Saturday, November 10, 2018

George Gilder: Human Creativity, Christian Capitalism and “Life After Google”

After the mid-term elections last week, I’m sure we will now find ourselves being cast hot and heavy into the 2020 presidential election. The Democrats are going to have two key areas of focus.

On the economic front, their focus is going to be “Democratic Socialism”. This is portrayed as a “kinder, gentler” form of Marxism – less caustic than Soviet communism, because, well, we’ve got the “kinder, gentler” left-wing Antifa/Resist/“you’re not welcome here” Democrats running the show.

And on the cultural front, their program is “Cultural Marxism”, which is their version of morality. It features Marxism’s classical “oppressor/oppressed” paradigm, supplemented by the aggregation and advocacy of various “victim groups”, and modified what’s known as “intersectionality” – that is, a hierarchy of “the oppressed”, whose opinions, depending upon how many victim identities that they can claim, carry more or less weight vs. the key class of oppressors, largely white men of European descent.

Both of these thought systems are related, and they operate according to well-defined methods, that many of us see, but have historically had difficulty opposing. I’m sure we’ll be writing more about both of these phenomena on the pages of Triablogue.

One key feature to note is that both of these programs have clearly articulated communications objectives, strategies, and even “talking points”. How many of you have been called a “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobe”, “Islamophobe”, “xenophobe”, etc.?

This name calling is no accident; rather, the names are the tip of the iceberg of communications efforts that have been borne in university programs, which are repeated ad nauseam by thinkers and politicians on the left, and echoed endlessly in the media.

Too often, this form of juvenile name-calling (which tends to work on the uninitiated, even some Christian writers, because many of us still carry with us our childhood fears of being rejected) is rarely opposed. This is not an accident – it is the predicted outcome of a well-defined strategic and communications program on the left.

Even those Christian writers who ought to know better, when faced with such truly baseless accusations tend to hem and haw and say, “erm, uh, no, we’re not”, and they go to great lengths to explain why Christians are not racists, sexist, homophobic xenophobes” – and in the process, they become “useful idiots” for those on “the Left”, describing how “we support social justice” etc.

For our part, Reformed Christians need not only to be advocating a positive political program and agenda of our own, which needs to feature conservative Christian principles for sure, but which will need to be articulated clearly and winsomely, using Christian language, and not being sucked into using the language of “social justice”, in which case, we would already be cast on the losing side and put on the defensive.

“Christian Capitalism” as an Economic program to espouse

We seem to have a clear vision on the cultural/morality side, which ranges among us somewhere between extremes characterized by “theonomy” and what’s been identified as “R2K” (the “R” standing, alternatively, for either “reformed” or “radical”, depending on who is doing the writing). The notion is that Christians can and should be working at some level to have a positive (and Christian) influence on the broader culture.

However, one thing we don’t seem to have a good handle on, and that’s the economic program that needs to oppose “Democratic Socialism”. We seem to keep that under the heading of “Conservativsm”, and we have tended to allow that to be the realm of the “country club” Republicans, but in the Trump era, that positive program seems to have shifted somewhat, and the messaging that used to clearly advocated as “conservative” has now become somewhat muddled.

Reformed Christians need to advocate a particularly winsome economic program that Christians can espouse and advocate. In not doing so, those of us on “the right” often tend not to have a cohesive communications message – a positive program that is easily articulated and one that Christians can understand, espouse, and more importantly, advocate.

I believe that George Gilder, as a writer on business and economics over the past 40 years, is a seminal thought leader who can provide language and ideas, based in Biblical, Christian morality and even language, that we can use in the public sphere, that can clearly and succinctly serve as messaging that we can use (and more importantly, that politicians can use) to craft counter-messaging to “the Left’s”.

I think that program can be called something like “Christian Capitalism” – a free-enterprise system that’s based on Biblical principles of private property, hard work, thrift, the deferment of rewards, and sharing – all values espoused by Calvin and re-articulated in the form of “the Protestant Work Ethic”.

George Gilder: An Introduction

George Gilder is a prolific writer in the field of business, economics, and technology. I hadn’t heard of him until just recently, having read his work “Life After Google”.

He was a writer for Forbes Magazine, and also a thing called “Forbes ASAP”, which I had never checked out. It always seemed like an add-on to the real thing. Later he had his own technology newsletter, “The Gilder Technology Report”, his own publishing firm, and he later became a venture capitalist.

He is a co-founder of “The Discovery Institute” – yes, THAT same Discovery Institute that advocates for Intelligent Design (Stephen Meyer) and other leading conservative thinkers are represented (Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, Michael Medved, Nancy Pearcey, Bill Walton, and others).

Gilder writes on the business and technology side of that organization. Below are some brief descriptions of his works.

Wealth and Poverty

Gilder’s 1981 book “Wealth and Poverty” (which was not his first book, by a long margin) “advanced a practical and moral case for supply-side economics and capitalism during the early months of the Reagan administration and made him Ronald Reagan's most quoted living author”, according to Wikipedia (citing the publisher of the work, and probably echoing “a study of presidential speeches”).

I don’t own the book, but here is a YouTube video on “Wealth and Poverty” that has been edited down to provide the high points. These include such notions as “Capitalism was not simply a practical success. It is the supreme expression of human creativity” – it is not simply an efficient way to allocate goods and capital. It is “a moral good”.

Gilder explains:

Capitalism is ultimately altruistic; capitalists begin with an imaginative response to the needs of others. They have to forego their own consumption and save to assemble resources to deploy for a process, the outcome of which is determined not by themselves, but by customers and investors, neither of whom are under the control of the entrepreneur himself. The entrepreneur has to collaborate; the entrepreneur follows “the golden rule”. He wants others to succeed. Any business is completely dependent on the success of all the other around it. (adapted from the video).

On the other hand, while “greed” is often mis-attributed to Capitalists (who often become wealthy, but who more frequently see their businesses fail), is better attributed to socialism and the welfare state, where:

They seek comfort and security first. They collaborate with government to get special privileges and contracts (“crony capitalism”) and seats at the public trough … (adapted from the video).

From what I’ve read, Reagan purchased copies of this book and handed them out as gifts to many of his senior advisors. Here is a positive review of the book. Citing Gilder:

“Capitalism offers nothing but frustrations and rebuffs to those who wish because of claimed superiority of intelligence, birth, credentials, or ideals to get without giving, to take without risking, to profit without sacrifice, to be exalted without humbling themselves to meet the unruly demands of others in an always perilous and unpredictable life. It is not surprising therefore that the chief source of the misunderstanding of capitalism is the Intelligencia, one of the many aristocracies that preen themselves on the contempt for bourgeois or middle class values and that refuse to acknowledge the paramount role of individual enterprise in the progress of the race.”

Men and Marriage

In 1992, his “Men and Marriage” (which I have not read yet), some part of which Swindoll had cited approvingly, Gilder makes the following comments:

The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality. The overall sexual behavior of women in the modern world differs relatively little from the sexual life of women in primitive societies. It is male behavior that must be changed to create a civilized order…

In creating civilization, women transform male lust into love; channel male wanderlust into jobs, homes, and families; link men to specific children; rear children into citizens; change hunters into fathers; divert male will to power into a drive to create. Women conceive the future that men tend to flee; they feed the children that men ignore. George Gilder. Men and Marriage (Kindle Locations 160-165). Kindle Edition.

In this 2010 interview of Gilder at, Gilder summarizes his beliefs about the destructive nature of feminism:

the woman holds in her very body a link to the long term future of the race. Her sexuality determines her long term goals. As a very physiological consciousness, she knows she can bear and nurture children. She has a central role in the very perpetuation of the species. The man is estranged from this process; his sexuality arises merely as a compulsive drive to pleasure. It’s short term by nature. It’s predatory and quickly gratified.

The Women’s Movement tragically reduces female sexuality to the terms of male sexuality. When this happens, she reduces herself to the male level of recreational sex. Paradoxically, when that happens the woman loses all her power over men and the reverence and respect toward the procreative potential of woman is lost. And that really destroys the family. But if the power of “choice” is given up, the woman actually ascends to a higher level of sexuality and her body attains an almost mystical power over men.

See also his more recent National Review article, “The Feminist Economy

I haven’t noticed that Gilder cites Scripture, but he certainly advocates a robust Christian morality. Here is a summary of Christianity and the family:

Giving, beginning within the family and extending outward into the society, is the moral center of the system. It does not succeed by allowing the leading capitalists to revel in riches; if they hoard their wealth the system tends to fail. It succeeds by inducing the capitalist continually to give his wealth back to the system in the form of new gifts and investments. George Gilder. Men and Marriage (Kindle Locations 2363-2365). Kindle Edition.

The Israel Test

In his “The Israel Test”, Gilder suggests that Israel is hated (and anti-Semitism exists) not because the Jews have been dishonest or have dealt unfairly with the global culture at large, but because of the jealousy and envy of those who fail to put in the efforts to duplicate Israel’s successes.

… Israel represents one of the most extraordinary transformation stories in the history of economics. Just over sixty years old, with a population slightly over seven million, and located in a hostile region, Israel is home to more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth and has surpassed the combined venture capital investment of France and Germany…

In a decade, Israel went from being a nondescript industrial economy to one of the world’s leaders in research and technological creativity on a per capita basis. Then-senator Joseph Lieberman, from Gilder, George. The Israel Test: Why the World's Most Besieged State is a Beacon of Freedom and Hope for the World Economy. Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Gilder himself posits the difference:

The central issue in international politics, dividing the world into two fractious armies, is the tiny state of Israel. This central issue is not a global war of civilizations between the West and Islam or a split between Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and salient, but they obscure the deeper moral and ideological war. The real issue is between the rule of law and the rule of the leveler, between creative excellence and “fairness,” between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it. Gilder, George. The Israel Test: Why the World's Most Besieged State is a Beacon of Freedom and Hope for the World Economy (p. 1). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

“Life After Google”

Life After Google” is Gilder’s most recent work (very impressive, given that Gilder is now 78 years old), describing both the limits of Google and the new technologies in its wake.

In the work, Gilder first provides a history of Google, its ideas, its pseudo-religious underpinnings; then he shows the weaknesses of the system, the ways in which it is “maxing out”, and finally, he points to emerging technologies (such as virtual reality and blockchain) which are already in growth mode, and in which entrepreneurial Capitalists are creatively devising a new “distributed” computer architecture that is going to be more secure and more equitable than the mountainous system where all roads lead to Google.

Google has certainly had an impressive run. They have pushed existing technologies to their limits, and in the process, they have not only created the second wealthiest company in the world (with market capitalization second only to Apple’s), but they have also created what Gilder called “a new system of the world”, which supplanted the old (monetary-based) system, to create a system “where everything is free, you are the product” for sale, in the form of your privacy and the accumulated data they own on you, which is sold to advertisers.

On a deeper level, the world of Google—its interfaces, its images, its videos, its icons, its philosophy—is 2D (compared with a 3D world). Google is not just a company but a system of the world.

And the Internet is cracking under the weight of this ideology. Its devotees uphold the flat-universe theory of materialism: the sufficiency of deterministic chemistry and mathematics. They believe the human mind is a suboptimal product of random evolutionary processes. They believe in the possibility of a silicon brain. They believe that machines can “learn” in a way comparable to human learning, that consciousness is a relatively insignificant aspect of humanity, emergent from matter, and that imagination of true novelties is a delusion in a hermetic world of logic.

They hold that human beings have no more to discover and may as well retire on a guaranteed pension, while Larry Page and Sergey Brin fly off with Elon Musk and live forever in galactic walled gardens on their own private planets in a winner-take-all cosmos.Gilder, George. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy (Kindle Locations 129-136). Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.

All of these notions may be challenged, and in the process, Gilder deals with them. The foil for this kind of dull and deterministic technology is one that is distributed, entrepreneurial, and dependent more on human inventiveness and entrepreneurial creativity and generosity. My hope is to provide some overview of this vision in the near future.

Is George Gilder the C.S. Lewis of Christian Capitalism?

C.S. Lewis was an original thinker. But more than that, he characterized the Christian faith in ways that, even though he was a brilliant scholar, virtually anyone could understand what he was talking about.

The economic system that we live in has always had tendencies toward “Christian Capitalism” (with a “C”) – this is inherent in Calvin’s views of biblical wisdom, thrift, saving, and perhaps reinvestment – via “the Protestant Work Ethic”.

I think that because Gilder writes primarily in the Business/Economics space, folks in our circles (Reformed Christianity) haven’t run into him a lot, but there are cross-overs.

Gilder takes difficult financial and technological topics and explains them in relevant ways. He views human beings (“man”) as created in the image of God, and human creativity to be an analog to God’s creativity via, among other things, the mechanism of science:

Real science shows that the universe is a singularity and thus a creation. Creation is an entropic product of a higher consciousness echoed by human consciousness. This higher consciousness, which throughout human history we have found it convenient to call God, endows human creators with the space to originate surprising things. Gilder, George. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy (Kindle Locations 1579-1581). Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.

I believe that Gilder’s work gives us the kind of language that Reformed Christians can use in the public sphere, and to which we can attribute the various attributes of God (and to God Himself). Lord willing, I’ll be writing more about this in the coming weeks and months.