Posts tagged with: capitalism

initiativeThe term “free market” doesn’t really capture the essence of the economic system that produces prosperity, says Michael Novak. The secret that “liberated more than a half billion of their citizens from poverty” was not mere freedom but private ownership and personal initiative.

The new economy in which we live is often called “the free market economy.” But markets are universal. Markets were central during the long agrarian centuries, through biblical times, in all times. For this reason, the term “the market economy” or even “the free-market economy” somewhat misses the mark.

More accurate is the “initiative-centered,” the “invention-centered,” or in general the “mind-centered economy.” More than anything, mind is the cause of wealth today. The Latin word caput (head) — the linguistic root of “capitalism” — has inadvertently caught the new reality quite well.

“The free economy” captures only part of the secret — it emphasizes the conditions under which the mind is more easily creative, in the fresh air of freedom. Freedom is a necessary condition, but the dynamic driving cause of new wealth is the initiative, enterprise, creativity, invention — which use the freedom.

Freedom alone is not enough. Freedom alone can also produce indolence and indulgence. To awaken slothful human beings out of the habitual slumber and slowness of the species, the fuel of interest must normally be ignited. One must move the will to action by showing it a route to a better world. Since humans are fallen creatures, mixed creatures, not angels, the fuel of interest is a practical necessity. The fire of invention lies hidden in every human mind, the very image of the Creator infusing the creature. To ignite it, one must offer incentives, a vision of a higher, better human condition, not only this-worldly, but also nourishing the expansion of the human soul and easement of bodily infirmities.

There is a natural desire in every human being, although it is often slumbering, to better his or her condition. And it is good for a woman to liberate herself and her whole people from the narrower horizons within which they find themselves. It is good for humans to catch glimmers of new possibilities for human development.

This, or something very like this, is the famous, celebrated and usually misunderstood “spirit of capitalism.” This is not a spirit of greed or avarice, which are grasping and small, not creative. It is an esprit, a gift of the spirit rather than of the body.

Read more . . .

Wall-E1Humans have a tendency to daydream about a day or a place where work is no more, whether it be a retirement home on a golf course or a utopian society filled with leisure and merriment.

But is a world without work all that desirable?

In a recent lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the question is explored by Dr. Hunter Baker, winner of the Acton Institute’s 2011 Novak Award and author, most recently, of The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life.

Countering the cultural priorities and pressures of the day, Baker outlines a robust Christian vision of work and the economy, drawing on thinkers such as Wilhelm Röpke and Lester DeKoster, as well as science fiction fixtures such as WALL-E, 1984, and Beggars in Spain.

“Work is a gift from God, not a curse,” says Baker. “…The science fiction dreams of human beings released from all labor should probably better be seen as nightmares…We are made to continually be in fellowship with one another, working, creating value, giving, receiving. This is who God has made us to be.” (more…)

4761202659_c7d51067fe_b

“Capitalism isn’t working” by Cary Bass-Deschenes (CC BY 2.0)

What is the role that Christians play in business and the marketplace?

A recent episode of Equipped with Chris Brooks, titled “Is Capitalism bad business?” wrestles with that question and more. During his introduction, Brooks explains why he was pondering the question and there are a couple of reasons. The majority of “Equipped” listeners are not clergy, but men and women who work in the marketplace. Because of that, Brooks wants to talk about the “good that business does” and the role of Christians in the marketplace. Sometimes we limit ourselves to evangelization, whereas Brooks argues that doing good business is a good in and of itself. He was also concerned with the recent revival of socialism in American politics and conversation. More and more younger men and women are disillusioned with the free market, with more than half of millennials declaring they do not support capitalism. (more…)

Frank Borman, then-chairman of the Eastern Airlines, said that “capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell.”

That’s one way to take Peter Heslam’s reflection on the closing of BHS in the UK, “Business with a Human Face.”

I would add that the purportedly impersonal nature of market exchange is also what attracts many of its supporters. Drones and automated checkout lines are increasingly allowing us not to see any faces at all.

And as Martin Luther would surely have also added, when we see the face of our neighbor, we are doing so before the face of God (coram Deo), and in our service to one another we are to be his agents, or “masks” (larvae Dei).

Photo courtesy of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Photo courtesy of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

As we approach what would be Milton Friedman’s 104th birthday this Sunday, July 31st, we should note the enduring significance of his evaluation of the connection between economic and political freedom. In his popular work, Capitalism and Freedom, in a chapter titled “The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom,” Friedman explains how a society cannot have the latter without the former.

Friedman criticizes the notion that politics and economics can be regarded separately and that any combination of political and economic system is possible. He calls the view “a delusion,” holding that there is “an intimate connection between economics and politics.” Though Friedman concedes the possibility of an economically free and politically repressed society, the opposite, he claims, is impossible. Political freedom, both historically and logically, is inseparable from economic freedom.

(more…)

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

What is the biggest economic problem that the U.S. is currently facing? Depends who you ask.  Some social justice warriors would tell you that capitalism is ruining our economy, yet many who have studied and understand economics would argue the opposite. Capitalism is not to blame, but rather cronyism and protectionist policies are the ones wreaking havoc on the economy.

In a previous post, I discussed how occupational licensing as a form of cronyism is trapping people in poverty. However, cronyism is a much bigger problem than just occupational licensing. The U.S. struggles with other forms of cronyism too, such as protectionism through quotas, tariffs, and corporate welfare.

Quotas and tariffs make it extremely difficult for international firms to sell their product in the U.S., thus protecting U.S. firms from international competitors.  Corporate welfare is government support of a private business usually through direct money transfers (subsidies) or tax breaks, often protecting big firms from the competition of smaller firms.

This form of cronyism typically occurs for two reasons:  First, in an attempt to create new domestic jobs or prevent jobs from being sent overseas and second, because politicians promise “goodies” to corporations and individuals that help them get elected. (more…)

retired-workAs Christians in the modern economy, we face a constant temptation to limit our work and stewardship to the temporal and the material, focusing only on “putting in our 40,” working for the next paycheck, and tucking away enough cash for a cozy retirement.

Such priorities have led many to absorb the most consumeristic features of the so-called “American Dream,” approaching work only as a means for retirement, and retirement only as a “dead space” for recreation and leisure.

Yet as retiree Glynn Young reminds us, God never intended for our work and stewardship to end or sunset as we get older. Though our “day jobs” and economic activities may conclude, there is always plenty of work to be done:

As the time approached for me to seriously considering retiring, I discovered something: retirement is not a biblical concept.

Moses led the Israelites until he died and God buried him somewhere in Moab. David was king until he died. Paul and Peter continued their ministries until they were martyred. Even the Apostle John, exiled on Patmos, the only disciple who (it’s believed) died of old age, was still working, writing down the vision given him.

The Bible has no retirement road map. But it does have a concept that applies to retirement in the twenty-first century, and that concept is stewardship.

(more…)