Capitalism tends to make Christians uneasy and conflicted. On the one hand, we recognize that free enterprise has been the most effect means of poverty reduction in the history of the world. But on the other hand, we are forced to admit that the system can be used to destroy the good, the true, and the beautiful.
How can we resolve this tension?
One important step, as Nathan Smith explains, is to better understand the “ideological heart of capitalism”—the doctrine of revealed preference as a theory of value:
Yet it is possible, and I believe it is the proper approach for a Christian economist to take, to use the doctrine of revealed preference as an analytical framework, without regarding it as an ultimate theory of value, a source of claims about what is really good. It can be regarded, instead, as a delegation policy, a means of leaving many or most decisions about what is good to the individuals most directly concerned, to make well or ill. A Christian economist might seek to expand people’s opportunity sets, not because he always trusts individuals to make the right choices, but because he usually mistrusts rulers to make people’s choices for them, and because he believes in freedom.
The psalmist warns us, “trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men” (Psalms 146:3). Free-market capitalism follows this advice by taking power out of the hands of kings, aristocrats, bureaucrats, etc., and distributing it among ordinary people. They, too, are fallible and prone to sin, yet they may be more trustworthy than those who would rule them. And freedom is good in itself, an indispensable element in the enjoyment of life, as well as a school of virtue. That is why it is often good to let someone err, even if we are absolutely certain they are doing wrong, rather than force them to do right.