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God, Capitalism and the Chilean Miners

The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” The "American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on

God, Capitalism and the Chilean Miners
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer

There is a current running through modern politics that assumes a cost-benefit analysis is the best, if not the only, measure of value – of anything, apparently. Even human lives!

I’ve been thinking about the rescue of the Chilean miners, what has come to be called the "Copiapó mining accident." The mining accident occurred on 5 August 2010, when part of the San José copper-gold mine near Copiapó, Chile, collapsed, leaving 33 men trapped 2,300 ft. below ground. All 33 were rescued and brought to the surface on 13 October 2010.

It was a happy ending to a near-tragedy. But it was only the next day that the Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed by Daniel Henninger, crowed, "It needs to be said. The rescue of the Chilean miners is a smashing victory for free-market capitalism."

How’s that again? Why, yes, the drill bit that broke through to the miners was made by a private company, for profit, and it was instrumental in saving lives. And there were other examples like that. So profit = innovation = saving lives, right? And we should thank Milton Friedman and the "invisible hand" of the free market, right?

Well, not so fast. The company who ran the mine, Empresa Minera San Esteban, has been described as "an out-of-control, anti-union, government-regulation defying safety nightmare who allowed its workers to become trapped as par for the course of its worker mistreatment." And then there were the weak labor laws and weak mine safety enforcement: Apparently, Chile has more than 900 mines, yet only 18 mine safety inspectors.

So, yes, you can thank free-market capitalism for saving the Chilean miners – which is just as well, because free-market capitalism and limited government oversight endangered them in the first place.

But if all this sounds too familiar, you’re right: this is the same type of PR that God gets!

If God saved some, either God killed – or God was powerless to prevent the deaths of – those who perished in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake in India and Tropical Storm Allison in Houston, Texas; 2002-3 SARS pandemic; the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran; the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake in Thailand; the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Kashmir earthquake on the Pakistan/India border; the 2006 Sichuan, China drought; the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the Sichuan earthquake in China; the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic; and just this year, the earthquake in Haiti, the Pakistani floods, and the tsunami at Sumatra, Indonesia.

Thank God? Like the free-market capitalism that supposedly saved the Chilean miners, God creates the disaster and then gets credit for saving the human beings he endangers!

Christians say you need faith in a higher power to behave morally. Well if, like God and capitalists, you don’t have faith in any higher power, then I completely understand the amorality!

Copyright © 2010-11 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: God Capitalism Miners

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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