Survey: "Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values"

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Aaron Blumer's picture
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Survey: "Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values"

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RPittman's picture
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A difference . . . .

Capitalism as we know it is firmly rooted in the Social Darwinism that molded it in the late 19th century. (Reference Andrew Carnegie, et. al.) If so, we, as Christians, ought to reject it because it harbors ideas antithetical to Christian belief. Even the beloved Milton Friedman reputedly said that the only obligation of a manager is to make a profit. I cannot agree. Everyone, including the manager, is obligated to behave ethically and morally. The essence of capitalism is competition at others' expense, profit, and materialism. It is materialism without morality, which always veers toward evil and wickedness.

I will go further and say that capitalism moves toward centralization/monopoly. Contrary to popular belief, both capitalism and socialism are trends to centralization--one the government controls and the other corporations control. I am for individualization and local, private control. Thus, capitalism and socialism are competing systems, not opposite systems. Capitalism is not conducive to entrepreneurship except in times of deregulation or rapid technological advancement. One only needs to observe the history of the many shoestring computer startups during the 1980s and see where they are today to recognize the centralization trend. With the huge computer monopolies, it would be impossible to do a new entrepreneurial computer company in 2011 without huge, huge financial backing. Capitalism trends toward monopoly that suppresses competition. Additionally, competition does not necessarily promote cheaper and better products. Competition actually suppresses the innovative ideas of one's competitors and raises the prices when monopoly is achieved. And capitalism is not about freedom when we become wage-slaves to the monopolizing corporations--it is simply a question of who is our master.

I contend that capitalism is not synonymous with free market economics. Capitalism is only one philosophy of the free market that we have been conned into accepting because it is offered as the only option to socialism. This is wrong. As a Christian, I can envision a free market governed by ethical and moral behavior. Therefore, I am one Christian who is not a Capitalist, yet I strongly believe in a free market where ethics and morality prevail. In an ethical/moral free market, each individual is responsible for his own economic behavior.

Sean Fericks's picture
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Christianity is above market

Christianity is above market systems. It is above politics. Christianity thrives in communist, capitalist, an monarchist systems. Christianity informs believers how to dwell peaceably one with another as much as possible. It also tells us to honor the laws of the land unless they interfere with the proclamation of the gospel. I fear that Christians today have placed politics and economics on a pedestal equal with Christian principles. Christianity tells us how to dwell in the world, and yet not submit to its system of priorities.

All that said, we must also realize that no economic system has a scriptural stamp of approval. I prefer the free market system because even though there will naturally be a wealth gap, it is the best way to provide the most economic good for the most people. People are more careful with wealth when they directly benefit from its good use, and when they directly feel the pain from its poor use. Capitalism accepts that humans are self-interested, and this is a true principle.

Milton Friedman's statement about managers and profits must be understood in its context. Personally, the manager should have moral constraints. But the focus of his function as manager is profit. Fortunately, the profit motive (when governed by limited laws that protect from extortion, deception, etc.) tends to bring decisions that benefit the society as a whole.

[QUOTE ]The essence of capitalism is competition at others' expense, profit, and materialism.[/QUOTE ]
I disagree with this statement. It is true that competition tends to send wealth to those who use it best, and poor users of wealth are thus penalized (whether it is their fault or not). However, this is not a zero sum game. Those who use wealth best actually create more wealth and more opportunities to create even more wealth. This benefits society as a whole and does the most good for the most people out of all the current human-made economic systems. It is not perfect (human invention), it is abused, and it is not Christian. But a perusal of history demonstrates that mankind has benefited greatly from the system.

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Free market v. Capitalism

Sean Fericks wrote:
Christianity is above market systems. It is above politics. Christianity thrives in communist, capitalist, an monarchist systems. Christianity informs believers how to dwell peaceably one with another as much as possible. It also tells us to honor the laws of the land unless they interfere with the proclamation of the gospel. I fear that Christians today have placed politics and economics on a pedestal equal with Christian principles. Christianity tells us how to dwell in the world, and yet not submit to its system of priorities.
If you think I equated Christianity with politics or economics, then you misunderstood. On the other hand, Scripture does have something to say about both.
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All that said, we must also realize that no economic system has a scriptural stamp of approval.

There's no stamp of approval unless you consider that some political or economic are compatible with Scriptural teachings and others are not. Some political/economic systems and ideas do violate Scriptural teachings. Some ideas may even be derived from Scripture.
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I prefer the free market system because even though there will naturally be a wealth gap, it is the best way to provide the most economic good for the most people. People are more careful with wealth when they directly benefit from its good use, and when they directly feel the pain from its poor use.

What about the ownership of property and the reward of one's labor?
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Capitalism accepts that humans are self-interested, and this is a true principle.
Capitalism says more than this--it promotes selfism. See Ayan Rand for the fullest development of this concept.
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Milton Friedman's statement about managers and profits must be understood in its context.

Oh, you are familiar with this quote? Would you mind giving me the context? I thought that I gave it in accord with its context.
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Personally, the manager should have moral constraints. But the focus of his function as manager is profit. Fortunately, the profit motive (when governed by limited laws that protect from extortion, deception, etc.) tends to bring decisions that benefit the society as a whole.

Are you saying there are no Scriptural ethical/moral constraints governing business behavior?
</p> <p>[QUOTE ]The essence of capitalism is competition at others' expense, profit, and materialism.[/QUOTE wrote:

I disagree with this statement.
Okay, that's your choice
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It is true that competition tends to send wealth to those who use it best, and poor users of wealth are thus penalized (whether it is their fault or not). However, this is not a zero sum game. Those who use wealth best actually create more wealth and more opportunities to create even more wealth. This benefits society as a whole and does the most good for the most people out of all the current human-made economic systems. It is not perfect (human invention), it is abused, and it is not Christian. But a perusal of history demonstrates that mankind has benefited greatly from the system.

Not necessarily true--I don't buy it. Again, I differentiate between capitalism and free market economics. Your conclusions from history tells it the way you've been taught, not the way it was. You must ignore the historical realities of sweat shops, Dickens England, the Great Depression, and the untold future development of the multi-national corporation. Why do you defend capitalism when I offer you an unencumbered choice of free market economics. The "greater good of society" is a mythical concept that cannot be demonstrated or measured. Our loyalty is NOT to a word, but the principles of freedom, ethics, morality, ownership, etc. of the free market.

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Question for Sean Fericks

Sean, what is your loyalty to capitalism as opposed to a generalized free market economy based on ethics, morality, property ownership, value for labor, etc.?

Sean Fericks's picture
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Mr. Pittman, The general

Mr. Pittman,

The general thrust of my post was in response to the cited article. I think that on most points, we are agreed. I certainly did not intend to infer that you equate economics and Christianity. I apologize for being unclear. I also agree that the scriptures speak to economics. I also nearly agree that capitalism promotes selfism. I would probably rephrase the statement to be that capitalism acknowledges and utilizes man's selfish tendencies, and that all other systems are likewise prone to the abuse of man's sin. As a friend of capitalism, I am altogether for men and women being able to rejoice in the fruits of their labor. Perhaps I misunderstand the context of Friedman's quote. I am very open to being educated on this.

I see Capitalism and the Free Market as nearly synonymous. From Wikipedia:

[QUOTE ]Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit.
A free market is a market in which there is no economic intervention and regulation by the state, except to enforce taxes, private contracts, and the ownership of property.[/QUOTE ]

I suppose that Capitalism emphasizes the profit motive, and perhaps that is what you deem as promoting selfishness. I see it rather as acknowledging this trait in man, and then "capitalizing" (pun intended - I kill me!) on this trait.

In answer to your last post, my loyalty to Capitalism is that I enjoy cars, cell phones, Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, sea food in Elko, Nevada (of all places), etc. I love choices and am pleased that the profit motive has spurred many people to create businesses that aggressively seek out and meet my (any your) needs. More than that, I dislike the restrictive power of regulatory boards and commissions that hamper free choice and the right of hard-workers to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Sure, these boards and commissions say that they are working to protect the public from exploitation, but they usually do much more harm than good. I applaud the goals of such regulation. But the regulators seldom meet their goals, and usually create very negative unintended consequences.

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Benefits of a free market . . . .

Sean wrote:
In answer to your last post, my loyalty to Capitalism is that I enjoy cars, cell phones, Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, sea food in Elko, Nevada (of all places), etc. I love choices and am pleased that the profit motive has spurred many people to create businesses that aggressively seek out and meet my (any your) needs. More than that, I dislike the restrictive power of regulatory boards and commissions that hamper free choice and the right of hard-workers to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Sure, these boards and commissions say that they are working to protect the public from exploitation, but they usually do much more harm than good. I applaud the goals of such regulation. But the regulators seldom meet their goals, and usually create very negative unintended consequences.
Yet, a morally/ethically based free market offers these same things but it is tempered in its worse excesses by individual moral/ethical restraint. This parallels the same restraint and moral/ethical responsibility necessary for self-government and liberty to thrive. Read the founding fathers on individual responsibility.

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I think I am starting to

I think I am starting to understand where you are coming from. Are you saying that the problem with Capitalism is that it is motivated solely by profit?

I think we would agree that the government should not be legislating Christian values upon businesses. They should merely legislate against fraud (using the term very broadly), and collect enough taxes to fund Constitutionally authorized government functions.

I think we would also agree that people should not engage in business merely to make money. They should also seek the good of their fellow man. I believe many businessmen do this, and many don't.

If Capitalism means that businessmen check their personal morality at the door, then I am against (in a personal responsibility way) Capitalism. But I am not sure that Capitalism means this. I think Capitalism has more to do with the right to own and use private property (for good or evil, as long as your fellow man is not defrauded or illegally damaged).

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Money, Greed & God

Read this book. It’ll straighten you out on what capitalism is all about. It has nothing to do with social Darwinism. Sadly, anti-capitalists have been dominating the PR war for quite some time now. Add to that that we’ve had almost two entire generations grow up with virtually no education in economics.

Add to that that we’ve got people looking to Ayn Rand as their champion of capitalism. (Sad. Though she had a good grasp of the mechanics of markets and understood that value comes from human minds, she was a true materialist and built her defense of capitalism on a completely bankrupt philosophy. She is no friend of conservatives and ultimately no friend of capitalism either).

One of these days I’ll write thorough review of Richards’ book. But no Christian who is anti-capitalist should consider himself well informed without reading it.

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Please straighten me out . . . . .

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Read this book. It'll straighten you out on what capitalism is all about. It has nothing to do with social Darwinism.
Oh, yeah? Perhaps you ought to do a little reading in the development of capitalism during the last half of the 19th century when it evolved into its modern form. Do you really understand the influence of Social Darwinism on our ideas today? You'll find, I think, my concept of the free market much closer to Adam Smith than modern capitalism.
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Sadly, anti-capitalists have been dominating the PR war for quite some time now. Add to that that we've had almost two entire generations grow up with virtually no education in economics.
Though I really don't know to whom you are referring but please don't lump me with Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo. You've got me in the wrong camp if you think I buy into their views.
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Add to that that we've got people looking to Ayn Rand as their champion of capitalism. (Sad. Though she had a good grasp of the mechanics of markets and understood that value comes from human minds, she was a true materialist and built her defense of capitalism on a completely bankrupt philosophy. She is no friend of conservatives and ultimately no friend of capitalism either).
Well, Jay Richards, whom you recommended, seems to think so. He even accepts Rand's view of selfism. Furthermore, I think you will find Mr. Richards more libertarian than conservative.
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One of these days I'll write thorough review of Richards' book. But no Christian who is anti-capitalist should consider himself well informed without reading it.
If you do, I recommend that you do your homework first. Although I only have a passing knowledge of Mr. Richards , who has not loomed very large on my radar (I am more familiar with Tom Woods of the Von Mises Institute), I have read rather widely and extensively in economics including Hazlitt (my favorite), Von Mises (want to borrow my Human Action?), Friedman, Rothbard, et. al. Of course, I've been exposed to the standard Keynesian view and I've even read that guy from Tyler, TX--Gary North. Then, there's any number of conservative writers saying their piece on economics such as Kirk, Strauss, Kendall, Buckley, etc. I was once infatuated with Rand and read her writings. I will admit, however, that I've never completed Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations--I only read the interesting and relevant parts. Now, you suggest that I'm not competent to speak until I've read Richards. ;-D

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Consumer Capitalism and prosperity . . . .

Several posters have praised the prosperity brought by Capitalism. Whereas the production (i.e. manufacturing) capitalism of the past has in combination with other factors produced great prosperity, no one knows the future under consumer capitalism. Can a consumer based economy without a substantial manufacturing base survive? Also, can capitalism without individual economic responsibility survive? These are the unpleasant questions facing us in America today.

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Thanks for the recommendation

Aaron, thanks for the book recommendation. I may pick it up soon. I've been reading http://www.amazon.com/Redeeming-Economics-Rediscovering-Missing-Enterpri... ]Redeeming Economics by http://www.eppc.org/scholars/scholarid.73/scholar.asp ]John Mueller and have found it fascinating. It advocates a neo-Scholastic economic model based on insights from Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.

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Haven't read the book yet . . . .

Charlie wrote:
Aaron, thanks for the book recommendation. I may pick it up soon. I've been reading http://www.amazon.com/Redeeming-Economics-Rediscovering-Missing-Enterpri... ]Redeeming Economics by http://www.eppc.org/scholars/scholarid.73/scholar.asp ]John Mueller and have found it fascinating. It advocates a neo-Scholastic economic model based on insights from Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.
Charlie, I haven't read the book yet but I understand that Mueller advocates a synthesis of morality and economics. Seems that I suggested the idea of rejecting amoral capitalism in favor of a free market economy based on morality/ethics. I don't think my ideas were very well received on SI. It is still a mystery to me why Christians would defend secular capitalism against the proposal of a moral/ethical free economy. What do you think?

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Theology and Social Theory

In general, I am in favor of applying theological principles to the public square. I do believe in Christian culture, and that natural law theory provides a bridge for us to speak to unbelievers about such things without either forcibly imposing Christianity or surrendering our positions. So, yes, I don't understand why fundamentalists, who crusade for countless moral issues, should suddenly buy the idea of an amoral economic system. Maybe many Christians think that capitalism is a moral/ethical system.

In more general terms, I find myself agreeing with much of the general drift of John Milbank's http://www.amazon.com/Theology-Social-Theory-Political-Profiles/dp/14051... ]Theology and Social Theory .

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Richards and Rand

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Well, Jay Richards, whom you recommended, seems to think so. He even accepts Rand's view of selfism. Furthermore, I think you will find Mr. Richards more libertarian than conservative.

No, Richards does a nice job of dicing Rand in Money, Greed and God. He does recognize that she accurately grasped the mechanics of how markets work.

He is pretty anti-collectivist as I recall, so that may be where you're getting the idea that he accepts Rands radical individualism. But there is much territory between today's collectivism and Rand's individualism. There is just about a whole universe between the two.

(I haven't quite finished Atlas Shrugged yet. My audio book was defective and the last couple of files were missing. So I don't know how it ends. And I haven't read Rand comprehensively. In places in Atlas, she absolutely bows down in adoration before the material. In other places, she exalts human mind as the source of value. It's not clear to me if she understood the Mind to be immaterial or if she saw it as material as well. I just mention that part of it, because part of Rands individualism is the underlying materialism... but she at least understood where value comes from. By connecting it to mind, she effectively dashed a materialist approach to economics, even if she upheld that approach elsewhere... because, as we know, the Mind is not material)

Some of the conflict here is semantic, Roland, similar to your views on "scholarship" that we've tussled over in the past. To me, a distortion of capitalism is not capitalism any more than bad scholarship = all scholarship. So.. I habitually separate the thing itself from how some people implement it. I'm not going to try to insist that everybody use the term "capitalism" the way I do, but when I use the term, I'm usually not including late philosophical distortions of it or unethical implementations of it. I'm not in favor of those.

Charlie... I'm not sure I understand what you're saying about capitalism as amoral. In Richards, capitalism is an approach that recognizes the reality of self-interest and rejects materialistic theories of value. Though some may excise market mechanics from capitalism and employ these techniques independently from the philosophy behind them, capitalism itself is not amoral.

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Little Late

I'm a little late on the convo, but I would recommend Rodney Stark's book http://www.amazon.com/Victory-Reason-Christianity-Freedom-Capitalism/dp/... ]The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success . I enjoyed Dorothy Sayers view of the purpose of work in her http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Diminished-Church-Passionate-Arguments/dp/... ]Letters To A Diminished Church .

jpattisall

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The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark

jpattisall wrote:
I'm a little late on the convo, but I would recommend Rodney Stark's book http://www.amazon.com/Victory-Reason-Christianity-Freedom-Capitalism/dp/... ]The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success . I enjoyed Dorothy Sayers view of the purpose of work in her http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Diminished-Church-Passionate-Arguments/dp/... ]Letters To A Diminished Church .
Mr. Stark's thesis is that Christianity produced freedom and capitalism, which in combination with Christianity produced modernization. When he speaks of modernization, it may or may not be loosely connected to Modernity. He is speaking more of material progress and technology, I think, with an increased material abundance available to a larger number of people. The striking thing about Mr. Stark's writing is that he appears to write in hyperbole. He's writing to the already converted who want to believe in human progress and the triumph of Christendom to bolster their beliefs. Reading his description of the unprecedented turning of the whole world to Christianity, one is immediately suspicious of his other assertions too. See his conclusion on pp. 233-235 for a quick synopsis.