What kind of political party would Jesus lead?
Regular columnist James Knight wonders what the perfect political party would look like.
For obvious reasons there’s no such thing as a perfect political party, because nothing is perfect when it comes to human beings. But given that all of our political parties are such worthy candidates for criticism – from the far left of the Greens or Corbyn’s current Labour Party, right through to the staunchest libertarian parties – I was pondering a development of the oft-asked question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’. My version of that question for this article is, ‘What Kind of Political Party Would Jesus Lead?’
It’s a difficult question involving some pretty courageous speculation (not least because the Bible is mostly too low-resolution to be translatable to modern political theory) – but one thing I feel pretty sure about is that Jesus’ Party would be far removed from the kind of parties we’ve been used to so for long. If we assume all the foundational conditions necessary for a successful society to flourish under governance, such as rule of law, democracy, and all the basic human rights we enjoy, I have 4 key areas that I think this party would adhere to. Naturally, the four overlap quite substantially.
1) Realising the qualities of the market
A government that genuinely cared about the interests of its people would want to rigorously adhere to truth, logic, evidence and reason. Such a party would be radically different from the current mainstream crop in that it would want to ensure our citizens benefit as fully as possible from the free market and that none of its policies brought about overall negative effects.
Gone would be all the price controls and other regulatory measures which hamper growth and shut out the information-carrying signals that convey what we humans value. The party would realise that the free market is, in fact, the most "human" of all the world’s systems. It provides the greatest amount of material prosperity, the highest quality services, the greatest efficiency, lifts the most people out of poverty – and, lest we forget, is the thing that pays for all forms of government too.
Our perfect party would be able to redress all the ways we are living under a thrall of government interventions that discourage or prevent the free market from doing its work, and it could do this because it wouldn’t need to bend and distort the truth to court popularity disingenuously. It would no longer expropriate many of the important funds that would otherwise be invested in further economic growth, and it would no longer endorse the strictures that retard the freeing up of opportunities.
2) Realising the limits of the market
All that said, being perfect, our party would understand that the free market is not the panacea some claim it to be. It would understand that there is a legitimate role for the State to play, particularly in the areas of guarding against some of the undesirable monopolies that an unfettered market could engender, and also in bringing an end to crony capitalism. Being a perfect party, there would no longer be any concerns about corruption or malfeasance or unethical relationships between politicians and businesses, as our perfect party would be centred on what’s objectively best for its citizens.
Furthermore, given how easy it could be for consumers to fall foul of asymmetry of information (where a provider knows things about a good or service that its customers do not), it is important that these regulatory protocols, and ones that affect people’s health & safety and well-being in the workplace, are firmly in place. By equal measure, our party would understand the value of free choice, which means it would not want to encroach on many of our decisions (or ability to legally make them) in the way that current politicians do.
To give you a little perspective, albeit a US one, according to economist Donald Boudreaux this week, the US government spends $3.9 trillion annually. That means that for every man, woman and child in America’s current population of about 322 million – there’s an annual per-capita spending of a whopping $12,110 per person. I don’t think even the staunchest redistributionist would be bold enough to claim that the average American is enjoying $12,110 worth of value per year from the American government.
3) Looking after the vulnerable
Fairly straightforward one this - our perfect party would be small enough to not interfere detrimentally in all the activities that humans are better at by themselves, but sizeable enough to provide a safety net for people that need help and support. The taxes earned by workers and managed by our perfect party would involve ensuring that the least able and most vulnerable in society are safe and looked after.
Naturally, you’d expect a perfect party to make the necessary revisions to our welfare system, particularly the way it easily creates welfare dependents and engenders a toxic conflict between whether a claimant is better off working or on benefits. I'd suggest a perfect party would resemble something like a large charity that's low on bureaucracy and perverse incentives, but proficient at distributing money to places where it will do a lot of good and is badly needed.
4) Actively Promoting Noble and Virtuous Principles
Our perfect party would understand that although the market has been a key driver in the progression-explosion we’ve seen in the past 200 years, not everything the market provides is good for human beings, particularly not through a Christian lens. The market, rather like science, is amoral – it is what people do with it that confers the moral judgements.
Where I part company with many of my fellow libertarians is in the extent to which I think freedom and the market have all the solutions to our problems. Unlike them, it's clear to me that while freedom and the market are terrific vehicles for growth and progression, there are also one or two pretty sad and negative consequences too.
A good way to summarise the negative side effects is to say that because competitors in the market are always looking for new ways to make money, they are also looking to use any form of manipulation to get people spending their money - telling people what society says they need, and trying to instil the impression that they are somehow incomplete or socially marginal if they don't look a certain way or have the latest gadget. Feeding into this is the corollary effect of creating quite new and unwholesome aspirations, whereby folk can find themselves on the fringes of acceptability if they don't even aspire to have certain things.
On top of that, there is another reason why freedom and the market can lead people astray - because ultimately humans are status-mongerers. Social status drives the lives of a large proportion of our society, and is an adjunct to an even bigger instinct - the instinct to belong to groups.
The consequent effect is that in a free market with an abundance of trade and marketing, a system is created that plays hard on our striving for higher social aspirations, which obviously generates an awful lot of purchasing of goods and services beyond what people actually need or reasonably want. Granted, that's a value judgement I'm making, but it's one that only a short-sighted person could fail to see - that a lot of people's behaviour in the marketplace is driven by keeping up with the Joneses and impressing those in their peer groups.
One of the most harmful elements of the decline in quality of Christian wisdom we are seeing, not to mention Christian belief, has been the thrall of consumer-based thinking. Our perfect party would do well to govern with a positive message against this, because the most overwhelming change in attitudes we've seen might have been how greedy and acquisitive this generation has become.
Sadly, material possessions, while excellent for us in so many ways, have on the down side turned into bargaining tools under the thrall of a god of avarice – like a Plutus or Lakshmi figure that treats status and possession as divinity. We know how prescient St Paul was when he said that love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and I think this insidious threat begins with acquisitiveness. It would be too straightforward to comment on how acquisitive many young people are today – they seem to want everything, and the more they seem to want, the less they value what they do have.
Our perfect party would find the delicate balance between extolling the virtues of free trade, and exposing just how much business drives things like the binge culture, celebrity worshipping, sport obsession, and media manipulation (to name but four). The real driving force behind these is love of money.
If the ‘invisible hand’ that drove Adam Smith’s economy is the consumer’s liberty in freely chosen acquisition and the seller’s liberty in freely chosen products, then what drives the modern consumer-based ethos is sometimes more like an ‘invisible fist’. Behind the scenes of broken Britain – be it the drugs, celebrity obsession, binge culture, or what have you – is an invisible fist that tries to alter people’s psychology. Beliefs and values are psychologically driven, therefore the way to drive people into the habits consistent with acquisition is to wave the invisible fist in a way that consumers see nothing but an innocuous hand.
The teenage girl who wants to get on reality TV and be like her idol may feel like she is pursuing an innocent ambition, but unbeknown to her she is under the thrall of the invisible fist of greed acting behind the scenes. Whether the attention is on subscription to TV channels, travelling, hotels, cosmetics, clothes, media magazines, CDs, DVDs, concert tickets, Websites, or whatever – the girl (like millions of others) is ensnared by corporate machinations, intent on making themselves richer and her poorer.
Moreover, to assess business one cannot really avoid enjoining oneself to ideas about media manipulation too. The main objective of the corporations is to maximise profit and market share, which involves the willingness of the consumer. The main objective of the consumer based public relations industry is not to just to sell you the particular product it wants you to buy – it is to get you to subscribe to a particularly futile materialist ideology whereby what one has, and how one is perceived through the lens of fashion and status and reputation, are the two most important things.
Another example of the ill-effects of a money-driven society is the porn industry, which is, I'm told, so large now that it out-earns Google, Apple and Amazon combined. What's worse is that the average age of porn addicts is 12-15 year olds. So the internet is a great thing, but it's a technology that acts as a substrate for negative things like that too.
Another example, the fashion industry works hard to implant the largest fashions in the highest social groups and then try to make them filtrate downwards through lower and lower social levels, creating pressure-led demand based on status-mongering and courting prestige and acceptance. Just like porn, this can set in at a young age, and go a long way to shaping adults into people with all kinds of insecurities, vulnerabilities and countless emotional problems.
Two main points have been distilled from the above observations: first, that our perfect party would be a party that retained all the good things about human nature and dispensed with all the bad things: and second, that for obvious reasons our real life political parties are woefully short of what an ideal form of governance would look like. But that, of course, is the very nature of being human and knowing God - we are forever creeping along that wide threshold between imperfection and perfection, being helped along the way day by day by God's grace, as He is gradually turning us into little Christs.
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