Every so often (especially near election time) one hears talk about whether there need to be "programs to mitigate the harsher aspects of capitalism" and some assertions that, "a strictly capitalistic society is not a Christian society".
I try not to be one of those people who insists on using terminology in non-standard ways because "that's what the word really means" -- and yet I can't help feeling that when one hears this, one is experiencing a mis-use of the term "capitalism".
Capitalism is generally defined as that economic system in which "the means of production" are owned by individual (and corporations) rather than by the state or by society as a whole. People generally assume that if you own the means of production, there are therefore justified in setting the price of the goods produced, and so capitalism is also generally seen as involving goods and wages being at "market price" rather than at some agreed price decreed by the state or by society.
So, what exactly are the excesses of capitalism? Well, they're cases when the people or corporations who own resources use that power to treat over people badly. Or where people who own resources ignore the plight of others who are suffering. In other words, the excesses of capitalism consist of people sinning. Lack of charity.
In the end, it's not a defect of capitalism per se at all. It's a defect in people.
Capitalism itself is not a moral system. I don't mean by that that it is immoral, but that it doesn't touch on morality at all. It simply consists of people owning things, which leaves them free to either sin or not sin. Capitalism doesn't make people neglect the poor any more than evolution makes people let the "unfit" die.
So what of the alternatives to capitalism? Well, if the world's experience with capitalism underlines that people who own things often sin, the world's experience with collectivism underlines that people who don't own things sin as well. It also tends to underline that things are seldom really un-owned. Although no one may hold title to a factory or a farm, people determined to take advantage of others invariably find ways to do so.
What I think this ought to to help underline, in the end, is that we will never formulate a political or economic order that will force virtue. We do our best to minimize the ability of people to hurt others, to the extent possible without causing side effects worse than the original malady. But at root, people are the problem, and people will always be involved in any social or political reorganization. We can't achieve a utopia so long as people are in it.
Genesis Notes: Covenant Renewed
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