I am a devout fan of capitalism. It is the best system ever devised for making self-interest serve the wider interest. This system is responsible for many of the great advances that have improved the lives of billions—from airplanes to air-conditioning to computers.
Among many other bizarre claims in his most recent article at The American Conservative, Patrick Deneen writes,
Today’s conservatives are liberals — they favor an economy that wreaks “creative destruction,” especially on the mass of “non-winners,” increasingly controlled by a few powerful actors who secure special benefits for themselves and their heirs….
Pace Inigo Montoya, I actually have no idea what Deneen thinks creative destruction means in this context.
Setting aside the question of whether or not it is a bad thing (or accurate, for that matter) to say that “[t]oday’s conservatives are liberals,” I am far more concerned with how Deneen thinks creative destruction is “wreaked” upon “non-winners.” This is further complicated by his implication that creative destruction supports, rather than threatens, “a few powerful actors.” (more…)
Earlier this month, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a lecture at the Lanier Theological Library, in which he explored the values of capitalism and socialism and their relative consistency with Christianity and the common good. While not asserting that either system is inherently “more Christian,” he does comment on the extent to which Christian principles are able to participate in each. He states:
While I would not argue that capitalism as an economic system is inherently more Christian than socialism … it does seem to me that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity than socialism is. For in order for capitalism to work – in order for it to produce a good and a stable society – the traditional Christian virtues are essential.
See the complete video of Justice Scalia’s lecture below.
Capitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency — drooling only for money, caring nothing for beauty, and so on. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.
Yet while free economies certainly introduce a unique series of challenges for artists and consumers alike, and despite the wide array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots that demonstrate such obstacles, recent increases in economic empowerment have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.
Empowered to Create
The more obvious and overarching examples of this have to do with the simple ways in which widespread prosperity has freed up our time, energy, and resources. As collaboration and innovation accelerate, folks are continuing to discover new ways of doing more with less. As result, the tools and time needed to participate in a variety of artistic ventures, from hand-painting to stage acting to music production, are closer to common fingers than ever before.
Of course, market forces aren’t perfect. As channels of culture, they mostly funnel what they funnel, and that includes squalid appeals to the lowest common denominator. But neither are such forces limited to the hands of the tasteless and trite. Indeed, despite the best efforts of the powerful and privileged, many artists are now finding themselves increasingly equipped to bypass the big shots altogether, taking their art and their audiences with them, from the purchase of their paintbrushes to the publication of their portrait.
As a young boy, I dreamed of one day becoming a filmmaker. After working only two summers at minimum wage, I was able to save up enough cash to put that dream to the test, purchasing a-state of-the-art video camera and my very own digital editing equipment. Thanks to the innovations of others, and the basic freedoms that unleashed it all in the first place, at the age of 16, I was able to secure the tools needed to begin my work — tools that, only a decade prior, were confined to the hands of Hollywood bigwigs. (more…)
As we noted yesterday, rock star Bono is now preaching the good of capitalism in alleviating poverty. James Pethokoukis at AEI illustrates exactly what happened in China when the power of entrepreneurial capitalism was unleashed.
Bono spoke on the topic of capitalism and poverty at the 2012 Global Social Enterprise Event at Georgetown University:
In the world of celebrity-do-gooders, Bono has earned the reputation of being more than a mouthpiece. Over two decades, the musician has created the ONE campaign, worked with Amnesty International, collaborated on the Band Aid concerts, and became increasingly involved in poverty-stricken Africa. He worked for years to promote debt forgiveness for African nations, while working for increased foreign aid.
And now? Bono says capitalism is the answer. Rudy Carrasco writes at Prism Magazine:
…Marian Tupy, who writes at the Cato Institute blog, ‘For years, Bono has been something of a pain, banging on about the need for billions of dollars in Western foreign aid…’
The world has taken notice that Bono has adjusted his economic tune. In a November 2012 speech at Georgetown University, Bono said, ‘Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.’ One month earlier Bono had shared at a tech conference in Ireland that he was humbled to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurship in philanthropy.
These recent declarations, however, have been brewing for a few years. A 2010 New York Times op-ed by Bono notes how ‘lefty campaigners’ and business elites are learning to collaborate: “The energy of these opposing groups is coming together [because both] see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face.”
Bono’s affirmation—that business takes more people out of poverty than aid—should be a rallying cry for a new generation.
Anyone who’s driven across the American landscape knows that there will be a familiar string of fast-food chains, gas stations and box stores along the expressways. You could virtually eat the same meal as you drive from one coastline of America to the other. Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow and Director of PovertyCure at the Acton Institute, takes up this issue, asking, “Does capitalism destroy culture?”
[S]ince the cultural critique comes from political observers at almost every point on the political spectrum, and since the bureaucratic-capitalist economies of the world really are cultures in crisis, the criticism is worth attending to seriously.
If we are going to analyze the cultural effects of market economies then I think the one of the first things we need to do is distinguish between those things Peter Berger called “intrinsic” to capitalism and those “extrinsic” to it. We need to distinguish among at least three things:
- the cultural effects caused by capitalism,
- effects aided and abetted by capitalism,
- and those things that exist alongside capitalism and are often conflated with capitalism, but that are distinct from it.
I will say from the outset that I support open, competitive economies that allow for free exchange, but I would not call myself a “capitalist.” Capitalism is generally a Marxist term that implies a mechanistic view of the economy and a false dichotomy between “capital” and “labor.” Capitalism also comes in a variety of forms and can mean many things. There is corporate capitalism, oligarchic capitalism, crony capitalism, and managerial-bureaucratic capitalism, such as we have in the United States. However, cultural critics of capitalism usually don’t make those distinctions and, even if they did, many would still be critical of an authentically free market. So without trying to tease apart all of these strands at the outset and so risk never getting anywhere let me use the term “capitalism” and ask and answer the question with the broadest of brushstrokes. Does capitalism corrode culture? I think the answer is yes and no.
How should Protestant Christians think about faith, work, and economics? To help answer that question, the Acton Institute commissioned a series of primers about political economy and the church from four faith traditions: Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Reformed (forthcoming).
Chad Brand, the author of the Baptist primer, Flourishing Faith, was recently interviewed about the book and asked, “What is a Baptist political economy?”
What political economy describes is the interface between government and whatever economic system prevails in a given nation or culture. The political economy in the Soviet Union in the 1980s was a communist state with a socialist understanding of economics — a controlled-market economy. The United States was basically founded as a republic with a free market economy.
So when we introduce the idea of a Christian, and specifically Baptist, political economy, what we’re asking is, “How does the church rub itself up against a free market republic?” “How does a Baptist understanding of theology and ecclesiology interface with that.”
Because Baptists have long held the idea of religious freedom, political freedom, individual freedom and so on, the place where a Baptist political economy most manifests itself is in a kind of republican or libertarian form of economics. “Laissez faire” isn’t in the Baptist Faith and Message, but if you read and believe its statements on government and anthropology, I think you would come to the same conclusion that the government that governs least, governs best.
The notion of political economy has been around for quite some time — the first professor of political economy was a guy by the name of Thomas Malthus at the University of Oxford in about 1815 — but it hasn’t edged its way into evangelical circles until fairly recently.
In a May 16 address to four new Vatican ambassadors, Pope Francis denounced the “cult of money” in today’s culture, stating that we are now living in a disposable society, where even human beings are cast aside.
Phil Lawler, at CatholicCulture.org asks if this means the pope is a socialist. Not so:
Socialists make their arguments in moral terms, because if the argument is stated purely in practical terms, the socialists will lose. By the same logic, capitalists prefer to state their arguments in practical economic terms. Unfortunately, in doing so, they cede the moral high ground to their opponents. With rare exceptions—one thinks immediately of Michael Novak and of the Acton Institute–defenders of capitalism have not taken the trouble to state their case primarily in moral terms. And that’s unfortunate, because a powerful argument can be made that capitalism, tempered by a Christian moral framework, is the best available solution to the problem of poverty.
Nothing that Pope Francis said—nothing that any Pope has said—would rule out that approach. (Pope John Paul II opened the door to a Christian defense of capitalism in Laborem Exercens, then pushed it wide open in Centisimus Annus.) To be sure, the teaching magisterium has been critical of the excesses of capitalism, and of capitalism raised to an all-encompassing ideology. Pope Francis today repeated that condemnation of “ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” Hard-core libertarians will be uncomfortable with that language, certainly. But then hard-core libertarians are often uncomfortable with the Ten Commandments.
Does the free market encourage moral behavior? Virgil Henry Storr, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at George Mason University, recently wrote a report called “The Impartial Spectator and The Moral Teachings of Markets.” He addresses critics’ concerns that the free market brings out and nurtures human vices.
Countless commentators have stated that “engaging in market activity can be corrupting.” Storr highlights two notable quotes. Aristotle “believed that there was something unnatural about the kind of wealth getting that occurred in the market.” Karl Marx “believed that the market could transform man into a ‘spiritual and physical monster.’”
Storr, who is also Director of Graduate Student Programs in the Mercatus Center, addresses these famous claims with quotes from those who have “made the point that markets are moral training grounds where virtues are rewarded and cultivated.” Michael Novak stated that engaging in trade “teaches care, discipline, frugality, clear accounting, providential forethought … fidelity to contracts, honesty in fair dealings, and concern for one’s moral reputation.” Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says:
Capitalism has not corrupted the spirit. On the contrary, had capitalism not enriched the world by a cent nonetheless its bourgeois, antifuedal virtues would have made us better people than in the world we have lost. As a system it has been good for us.”