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The Gross National Product And The Ten Commandments

Guido Reni. Moses and the Tables of the Law.
Guido Reni. Moses and the Tables of the Law.

1) Introduction

What relationship is there between the GNP of a country (the "Gross National Product", i.e. a way of measuring economic prosperity) and the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai)? Why do some persons claim respect for the Ten Commandments is a necessary but not sufficient condition for economic prosperity? Should we even mention the Ten Commandments in Politics?

2) The Ten Commandments: Summary of Morality accessible to reason

First of all, despite the unbelievable lack of culture of some journalists, the Ten Commandments are not something purely religious. On the contrary, they are a summary of Natural Law.

The Bible talks about the Ten Commandments, but it's a bit as if the Bible talked about mathematics! If the Bible said that "2+2=4", should the Government change all its accounting methods? No, of course! (But then, why do the Ten Commandments "repeat" the conclusions of the Science of Ethics? The answer to this question would take us outside of Politics and into Theology, so we won't deal with it here. See among others CCC #2071.)

3) Economic activity is human, and therefore moral

Economic activity is fundamentally a human activity. Despite some jokes, it's not bacteria that prepares meals in a restaurant, it's the cook. Moreover, it's not potted plants in the boss' office that make decisions, but a man.

But human activity is moral, because of the very definition of "moral". Acting humanly, strictly speaking, is acting with one's reason and one's will. When we act, we try to reach some good (sometimes only an apparent good, unfortunately). We can of course imagine a situation where an abstract man would act without us being able to talk about good or evil (like bending down to pick up a straw), but in reality, concretely, each one of our truly human acts tends toward some good or some evil. We can therefore say that all economic activities are also moral activities.

4) Examples of micro-economic damages caused by immorality

Hot crossed buns
Hot crossed buns

How can the economy by harmed by disrespect for the Ten Commandments? Let's start by looking from a rather "micro-economic" point of view. Let's imagine you're in business, and that you have a small store that sells, let's say, hot crossed buns (little loaves of bread made with milk, associated with the day Jesus was crucified, i.e. Good Friday). What would happen if people around you stopped respecting the Ten Commandments?

4.2) "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord in vain". The Second Commandment says we have to respect our promises (including the most solemn promises, when we take God as a witness, i.e. when we swear on the Lord's Name). For example, what will happen to your hot crossed buns if one of your employees promises he'll take them out of the oven in one hour, but he doesn't keep his promises? Your buns, and your profits, will go up in smoke! As another example, think of your money deposited at the bank. A deposit, by definition, is entrusting something to someone, because they promise they will give it back to us intact when we'll ask for it!

4.3) "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day". The Third Commandment tells us among others to respect Sunday as a day of rest. What will happen to your hot crossed buns, if you force your employees to work every day, without giving them rest on Sunday? Of course, physically and mentally exhausted people will make inferior-quality buns! Moreover, you will be encouraging both your employees and your customers to live to eat, instead of eating to live (i.e., you'll be dragging mankind down to the level of beasts, instead of raising them up to contemplation).

4.4) "Honor your father and your mother". The Fourth Commandment orders us to respect our superiors (firstly our parents, but by extension our teachers, our political leaders, our bosses, etc.). How can you make good hot crossed buns, if your employees are insolent? If you ask them to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, before they start kneading the dough, they will mock you. If you ask them to be polite to the customers, they will tell you to go take a flying leap, etc.

4.5) "Thou shalt not kill". The Fifth Commandment has an obvious meaning: if your clients are busy killing each other, you'll have less buyers for your buns! But this Commandment also includes everything which leads to death, like the destruction of the environment. How can you make a profit selling hot crossed buns, if you can't buy any flour, or milk, or raisins, because the agricultural sector is ravaged by pollution?

4.6) "Thou shalt not commit adultery". The Sixth Commandment forbids attacks on the family. Of course, men are not just cogs in the economy, but the economy still needs "cogs"! Honest, hard-working, educated and stable employees (and clients!) are "manufactured" by good, loving, stable families.

4.7) "Thou shalt not steal". The Commandment most obviously related to the economy is the Seventh. If your customers take your hot crossed buns without paying, you'll go bankrupt quite fast! Moreover, you'll also go bankrupt if your employees steal lots of flour from the kitchen, or if they steal minutes of work by arriving late, by leaving early, and by working slowly and badly, etc.

4.8) "Thou shalt not bear false witness". The Eighth Commandment forbids us to lie (including lying to a court of justice, since false witness is the worst lie). Your store that sells hot crossed buns can easily go bankrupt, if you're constantly being sued because of false accusations! But even far from the courts, lies can still destroy your small business. For example, imagine if an evil client started to spread the rumor that some of your buns were poisoned! And don't forget the immense category of lies told to clients! Dig into your memories: have you ever stopped going to a store, because the owner lied to you? (Maybe a lie like: "Yes, yes, mister customer, it's an excellent product! It will never break! And moreover, it has a wall-to-wall guarantee!")

4.9) "Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's wife". The Ninth Commandment in a way repeats the Sixth, and therefore has all its importance to protect the economy from threats against the family. Except the Ninth targets the source of these threats: the heart of man filled with carnal cravings. Think about it. Have you ever calculated all the time and money that is wasted on pornographic movies, immoral video games, etc.? Imagine if all of those efforts were invested into developing clean energy sources, or improving mass transit, or raising the level of schooling of all workers, etc.

4.10) "Thou shalt not covet anything which belongs to your neighbor". The Tenth Commandment is similar to the Ninth, in that it repeats in a way another Commandment (this time the Seventh). It too targets the source of the problem: the heart of man filled with material cravings. An old joke says that: "A Capitalist doesn't enjoy, he invests". Seriously, if the owner of the hot crossed buns store dedicates his life to material goods, then his store will go bankrupt! Instead of investing to buy new bread-making machines, he'll take holidays in the South! Instead of paying decent salaries to his employees, he'll buy a luxury car! Instead of taking a course on the new bread-making technologies, he'll buy himself a fancy ring, etc.

5) Examples of macro-economic damages caused by immorality


We can study the harm done to the economy, but from a more "macro-economic" point of view. In other words, we can look at the harm caused by disobedience to the Ten Commandments, but citizen after citizen, day after day, city after city, etc.! Let's look at a few Commandments:

5.2) "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord in vain". We've already seen that the Second Commandment tells us to keep our promises. But if we think about it, we can see the economy (and the whole country!) totally depends on respected promises. Indeed, a society is a "moral being", and not a physical being. A physical being (like a chimney) is made of bricks, but a moral being is built up of resolutions (who are themselves the foundation of trust, promises, contracts, etc.).

5.3) "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day". The Thirds Commandment doesn't just tell us to rest on Sunday. It's like a milestone, a limit, a lighthouse that reminds all society: "No, money isn't everything, there's more to life than the routine of work!" In other words, it reminds us that the economy exists for men, not men for the economy. And if you study history, you'll see all the harm caused by this "priority inversion", when men are sacrificed on the altar of the Economy...

5.4) "Honor your father and your mother". Respect for superiors, of which the Fourth Commandment speaks, also applies to all of society. Anarchy is almost synonymous with "destroyed country" (and hence destroyed economy), and anarchy is precisely this general rejection of authority.

5.6) "Thou shalt not commit adultery". Attacks on the family, forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, can obviously destroy a country (and its economy along the way). If families are under attack because of abortion, contraception, extra-marital sex, the glorification of pseudo-marriages, etc., then eventually a country's economy will suffer from a labor shortage, and what workers will be available will be of lower quality. (If you don't believe me, come and visit the Province of Quebec...)

5.7) "Thou shalt not steal". It's not just people who take hot crossed buns without paying who can steal! A government can rob a whole people! A government can rob its citizens in obvious ways, like for example with a crushing tax burden, or by having a fire sale of natural resources to foreigners who will exploit them in a non-sustainable way, etc. But the government can also steal in a more underhanded way, for example by printing too many banknotes. Suppose the government wants to steal your money in your bank account, does it need to hold-up your bank? No, it just needs to push on a button to start the big printer! You can get up one morning, and your money in the bank will be worth half less, or even nothing at all! A famous economist John Maynard Keynes, reportedly said: "There is no more positive, or subtle or surer means of destroying the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretely and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of the citizens."

5.8) "Thou shalt not bear false witness". Lies forbidden by the Eight Commandment aren't limited to what your clients or your employees can say! The government also can lie to all its citizens! To use the same example here above on inflation, the government can try to hide its corruption by fiddling with the statistics, in order to make citizens believe it's governing well. Let's take the example of the CPI ("Consumer Price Index"). The CPI is used to measure inflation, but the government can keep it apparently low by playing with the principles of substitution, weighing and hedonics. In reality, inflation remains the same, but it's camouflaged with statistical lipstick. Same thing with the unemployment rate, if for example the goverment stops counting all the discouraged people who are not even looking for a job anymore. Other accounting tricks can let the government claim the GNP is increasing, even though it's actually leveling off or even going down.

5.10) "Thou shalt not covet anything which belongs to your neighbor". Think of all the economies (and the human lives!) destroyed by wars, because one country coveted the wealth of another country! (Remember oil can be considered a source of wealth in certain periods of mankind's history...)

5.1) "Thou shalt not have other gods besides Me". I put the First Commandement last in this article, because it's the foundation for all other Commandements. (See If God Is Dead, Nothing Is Forbidden.)

(Sections 5.7 and 5.8 here above are largely taken from "The Crash Course" by Chris Martenson.)

6) Conclusion

After reading this, some people will say:

"Yes but, we don't need the Bible to understand these negative impacts on the GNP! It's just common sense!"

But that's exactly what I'm saying, and what the Catholic Church has always taught! The Ten Commandments are an overview of Natural Law, it's not something only religious, even if the Catholic religion talks about it. People who say otherwise just violate the Eighth Commandment!

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