This week I’m going to be starting a new series on Capitalism and Christianity. Growing up, all I ever wanted to do was business. I dreamed about being a businessman, travelling the world, and having a stately office with a view of the city. In either my first or second year of university, I was introduced to an author named Ayn Rand. I devoured her two most famous novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountain Head. Their appeal to hard work, intelligence, and capitalism as the best and only economic system, strongly resonated with me.
While running my own company in China, I became a Christian and I started to struggle to reconcile my faith and my business. Capitalism under the Ayn Rand model is so much about selfishness, but everything I knew about Christianity pointed to it as a religion which exalts turning away from material things, giving up for others, and what seemed like a call to poverty or at least a life void of material blessings.
As I continued to study, the light started peaking through and I increasingly came to see the convergence of capitalism and morality. But the colossal failures of Enron and Anderson and more recently the banking meltdown as well as the personal greed that led to these fiascos, really cast doubts on my view. How could a system that could facilitate such divergence from morality be reconciled with my faith? The problem was that I still hadn’t put all the pieces together. I recently wrote a paper on the ethics of capitalism and the light came on, as it were, while doing my research. I have come to believe that not only is capitalism moral, but that it is the economic system God has created and determined for his people.
Capitalism has been much misaligned in recent years as the cause of many of our societal woes. In this series, I hope to show that contrary to popular belief, capitalism is the economic system that allows God’s character to be best displayed, but that it can only be truly successful when it is undertaken by God’s people properly reflecting his image in all of their relationships and actions.
It would be irresponsible not to recognise the arguments against capitalism and to discuss the so called ‘failure’ of capitalism. I also hope to show that the concerns which underlie these arguments are not only valid, but they are essential in our discussion on the topic. My initial response however is that the arguments are generally based not on the system itself, but on the sinful nature of man while he operates within the system. I am going to do this by responding to some of the most common arguments.
People often recognise that capitalism could not be successful without “the rule of law”, but I believe that the moral underpinnings of the system are essential to its success. Unlike Ayn Rand, I don’t believe the system has built-in checks and balances, but that they can only come from the players in the system having a proper ethic, founded in God’s creation and law.