A very long time ago, a friend asked me if I thought capitalism was more Christian than socialism, or something to that effect. I have always preferred capitalism although I haven’t really experienced either straight capitalism or pure Marxism. Socialists claim to look out for the interests of everyone; and they claim, if they were successful, there would be no poor, no lower class, and no disadvantaged. Since Christianity’s highest law, after loving God, is to love one’s neighbors, socialism may seem to come closer to satisfying that rule. In contemporary Western thinking, left-leaning politicians use that assumption to validate big government, high taxes, and a progressive social agenda, which also happens to be increasingly secular and anti-Christian.
That assumption is wrong and needs a clear and thorough rebuttal, since it is commonly used to win votes. At the most basic level, capitalism is based on individual freedom, and socialism is not. Massive socialist governments, and they must be huge to accomplish their goals, eventually restrict individual liberty simply by tying up human and economic resources in regulation and red tape, which further limit the freedom through incompetence and corruption. In other words, despite the best intentions, socialism’s promises always fail. They always have and always will.
However, socialism fails to preserve individual liberty, even more fundamentally, because it falsely promises quality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. The promise is false; just a bit of common sense will reveal how unlikely a government of normal, imperfect people could assure that even a small body of people will enjoy equal prosperity. The more it creates laws and structures to do so, the more likely it will fail. Machines, including big government machines, are impersonal and indifferent to the success or failure of their products, and big machines are simply easier for someone to misuse. In other words, socialist leaning leaders will use the promises of equal outcome to assure their control over the machinery of government and over the people, for their own advantage…not much equality in that! History already proves how leaders quickly become “more equal” than the common folks (a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm which illustrates this point plainly)!
In truth, the best system would be one in which Christian values of compassion and love were always the dominant considerations. Some people accuse conservative Christians, the so-called Christian Right, of seeking to impose such a “theocracy.” They refuse to acknowledge that few true Christians would ever want that. Where it has been tried, it has failed, for some of the same reasons as socialism. We are not unaware of our own histories, where Christians of one sect fought others in a different sect or where one dominated a government and ended up persecuting those with different views. Most of us know, since it is a basic tenet of Christianity, that every person is both imperfect and sinful; and, no matter how we may see grace as correcting those conditions, sin will inevitably corrupt any effort to rule. It did so in the Bible, it has done so throughout history, and it will do so as long as the problem of sin remains in human hearts, i.e. this side of eternity. Even the best of us aren’t good enough to remain uncorrupted by power or wise enough to assume total responsibility for everyone else, which is the very reason we remain suspicious of anyone else who seems to think they are.
Nevertheless, critics often condemn capitalism as selfish and, therefore, anti-Christian. They are right, in a sense. In a capitalistic system, individuals are free to pursue their own goals, seek their own prosperity, care for their own families, and achieve “life, liberty, and happiness,” as they wish to enjoy them. Instead of the state deciding and providing for their welfare, people decide and provide for themselves. Rather than living perpetually as victims and as those who are incapable of caring for themselves, individuals under capitalism encourages each develop their own potential and work for what they want. Instead of limiting a community to the wisdom and abilities of an elite few leaders, capitalism provides for the perpetual improvement of the community by freeing the gifts, talents, and skills of each person. Socialist economies are always based on dividing up a limited whole, but capitalist economies are unlimited because there is no real limit to what free people can do, invent, or imagine. Indeed, in a capitalist system, every person of any age, regardless of perceived limitations, may contribute—the quadriplegic still has a mind and the mentally handicapped still has hopes and hands.
However, the character of true capitalism, if intrusive government does not overly regulate and restrict it, will behave in ways that appear remarkably unselfish. Free people operating in a capitalistic system, in order to profit from their labor, must respond to their neighbors’ wishes. It isn’t love, but it has remarkably similar results. In free markets, people won’t buy what they don’t want, and sellers won’t prosper if they ignore what people want.
The gas problems of the 70’s provide an excellent illustration. As problems in the Middle East limited the supply of gas, prices naturally increased. The so-called Christian President Jimmy Carter attempted to help the people by controlling and freezing gas prices, at an unacceptably high level, which continued until Ronald Reagan became President. A believer in free market capitalism, he removed the price freezes, and the market quickly brought them down, where they remained for nearly 25 years. Today, Americans still pay less for gas, compared to most of the rest of the world, despite their love of SUVs and a socialist government’s refusal to allow use of our own oil resources.
Capitalism will fail if it disregards the wants of other people; in an ironic twist, people seeking to achieve their own prosperity must provide what other people want. In a sense, selfish people must act unselfishly. If a manufacturer makes cheap toys too easily broken, people will buy more expensive toys that will entertain their children longer. If a doctor is cold and unfeeling or simply fails to help sick people get better, patients will find better, more caring physicians. If a beautician doesn’t give her clients the styles they want done in a pleasing fashion, they will find other beauticians. A restaurant serves food that is too expensive or too poor quality, customers know that are lots of other restaurants. As a result, capitalism will lower prices and improve quality by being more responsive to what people want. In the process, it will eliminate waste, reduce administrative overhead, provide good jobs, and create the sort of material advantages America enjoys, through less restricted creativity and invention.
Of course, many people, not realizing their own socialist tendencies, think the government can guarantee quality, healing, compassion, beauty, and healthful yet tasty food. Instead, what laws, regulations, restrictions, and guidelines give instead are less of all those things, at an incredibly high cost from both production and governmental overhead, and fewer choices. In terms that offer compassion and concern for everyone, everyone gets less of everything.
Indeed, government itself becomes an example of the dysfunction of socialism, since it is a monopoly that functions without competition. Competition in a capitalistic economy is the key to keeping prices low, quality high, and service effective. In government and in socialist economies, costs increase, quality decreases, and service deteriorates because they allow no competition. One needs to look no further than the current government of the United States, but the failed economies of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and even Western nations such as France provide ample reinforcement. Worse, under socialist leadership, government usually competes with private enterprise, until it becomes essentially communistic where private enterprise is illegal. At that point, the assumption is that government can manage production itself better than private individuals or companies. So poorly do such economies function that many eventually allow competition and some private enterprise to diminish the damage that socialism causes.
Perhaps, it should come as no surprise that socialists eventually regard Christianity as a threat. Christianity is a belief system that rests on individuals and fosters freedom. The rhetoric of socialism, however it may use words like compassion, favors power, leads to corruption, and ultimately despises both individuals and freedom. Wisely, the founders preserved some of these essential freedoms in the bill of rights—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom from imprisonment without due process, the individual’s right to bear arms, and the right to own property. Every one of these freedoms is under assault by a socialist-leaning American government. By comparison, capitalism thrives where these freedoms thrive.
J. C. Watts wrote a book called What Color is a Conservative? In it, he explains his own journey that began in a hard-working, Christian home. Despite the disadvantages of racial prejudice and the accompanying poverty, he defends the basic values of that background. As he writes about the engagement between Left and Right, he comments on one aspect that is relevant here. He says that conservatives, and it applies to capitalists as well, fail to make their case to the very people who need to understand what I have written here. The Left proclaims their compassion and attack the Right as uncaring; the Right tends to be too theoretical and sounds like they indeed don’t care. The Left makes promises it cannot and does not keep, but the Right doesn’t expose those failures in terms that everyday individuals need to see and hear. I don’t know if I have done any better, but that is the point.
I don’t believe a wise Christian will be a socialist, a Marxist, or a big government progressive. The rhetoric of compassion does not justify the potential for oppression and injustice that comes with centralized power. Giving power to the United Nations in some dream of a peaceful world government is even worse! Anything that moves away from individual freedom, even with a promise of ending poverty or stopping war, is itself a bigger threat than either poverty or war. Many have explained this well, but unfortunately too few people read what they wrote. We need to inform ourselves and explain to those who otherwise hear and believe only Left-leaning teachers, ideologues, and politicians. I believe that this case is almost as important as sharing the gospel because our freedom to share the gospel is bound so closely to our political and economic freedoms. I also believe that making the case for capitalism as more Christian is an excellent way to make the case for the Christian gospel and its virtues of love and liberty.