Here’s a piece by Reynolds that I’ve always appreciated. So many times the spokespeople for capitalism tend to be unthoughtful and silly. There are very good reasons for the position, however, and John Mark Reynolds gives some of them below. (He hasn’t been posting recently, so it has become necessary to look at some classics!)
Just as free market economics stems from a Christian world view, so socialism is
fundamentally at war with Christianity. Recently, socialism has become a fad for
some Christian college professors. It is not surprising that this would be so
since socialism has always flourished amongst the intellectuals and been
rejected by the working man. Great union leaders like Gompers and Meaney had no
time for the nonsense of socialism as an ideology. Their practical attempts to
elevate the conditions of workers through trade unions were opposed by
socialists at almost every turn. Healthy unions are the sign of a free society,
but to be healthy they must be composed of workers and not be “intellectuals”
pretending to be workers.
A free market system allows for unions and for the rights of owners. It finds a
balance between the two in a Christian commonwealth. Ronald Reagan was right
when he proclaimed the goal of “maximum freedom consistent with law and order.”
In this sense, Christians are neither socialists (government control of economy)
nor libertarians (total freedom) since both notions are utopian. Both assume
that the Kingdom of Heaven is now.
Free market economics recognizes four Christian ideas. First, it accepts the
Biblical commands not to steal and not to covet. These commands acknowledge the
right to private property and the common human sin of each one of us to want
what we do not have. Free market economics allows private property, but does
not force us to covet. Socialism by contrast assumes all men will covet and
takes away their property. It keeps individuals from stealing by forcing the
group to steal!
Second free market economics recognizes the human fall. This side of paradise no
human being or agency, not even the Church, can be trusted with all power. Free
market economics defuses the power of the purse as widely as possible to
prevent abuse of citizens. When other Christian goods are recognized, like the
right to free assembly (unions, corporations), men are allowed to express their
best sides while minimizes their worst. Economic freedom is not the whole story
or the most important good for a Christian, but it frequently provides the
material tools (freedom from want) to achieve other more important goods.
Third, free market economics is not based on greed, but on the keen insight that
man is (as Tolkien put it) a sub-creator. The free market does not assume (as
too much of socialism does) that your wealth is my loss. Economics is not “a
zero sum game.” (It does not just divide the pie into ever smaller slices. It
allows people to make new pies and even cake!) Instead, men and women can
create wealth through their creative capacities under God. This recognizes the
image of God in each human being.
Finally, the free market does not set wealth as an idol around which all of
society must be organized. Socialism
sees money making as so important that it must place it in the power of the
state. It proclaims to want to end the greed of the rich while being obsessed
with them. Free market economics assumes that many other things motivate men
(love of God, family, and country for example). The state need not control
economics totally, because economics while important is not everything. Men
with sound ideas about economics (not full of greed, moderate in desires) can
be very bad men in other areas. Hitler and Stalin were both men of moderate
desires in terms of money, but both were horrid men.
Socialism has never worked where it has been tried. Even small religious
communities that try it, like the kibbutz of Israel, tend to die out by the
third generation. Socialist nations are often abusive in terms of power even
when they start off with so-called noble intentions. Socialist states have
killed more people than any other system in human history. States like Sweden
that are more peaceful find they soon face an aging population where the
brightest and best have fled to other places. They end up dependent on
benevolent free market states (like the US) for their protection. If it were
not for the US such socialist havens (which have backed away from socialism in
recent years) could not exist even in the forms they do. They are not able to
maintain their economically foolish system and a good defense.
In short, in the test of the real world free markets allow for maximum liberty
under law. They do not force sin on us. Certainly there is nothing good about
greed or materialism. Such sins are possible in free market states, though one
can see them also in socialist states. The greedy fat cat is still evil even if
he is called “comrade.” The starving widow feels no better because the Tanzanian
government has brought on economic disaster in the name of her ownership of the
means of production. Starving widows is wrong, but no change in economic
systems will eliminate this problem, which is part of the problem of the human
In fact, most socialist states have more starving widows than most free market
A Christian in a free market should be a producer who consumes what is
appropriate to virtue. He need not be reduced to a mere consumer, though some
wicked men might wish to do this to him. This desire to reduce men to material
beings is not part of free markets or of human freedom. It is the old error of
being full of greed (covetousness) which in the end spoils liberty. The man who
is most free is the man with moderate needs appropriate to his God given calling
who lives in a free market system. He is free to produce and profit for his own
good and for the Kingdom from that production. Sin makes him a slave again. Of
course, socialism merely makes him a slave without any choice to avoid the
danger that he will fall into sin!
Free market economics can allow for some government interference for the good of
the population and for “law and order.” People are not free to produce and
market items harmful to children directly to children, for example. Often
critics of the free market assume that there must be “total freedom” or
everything else is just socialism in half-measure. This is incorrect. If the
means of production by and large remain in private hands as does most wealth,
then the economy is free. Total freedom will not exist this side of Paradise.
If men were angels, then they could be given the power of socialists. However,
if men were all angels then they would not need that power since freedom would
never be reduced to greed.
If one uses the Hayek definition of socialism, which is a planned economy, then the criticism of the professors becomes moot. They’re not arguing for a planned economy. They do not argue for market manipulation or second-guessing. They argue for social responsibility.
It’s not socialism to take care of widows and orphans — that’s compassion.
Keep your definitions straight, and your policies will be better for it.
Interesting Andrew, and Ed — you can throw around all the textbook definitions you want, the question is one of rpactice, not theory.
I’ve linked ot this post here.
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