Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Christian Speaks Up for Capitalism

I just recently came across the thought-provoking essay "A Christian Speaks Up for Capitalism" by James D. Gwartney, co-author of a very popular principles of economics text. The piece originally appeared in the August 1986 Freeman, but is as timely as today's headlines. Gwartney explains why Capitalism is an ally of Christianity, not a necessary enemy. He argues thus by stressing several points:
  • Capitalism rewards and reinforces service to others.
  • Capitalism provides for the masses, not just for the elites.
  • Capitalism provides opportunity for achievers of all socioeconomic backgrounds to move up the economic ladder.
  • Capitalism provides for minority views.
I think the first point is so important. Way too many Christians (and people in general for that matter) are under the mistaken impression that capitalism is a barbaric free-for-all in which the greedy eat the bread they have made with the ground up bones of the exploited working class. In a free capitalist society, however, the only way for a capitalist/entrepreneur to make a profit is to serve his customers better than anyone else. Not only does capitalism reward service, it provides an incentive to be the best servant possible. In fact, even if an entrepreneur was the epitome of the greedy capitalist pig, the only way for the pig to feed his desire for wealth is to serve others. It is the only economic system with the potential to turn a vice into something beneficial for someone.

Gwartney concludes:
Of course, capitalism does not impose the moral demands that Christianity does. But economic systems seeking to perfect human nature have more often led to tyranny than to bettering the human race. Christians would do well to settle for an economic system that reinforces Christian virtues, improves living standards, and provides for minority views. Capitalism is such a system.

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