As a child of the 1980s, I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. The free world (led by America) were the good guys while the communistic world (led by Russia) were the bad guys. The battle between these two powers were in the realms of religion, politics, social values, and economics. While I am pleased that the Iron Curtain fell—particularly for the spread of the gospel—I do wonder if we have subtly assumed that capitalism is an intrinsically God-endorsed economic and social system?
While I don’t approve of all of the actions of the Occupy movements, I believe the 99% are protesting something that is really rotten in our mature capitalistic society. Let me explain.
Capital can be defined as money, equipment, and other resources which are privately owned. Private ownership affords the owner the opportunity to grow, develop, and reap the benefits of using those resources for productive endeavours. In its elementary stages, capitalism fosters free enterprise and innovation. God certainly endorses hard work and reward for the labourer.
However, capitalism incentivises resource owners to pursue greater happiness and ever increasing returns to the point where the character trait of contentment is replaced by greed. Let me lay out twelve ways that capitalism quickly degenerates within a few generations.
1) Capital stacks the deck in favour of those who start the game with a good hand (I think this is one reason for the year of Jubilee).
2) Those who inherit capital rarely appreciate what is was like to start out with nothing and then make decisions without a framework for the poor.
3) Incumbent resource owners put up barriers to entry to other upstarts and so the gap between rich and poor widens.
4) As capitalistic leaders gain strength, they lobby government for regulation which suits them and hinders competitors (e.g. the modified mining tax).
5) Over time capitalistic empires are built and small businesses are bought out our put out of business.
6) Adding further pressures, these empires raise funds by selling ownership of their enterprises to shareholders.
7) Shareholders demand maximum profit returns every quarter often at the expense of customer service and quality.
8) The unquenched desire for greater profit results in reduced rights at work and a globalisation of jobs to countries that have poor social values.
9) Prices of daily necessities rise, forcing individuals to assume excessive levels of debt for necessities such as housing.
10) The end results are self-serving oligopolies which lacks social conscience (e.g. Coles and Woolies, the big banks, etc.).
11) In practice oligopolies are effective monopolies using subtle collusion.
12) Ironically, monopolies are in effect economic dictatorships which create a controlled form of communism or slavery of the masses.
So where does this leave us?
At the end of the day, there is no perfect economic or social system. The problem with all systems is that our hearts are evil. We will corrupt and manipulate systems for our own greed and benefit. God foresaw this when he warned Israel about seeking an earthly king. While I certainly would prefer to live under a limited free-market society where citizens adhere to a common moral code, I believe we would be wise to see the limits of all earthly systems—be they democracies or dictatorships, Austrian or Keynesian, diverse or homogeneous.
There is one economic and social system that I do believe God endorses. It is the eternal system and the returns are out of this world. This system promotes storing up treasure in heaven, where moths don’t corrupt and thieves can’t steal. The eternal social system promotes giving a cup of water to another in the name of Christ. In other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In this system, it does not matter if you are part of the 99% or the 1%, because it is 100% about Jesus. As we live in view of heaven, I believe we will feel richer and be more generous.
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About Jeremy Crooks
Jeremy grew up in Sydney Australia. He has tertiary qualifications in business, training, and Bible. With experience in both church ministry and corporate human resources, Jeremy has a strong interest in how faith is demonstrated in our homes and workplaces.
You can contact Jeremy at email@example.com.