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Private vices, public goods?

I've always wondered how it was that Christians take capitalist economics so calmly or even eagerly embrace it. It's not just conflict with the Sermon on the Mount, but more a general worldliness. Consumerism in particular seems to distribute avarice to everyone while claiming it serves a public good.

Tillich had some comment on this in A History of Christian Thought, which I noticed a while ago and had to hunt down again this morning:

If we have a society of economic exchange that is dependent on selling and buying, it happens that human desires must be aroused to make such selling and buying possible. Thus an antipuritan principle developed in the midst of the Enlightenment and bourgeois discipline. If everyone should work and no one should buy and use the products of industry, there would soon be no work to do and the whole system would collapse.

Therefore it is not only good but essential to arouse in people the desire for goods. This resulted in the introduction of the pleasure principle as a dynamic into bourgeois society in opposition to the original Calvinistic and early bourgeois principle of work with its ascetic character. To put it in a formula, one can say that private vices are public goods. (353)

This echoed in my head when I stumbled onto "The Serious People's Reasoning and Speech with the World's Teachers and Professors", one of the works collected in Volume I of the Doctrinal Books in Fox's Works. (It's available online from Earlham.) Fox seems in part to be addressing 17th century proponents of trickle-down economics, who would suggest that their vices in fact support people who would otherwise be poor:

The priests and professors, and the world's table talk, is "...the Quakers, like a company of fools and novices, cry against us, and say we are all daubed about and dressed with pride: how must the poor live if we must not wear their lace? and gold and silver, and ribands on our backs?"

"Ay, but," saith the serious people, "are not thou burthened with all this garb upon thy back, and this vanity?... and if you say how should the poor live if you do not wear that; give them all that money which you bestow upon all that gorgeous attire, and needless things, to nourish them, that they may live without making vanities, and needless things, and costly attire for you, and through that you will live, and they will live both..."

The priests and professors of the world say, "These fools, these Quakers, cannot endure to see us with two or three rings upon our fingers, nor jewels in our ears, nor bracelets about our necks... how should poor people live if we should not wear them?"

Say the serious people, "All your gold rings, your cuffs, your great band-strings, your lace, your jewels, your bracelets, your gorgeous apparel, and attire, turn it all into money, and give it to the poor to buy them bread, and I will warrant you, that they and you will have all enough, and there will be no want amongst you, for you are always wanting..."

The teachers and professors of the world say, "The Quakers are offended at us, because our women have a dressing come down to the middle of their backs, and a great pair of cuffs upon their hands, and how must the poor people live if they should not do so?"

"The makers of these things," say the serious people, "let them make plain things, and do you wear plain things, and that money which you lay out on these costly things, give you to them; for who are you like in the scriptures? you are not like the christians, for what service is there is your wearing a bunch of ribands at your women's back?..." (194-197)

The main target of this piece is vanity, but Fox repeatedly destroys the claim that such vanities help the poor, arguing that while there is a place for the making and exchange of plain goods, the notion that luxury goods support the poor is repugnant.

(This also fits well with Fox's 1659 call for the houses of power to be given over to the poor.)

Quakers have a long history of profitable interactions with capitalism, even as captains of industry, but it's hard to reconcile the notion that private vices are public goods with "answering that of God in every man". And should be.