Due to an email introduction that frequent commenter Brian Shelley made a while back, over the past few days I have been staying in Slovakia with Jozef Abrman, a missionary working with a Christian church in Trencin, Slovakia. Jozef holds a lecture series in which he brings in Christians from all over the world who speak in their areas of expertise. Obviously I gave my perspective on the global financial crisis, whereas past speakers have (for example) talked about how they found redemption after incredible personal tragedy, or about the corruption of science they witnessed in their fields.
It was funny because when I told people I was going to Slovakia (piggybacking it on the Mises Institute event in Vienna), they said, “Who do you know there?” My honest response, “Nobody.” Not wanting to stir panic, I didn’t elaborate by saying that I was introduced to my host through a guy I “met” on the Internet…
Anyway, the three days I spent with the Abrman family were very pleasant. Jozef referred to me as “Brother Bob” and spent his waking hours trying to spread the gospel. He didn’t hop up on a soapbox on the street corner, preaching that the end was near. (That was my job during the Sunday presentation!) Instead, he (and his wife) would try to be as helpful as possible to people in their community. Obviously they didn’t make their faith in Christ a secret, but they sought to serve others and let their deeds speak for themselves, as Jesus did Himself.
Jozef has an amazing personal story, some of which I will briefly summarize here. He grew up under communist rule in Czechoslovakia. When he was 15, the government denied him permission to study at the schools near his home, so he had to go the capital city. Eventually he defected at age 19. He eventually came to the United States as a political refugee and became a U.S. citizen. Then he moved to Monte Carlo (I think?) to work for a group that beamed Christian radio into Slovakia. (They needed a Christian who could speak the language, so he was perfect.)
Naturally I asked Jozef all sorts of questions about living under communism. He said that in Slovakia at least, they had no problem with entrepreneurship per se. The one thing you couldn’t do was hire somebody else. (Later I pushed him further and he agreed that they wouldn’t let any private citizen own a large amount of property either.)
Another interesting theme from our talks was that the communist government persecuted Christians. For example, there was no way that a child from a known Christian family would ever get permission to study to become a doctor or a teacher. Those careers were barred to them. It’s an obvious point, but this anecdote shows why it is so dangerous to give “economic” powers to the State. The officials can and in practice do use this leverage to achieve non-economic objectives. I’m not kidding when I say that I opposed “ObamaCare” if for no other reason than it gives government tremendous leverage over individual opponents. “You don’t want to play ball? Oops, looks like Aunt Cheryl won’t be getting that kidney transplant after all. Let us know if you change your mind.”
As far as my own talk, I think it went well and I didn’t put anybody to sleep. During the Q&A when I suggested people should acquire some physical gold and silver, a lady in the back said so-and-so said the same thing, and the crowd approved–I can only assume she was referring to the Slovakian Glenn Beck.
I didn’t make my talk very political or ideological at all; I mostly blamed the financial crisis on greed, fraud, and hubris. I included politicians and central bankers of course, but I also said that the “smartest guys in the room” were to blame for thinking they were very clever and had found a very safe place for their accumulated riches. I ended by saying that the great lesson was not to put your faith in riches.
The Biblical background for my remarks comes from Luke 12: 13-34:
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness,[a] for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Do Not Worry
22 Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. 23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? 25 And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. 30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things[b] shall be added to you.
32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The most encouraging part of the trip for me was talking with people from the crowd afterward. Some of them came up and thanked me for my talk, but not because they had been burning with curiosity about credit default swaps. Rather, they were saying things like, “Thank you for reminding me to keep this life in perspective. We have greater things coming.”