Humanity knows just two theoretical forms of organizing public interactions, says Alex Tokarev. All real socio-economic systems that have evolved through the centuries are a mix of the two opposite ideological concepts:
One of the systems uses political coercion. The other is based on voluntary cooperation. One depends on a central plan. The other relies on individual initiative. One treats citizens as children who need motherly care from the cradle to the grave. The other recognizes people as autonomous creatures with inalienable rights and responsibilities.
One is led by charismatic leaders and wise councilors. The other is impossible without free thinkers. One comes from the barrel of a gun. The other appears peacefully and organically from the market process. The first one has many names; the most widely used today is “socialism.” The alternative is known as “capitalism.”
“What is capitalism?” you ask. Capitalism is freedom under the Law. It makes us amazingly productive and interdependent. To make a living, I have to serve my fellow men even when I fail to love them as I love myself. At the same time, they are persuaded to work for me even if they don’t care much for my wellbeing. As in the Old Testament story of Jacob’s sons selling their brother Joseph into slavery, we see a good social outcome of some not-so-praiseworthy personal motives.
Capitalism does not exist in a vacuum. In a fallen world, we need institutions protecting life, liberty, and private property. The rest is up to the “invisible hand.” It guides even the most selfish individuals to promote each other’s interests through the market. And it happens without commissars telling people what to do! I would have to be selectively blind to not appreciate the wisdom and beauty of such Divine mechanism.
There is considerable debate in the public square these days about a number of issues that have significant economic components. Globalization, environmental protection, and aiding the poor are just a few. Decisions we make in our personal lives are influenced by our assumptions about economic realities as well. So how might mainstream economics connect with Christian values and principles?