I have recently been trying to express how our lawmakers and, especially, we, as citizens, must view the interaction between the government and business enterprises, especially the role of the government in regulating the economy. Bob Goudzwaard nails it:

In classical antiquity two distinct words were used to describe human economic activity: oikonomia and chrematistike. Oikonomia (the origin of our word economics) designated the behavior of the steward whose task it was to manage the estate entrusted to him in such a way that it would continue to bear fruit and thus provide a living for everyone who lived and worked on it.  Central to this concept, therefore, was the maintenance of productive possessions on behalf of everyone involved. Chrematistike, however, meant something quite different. The word expressed the pursuit of self-enrichment, for ever greater monetary possessions, if need be at the expense of others. It is remarkable to observe that in western civilization the meaning of the word economics has  increasingly become synonimous with chrematistike, while progressively it lost the meaning of oikonomia, the careful maintenance as steward on behalf of others of all that is entrusted to man.

A business is not run economically if it is efficient merely in a monetary sense. It is economically responsible only if it possesses the ability to render a net economic fruit.In terms of a normative-economic-cost-benefit analysis, many financially viable businesses may be called economic fiascos, whereas the opposite might be true of a number of businesses which are losing money. As an example of the first we might cite producers of goods which can actually be only marketed by means of intensive advertising campaigns, but which pollute the environment (either during production or consumption), are energy intensive, and use up the world’s supply of non-renewable resources.  Another example would be would those firms which damage the health of their laborers during the process of production  (health, too, is an economic good!), fail to use their workers’ mental capacities, or even brutalize them by over-doses of mechanization and deadening drudgery.  Corporations can also fail economically — despite great apparent success from a financial point of view — in their operations in developing countries. . .

Business enterprises, in other words, should be genuinely economic organizations, that is, institutions of stewardship. That is the key norm by which they should be judged, without neglect of market forces . . .

In listening to each GOP presidential debate so far,  I have been increasingly disappointed to hear all of the candidates, many of whom I believe to be Christians, fail to advocate a vision anywhere near what is stated above.  I do not think I have heard the words justice, morality, fairness, or common good mentioned at all, much less in relation to the economy or any business practices. All too often, these candidates have adopted and baptized a partisan view of political economy, a mongrel offspring of libertarianism and corporatism. There is certainly a misconception today that the goal of good politics should be to try to get away with as little as possible on the wrongful belief that the best government is the least government. We must recover the full-orbed view of government that it has the important duty to be the champion of public justice and equity.

8000 square mile dead-zone in Gulf resulting from chemical run-off and poor supervision.

According to a article this weekend,

Alabama’s lax water protection laws leave the state’s rivers vulnerable to industrial pollution, sewage and muddy construction runoff, say several environmental groups pushing for updated water pollution rules more in keeping with those in other states. . .

The groups have drafted the Alabama Water Agenda, which promotes updates to water protection laws, increased water pollution inspections and tougher penalties for polluters.

“The key systemic problem in the state is the lack of a comprehensive water policy,” said Mitch Reid, program director for the Birmingham-based alliance. “We don’t have that one concrete law that says the rivers and waters of the state are part of the public trust and need to be protected for future generations.”

Reid said an important element in the new water agenda is a push to change the way Alabama approaches water regulation. Not enough attention is paid, he said, to how farmers and industries use both groundwater and surface water.

As evidence of adequate supervision,

One of the primary contentions in the petition was that the state was not providing ADEM with adequate funding to supervise the thousands of water pollution permits issued each year. . .

Alabama has not increased the budget for ADEM since the 1990s, and the responsibilities of the water division in ADEM have gone up exponentially,” Reid said. “The state is moving in the wrong direction.”

Any hope for better supervision of our water system went out the window November 2, 2010. As has been evidenced by the last six months, the Republican Party viscerally opposes any environmental protection.

For example, earlier this year in February, a major Republican presidential candidate called on Congress to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, calling it the “tool of ideologues.” In March, the House Republican’s budget proposal sought to slash the EPA’s budget by an unprecedented $30 billion—one third of the EPA’s budget, and the biggest cut to any other federal agency. In a recent CNN debate,Republican Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) dubbed the EPA  the greatest threat to American jobs. GOP presidential campaign and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised  significant cuts to the federal environmental watchdog. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby co-sponsored legislation to eliminate the EPA.

And just last week, as reported here in the Miami Herald:

Republicans in the House of Representatives are waging an all-out war to block federal regulations that protect the environment.

They loaded up a pending 2012 spending bill with terms that would eliminate a broad array of environmental protections, everything from stopping new plants and animals from being placed on the endangered species list to ending federal limits on water pollution in Florida,

The terms also include a rollback of pollution regulations for mountaintop mining and a red light on federal plans to prevent new uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon.

Another Republican-sponsored bill that’s before Congress would weaken the nation’s 1972 Clean Water Act, taking away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to step in when it finds state water-pollution rules too loose.

Please note:

Republican doctrine wasn’t always so hostile to environmental protection. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act of the 1970s had strong support from both parties. Republican President Richard Nixon created the EPA and told Congress in 1973 that America’s “irreplaceable heritage” had to be protected, arguing that “the price of economic growth need not and will not be deterioration in the quality of our lives and our surroundings.”)

It is not that the public supports these current position, either:

According to Hueber, 67 percent of Americans reject Gringich’s demand to abolish the EPA. This includes 61 percent of Republicans. Sixty-three percent want the EPA to do more to protect air and water from polluters. Less than three in 10 Americans think it already does too much. And even fewer Americans, about 18 percent, want Congress to do what Republicans are threatening to do: block the EPA’s active role in updating pollution regulations.

“Americans prefer to protect the health of their families over allowing more pollution from corporations,” said Altman, climate campaign director for the NRDC, the organization that sponsored the survey.

“The bottom line is clear: Democrats, Republicans and Independents want politicians to protect the health of America’s children rather than the profit-driven agenda of big polluters,” he explained. “People get that the EPA is dedicated to protecting public health and want Congress to let the agency do its job.”

Alabama Republicans politicians have drank from the same stream of libertarian/corporatism. The movers and shakers in the Alabama Republican Party only see in civil government a danger of totalitarianism; however, they fail to see that same danger can arise when the government becomes an extension of private commercial corporations and interests. Their dogmatic philosophy has one standard by which most policies are judged: what is the impact on corporate profit margins.

This dogma disregards the older Christian principles and norms for civil government and business enterprises. Christian moral teaching has always judged business actions according to standards of stewardship. (In fact, the word “economy” is derived from the Greek word for “steward.” On the other hand, civil government is held to a different standard: public justice. When other institutions fail in their God-responsibilities, the civil government has been called upon direct them back when those acts deprive their neighbors and communities of the public honor and treatment due them.

Accordingly, when businesses fail to act as good stewards and consequently impact families and communities unjustly, the civil government is called to remedy that injustice and prescribe such immoral actions.

Economists call pollution an “externality.” It is a business “externalizing” a cost of their activities. Such externalizing occurs when, whether by haste or greed, it forces its costs on third parties not part of their activity or transaction; it is a form of theft and trespass. The obvious example is when a a company treats our waterways and air as a free dumping ground for the negative byproducts of their business activities. The community and its people pay for it though by devastated water systems, contaminated soil, and unbreathable air.

In addition to setting standards and limiting damage, ADEM merely police attempts to externalize costs and re-internalizes these costs by fines. This is not a radical idea. These public standards merely ensure businesses act in terms of care-taking, neighborliness, and peace as well as legitimate profit motives. (UPDATE: We very well may need to remove overly burdensome regulation that stifles economic growth. As evidenced by their all out assault on all environmental regulation, this is not the Republican’s desire. According to their ideology, ADEM and EPA are illegitimate period. They are opposed to even intelligent regulation that protects consumers and citizens.)

Christians have always seen that free markets must be based upon justice and operate within a moral framework. Adam Smith was a moral philosopher after all. What my Republican friends have forgotten is that if our land, soil, water, and air are not healthy and prosperous, then no economic growth in industry or trade or wealth will survive. There are no “rights” to plunder, waste, destroy, and corrupt our communities.

“But the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope” – Wendell Berry