*Posted by Joe Wooddell
In 2009 HarperCollins published a book by Jay Richards entitled Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. The title is, I assume, purposefully provocative. It certainly catches one’s attention, especially in a day and age when critics of capitalism abound.
This post is the first in a seven part series covering the main points of Richards’s book. In his introduction Richards maintains that in the twentieth century battle between communism and capitalism, capitalism won, communism was shown to be ineffective and even destructive, but its remnants remain up through today. Capitalism is blamed for everything from pollution to poverty, landfills to oppression, and for products we neither want nor need, but which are foisted on us by aggressive advertisers cluttering the landscape with billboards and the internet with trash. Every day, however, we willingly benefit from a capitalistic system, using credit cards, going to jobs, collecting salaries, and expecting raises to those salaries.
Christians, of course, are supposed to be altruistic, so when people like Ayn Rand argue that greed is a virtue we are rightly appalled. Capitalism, however, is not based on greed. There’s a difference between greed, selfishness, and self-interest. Neither greed nor selfishness is virtuous, but self-interest just is. I ate breakfast and got dressed this morning out of self-interest: I wanted to be fed and clothed, but I’m not greedy or selfish because of that. Some Christians have begun to study this system and have concluded that it makes sense. They now speak of business as a “calling” to the glory of God. This is not a “prosperity” or “name it, claim it” gospel. Rather, it is simply saying we are stewards of God’s resources – multiplying them via wealth creation – and we are created in His image, being sub-creators ourselves.
Richards’s first chapter treats what he calls the “Nirvana Myth,” the notion that we can bring heaven to earth. This is a dangerous fallacy. In fact, he cites sources which claim that between China, the Soviet Union, and other communist states in the twentieth century, communism claimed between 85 and 100 million lives, especially through starvation and murder. This system that was supposed to help humanity flourish ended up destroying the very people it aimed to benefit.
“But,” one might ask, “wasn’t the early church communist? Didn’t they have all things in common in Acts 4?” They certainly shared voluntarily, but some were still rich and others poor. There was no mandate from a central planner requiring that they “equalize” everything.
What about the communist experiment of the twentieth century? Richards rightly maintains, “Before trying to experiment with half of mankind, it might have been a good idea for communists to ask a few questions, like: What is man really like? What does the state have a right to change? What is within its power to change? What is beyond its control? And then they should have made sure those changes were for the better, not worse.” Then Richards says, “The communists tried to draw heaven down to earth. They brought up hell instead.”
People are fallen. “No one,” argues Richards, “is fit to be a benevolent dictator.” And finally, “The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God. The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life.” We should do what we can to make things just, but “the worst way to do that is to try to create an egalitarian utopia.”
Thus ends the first chapter of Richards’s Money, Greed, and God, which I urge you to pick up and read. I don’t know Dr. Richards personally, I get nothing for promoting it, but his book is one of the best, most accessible defenses of capitalism (especially with believers in mind) I’ve ever read.
In the next six weeks I’ll cover the remaining seven chapters of his book at For Christ and Culture. The point this week should be obvious: the communist system, which requires an initial impetus by top-down central planners, has done incredible damage to states the world over. The warning for us today is to be aware of similar schemes. Good intentions are great – we all should have a heart for the poor, as did Jesus. But good intentions without sound economics, the rule of law, private property, and dispersed power structures are ineffective at best and devastating at worst.