I read an interesting article by Dan Griswold today in Cato’s Letter, a quarterly publication of the Cato Institute where Griswold is Director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies. Griswold’s article, "Faith, Commerce, and Freedom," traces the history of the distrust that many Christians feel towards capitalism — and the resulting push for big government to regulate. Griswold points out that William Blake, a British Christian poet (1757–1827) wrote a poem titled "Jerusalem" which, in turn, was turned into a hymn that reflects quite well this hostile view of industry. This is the poem with the well-known line: "And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills." Griswold comments that what Blake describes as Satanic, a libertarian would view as progressive economy, providing jobs and opportunity, generating wealth, and producing a product useful to others.

Griswold proceeds to systematically walk through the problems that he sees in big government using scriptural examples and supportive theology. As an aside, lots of what he writes sounds like it could have come from the Acton Institute, with its emphasis on the moral framework for free markets. Griswold first presents common beliefs and values that, he argues, Christians and libertarians share. These include ideas such as the dignity of the human person, personal responsibility, objective moral standards, and the Acton principal of power corrupting. He presents short Biblical supports for property rights, civil law, welfare reform, family responsibilities, and charitable giving.

William Blake (writing during a time of significant upheaval due to the Industrial Revolution) viewed industry as evil while John Calvin viewed industry as a vocation to be pursued responsibly.

The rest of Griswold’s article walks through early Protestant thought about economy. Griswold shows how John Calvin encouraged people to understand their vocation as a gift from God to be embraced — working for God while at the same time avoiding "high living" and wasting money. Accumulated capital could be put to productive purposes. The importance here is placed upon living responsibly, not against trade and not against free markets.

The founding fathers also expressed these same views. Living responsibly is the underpinning for a limited government and a free economy. "The more people govern themselves and their own behavior," Griswold writes, "the less demand there will be for restraint from without." Larger government will only bring with it more problems. The answer is a push to return and retain objective moral standards upon which capitalism relies and which our country was built upon.

Read the article here (PDF).