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CAPITALISM – A DEFINITION:

“An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state/government”

God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.” – Randy Alcorn

THE CONTEXT OF CAPITALISM

1. What is Capitalism, anyway?

  • What is the Worldview difference between Socialism & Capitalism?
    • Based on our discussion on Socialism, Socialism is based on a worldview which is hostile to God, family, and Christianity. It seeks to allow the State to fill the role of God and family within a society devoid of religion.  
    • Capitalism is based on a worldview which assumes the corruption of man and the need to limit the power of the state. It believes that humans flourish when allowed to make a living by providing products and services which people need. While capitalism is not christianity, it assumes much of its foundation from it.  
  • Historical/Biblical Context
    • We see some capitalism in the Scriptures (i.e. In Genesis we are to rule and subdue the earth).
    • We also see free market trade in the temple area and we also knew that Joseph, the father of Jesus was a carpenter, so most likely he was hired to make, create and/or repair various wooden structures.
    • Modern day Capitalism – Who invented capitalism? Modern capitalist theory is traditionally traced to the 18th-century treatise An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Scottish political economist Adam Smith, and the origins of capitalism as an economic system can be placed in the 16th century.

 

2. Are there different forms of Capitalism?

  • Many believe that there is only one form of Capitalism, Free-Market or laissez-faire Capitalism.  In this form of capitalism, private individuals are not restrained by government regulation. They may determine where to invest, what to produce or sell, and at which prices to exchange goods and services. The laissez-faire marketplace operates without checks or controls.
  • Anything that “infringes” on this “free-market”, like government oversight, regulation and any form of controls, strips away “pure” Capitalism.
    • Today in the United States, we are not operating with the “pure” form of Capitalism, but a variation, where we have a free market of owners, producers and sellers, yet, with the best interest in mind (hopefully), our Government steps in to regulate and/or inspect certain aspects for health, environmental and other reasonings.
    • Let’s not confuse political structure (democratic republic) with an economic system (capitalism). American is both a democracy and capitalist society. In a democracy, the state is tasked with establishing systems to allow for the good of all its citizens. As capitalists, Americans seek to be free from repressive regulations which limit their ability to conduct business and grow wealth.
    • As christians, we believe in the total depravity of man (that every aspect of our nature is bent toward evil).
      • If democracy has its full sway, we would quickly tilt towards socialism/statism.
      • If capitalism has its full sway, the good of the one would overshadow the good of the many. 
      • The combination of the two systems provides the best way to limit the sinful tendencies of man and to promote the most human flourishing.

 

3. Why is the discussion on Capitalism important? What is its impact on personal stewardship?

  • Capitalism without checks and balances could easily lend to capitalistic ventures that negatively impact people and our environment.  
    • Pure capitalism would not be good or wise for civilized societies.
  • As we mentioned last episode about socialism, the impact of Capitalism is closely tied into personal stewardship..
  • The person living in a capitalistic society will have rights and privileges to earn and spend their money as they desire.  
  • For the believer in Christ, this would allow one to “provide for their family as laid out and commanded in Scripture
    • 1 Tim. 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”   
  • And also, for the believer, they can steward the money God put into their care so it can be used for Kingdom purposes.

“Believers are able to steward the money God put into their care and use it for Kingdom purposes” – Rev. Drew Gysi

 

4. What are the Benefits of Capitalism?

  • Promotes the most human flourishing.
  • Best fulfills the Creation mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it.”
    • This does not mean that we can abuse creation but that we can and should steward its resources for the betterment of all mankind. 
  • Freedom to choose how our resources are used.
    • Freedom to spend and give as desire.
  • Efficiency of the private sector.
  • Creative destruction (outdated or inefficient firms self-destruct)
  • Has led to growth in living standards.
  • Not a better alternative as of yet…

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government…except all the others that have been tried. – Winston Churchill

 

5. Are there any negative aspects of Capitalism for the individual and also for the country?

  • Crony Capitalism
    • In the perversion of both democracy and capitalism, the government and private business form too close and comfortable a relation. The state seeks to create regulations and restrictions on competition to protect business while business funnels money toward election campaigns. 
    • This is the single biggest problem with the American System.
  • Inequality
    • Wealth tends to gravitate toward a small percentage of the population.
    • Wealth can create more wealth, which starts a multiplier effect mostly for the wealthy.
  • Financial instability/economic cycle
    • Capitalism relies on financial markets – shares, bonds and money markets but financial markets have a tendency to cause booms and busts.
  • Monopoly Power
    • In a free market, successful firms can gain monopoly power. This enables them to charge higher prices to consumers. The freedom of a monopoly can be abused and consumers lose out because they have no choice (Water, Electric, Cable, Internet, etc.)
  • Monopsony
    • Monopsony is market power in employing factors of production. For example, firms can have monopsony power in employing workers and paying lower wages. This enables firms to be more profitable but can mean workers don’t share from the same level of proceeds as the owners of capital.
  • Immobilities
    • In a free market, factors of production are supposed to be able to easily move from an unprofitable sector to a new profitable industry. However, in practice, this is much more difficult. E.g. a farmworker who is made unemployed cannot just fly off to a big city and find a new job. He has geographical ties to his birthplace; he may not have the right skills for the job. Therefore, in capitalist societies, we often see long periods of structural unemployment.
  • Environmental costs and externalities
    • In capitalist economies, there is limited government intervention and reliance on free markets. However, market forces ignore external costs and external benefits. Therefore, we may get over-production and over-consumption of goods that cause harmful effects to third parties. This can lead to serious economic costs – pollution, global warming, acid rain, loss of rare species; external costs that damage future generations.
  • Encourages greed/materialism
    • The nature of capitalism is to reward profit. The capitalist system can create incentives for managers to pursue profit over decisions which would maximize social welfare. For example, firms are using theories of price discrimination to charge higher prices to consumers who want to jump the queue. This makes sense from the perspective of maximizing profit. However, if we have a society, where the rich can pay to jump a queue at a Fairground – or pay to see Congressman quicker – it erodes social norms and a sense of ‘fair-play’

 

6. Wouldn’t I expect a Financial Advisor to say that capitalism is “great” since they make their money off of capitalistic methods?

  • Why would you dislike Capitalism in any form?
    • As a financial advisor, it is not that I dislike capitalism at all.  It is what drives, to a degree, my business and income.
      • What I do wrestle with personally, and with some of my clients is how capitalism impacts my living out my personal faith in Christ!
      • Those that are listening that are our brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the one that hits us hard!  And in this, two questions ought to be asked by every believer living under a capitalistic society…
        1. How much is enough?
        2. How much is too much?
    • Greed and the mass accumulation of wealth desired by the believer in Christ is the challenge that I wrestle with on a regular basis.
      • Supplying for one’s needs and for their family is good and Biblical, but wealth can be increased to one’s harm (Eccl. 5:13) and not be used for eternal purposes!

“Supplying for one’s needs and for their family is good and Biblical, but it is possible that wealth can be increased to one’s harm” – Tim Russell, CFP®

 

THE BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO CAPITALISM

1. A Biblical Foundation for Capitalism

  • It must be stated that no form of earthly government is perfect.  Capitalism is by no means perfect.  Any earthly government involves flawed, sinful human beings and therefore that will make any system of government flawed.  The perfect government will be Jesus ruling at the right hand of the Father in a new heaven and a new earth! 
  • If you are looking for a prooftext jot and tittle command in Scripture for a Biblically prescribed form of government, to my knowledge you’re not going to find it.
  • However, I do believe capitalism is the best, most God-honoring system of government known to mankind. Again, not perfect and run by fallen human beings, but the best we know of to date.

Capitalism’s Great Virtue:  One of the greatest virtues or values promoted by capitalism is  freedom.  And I want to make a Biblical case, from two passages of Scripture, that freedom, with boundaries and guard rails, is good and God-honoring. 

The Biblical Case for Freedom

    • From I Samuel 8:  If you tuned in to last week’s episode you may remember that we discussed the story found in I Samuel chapter 8 where the elders of Israel petition Samuel for a King.  God communicates his disapproval with their request but grants it, and issues a series of warnings.  The essence of these warnings is that the people of Israel are going to have less freedom under a king.  More government control would mean for Israel and will mean for us, less individual freedom, less financial freedom.  Implied in the series of warnings that God gives – and this is key – is that freedom is good.
    • From Galatians 5:13:  Paul writes in the first part of Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers…”  In the immediate context of the passage Paul’s talking about a spiritual freedom and it’s vital to understand that the Believer possesses that spiritual freedom regardless of the form of government that one is under, and that no government can take that away!  More broadly however, the verse also implies in the same way that I Samuel 8 implies, that freedom in general is a good thing.

“Believers possess a Spiritual freedom that no government system can take away.” – Jeremy Ehst

Freedom with Boundaries and Guard Rails:  The second part of Galatians 5:13 says “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  Biblical freedom is not anarchy.  It’s not everyone doing whatever he wants.  There has to be a moral governance, moral guard rails and boundaries, for the exercise of one’s freedom.

 

2. What else does the Bible have to say about Capitalism?

  • The Bible makes it clear that all income is a gift from the Lord. 
    • “…moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.” Eccl. 3:13 
  • The desire for survival and gain motivates our work
    • “The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on.” Prov 16:26
  • It’s God’s call whether or not you are wealthy. It is imperative to keep this in focus.
    • “…remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” Deut. 8:18
    • “It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it.” Prov. 10:22
  • Our work emphasis and motivation should be on doing a good job, providing a quality product, satisfying a need, etc., not on getting rich.
    • “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Prov. 23:4-5
    • “It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” Ps. 127:2
    • “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.” Eccl. 5:10
    • “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” 1Tim. 6:17
    • “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matt. 6:24

Is it “wrong for some people to have more than others?

    • NoRemember, The Bible states that private property should be respected… “Thou shall not steal” (Deut. 5:19). This command implies that someone has something that another person does not have.
      • It has examples of those who are rich and those who are poor, and how they should treat and serve one another (Matt. 19:21, Luke 14:12, Matt. 19:24)
      • Jesus gives us wisdom regarding profits and wealth accumulation/multiplication (Matt. 25, Parable of Talents).
      • Solomon was the richest and wisest man ever, and he had a lot to say about wealth accumulation and wisdom. (Eccl. 5)
    • God calls His Church to bless people that have need. God calls those who have much to bless those who have little. Not by government mandate, but by God’s free grace. We are not to accumulate wealth to fulfill our own desires, but to give freely and abundantly.

God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.” – Randy Alcorn

 

3. How Should Christians Approach the topic of Capitalism?

  • Modern day Capitalism has some threads of operation and thought that have stemmed from the Word of God, as we see in some Scripture references above.
    • Capitalism is not “God’s Government”, but it does allow people today to gain wealth (as we see in Scripture) so that we can be a blessing to others and fund Kingdom ministry!
  • Whatever form of government that you are living under, for we do know that we have a very good and solid international audience here with the Stewardology Podcast, we want to remind you that God is still, and has never abated his throne!  He is the one that is in charge and He raises and releases those placed into ruling positions!
    • The spiritual freedom spoken of in Galatians 5:13 transcends any government system.  Yet we are called to be active in promoting the ways of God in every realm of life, including in the realm of government.  Therefore because God created man to be free, we need to be active nationally and even internationally to promote freedom.
  • Whatever form of government that you are living under, if there are pending laws and/or directions that your governmental leaders are moving in that are contrary to the Word of God, get involved.
    • A quote attributed to Edmund Burke, the Irish statements from the 1700’s, that says “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.”  To take that and put it into a Biblical context, I would say that as Christians, as stewards of all that God’s entrusted to us, we are called to be salt and light, and not to be as a lamp that is put under a basket (as Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:15).  As it pertains to today’s topic, stay active in the political/governmental realm.  Be an informed voter and write your elected officials on important policy issues.  Second and as important, teach and communicate a Biblical worldview to those that God has placed in your circle of influence.

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS // STEWARDSHIP APPLICATION

In a blog post titled “What does the Bible say about capitalism?” on GotQuestions.org, the author concluded by saying…

“Because people are sinful and selfish, some are going to use the capitalist system to satisfy their greed. But that is not so much a criticism of capitalism as it is a realization of the human condition. The goal of capitalism is not to change bad people but to protect us from them. Capitalism is a system in which bad people can do the least harm and good people have the freedom to do good works. Capitalism works best with moral individuals. But it also functions adequately with selfish and greedy people.”

“Though greed is sometimes evident in the capitalist system, we have to understand it’s not because of the system—it’s because greed is part of man’s sinful nature (Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?). The solution lies not in changing the economic system but in changing the heart of man through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

 

“When God’s people combine the work of their hands with the world’s most pressing needs, the Church could change the world.” – Dave Blundell

 

Ps. 20:7 – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

 

 

 


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