Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why I am a capitalist...

Since I have been trashed elsewhere with a number of ridiculous labels, I felt I should make something like a quasi-official statement of what I think, things I've said before and will no doubt have to say again because people have trouble with nuance and distinctions.

I believe in capitalism as the best way to go for many reasons. For example, given our fallen human nature, we are generally not motivated to work or do our best outside of being forced to in terms of reward and punishment. The attempt to enact a communistic system or economy has proved itself historically to be a complete failure everywhere it has been tried. In fact, it has never even been successfully achieved except in small communities.

I believe that stealing what belongs to others is clearly wrong biblically (which implies a sense of property). I fully affirm the "Protestant Work Ethic" of 2 Thessalonians 3, that those who can work but do not should not be given a free ride. For example, I am not in favor of welfare as it is often practiced in America. Those in need--if they are at all able--should have to do something for assistance, even if it is token action nowhere near what they are given in return. Ultimately, assistance should be most about empowerment. I also believe that God created us in Genesis 2 for competition, so capitalism in that respect is not unbiblical.

What confuses some--usually individuals who want to be confused about me and thus do not truly listen to what I say--are comments I have made of this sort, "I am opposed to communism for practical reasons, not for biblical ones." Here I am not referring, of course, to any modern communism like the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, Cuba, etc. There was gobs of stuff to oppose in these governments biblically, not least their state endorsed atheism, brutal treatment of their people, foreign aggression, etc. This comment referred only to something that has never been and never will be successfully implemented in a government, philosophical communism--"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

So what I am saying biblically when I say something like this is the following. What I find repeatedly and consistently in the NT is a sense that the early Christians were expected to share everything they had with others above what they needed to live and feed their families. This is true in Acts 2 with the community, and Paul took offerings of the excess to Jerusalem for the poor there (2 Cor. 8-9). Luke-Acts has nothing good to say about money. 1 Timothy 6 says it is a root of all forms of evil. James has nothing good to say about the rich. I don’t think these statements translate directly to today necessarily because of their differing understanding of the limited nature of resources. But, as I implied in this comment, I find repeated references throughout Scripture to the effect that what we have is ultimately God’s, not ours, and that He would have us share those resources with others who are truly in need.

So in theory, the idea, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” sounds very much like what we find often advocated in Scripture. The problem is that we are all fallen and it doesn’t work at all as a large scale economic system. So while we are still on earth, what works better is “From each according to their own self-interest, to each according to their work,” which is capitalism. But I don’t see how anyone could argue biblically that “do what is in your own self-interest” (the fundamental basis of capitalism) is more biblical or Christian than “share from your excess with others who have need.” Can you?

It absolutely flabbergasts me that anyone would think differently!


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for this, especially the next-to-last paragraph!

John C. Gardner said...

Capitalism can create wealth and the question is what we as Christians do with that wealth? We should(to loosely paraphrase John Wesley), make a lot, save a lot and give a lot. Greed, selfishness are not consistent with an ethic of trust(needed in a fallen world) to conduct business globally. Ayn Rand wrote about selfishness while Adam Smith wrote about self interest within certain ethical boundaries(he was a moral philosopher before he was an economist). We need to remember that we have responsibilities as citizens and Christians to care for others but also expect some degree of effort on the other's part unless they are not capable.