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Intersection of Life and Faith

Capitalism's Biblical Principles

  • Kelly Boggs Baptist Press
  • 2009 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Capitalism's Biblical Principles

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- Fifty-three percent of American adults believe capitalism is a better economic system than socialism, a recent Rasmussen Reports survey found. Twenty percent said socialism is superior to capitalism and 27 percent said they did not know which system is better.

So, according to the survey, 47 percent of Americans are absolutely ignorant concerning capitalism. They have to be, because if they properly understood capitalism and the free enterprise system it encourages, they would realize that it is the vehicle that has given Americans the highest standard of living in the world.

While I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence, I do think some definitions would be in order here.

Capitalism is an economic system whereby wealth and means for creating wealth are privately controlled and owned. This economic vehicle is fueled by free enterprise in which an individual or individuals are free to create and operate businesses for profit with minimal governmental interference. In capitalism the government plays a relatively small role in providing goods and services, but does have the responsibility for upholding laws which protect rights to own property and for maintaining a stable currency.

Socialism insists on state administration and/or ownership of goods and services. The end which justifies the means for the socialist is equality. The common thread running through all forms of socialism is the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth with only a few. As a result, socialism seeks to distribute, or rather redistribute, a society's wealth more "equally" to all its citizens.

Though coined by the communist Karl Marx in 1875, the phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" aptly sums up the philosophy of the socialist. According to socialist theory, every person will produce to the best of his or her ability and each person will receive from this production in accordance to his or her need, regardless of what they have produced. The state, of course, is arbiter of the distribution.

No economic system is perfect, and capitalism as well as socialism can both be exploited and misused. That said, I believe capitalism is inherently better than socialism. I would even say that capitalism is more Christian than socialism.

I did not say that capitalism is Christian. The Bible contains no culturally transcendent economic model. For anyone to declare any economic system as biblical would be to engage in a form of idolatry. But I believe capitalism is more consistent with biblical principles, and therefore more Christian than socialism.

Time and space will not allow me to discuss all the ways that I believe that capitalism is more Christian than socialism, but allow me to advance one idea: the dignity of the individual.

The Bible makes it clear that every person has incredible worth in God's economy and, as a result, is endowed with great dignity. I believe it is capitalism that affords the individual with the best opportunity to realize his or her worth.

In capitalism, and the accompanying free enterprise system, every person has the opportunity to become his or her best. Whatever a person inherently has can become more in capitalism. Talent, skill, intelligence and effort can all be parlayed into wealth creation given enough time and persistence.

In capitalism, a person can earn his or her own way. While capitalism does not promise equal outcomes, it does offer equal opportunity and with opportunity anything is possible.

With capitalism's emphasis on the individual, a person must rely on self and/or God in order to have his or her needs met. Socialism sees the state as sovereign. Consequently, a person comes to rely on the state to have his or her needs met.

There is something self-affirming, something that underscores dignity, when a person earns his or her own way. In the Old Testament there are admonitions for farmers not to harvest all their crops but deliberately to leave some in the field so that the poor can glean. While the farmers were providing for the produce, the poor had to do something in order to have their needs met.

Not only does socialism undermine a person's reliance on self and God, it also undermines an individual's obligation to assist the poor -- as in the aforementioned example of gleaning. If the government is redistributing wealth to meet everyone's needs, why should anyone provide additional assistance?

I ran across an anonymous reworking of the 23rd Psalm that sums up the problems inherent in socialism:

The government is my shepherd:

I need not work.

It alloweth me to lie down on a good job;

It leadeth me beside still factories;

It destroyeth my initiative.

It leadeth me in a path of a parasite for politic's sake;

Yea though I walk through the valley of laziness and deficit-spending,

I will fear no evil, for the government is with me.

It prepareth an economic Utopia for me, by appropriating the earnings of my own grandchildren.

It filleth my head with false security;

My inefficiency runneth over.

Surely the government should care for me all the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in a fool's paradise forever.

Is capitalism Christian? No, but its emphasis of the dignity of the individual makes it more Christian than socialism. Which is something more Americans need to realize.

c. 2009 Baptist Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.