Table of Contents
- Theory and Practice
- Why Then Capitalism?
An exercise in economic debate.
Theory and Practice
For a long time, I’ve held that capitalism is a better system than communism. Like communism, it works in theory, but like any system, it can be manipulated into benefiting a select few. As TeknoHog said on slashdot, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s the other way around.” There are some notably important differences, however. As we here in America have discovered, both systems end up being ruled by a few men with the most influence. Fortunately under a capitalistic system you can become influential by becoming rich. “Money is power,” people say, at least for a capitalistic system. In a communistic system, no one could reach a level of influence like that because it all would be taken away by the state.
In practice, both socialism and its radical relative communism take away the incentive to work. Certainly one might say they work to support their country, but when everyone around them isn’t working, their burden becomes too great for them to handle. As Ronald Reagan said, “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.”
But what about capitalism? Capitalism in practice is driven primarily by a handful of forces: self-preservation and self-gratification, and greed. Make no mistake: The driving forces of capitalism do not make it right or wrong! Capitalism is merely a system of exchange! I’ve heard various arguments against capitalism under the assumption that the system of capitalism is wrong because it is driven by greed. I’ve said it once, now I’ll say it again: Capitalism is just a system.
What is capitalism? There are plenty of places that define it, but let me just put it plain and simple for you: I have stuff; you want that stuff; you give me money and I give you stuff. No limitations would make this Laissez-faire capitalism. As long as we can accumulate as much stuff as we want, sell as much as we want, and give away as much as we own without it being taken from us, that’s capitalism. Obviously, this definition is oversimplified, but it draws attention to the important points.
While the system itself isn’t inherently bad, the driving factor of greed (or gluttony or excess accumulation to the disadvantage of others) is bad. I don’t mean to say that it’s bad to be rich – it’s just bad to horde when there are others around you in need.
Capitalism actually works off this greed and self-seeking nature to drive the economy. It promotes invention and hard work in return for a reward. In effect, it utilizes these driving forces (self-preservation and self-gratification) to create a system that is more beneficial to everyone.
That being said, this selfishness is also a detriment to capitalism. Without regulation, it is easy to exploit people.
In practice, capitalism results in a system that still leaves some impoverished. That is the nature of society.
Why Then Capitalism?
In practice, capitalism is just as bad as any other system. But where there are evil men, there will be evil. No system invented by or managed by man will ever create a perfect economy. Why then should Christians be capitalist?
First, let’s not talk about what happens in practice. Let me make one thing clear: it doesn’t matter if you are a capitalist in practice.
Thus, I’m going to talk theory. You’re probably thinking “oh great, this is now a pointless article”, but hold on just a second and you’ll see why.
The teachings of Christianity emphasize care for the poor and the sick. Many Catholics thus support the platform of the “Democrats” because they often emphasize taking care of the people in general. While this is not a very well-thought-out stance (because neither Democrats nor Republicans have cared about the poor since Jimmy Carter), it seems to appease the mind because somehow money will magically come from bureaucrat pockets to help the people. Isn’t that so humanitarian? But that aside, care for the poor has always been a top priority in the church.
Stop! Let’s reflect on that thought. If the government takes care of the poor, then what part do we play in all this? You are taken from. But there’s something more important in all this: It isn’t optional. You are forcibly taken from, whether you want to or not.
Now you might be thinking “What’s the big deal?” – after all, refusal would be labeled “selfish”. Yes and no, depending on the circumstances, though undoubtedly a great number of stupid individuals will think it is. I’m not going to list the scenarios in which it wouldn’t be selfish – I’ll let you figure those out. The important point is that it is not a choice.
Is choice such a big deal? Yes.
People haven’t learned that life on this earth is not about “getting by” until Christ comes back. It’s not about living the good life and sharing with your neighbor. In fact, it’s not about ensuring that the poor have a safe place to stay and something to eat. Christ stated this problem clearly when He said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Adding to that, He said, “but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8) While the context is for His burial, in this passage, Jesus points out that He is more important than the poor.
“How bigoted,” some people might say. But that misses the fact that if God wanted all of the poor to be well fed and with shelter, He could give it to them at the snap of His fingers. The poor are here for a reason, but they are not the reason we are here.
The reason we are here is to love of God. The greatest commandment is loving God. This is subsequently followed by the command to love neighbor (where “neighbor” has a very, VERY broad definition that includes every human being). It is important to note, however, that this second command is not a separate, unlinked command, but one that stems directly from the first one. Loving neighbor is a means to love God.
If you think about what this means, you might come to the conclusion that yes, life is about “me and Jesus”. Close, but God has a big family. There is a particular irony in the way God works. He gives you something to love, but He expects you to love Him through it. If you are married, you are to love your spouse, but you must love your spouse for the sake of loving Christ and not for your spouse’s sake alone. If you have a friend or children, you are to love them, but you are to love Christ through taking care of them and not simply love them for the sake of loving them.
Why? God answers that question: “I, the Lord, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:5) Unfortunately for you, I’m not going to sit here all night typing out an exegetical paper about what that means – much less what I mean. Basically, it just says God doesn’t want you seeking something else. You may not seek things for their own sake. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, only that you must not treat them as ends in themselves. Idols are treated as ends in themselves, worshiped and praised though they do absolutely nothing, which is grounds for God to be really ticked off.
To summarize: Are we to take care of the poor? – Most definitely! It is a means to love Christ. Are we to do it for the sake of doing so? – No.
This brings us back to the question of capitalism versus communism. If you are forced to give some amount of what you have towards the government (supposedly for the benefit of society), then what does it matter how cheerfully or grudgingly you do it? With capitalism, however, you are free to give as much as you wish to whoever you wish. You can freely give what you have to the poor for the sake of loving Christ. It is a direct action on your part, and not a forced action by the government.
Furthermore, under a capitalistic system, you have direct control over where your money ends up. Nothing is needlessly lost in bureaucracy and none of it trickles into businesses and organizations that promote agendas contrary to Christian ethics and morals. This is perhaps one of the greatest aspects of capitalism in practice.
This was an interesting article to write. I’m actually of the opinion that the economic system you live under doesn’t matter – you can love God either way. As long as you cheerfully give up what you have for holy poverty so you can seek God more closely, then it doesn’t matter where your money goes, as long as you direct it as much as you can within your power towards where you think God would want it.
The last point I made (that you control directly where your money goes) is definitely a good reason to push for a capitalistic system, though notably under a socialistic system, you can still push for money to be directed towards good causes. Ultimately, the economic system is dictated by morality and ethics of society and especially of those in charge, regardless of the system.
About that business of God being jealous… This is definitely true. God is jealous. However, I don’t think that necessarily dictates which system of economics you push for. Remember, this is a sinful world, and in practice, nothing works the best.