05 February 2012

Bill Flax: Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else?

Spotted this excellent Forbes.com article this morning: Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else? It's packed with gems; the two that are my favorites are quoted below.

I'm not posting this to express any endorsement or rejection of any particular theological point-of-view, which is really the point of the article. When you hear people of either left or right political persuasions leaning on scripture to make their case, it's very likely that they have no clue what it is that they cite as support and they sound silly. To wit:
"Although capitalism appears compatible with Christ’s teachings the Bible never specifically endorses free enterprise. Neither are markets anywhere condemned, only the sinful actions of those abusing others. Markets offer freedom, which amplifies character. Without room for good or ill, morality is irrelevant."
One of the secular gems, and a very clear, concise explanation of why individualism is good and why collectivism is bad, without needing any sort of false "biblical" justification (the author's apparent bias in that regard is demonstrated here, though not in a way that detracts from the main point):
"Capitalism forces the greedy to produce thereby growing the overall pie. To gain they must provide what others willingly purchase. It’s ironic that while those relentlessly pursuing materialism search for contentment in error, the rest richly benefit by the impoverishing lifestyles they pursue.

Those most responsible for increasing wealth accumulate more, they should, but in so doing lift their community’s living standards. Even America’s poor live well by any material measure.

In socialism, greed shifts from productivity into consumption. Without property rights or opportunities for profit, men quickly descend into mutually destructive envy. Our base instincts betray us. Output plummets. When we see someone slacking and still taking – we produce less. When we see others hoarding – we snatch more too.

If nothing can be acquired, advantage is only feasible by consuming beyond one’s share of public goods. As Adam Smith said of slavery, “A person who can acquire no property can have no other interest but to eat as much and to labour as little as possible.”

One criticism of the article I have (though maybe I'm operating from a false premise here, not sure) is that on page three, Mr. Flax writes, "capitalism is the best platform man has yet devised." To my mind, capitalism isn't a system, it is just what is: in the absence of any sort of institutionalized market, people trade, always with the aim of making an exchange in which each party considers themselves to have gained. A system of rules and procedures is not a prerequisite to this, quite the opposite. What was devised? Nothing, that's just how things are.

1 comment:

Will Jayroe said...

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! You've summed up what I've tried to explain to countless people...capitalism wasn't created, its just a natural thing! No one has to teach a person capitalism, they will arrive at it through sheer intuition. The black markets in North Korean towns that aren't named Pyongpang are great examples of this.

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