Archive for capitalism
Introducing Elise Amyx of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics! Elise will be presenting on capitalism, poverty, and Christian charity.
Elise Amyx is a Writer and Student Outreach Manager at the Institute. She manages student outreach strategy and implementation and works with the think tank on various writing projects geared towards students. She is also a regular blog contributor.
Previously, Elise worked as the Business Development Coordinator at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. She has also served with the Values and Capitalism Project at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her articles have been published in RELEVANT Magazine, Real Clear Religion, The Detroit News, AFF Doublethink, The Gospel Coalition, and Townhall. Elise is originally from Fairfax Station, Virginia and she graduated from James Madison University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics with a concentration in European Business. Follow Elise on Twitter @eliseamyx.
Guest post by C. Jay Engel of the Reformed Libertarian.
The anti-free market proclamations from the left (and even sometimes the right) come in all shapes and sizes. Among the more common of these proclamations is the one that I heard yesterday. As far as I can remember, this is what was said by the individual (to her friend) next to me. “Capitalism is problematic because it is an entire system based on greed. If we want a healthy society, we should not seek to adopt such a system. We need a system that is based on cooperation and love.” That capitalism is a system built on greed is a claim that is often heard and the theme has been pushed at every level of society; from the politicians, the educators, the commentators, the media, and the average Joe.
It is immediately clear that there is a dichotomy here between cooperation and capitalism, a dichotomy that should immediately raise the red flags of the libertarian. After all, aren’t we always saying that the economy is most ethical when it is completely voluntary? And does not voluntary interaction and exchange form the basis for capitalism? The problem sits in the misunderstanding of the very nature of (free market) capitalism. This capitalism is not the same as the fascist system we have today. The American system of corporatism, that has largely existed since the nineteenth century, should never be confused with the free market.
Review of Daniel M. Bell Jr., The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Baker Academic, 2012), 224 pgs., paperback.
This is the sixth volume in the series The Church and Postmodern Culture, edited by James K. A. Smith. The series “features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.”
Although I am not the least bit interested in postmodern theory, I am very interested in the intersection of Christianity and economics or politics. Thus, the phrase “Christianity and Capitalism” in this book’s subtitle caught my eye. Nevertheless, I have never been more disappointed, or bored.
The author describes his work as “a contribution to the conversation about the relationship of Christianity to capitalism with a postmodern twist.” That twist is nothing short of pure Christian anti-capitalism, although of a very unique kind. You see, Daniel Bell, professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and the author of several books, is not a socialist. He maintains that his book “changes the focus from capitalism versus socialism to capitalism versus the divine economy made present by Christ and witnessed to by the church.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to read through the whole book to discover what the author meant by capitalism. He equates capitalism with the “free-market economy” because the name “highlights the centrality of the market.” This is well and good, and certainly makes it easier to understand where the author is coming from. Unfortunately, this is not the case for understanding Bell’s concept of the divine economy. Read More→
It’s probably no stretch for me to say that I share a common frustration with other libertarians when I hear capitalism take the blame for all of the world’s economic woes. My Progressive Christians friends decry the economic systems that have been constructed in the past several hundred years as running counter to the kingdom of God. Their chastisement is aimed mostly at the predominantly capitalist United States and its economic domination over the world’s resources. Economic disparity is blamed on our empathy-free addiction to consumerism. Children in the developing world are slaves, so the narrative goes, so that we can have very nice things. If we weren’t so caught up in our stuff, they wouldn’t be slaves (to which I respond: no, but they’d be just as poor or worse!).
My blood pressure goes up every time I see somebody blame “capitalism” or “the free market” for social and economic problems. Maybe I should stop expecting Facebook memes to be intelligent and thought-provoking, especially if individuals posting them have spent fewer than ten seconds studying economics. But perhaps I should let go of my commitment to the ideal of capitalism and embrace whatever-it-is-that-frees-humanity. My friend Mike is one of “those people” who blames many social ills on capitalism. He and I have argued in circles about whether or not capitalism is to blame, and I have failed to convince him he’s using the wrong word.
What do we call the economic system of the United States?
Is it capitalism?
Or maybe the better question is to ask, does it matter?
Shouldn’t our passion for liberty be able to withstand the poor reputation it has been given by others? Can we not be committed to liberty while also sharing a commitment to the common good?
That last question might make some libertarians wince, because the phrase “common good” is often used by the Left to trump our commitment to individualism. But stop and think about it. One of the astounding facts of the 19th and 20th centuries is the phenomena that individuals acting in a (relatively free) market results in cooperation and the creation of wealth that opens the floodgates for the masses to rise out of poverty. A commitment to individualism is not a rejection of the common good.
Back to labels. Let’s take an example using Christianity. Many people blame Christianity on some of history’s greatest atrocities. Are they right to do so? Is it truly our heritage that Christians have killed people in the name of Christ? My honest response is, “Yes, it is.” At the same time, the individual persons in certain Christian sects who perpetuated violence and aggression do not represent what it means to be a true Christ-follower. In that sense, it is not the “Christian tradition” that carried out violence, but a misapplication of allegiance to the name of Christ.
We must be free to both reject those parts of our tradition that stray from the ideal while simultaneously admitting that those stories are part of our historic identity, for better or worse.
I think the same should be true for libertarians. We can and should both espouse what real free markets ought to look like while at the same time admitting that some individual advocates of capitalism have abused their own freedom to suppress the freedoms of others (think Federal Reserve or corporate welfare). Under certain types of manipulated market conditions, it is no wonder “capitalism” hasn’t quite worked out as well as we would expect. It is not that we believe capitalism has been tried and has failed, but we recognize society’s inability to apply liberty consistently. It’s no secret that some who are successful can buy political power to manipulate markets, so it is no surprise that such a “market capitalism” has negative outcomes.
I’ve long maintained that Progressive Christians and Libertarian Christians have more in common than either would like to admit. What makes them feel so far apart is that both have distinct spheres of language (simplistically state: collectivist vs. individualist). That’s not a small hurdle to overcome. It would take good listening skills and long conversations to overcome it indeed! But consider this: both groups reject economic domination of one class of people over another. Both abhor war. Both cry out against Big Business and are sick of corporate welfare. That’s a lot of common ground, isn’t it?
Whether one wants to throw out capitalism (the system) or let go of “capitalism” (the name), the common good can be a common goal. (Anarchists, take a deep breath!) Yes, there are competing theories on how to get there. But that’s where the fun begins. That’s where we get to wrestle with the details and the empirical data. That’s how we keep the Great Conversation moving forward. Here’s a starter conversation: can Libertarian Christians admit that “societal sins” are real and can be addressed by a consistent ethic of liberty? And can Progressive Christians admit that a monopoly (the State) is not the best way to address and fix those sins?
Many libertarian and free-market economists offer a unique perspective to social problems. Like Art Carden, we believe that “the important question in social science is not really evaluating the moral quality of the outcome, but evaluating the institutions that produce the outcome.” And we stand with F.A. Hayek in affirming that “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”