For Mankind, having consented to put an imaginary Value upon Gold and Silver by reason of Durablenes, Scarcity, and not being very liable to be Counterfeited, have made them by general consent the common Pledges, whereby Men are assured, in Exchange for them to receive equally valuable things to those they parted with for any quantity of those Metals. By which means it comes to pass, that the Intrinsick Value regarded in these Metals made the common Barter, is nothing but the quantity which Men give or receive of them...The intrinsick Value of Silver and God used in Commerce is nothing but their quantity.11
 By the time of John Locke, the notion of qualitative, intrinsic worth had no bearing on the value of gold and silver. Hawkes adroitly recognizes that for Locke, and everyone after, the quantitative exchange value of money has in fact become its intrinsic value.
 For our purpose, the significant feature of this seventeenth-century economic development is that the sign had finally replaced the reality to which it points. From the time of Aristotle until the sixteenth century, real things such as wheat, land and cattle had real value because they were able to fulfill a certain telos — a goal toward which their inherent qualities directed them and therefore made them valuable for life. Land could be used to grow food and build houses, wheat could be used to make bread, and cows could provide milk. Likewise, in the traditions of Jewish and Christian economic logic, things derived their worth by virtue of being part of creation, and fulfilling their appropriate role in contributing to the flourishing of life. We valued goods according to their ability to fulfil that goal — land for agriculture or grazing, wheat for bread and cows for milk or meat. But now that money had its own exchange value, we started to relate the 'worth' of land, wheat, or cattle to the value of money. The problem with this twist of market logic is that the means had become the ends. Goods were no longer valued for the worth of their natural teleological purposes. Now the market determined the value of created things. The valuable creation had become the Creator of value. The market was created to represent the value of goods. Goods had become commodities that were measured according to the value of money. The sign had become the referent. This twist of logic is the root of the market's idolatry.
 Incidentally, this idolatry of market-based valuation did not stop twisting with the commodification of goods. Within various forms of political economy, as demonstrated in John Locke and Adam Smith, human labor itself became a commodity which could be exchanged for money. Once we valued human labor based on the intrinsic nature of that work. Now, based on the same market inversion of intrinsic worth and exchange value, labor was valued by the amount of money that work could be exchanged for.12 The point is that a person's value, in economic terms, is not related to his human dignity, but how much money a person could earn by selling his time and work. People and their ability to work were not ends in themselves, but means to create wealth. We hear echoes of this phenomenon today: Job creation is not an end in itself, pursued for the sake of helping people find meaningful employment. Rather, job creation is a means of economic stimulus. If more people can find jobs (not have meaningful work, mind you, but find jobs), then they will create more wealth to spend and market will see more money being used. Once again, the value of a person is not related to her teleological relationship to the Creator, but replaced by the amount of wealth she can create through her work. We can see that the foundation for this idolatrous inversion of logic was set long before industrialism, and a full century before Adam Smith.
 Even if consumer behavior had begun to change according to the commodifiction of goods during the seventeenth century (and I believe Carol Shammas is correct about this) there is an equally significant kind of commodification that occurred in this age. Modern market logic assumes that the buyers are not moral agents who make decisions based on what they determine is valuable, rather the consumer responds to the value which has been created by the market. According to market logic, not only is the value of goods determined by the market, but human beings derive their value from the role that they play as consumers of goods that the market has valued. In the consumer market, even the human role is commodified for its economic value.
 Further now to the second point, we can see that this seventeenth-century, idolatrous twist of market logic led to an ethical twist in the human being's economic role from that of moral agent to economic consumer.
Consumerism's Effect on Theological Anthropology
 Even though John Locke and Adam Smith are some of the earliest economic theorists of this new market economy, they likely would never have imagined the logical extension of this inversion of value. John Locke always assumed that the money economy would be sufficiently held in check by a society's commitment to natural law. Accordingly, the natural limits of production and a moral obligation to meet the needs of the neighbor would maintain some modicum of justice with respect to the value of commodities and money in relationship to human dignity (even if not that of creation).13 Likewise, Adam Smith's theory of capitalism always assumed that a political economy would be held in check by shared political or social moral sentiments about decency.14 However, Todd Whitmore suggests that in our modern form of neo-liberal economics, both natural law and moral sentiment have been displaced from the science of economics, and most modern societies and nation state governments have completely lost their ability to deploy moral arguments for setting boundaries to the market's metrics. Whitmore writes that when the moral restraints of theological, natural law and political ethics give way to mathematical calculations, the market economy is free to overextend social and ethical boundaries of goodness and decency.15
 The overextension of the market logic looks like the following. If the exchange value of money is allowed to be the foundation upon which the health of the market is measured, then everything that participates in the market is valued according to its ability to contribute to the positive growth of that market. We have seen how goods were commoditized according to the value of money. We have seen how labor was commoditized. In the end, the human being is commoditized. Whitmore, among many others, demonstrates that in the market economy, the human being is only valuable to the market as a consumer who can purchase commodities and inject money into the economy, or as a producer whose labor or products can be sold for money in the market. People are valued as consumers or producers, and if they are neither, then they are not participating in the economy at all. They have no value according to the market. They are literally worthless.
 This new way of assessing the value of the human being is, at its heart, a new anthropology. It is what Whitmore calls a 'capitalist anthropology' which defines the human being as homo economicus. For our purposes, we can see that this market anthropology, or consumer anthropology, is an idolatrous way of defining the human being. The worth of the human being is related to its role as an economic functionary. Once again, the ends (the created being) have become the means. And the sign (the market economy) has become the referent (the benchmark of value). In our age of neo-liberal economics in which the market is allowed to extend past the boundaries of natural, social or theological moral constraints, this idolatry completely disregards any biological or theological anthropology. The human being does not have any real identity with respect to the simple fact of its being alive. The value of a human being is not defined by any theological notion of intrinsic worth with respect to its Creator or the goals of flourishing to which every human being can contribute regardless of economic potential.
 This modern shift away from theological anthropology towards a consumer anthropology has major ethical consequences. The loss of intrinsic worth ultimately results in a loss of moral agency. If we can no longer contribute to the flourishing of life by virtue of our dignity as part of creation, then we are reduced to economic functionaries. And if our participation in this economy is only that of fulfilling our role as defined by economic science, which does not reflect any biological or theological notions of worth, then we have no moral decisions to make. One may object that we do have moral decisions to make about what products to buy, what kinds of markets to invest in or what products to produce. But these decisions are ultimately decisions that we make as a consumer or a producer. They are still decisions regarding how to use our economic value, not decisions based on whether or not we choose to have our worth defined by the mathematics of the market economy. Once again, our worth, or our ability to inject some morality into the market, is based on the fact that we are either producers or consumers of goods and wealth. According to the idolatrous twist in the logic based on a 'capitalist anthropology', human beings have no worth or moral contribution to make other than that of the producer or consumer. A way to demonstrate this point is to note that those who have no economic value have no way to impact the morality of the market. And we see this reality demonstrated most in the case of children.
 It should be noted that the title of Todd Whitmore's influential essay was "Children: An Undeveloped Theme in Catholic Teaching." His entire emphasis was on the way in which the disintegrating forces of the market economy affect the dignity of children. Whitmore demonstrates that when children are categorized as producers, consumers or otherwise worthless, there are really only two options for them. Children cannot produce economic wealth or goods which are valued in the market outside of the occasional lemonade stand or flea market stall, except in extremely rare and outstanding cases. Children are viewed either as worthless and a drain on a family's economic worth, or they are consumers who can at least contribute through their consumption of goods. And have they ever.
 Daniel Thomas Cook has written a wonderful book that chronicles the way in which marketing and advertising have developed since the industrial age. He is specifically concerned with the way in which the clothing industry has capitalized on this notion of children's potential consumer value to the economy. His is a valuable case study into the phenomenon, which touches on one important aspect at the heart of the problem. He calls it 'Pediocularity'. This is the notion that things which a child sees largely define their sense of reality.
 The way that we adorn or stock our homes with trinkets, toys and expensive things, otherwise known as urban interiors, has changed significantly since the Victorian age. And the things that adorn a child's life teach them about what is valuable. What they see advertised on television, in malls or on billboards shapes their definition of worth and value at an early age. Of course, screen time can be monitored by parents, but sadly, studies in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics over decades show that television screen time continues to increase.16 And given the ascension of smart phones and more portable computers, exposure to consumer advertising is no doubt increasing exponentially. The cumulative affect of these visual images is that children are constantly receiving the message that they are incredibly valuable — as consumers of these advertised goods.
 According to the recent boom in the marketing of goods towards babies and mothers-to-be, we can see that children receive this message from the earliest age. Even babies can consume. And this narrative has real consequences. The most recent report from the United Nations on the Well-Being of Children is based on a survey of children's opinion of their overall well-being. Out of 25 industrialized nations, the Unites Kingdom and the United States, the two arguably most consumer-oriented societies in the world,17 are ranked numbers 24 and 25, respectively in the overall well-being of children. In societies where the market is allowed to have an equal, if not disproportionate, opportunity to define a child's worth, our children are telling us they are not happy. In terms of today's market economy, a child cannot really be a valuable producer. In order to exercise their moral agency within the economic narrative, a child must choose to become a consumer, or wrestle with the feeling of worthlessness.
 The most saddening part of this consumer narrative is that it is all based on a lie. As demonstrated above, this economic definition is based on a system of logic that is simply not telling the truth. This economic system does not tell our children the truth about their natural, social or theological dignity. But in this tragedy, we have a clear path for an ethical corrective.
Showing Our Children the Truth about Their Worth
 In an age where children are valued for their consumption, education is valued primarily for its ability to generate new qualified producers, teachers and those who work in caring professions live far too near the poverty line, and daily political discourse consistently defines the human being's role in society as either a producer, a consumer, or a socio-economic burden, our message must ultimately be rooted in our theological anthropology. Towards that end, the task for theological ethics becomes clear. We must continue expose the idolatry of market definitions with the light of truth that values the intrinsic worth of land, goods, labor and human dignity. Intrinsic dignity comes from being creatures that contribute to the flourishing of life in ways often completely unknown, unrecognisable and worthless to economic metrics.
 I began this essay by suggesting that the fundamental shift in our notions of 'worth' and 'value' began in the seventeenth century. In the seventeenth century lived a notable poet and theologian named Thomas Traherne. Growing up in the English Civil War, he served as an Anglican priest in the countryside and in London, and he attended university at Oxford during the age of the scientific and price revolutions. He was a witness to those seventeenth century categorical shifts in the way we evaluate the worth of creation and children.18 His reaction to the advent of an economic anthropology is instructive for those of us living in its fullness. Traherne increasingly came to believe that the evolving definition of value was fundamentally flawed. As a child, he knew that the things of nature were valuable, and he laments the affect of those in high society who taught him rather to value 'baubles' and 'jewels' and 'hobby horses'. On the riches and wealth that he saw as a child he wrote:
I thought within myself : God being, as we generally believe, infinite in goodness, it is most consonant and agreeable with His nature, that the best things should be most common. For nothing is more natural to infinite goodness, than to make the best things most frequent; and only things worthless scarce. Then I began to enquire what things were most common: Air, Light, Heaven and Earth, Water, the Sun, Trees, Men and Women, Cities, Temples &c [sic]. These I found common and obvious to all: Rubies, Pearls, Diamonds, Gold and Silver; these I found scarce, and to the most denied. Then began I to consider and compare the value of them which I measured by their serviceableness, and by the excellencies which would be found in them, should they be taken away. And in conclusion, I saw clearly, that there was a real valuableness in all the common things; in the scarce, a feigned.19
 His basis for assigning 'value' to the things of creation was more than a pre-modern theological narrative. In his own childhood, he spent a great deal of time in creation, and the childlike sense of wonder taught him not only about the inherent worth of creation, it taught him the truth about his own human dignity. Spending time in creation:
taught me that I was concerned in all the world: and that in the remotest borders the causes of peace delight me, and the beauties of the earth when seen were made to entertain me : that I was made to hold a communion with the secrets of Divine Providence in all the world.20
Being out in creation as children can help us form our true identity, and therefore form a moral sense of our ethical duty, as well as our ability to help life flourish. In the face of new scientific metrics about how to be economically valuable, Traherne affirmed a simple truth that:
The world therefore serveth you abundantly in teaching you your duty. They daily cry in a living manner, with a silent and yet most loud voice, We are all His gifts. We are tokens and presents of His Love. You must therefore esteem us according to the beauty and worth that is in us, and the love from whence we came. Which to do, is certainly the most blessed thing in all the worlds, as not to do it is most wicked and most miserable.'21
 Traherne believed that we can help children form a truthful anthropology about their own inherent worth and that of creation by helping them literally to go out and see it. 'By an Act of the understanding therefore be present now with all the creatures among which you live; We infinitely wrong ourselves by laziness and confinement...You are never what you ought till you go out of yourself and walk among them.'22 A walk in nature reveals a truth that television advertisements cannot. From the very age in which the effects of consumerism were first truly felt, Traherne reminds us of the simple things that we can do to help our children see the truth about the inherent value of nature and their own value as creatures. To that end Traherne leaves us with this message from the seventeenth century:
and those parents that desire Holy Children learn to make them possessors of Heaven and Earth betimes; to remove silly objects from before them, to magnify nothing but what is great indeed, and to talk of God to them, and of His works and ways before they can either speak or go. For nothing is so easy as to teach the truth because the nature of the thing confirms the doctrine. [For to teach them otherwise is to] dissettle [sic]his foundation, render him uncertain in all things, and divide him from God. To teach him those objects are little vanities, and that though God made them, by the ministry of man, yet better and more glorious things are more to be esteemed is natural and easy.23
 The articles that are contained in this edition of JLE will, in their own way, explore this thesis as we all search for ways to help our children (as well as adults) rediscover their identity and moral agency in our consumer age. For my part, I have tried to suggest that our ethical critique of consumerism be not merely concerned with methods of consumer advertising or marketing strategies based on our identity as dependent beings. Neither should we focus solely on consumer behavior and our ability to make ethical choices as consumers and investors. Rather, I have focused on a more fundamental ethical concern with the veracity of the system by which we derive our notions of worth. In the face of a political economy that wants to define worth according to the market, we have a truth to tell.
 But I will conclude with the suggestion that this task is not only one of narrative, but of formation. Equipping our children with a proper theological sense of the dignity of creation is not only about what words we use to construct a narrative as the traditions of the Reformation have historically tended to suggest. Rather, our task is to help focus the 'pediocularity' of our children on that which is true. Literally, we need to help our children see what is true by the way in which we decorate our homes in ostentation or simple creativity. The food we buy and the way we eat teaches our children about making choices with respect to the ecological impact of participating in local food initiatives and the consequences of eating healthy, fresh and cooked food rather than individually wrapped energy intensive food.24 The wonderful truth is that by helping our children explore their local ecology through environmental education, grow their own vegetables, visit local farmer's markets, create art, make toys, play outside, sing, play instruments and spend time in the evenings in inter-generational conversation rather than screen time does far more than tell a child that they have intrinsic worth. They are engaged in morally significant activities that affirm their primary identity as based on something other than economics. These methods of moral formation create an integral and authentic relationship between the truth that we tell our children and the reality they experience.
 We can tell children every day that all that they see was created by an all-powerful God, but that means nothing if we don't equip them to critique the notion that the market can truly assign value to that creation. We can tell children Christ's teachings about the value of the sparrows and the lilies of the field, but if children actually see us make consumer decisions based on the market's definitions of value, those words may fall on dry ground, and the Word may not find the place to enliven that child with a real sense of dignity, worth and moral agency.
 Ultimately, this reality is a sacramental one. At the table children are valued for the very fact of their being present. Through participating in that meal they can intuitively grasp the ultimate truth about real worth. Here, wheat, grapes, the human labor that it takes to transform them into bread and wine as well as the time that we 'spend' gathering together are valuable not because of the amount of money for which they can all be exchanged in the marketplace. Rather, the value of all of these created things, individually and in relationship, comes from the Creator whose Spirit uses these things towards their actual purpose — to create a life-giving community that nourishes our bodies and orders our lives towards the well-being of each part of that good creation.
The Rev. Chad M. Rimmer, M.Div, M.Th, is a Ph.D. Candidate, New College, University of Edinburgh.
1. Michael Phillips makes this helpful distinction in his book. Michael J. Phillips, Ethics and Manipulation in Advertising: Answering a Flawed Indictment (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997).
2. This distinction between manipulative advertising and advertising for social well-being is an important distinction to keep in mind. This distinction is explored in Phillips.
3. This term, homo economicus, finds its first expression in the 19th century around the world of John Stuart Mill. However, the nascent concept of homo economicus is present a century earlier in the work of Adam Smith, and in the seventeenth century work of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
4. Adamson demonstrates how and why boys and girls were instructed to read in English Grammar Schools from the late fifteenth century. However, during the time of Henry VIII, laws against women reading the Bible in public demonstrate that literacy rates had increased significantly to the point that women were reading the Bible in public. J. W. Adamson, "The Extent of Literacy in England in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries: Notes and Conjectures," The Library, s4–X (1929), 163–193.
5. Carole Shammas, The Pre-industrial Consumer in England and America (Clarendon Press, 1990).
6. Luther, Martin, Trade and Usury. LW:45, Walter Brandt, ed. Muhlenberg Press, 1962.
7. For more exposition on this theme, I would suggest E. L Glaeser and J. Scheinkman, "Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be: An Economic Analysis of Interest Restrictions and Usury Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, 41 (1998), 1–36 and P. C. Gordon Walker, "Capitalism and the Reformation," The Economic History Review, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Nov., 1937), pp. 1–19. R. H. Tawney, "Religious Thought on Social and Economic Questions in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," The Journal of Political Economy, 31 (1923), 637–674.
8. LW, 45: 262.
9. LW, 45: 245.
10. David Hawkes, Idols of the Marketplace: Idolatry and Commodity Fetishism in English Literature, 1580–1680 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), p. 203.
11. Hawkes, p. 203.
12. This assessment follows a basic Marxist critique of eighteenth century political economy, and has been restated in various forms by the likes of Karl Polanyi, Hillaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton and Roman Catholic Social teaching, but at this point, John Locke and Adam Smith would not disagree.
13. John Locke, ed. Ian Shapiro, Two Treatises of Government: And a Letter Concerning Toleration (Yale University Press, 2003).
14. These theories are at work within Adam Smith, Amartya Sen and Ryan Patrick Hanley, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Penguin Books, 2010) and, The Wealth of Nations, Penguin UK, 2003).
15. Todd Whitmore makes this case citing the expression as used by Don Browning in an earlier essay, which can be found in Maura A. Ryan and Todd Whitmore, The Challenge of Global Stewardship: Roman Catholic Responses (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), p. 163.
16. A. B. Jordan and others, "Reducing Children's Television-Viewing Time: A Qualitative Study of Parents and Their Children," Pediatrics, 118 (2006), 1303–1310.
17. Here I am following Schudson's thesis as presented in,Michael Schudson, Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society (Basic Books, 1986).
18. In his treatment of the seventeenth century's market idolatry Hawkes explores the economic nature of Traherne's writings as discussed above. However, in my own doctoral studies on Thomas Traherne, I suggest that his concern with value was not simply economic. Rather, his ultimate defence is of the worth of being itself, and its relationship with the Creator, which I am pursuing in the present essay.
19. Traherne and Margoliouth, Centuries, poems, and thanksgiving, 3.53.
20. Traherne and Margoliouth, Centuries, poems, and thanksgiving, 3.23.
21. Traherne and Margoliouth, Centuries, poems, and thanksgiving, 2.28.
22. Thomas Traherne and Herschel Maurice Margoliouth, Centuries, poems, and thanksgiving (Clarendon Press, 1958), Second Century, 76.
23. From the eleventh paragraph in the third century of his meditations in, Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations (Cosimo, Inc., 2010).
24. This point is demonstrated in, S. M. Connor, "Food-Related Advertising on Preschool Television: Building Brand Recognition in Young Viewers," Pediatrics, 118 (2006), 1478–1485.
© January 2012
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 12, Issue 1