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…
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.
Whenever statistics about inequality and the so-called “control of wealth” get published, the Progressive blogosphere goes wild and their social media statuses light up with indignant calls for concern for the poor in the face of “obvious injustice.” Since few people read beyond the headlines and summary paragraphs, and even fewer seek out alternative analyses of the data, the popular meme of “rich get richer, poor get poorer” pervades our world. It is a sad reality that few people think beyond their emotional responses.
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.