omnibus omnia

Capitalism is not the answer

In Catholicism, Christianity, Distributism, Economics, Environment, Ethics, Faith, Orthodoxy, Philosophy, Population, Religion, Society, Spirituality, Theology, Thoughts, Values on September 1, 2008 at 00:21

The love of money is not the solution, but lies at the root of the evil…

I’m just sharing a comment I made on the weblog of Brother Bo Sanchez, a member of the one true Church and a leader in the charismatic movement. Brother Sanchez had asked (here) for opinions on why certain non-believing nations prosper while some countries filled with Christians seem mired in poverty. The full answer, of course, is extremely complicated, mainly hinging on the compatibility of a dominant social ethos with market-driven capitalism, but the answer I wrote focused rather on the ideological assumptions implicit in the question, thus:

“I’d like to answer the question from a “natural” or non-Christian perspective.

“Naturally speaking, the question may be premised on the wrong notion of progress, based on the industrial hyper-capitalism that came to dominate the West around the 19th century. This doctrine, a marriage of utilitarian economics and secularized Puritan ethics, prioritizes ever-expanding production and consumption over “intangible” values like art and meaning, and the demands of the market over those of family and community.

“I do not think this hyper-capitalism constitutes a valid standard of progress, for as the critiques leveled by, among others, E.F. Schumacher, Amartya Sen, Rachel Carson have shown, it is a disordered ideology that endangers human values and, by damaging the environment, even human survival. Keynes himself noted that the capitalist engine required the violation of “traditional” rules propounded by almost every religion and philosophy before the Industrial Revolution, which shows its inconsistency with the distilled wisdom of humanity.

“We must ask, therefore, how did “progressive” nations emerge from poverty to wealth? Most often, it happened because of the possession of a strategic location or natural resource; through the use of surplus capital created by exploiting a subject people or the working class (e.g., [the way] white Anglo-Saxon Protestants stole a resource-rich continent from Native Americans and Mexicans); by adopting ideas of envy and greed destructive of communal ties; by having a work-ethic that prioritizes production over “intangible” happiness; or because of a social indifference to the needy that compels them to adopt industry.

“None of these are the result of “virtue” and “goodness”, and all of them lead to ecological destruction. In response to flavoredwater [a commenter on the same blog page] and others, I must point out that the earth can sustain even a population 10 times bigger than today’s, if people will moderate their greed for wealth and products they don’t need; but it cannot survive even a population 10 times smaller with our current average energy consumption.

“The problem then is not poverty, but greed and social injustice; and this can be solved not by envying the disordered systems of others, but by spreading Buddhist spiritualism or Christian social doctrine or eco-humanism; for the love of money does not point out the solution, but constitutes the root of the evil.” (Links supplied.)

The answer is deliberately premised on strictly natural or “secular” bases, for non-Christians who might have difficulties identifying with supernaturalist reasoning. However, my current stand as a semi-distributist and former neoliberal is premised on both natural (not-specifically-Christian) and supernatural (Christian) grounds. These grounds have been amply explained by G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Dorothy Day, as well as by contemporary proponents like Pope Benedict XVI (see John Allen) and Eugene McCarraher (see Vox Nova); but see also Mark and Louise Zwick, Stephen Hand (whom I deeply admire, and hope and pray may return from the edge of schism), and Anthony Basile’s combative but incisive Crucified Between Two Thieves.

For a general introduction to the debate, please see E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (which deconstructs the ideology of modern economic theory from a personalist perspective) and Robert Nelson’s Economics as Religion (which does the same, but from a wealth-is-better viewpoint). Christians may also compare Laborem Exercens by the late Pope John Paul II (which affirms that labor is more important than capital), with Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (which defends capitalism as being consistent with human values); and among online essays, “Capitalism is not Catholic” from Athanasius Contra Mundi and “Three Catholic Cheers for Capitalism” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

May God bless us all.

  1. I was recently contemplating the idea of the ethics of consumerism, so i found your bibliography really interesting. I loved the article on E.F. Schumacher and will probably be reading Small is Beautiful soon, along with Economics as Religion since it’s lying around the house.

    I must say though…you compulsively have the need to always have your own say on the matter ;p. The ChesterBelloc Mandate sounds more like a name you would use than Scriptorium.

  2. (Can’t access Bo’s link/blog), though I think his question is leading into the question of unmerited suffering, especially as it seems to highlight the paradox between “non-believing nations” and “countries filled with Christians”. That suffering in poverty is a natural consequence of sin (like greed and unjust social structures) is a practical analysis (I thoroughly agree with your secular basis). The theological perspective on the other hand, points to an excess of historical suffering that appears to be unmerited (Rwanda, Nigeria, Poland, Germany, Philippines…). Not all suffering is the consequence of sin, as the Book of Job and the story of the murdered Galileans in Luke 13:1-5 show, and conventional theology does not attribute this earthly suffering to God. It remains incomprehensible and “extremely complicated”, but the ultimate suffering is the loss of hope. Thus, Paul speaks of future glory: “What we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed in us…yet there was the hope that creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:18;21).

  3. You seem to hit the mark, considering the current American economic crunch.

    The fault is not so much as the need for more government regulation of the market, but the reorganization of priorities; But if it isn’t for government to regulate and reprioritize business, then what is?

    And what is the main Christian economic theory?

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