9:42 am

not a real number.

The practical point is that people can choose to engage in economic behavior, which increases wealth. Or not do so. Wealth is not fixed, even if it is technically not infinite.

Lower taxes encourage marginal economic activity and higher taxes deter it. that is why attempts to redistribute wealth always fail - they kill the golden goose.

Greater inequality simply means that some people are achieving great success. It does not mean that some people are any poorer.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2013 @ 10:05 am

Once you have created and earned your wealth, you then have the choice of either spending it or investing it - the latter being a form of wealth retention.

What you are calling "accumulation" is really the effect of wealth creating more wealth.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 8:09 am

words like "wealth" to inaccurately describe the very real process of owners keeping the excess value of their employees' (or contractors') labor.

Voodoo economics for and by dummies.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 8:42 am

"created"... as if by magic. Voodoo economics almost in a literal sense. Or "earned." Bill Gates is worth more than something like the poorest 100 million Americans *combined*. How exactly does one "earn" that kind of wealth?

Posted by Greg on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:06 am

he came up with and provided a product that people like you use every day and are willing to pay for.

Had he not done so then either somebody else would have done or that wealth would not have been created at all.

If you didn't think Gates was worth that then why did you hand money over to him?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:23 am

Coercion.

I'm sure you'll argue that no one is forcing me to buy computer products. But that's just as much an illusion as arguing that no one is forcing you to pay your taxes. Fact is, that there are certain consequences if we choose to not pay our taxes, or if we choose to not do business with corporations. Some people are willing to accept those consequences; most are not. Both can equally be described as "choices."

Posted by Greg on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 11:12 am

By whom?

Even if you argue that you have to have a computer (arguable), you could instead buy it from Apple or Sun, which do not use MSFT products.

Gates made billions because many people like you wanted to pay him for what he could give you. I see no problem with that.

Oh, and Gates has given away almost all of his fortune, and it is currently doing far more good than had some bureaucrat taken it all in taxes.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 11:53 am

You have many choices if you don't want to -don't earn much money, move to another country, or simply not file. All the choices may have consequences that you may not like, but then so would a "choice" not to buy computer products.

And I would argue that "bureaucrats" that you so detest are doing much more good administering social programs than Bill Gates could ever do. If the goal is to do good for people with money, than I can think of no less efficient way of accomplishing that goal than funneling it through the rich before it does any good.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

that you could learn to exercise, it might be tough but try Linux and give the money you would have given in taxes to the city state and fed.

That way everyone wins but you.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

Nobody pays more than they have to, and the residue is profit, without which the enterprise and those jobs would not exist at all.

Wealth is not finite. It is freely created or (if over-taxed) destroyed.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:26 am

equating amorphous concepts like "wealth" with physical properties like energy: "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed."

Hocus pocus doesn't teach anybody anything. Try harder.

Bill Gates didn't get his "wealth" all by his lonesome. He might have had a good idea, but his company is profiting from its underpaid labor. Have you called tech support lately?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 9:52 am

Isn't the official SFBg line that tech employees are OVERPAID?

Make your mind up.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 10:55 am

The entire concept of progressive taxation has been lost and misconstrued. ...the idea that any business success has an implicit indebtedness to the infrastructure of the society within which it operates. Globalization has obfuscated our sense of obligation to our own society by enabling corporate thinkers to leapfrog right over our own citizenry and obtain labor at overseas prices; capitalizing upon the disparity between entire national economies.

It is not so much that we should penalize success with high taxes in order to redistribute wealth already gained. It is more that such extreme wealth should not be so easily accumulated in the first place. Nobody works that hard! ...and everyone's success has a huge indebtedness to the infrastructure on our nation: defense, education, transportation, communications, and health. Taxation has been given the bad name of "redistribution", when it is actually an invoice from society for services utilized. The more we use, the more we owe. Such fees to society should be calculated into the cost of doing business, but our business culture has been spoiled and contaminated by easy money .

I am not suggesting that creating wealth is easy, or that it is not admirable and necessary ...only that it occurs on the shoulders of society as a whole - past, present, and future. More and more it is a global society we aim for, but our own still must be prioritized.
2

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 9:39 am

wealthy because of stock options and ownership. IOW they only make a billion if their business becomes very successful, meaning products and services that people want, and jobs and opportunities for their workers.

If Apple is worth half a trillion from nothing, then who would begrudge the execs a billion each?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

Combatants in the Congolese civil war who fight over control of coltan. (Over 1,000,000 dead.)

Feel free to add to the list.

Something from nothing. What a nice myth to propagate on a day when many people celebrate a virgin birth.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

Losers just suck the life out of everything.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

A short while ago, just days after the Haiyan typhoon had killed several thousands in the Philippines, Steven saw it primarily as an opportunity to cheap shot Ed Lee (this is true, I'm not making it up).

I understand how one could argue that using Christmas eve to claim that Jesus agrees with your political platform is equally embarrassing, but I would still vote for the typhoon, where the body count was still open ended, as Steven's stupidest moment of 2013.

Just my 2c. But obviously the SFBG is badly in need of some adult supervision.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

I have been telling my fire breathing, Fox News watching, tea bagging relatives that Jesus was a socialist for years. I must admit I do take great joy in watching their ears bleed when I tell them this.
I think Americans are programmed early on to believe that "socialism" is an evil thing. The truth is they live in a society that is already greatly socialized. Social (there's that word) Security, MediCare, subsidized food prices (grains,dairy, meats), MASSIVE AMOUNTS of corporate welfare, education, infrastructure, etc.

Posted by sjg on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 6:29 am

The Bay Guardian is part of a long list of true believers that pick their way through the bible.

As is common knowledge true believers share the same pathologies, the Guardian joins Jerry Falwell in picking through a book of fiction.

What a cult leader had to say thousands of years ago?

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

What makes the SFBG think that the faith professed by the ruling elites is sincere?

What makes the SFBG think that the pathologically shameless ruling elites can be shamed into changing their ways if indeed their faith is sincere?

This appeal to morality that is rising on San Francisco's liberal/progressive flank is most disturbing. There is a strong Catholic component of expecting authoritarian power to concede power that stands in denial of overwhelming evidence. Appealing to the priest to not molest us again does not cut it.

It is not the morality that guides some of us but it is values that most of us share which are points of unity. It does not matter how we come to those values, morals, ethics, faith or at random. All that is important is that we share them in common and our opponents do not.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 25, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

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