It has become rather unpopular in many Christian circles to believe in the merits of capitalism. Remarks about its foundation in greed and self-interest are often at the forefront of the argument against capitalism, presumably because since Jesus talked about love for our neighbor, certainly the foundation of capitalism means we must choose a different system altogether, right?
I’m not really a big fan of the term “capitalism,” because it simply falls into a pigeon hole of “-isms” that are quickly made into straw men and easily disbanded. What I’m more interested in, as a Christian, is the posture followers of Christ must have toward others, especially those who choose not to follow Christ. We are certainly to love our neighbors, treat others with respect, honor, and dignity, and help those who are in need. Whenever somebody aligns themselves with the Kingdom of God, we are called to band together for a common purpose of redeeming the world from its sinful and fallen state. This is purely a voluntary act of will if one is willing to participate.
But what about those who don’t agree with us? What about those who decide that’s good for us, but for them, they don’t buy into our faith or our ethics? Is it wrong to advocate a world where people are free to live according to their own conscience? Is it not a Christian virtue to let “everyone be convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5)? Our posture toward others is critical as followers of Christ because it demonstrates our willingness and ability to love our neighbors with due respect, dignity, and fairness.
I do not believe that advocating for a free market is advocating for or promoting greediness. Greed is not good, and it is not capitalism, though popular belief seems to perpetuate this myth. The free market has become the scapegoat because people believe that we have pure capitalism, when nothing could be further from the truth. We do not have capitalism in the United States because of definitive and massive government intervention in most industries. But in some ways no market is entirely “free” because fallen human beings are counted upon to actually enforce such a system. Hence the injustices we see all around us. But we would be mistaken to assume that economic injustice is inherent in advocating for freedom. Capitalism is simply the economic and social result of how people interact when they are required to act peacefully, which a free society/free market demands of people. When rule of law protects acts of consent between rational human beings, greed (which is not good) is channeled into service. If I want your money or other possession, under a free market, I have to do something for you in exchange. Is it not the natural right of every individual to be protected from aggression? A free market of exchange fosters cooperation and mutually beneficial trade.
It is in this way that advocating a free society is compatible with Jesus’ Kingdom message of “love your neighbor,” because such an ethic demands that we respect the property and life of other people. Though not written from a Christian perspective, Butler Shaffer’s book, Boundaries of Order, explains the importance of property rights as the framework for peaceful activity among human beings who are fallen. When human beings are required to respect each others’ property, they are required to think about trade. Doing so peacefully is essential, of course, which is where freedom to exchange with others is key to a peaceful society.
There is nothing unChristian for followers of Christ to consent to permitting others to live according to their conscience, even if that means they don’t agree with our ethics.
For Christians it is important to understand how our actions affect others, whether it be in business or charity. Nobody needs to be an economics major, or an economics connoisseur, to do good in the world or to love your neighbor. But we cannot speak of injustice when there is no understanding of the source or nature of the injustice.
Consider this: in 1913 the government authorized a central banking system that was designed by the wealthiest bankers in the world. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt ordered the confiscation of gold owned by citizens. In the 1970s, Nixon declared that the United States government is going to default on its promise to make good on its gold standard, and thus began a completely fiat currency. Since 1914 the U.S. dollar has lost 95% of its value. When a cartel of bankers legally allowed to print money can control the value of our hard-earned wages, this is neither freedom nor justice; it is unethical and immoral. What’s even worse, the Fed’s existence has done more economic damage to us than we probably realize, because nobody is even allowed to see inside their books to know how they are operating!
As Ron Paul points out in his book, End the Fed, “the Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act.” The Israelites were “instructed to follow the rules of ‘just weights and measures.’” ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin’ (Leviticus 19:35-36).” Proverbs 20:23 (TNIV) says that “The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.” Ron Paul has defended sound money for decades, yet only now have the American people, and many in Congress, been willing to think legislatively about such matters. Hence the reason his Audit the Fed bill has gained 75% support from the American people, and an overwhelming majority of cosponsors in Congress.
The ability of government or a cartel of bankers to alter the quality (value) of our money is proof that our current society is not truly a free one, but one of corporate interest and corruption under the guise of a “capitalism.” Since most of us feel free in our ability to buy and sell and make our own choices, to us it appears that we do it in a “free market.” Oh, were that the case! Yet the absence of a gold standard and the presence of a fiat currency presided over by bankers with unlimited power produces some of the most unjust results in our society.
Economics is not merely a theoretical or systematic science. Economics has a moral dimension to it, precisely because actions have consequences, and human action is the focus of economic studies. While Christians are busy promoting personal stewardship, which is to be praised, a “macro-stewardship” model is often ignored, because the Bible has much to speak about stewardship areas beyond personal finance.
Christians must realize that understanding basic human action (economics) is a very important part of spreading the gospel and building a Kingdom. That means we must understand and promote a system of justice that not only makes the most of the scarce resources we have, but also stands up for equal rights of everyone, not just of those who happen to be politically well-connected. It also means respecting our neighbor and not acting in ways that violate their God-given right to live according to their own conscience.