I’m pretty happy to live in a country with a free market economy. I’m thankful to work, spend, and save under capitalism’s umbrella. I prefer it over any other modern economic system. But while I prefer it, I must add that I also find it troubling.
The trouble with capitalism is that it’s not Christian.
Capitalism (like colonialism, communism, or even socialism) isn’t Christian. No economic system functions as a religion; we don’t place our faith in them, they make no claims about the afterlife, and none of them, not even capitalism, offer us God. In many ways, capitalism is a lot like the internet, TV, or even a gun: incredibly useful when used correctly, vast potential for destruction when abused.
But I get the sense from time to time that free competition, supply and demand, and private commerce have been canonized within Evangelicalism. I often hear that capitalism is the most biblical system, that biblical principles lead down but one path; the path of capitalism. Which is honestly kinda funny, because the NT is mostly silent about what type of economic system we should employ. Except (ironically) for the description of the distinctively socialist practices of the Acts 2 church.
Capitalism rewards individual work ethic, fosters ingenuity, and enables us to change our lot in life. But capitalism is also an accessory to the deaths of over 600 factory workers in Bangladesh, just as it is an accessory to creating wealth for Disney, Walmart, and Gap. Capitalism provides the grants that pay for some of the greatest medical breakthroughs in the history of humankind. The same mechanism also channels more resources into curing male baldness than malaria. Capitalism creates opportunity through shared interest, cultivating the global economy. The U.S. State Department seized this opportunity when it pressured the Haitian government into cutting the Haitian minimum wage down to $3/day.
That’s not a typo. $3 per day, not hour, thanks to Haynes, Levi Strauss, the U.S. government, and the power of capitalism.
But the trouble with capitalism isn’t just what it does with our money, the trouble is what it does to our hearts. Capitalism used to govern the buying and selling of commodities, but what happens to our hearts and values when literally everything is for sale? Harvard professor Michael Sandel claims at least part of the cause for our country’s moral decay is the shift from a market economy to a market society. “A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.”
“A place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.” I confess that I’ve seen the seep of market values into my own life far too many times. I see it every time I size up a person based on what they have to offer. I see it every time I devalue someone because they’re less gifted, bring less to the table, or are just awkward. I see it when I judge a homeless person, “It’s their own fault,” or “They should have been more disciplined.” I see it when I say, “I’ll forgive them when they prove they’re sorry.”
I see it every time I exchange the biblical virtues of self-sacrifice and love with the capitalistic virtues of self-centeredness and greed.
What happens when everything is for sale? What happens when mercy must be earned? What happens when grace is chained to expectation? What happens when forgiveness is calculated according to whatever the market will bear?
I’m pretty happy to live in a free market economy, but I’m terrified of the free market economy living in my heart.