My Question: Is Capitalism evil?

Hi everyone,

Recently @psalm151ls and I were discussing a topic and I made an overly bold statement about Capitalism being evil, which was not at the core of the conversation, so Lindsey suggested I begin a new discussion.

A free market is essential for society but the greed promoted by capitalism seems to me to be evil. There is plenty of merit to the fact that capitalism has led to the development of the free world, so there’s clearly something positive at work, but left unchecked corporations will do whatever it takes to make a profit, e.g. Enron scandal. In my opinion, because corporation limit liability so much to the decision makers, and profit is the order of the day, greed will likely be the outcome.

By comparison, the laws of jubilee in Leviticus shows us a way to have commerce with a built in reset for failure, and a spirit of being good to your fellow man.

Thoughts?

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Do you the problem may be more with men’s hearts than a particular economic system?

Interesting you’ve suggested the law of jubilee here…

The Pharisees had figured out a loophole in their economic system : assigning money that they should have been using to look after their aging parents to ‘Corbin’ - to God but they wouldn’t actually give the money…

Jesus was fairly scathing of them in the accounts in Matthew 15 and Mark 7.

I think capitalism is the best system we have compared to alternatives as it encourages everyone to work for themselves, rather than relying on government to fix their problems: and even in most capitalist western countries there is a lot of help for people who are unwell, unable to work, aging and disadvantaged.

Just an Australian perspective for you; anyone (citizens and permanent visa holders) regardless of their financial position can walk into an emergency department and get treated for free. :slight_smile: I think this is a good deal…

Just a couple of thoughts - great topic of conversation. :slight_smile:

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I think capitalism was baked into God’s economy.
If you consider all the feast days that God commanded the children of Israel to observe did they not drive the local economies and provide business opportunity? They needed to travel which meant food lodging perhaps money exchange and believe it or not even souvenirs. The priests made their living on these events. And there were those who wondered what happened to those special days. Even Paul addressed this in that this new way of life was upsetting the economic apple cart of the day not just for the Jews, believers and non-believer alike but also for the pagan community who were losing sales. I have read in some commentaries that if you lived in Paul’s day you would not be able to escape the smell of cooking meat and burning incense, in today’s vernacular, this is the smell of money. Now to be fair today we have more to choose from but like the people of the past we depend on the participation of all to drive the economy.
My thoughts.

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Interesting to me because I have had several Christians say to me that the Bible teaches Socialism, not Capitalism. The book of Acts and how the believers brought everything they owned together and sold pieces of land to help the Church and the Poor. This only seems to demonstrate to me what the ‘attitude and heart’ of the believers should be…not necessarily a national economic system.

I hope more people share their thoughts with Scripture references. This will be very helpful. Thank you for bringing the topic.

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Others might come up with more detailed answer or a different approach, my understanding is that what is described in Acts 4:32-34 needs to be put in context: the believers in Jerusalem knew the city would be destroyed (Luke 19:43-44) so it made sense to sell what they had and share it. It’d get destroyed anyway. So the “socialism” happened there was for them and there - only for a purpose (to make the most out of what they had), not as a general rule.

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Capitalism is actually a common practice during Jesus ministry. But they went too far that Jesus has to overthrew their stalls and told them off “making the house of prayer into a den of thieves” Matthew 21:12-13.

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”Matthew 21:12‭-‬13

However the sense of profit return is also evident in the parables of the talent in Matthew 25:14-30. And also in earning an honest living in Ephesians 4:28.

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28

Now motive of earning something abundant (profit) is to share with the needy. There are many Laws concerning field owners how to harvest without turning back so that those drop on the floor can be feed to the needy when they come after the workers are done.

God is very concerned with the riches bless upon you, how you earn them and how you use them. Capitalism is just the means to earn not the way to spend. It is how God has blessed America and through capitalism blessed other needy countries in evangelistic ministry by giving freely.

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The “free market” is neither good nor evil but refers to an amoral mechanism. As with the tongue, by which we bless God and curse men (James 3:9), it can be employed for both noble and nefarious causes. Adam Smith, considered to be the “father of Capitalism” writes this regarding its nature (1776):

man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them…It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Starting with the assumption that man ought to be free, Smith instructs us that self-interest is the driving factor in economic activity. I give you a dollar, you give me a cookie. I give you a chicken, you give me a bag of coffee. If either one of us is not satisfied with the proposed terms, we are free to walk away.

On one hand, capitalism does not promote greed any more than guns promote violence. At the same time, Paul tells us that sin, taking opportunity by the law produced in him evil desire, and he found the law to bring death (Romans 7:8,10). Consider how Gollum was mesmerized by the allure of the One Ring. Name your temptation.

If therefore capitalism similarly entices man to greed, the same can be said of communism, socialism, and fascism with respect to the power positioning of would-be political or military elites. Pick your poison.

I don’t know the original source of this, but I think I recently heard it from Alistair Begg:

Socialism says “what’s yours is mine,” capitalism says “what’s mine is mine,” and Christianity says “what’s mine is yours.”

I say Amen. Personally I like the idea of communal living and the “sharing in all” that we see in Acts, but maybe I’m just a hippie at heart. Whatever your preference, our calling as Christians is to give cheerfully from our hearts. There is no perfect or “correct” political economy. "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s (Mat 22:21).

@Shane_Kennett The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics has a multitude of resources on these types of questions. Retweet ≠ endorsement. However, I believe you’ll find enough material to more than satisfy your questions on the jubilee and the Levitical economic system.

Smith, A. (1776). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. Retrieved from https://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html?chapter_num=5#book-reader

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I LOVE this question. I am an American and moved to Canada around the age of 24. I had the opportunity to see the mindset of two very different countries. Canada is Socialist in regards to certain programs such as Medical care, support of children and the poor. However the BUSINESS model of Canada is Capitalism it is fiscally a Market Economy. There is some term for this, but I don’t remember what it is. The US, on the other hand seems to be reeling between two very strong extremes - Capitalism and an unrealistic form of Socialism.
I heartily agree that mankind’s defined economic strategies are - none of them- moral. So the whole emotional reaction to the words “Socialism or Capitalism” should be non existent for the Christian. Neither is intrinsically evil. So the answer to your question would be NO- Capitalism is not evil.

However (and this is a really big HOWEVER to me at least) when I returned to the US a few years ago, I was unprepared for the EVIL cultural mindset of so many of the Christians that I met. I will not go into the tremendous damage that I have seen come from this mindset, but it has broken my heart. People who I love, people who are my brothers and sisters in Christ are causing many a person extreme grief and pain.f. I strongly believe that this generation of believers in the US -those who hold so strongly to “Capitalism” at the expense of what is taught in the scripture- is going to be strongly held to account for this sin of SELF Sufficiency.
When I discuss this subject with my children (grown) I often use the term "They have a circle drawn around them " which, in my poor motherly analogy, refers to the little sing song that kids have when they lock hands in a circle and sing “tick tock the game is locked and nobody else can play… and if they do, I’ll take my shoe and beat them til they’re black and blue” (Sick song, yes, but definitely popular on the playground I grew up on.)
These people are concerned about “their house, their care, their schooling, their food, their 401 K” etc. It is unbelievable how many excuses they will make, many sounding so spiritual, for NOT needing to be involved in the lives of the poor or broken. And their words sound so godly!
Because this subject is a particular "hobby horse’ of mine, I am not going to go on about this. But I will recommend to you a book called RADICAL by David Platt. It lays out very clearly exactly what I am trying to articulate here. I was so happy when I found that book!
I appreciate you asking this question, there is so much to be said about it. And I would agree with you that the Jubilee, lack of charging interest, forgiving of debts, 23 1/3 percent tithes and offerings used for the poor and needy that were mandated for Israel through the law, is so lovely! We just have to wait for the Lord to reign to see true and proper financial and social justice. Until then, we need to READ what the bible says about money, all the verses, not just some of them. And then we need to obey the Holy Spirit as He directs us, remembering that we are but a Servant, a holy Sacrifice, and are ONLY here for the Lords will- never for our own benefit.

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I’m so thankful for all the responses to the question, is capitalism evil?. The comments were excellent, thought provoking, and very helpful as I am trying to sort out all this stuff we call life.

@matthew.western, Hi Matt, yes, I agree and feel the problem does originate with the heart of man. I’m not sure if I applied the term jubilee correctly in my opening comment. My intention was to draw attention to a sense of fairness in commerce, but jubilee does not adequately address commerce and free trade as I thought it did. Thank you for pointing out the loophole, that actually opens up more topics such as taking care of parents, in general, but that can be another topic for another day. :slight_smile: I do agree with you that capitalism does seem to be the best known free market system, but I can’t help but think that God has better plans for us. :pray:

@Jimmy_Sellers Hi Jimmy, I enjoyed your input and hadn’t really considered the “market” side of priests and the feast days. And when you consider the heart of man, left unchecked the priests could have easily allowed greed to enter their hearts. It’s no wonder Jesus flipped over the tables, and then fast forward, its no wonder Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation and there was a French Revolution happened. Great input, thank you!

@Leigh_Coudriet Hi Leigh, I tend to be liberal in my politics, so your point of view is near and dear to my heart. The concern I expressed about Capitalism, and being Christian, originates from the notion that we should give all that we have and follow him, like they did in Acts. However, @andrea.l Andrea makes a great point that in Acts there was a necessity to share. I feel we should point out that prior to their deciding to pool their resources, their living Lord (oh what a privilege that would have been to be in the Lord’s living presence) specifically teaches us of sparrows having all that they need. Great points by both of you, what a wonderful conversation!! :slight_smile:

@Kenny_Chen Hi Kenny, I think you highlight very good scripture to this topic, the lessons of talents certainly imply that we should be seeking a return on investment (ROI); however, I feel like this lesson was intended to be bold for the Lord, to do something with the gifts He has given us, maybe not necessarily to invest for personal gain. In fact, the verse you highlighted, Ephesians 4:28, seems to support this as well, because it is teaching the church to repent, and to change their ways of stealing by working and sharing with those in need. Sharing with those in need bring us back to give all we have to the poor, do you agree? I cannot disagree, of course, that capitalism is a means to earn, and after all, without it there would still be some form of trade, right?. I have more on this when I respond to Tony below. Many thanks Kenny!

@tony_mercurio Hi Tony. I really appreciate the quote from Adam Smith. I love the concept of being a contributing member of society, but I dare say that modern day capitalism is far from his notion of man helping his brethren, what do you think? With respect to your comment, [quote=“tony_mercurio, post:7, topic:18990”]
On one hand, capitalism does not promote greed any more than guns promote violence.
[/quote], I have no choice but to agree, but I only agree because I actually thing guns DO promote violence, but that is a different topic altogether.

You make an excellent comparison of capitalism to communism, socialism, and fascism (all three being actively discussed in modern day, which baffles me considering the pure evil of those forms of government and commerce, young people need to read more history books!). And really, there is no comparison, capitalism is absolutely better. Also, I truly loved your comment, [quote=“tony_mercurio, post:7, topic:18990”]
Personally I like the idea of communal living and the “sharing in all” that we see in Acts, but maybe I’m just a hippie at heart.
[/quote] In fact, I think this may be the root of the problem. I feel many who call themselves Christians like to take the good parts of being showered with His Grace but are not willing to go all the way. I suppose this is what Jesus describes about the seed spilled on the rocky place with little soil.

What seems most clear to me is that God wants us to have a direct relationship with Him. He repeatedly tells us to be rid of idols and that money is the root of all evil. Jesus said to give to the poor, that God will provide, and to give Caesar what is Caesars. While capitalism may be the most balanced and fair method of commerce and free trade, it certainly is not perfect, I think we can all agree with that.

A while back a friend of mine recommended an economics book called ‘Why Nations Fail’ by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, which describes the history of several societies over the course of history. A primary theme of the book was how the distribution of power has an impact on the long term success of a nation, the more distributed the power the longer the nation succeeded, economically. The point is that the more people who have a vested interest in the economy, the more likely it will survive hardship.

I think God is trying to get us to understand this concept, the hard way. As CS Lewis wrote, “The longest way round is the shortest way home.” God has always wanted a direct relationship with us, but we refuse him so he had Samuel anoint a king. Jesus taught us to give up everything and to follow him, and that God will provide, but the church became corrupt, which led to the Reformation. Martin Luther explained that denominations should not divide up communities, meaning if a town decides to practice as Baptist, then it should extend to the entire community so they could be one church worshiping in the same style. Clearly that advice did not take too well in the Christian community and nowadays we have a church denomination on every corner like 7-11.

I mention Martin Luther only because its indisputable he initiated the Reformation, not to elevate him to any higher level. The timing is interesting and relevant, because not too long after the Reformation people started to settle in the “New World”. It seems to me there is a causal connection in history of the Reformation and what is modern day capitalism, and of course corporations. Which leads me to a closing point, I feel Capitalism is evil because of the corporate veil.

It is too easy for companies to make unethical decision in the name of profits. It is too easy for investors of 401k accounts, myself included, to turn a blind eye to HOW profits are made. It is too easy for citizens to become numb to greed. In the day in age, our retirement accounts and economic benefits are what sway us in the voting booth, which is a sad. Therefore I feel capitalism is not congruent with the message of the Bible, holistically, and we as Christians should be weary of leadership that leverages Wall Street to advance in politics.

I greatly appreciate your time to read my points of view. I’m extremely grateful for the Connect community.

with love,
Shane

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Shane,
I completely agree with you that God has a better plan. I think that’s a universal truth that applies to, well, everything. How WONDERFUL it will be when the government is on His shoulders!

There’s a great quote by John Wesley, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” as a biblical and godly approach to our livelihoods and wealth. Here’s a link to a modern language version of his sermon, The Use of Money: https://www.eaforchristians.org/john-wesley-the-use-of-money-12/

I’m certain there is a preponderance of profit over people in the corporate world, primarily because that is their function in a capitalistic system. But we as a society, that elects a government, should hold them accountable for their actions. That being said the “self interest” Adam Smith spoke about still drives to even our populace.

Yes, I want to protect my IRA. I don’t think of it as something I can depend on as it’s only God I can depend on, but there is plenty in the Bible’s wisdom literature that teaches us to be fiscally responsible, both for ourselves and others. The investment growth in my IRA will keep me from being a financial burden on family and my society in my retirement. I don’t see that as greed.

Also, before we throw the baby out with the bath water (a favorite old expression of mine), we should also look at the number of non-profit organizations that absolutely rely on corporate donors and charitable trusts of the wealthy. Is there self interest in a corporation being a good corporate citizen, absolutely, but good does come from it. Also an employed population is better than an unemployed population.

(Please note that I’ve spent my career in marketing communications and I’ve worked with many corporate clients that do a lot of good in the world and work to have an internal culture that empowers people to be the best they can. I also did a big project for Enron once, and yes, they were total jerks. But in a forty year career they have been the exception and not the rule.)

Does fiscal responsibility influence my vote and my views? Yup. Although my vote has aligned mostly with those who would be viewed in the corporate-greed camp, it’s not generally for that reason. For me it’s generally for the purpose of maintaining a conservative Supreme Court to help balance the rights of the unborn with the born, religious freedoms, etc. That’s just personal, but there can be many reasons why people vote the way they do without greed and self-interest being the main driver, as @Palmtree seems to have been concerned with. Generalizations generally do not reveal a full picture.

Culturally we are in a period where disruption has become viewed as a good thing. But is it? Or, is it always? History, and current events, show us that economic disruption can bring civilization to it’s knees and the result is often death and destruction, and too often it’s the poor that suffer most. It’s certainly a complex and broken world. To me it seems our best option for making the world a more Godly place is to take our focus inward. Am I conforming to the image of Christ for the sake of others? Each day am I choosing His will over mine? Am I fulfilling what I was saved for–good works. (Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.)

Thank you for getting this great dialog going. There are so many nuances to all these ideas the group has mentioned. How wonderful that this forum let’s iron sharpen iron in such a respectful way. Be blessed. Most of all, thanks for reading my clearly opinionated discourse.

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1 Tim 6:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.

11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that.

I think this is a great discussion. I still don’t think that a particular financial system is moral, Capitalism, or Socialism, even Communism, could be utilized to some success BUT ONLY if the person or person’s controlling the POWER of said system were fully completely in sync with the Holy Spirit . It is POWER and the MONEY that gives the power that seems to be the problem. at least in my opinion.
I believe that there are two things that people seem to need - Safety and Security. The absence of either of these or both, brings tremendous fear. Humans recoil from fear. Hence, we continually seek personal Safety and Long term Security. In most of the world, people cannot find either Safety or Security. In the US, many times, depending on how you are raised, you can.

Stop a moment and think about how you would feel if Jesus walked up to you today and said, as he said to the Rich young Ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Really think, what if right now, I had to do that? Jesus asked me to do that. Now consider what is racing through your mind. Is it fear? Excuses? Reasons why this cannot be done?

Self Sufficiency or God Reliance. Do you REALLY believe that God is good? Would you REALLY feel safe if HE asked that of you? Would God REALLY provide for you when you needed him to? You would have NO security. None at all… except… HIM.

That is “God Reliance” and it is the opposite of Self- Sufficiency.
And that is what our Lord is all about. What did he say…, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Are you OK with that? Jesus also lived only 33 years. Are you OK with that? The apostles were martyrs, Are you OK with that? These are our EXAMPLES. Do you believe that?
And what about the poor widow that gave ALL THAT she had to LIVE ON? Say what???!!!
And how about 2 Corinthans 8, the passage no one wants to preach on? vs 2"during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. 3 For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means."
Suffering, Poverty, Giving all I have to live on… I didn’t sign up for that!

If you would be Capitalists, remember that EVERYTHING we accumulate is NOT OURS. It is HIS As such, we had better ask HIM what HE wants us to do with it, right? Here is one small hint - 2 Corinthians 8:15. Also read George Mueller and David Platt as you consider this question.

If you would be a Socialist, remember that caring for the Poor and broken is very difficult and takes a great deal of wisdom in order to sort out the people you need to help. Every man should carry his own load, but we must bear each other’s burdens. Do you understand that distinction? And can you judge rightly as to whether you are causing someone to sin, by feeding their spirit of entitlement or whether you are truly caring for the WIDOWS and ORPHANS that God has called you to rescue?

I have lived both lives, Rich and Poor. I have been Capitalist and Socialist. All I really want now is to remember that I am already dead and it is Christ who lives through me ( if I allow Him). Since it is His life, His breath, His car, His body, His future… I ask HIM what to do with all of it. He is Sufficient in every possible way. I am convinced that after we open our hand to let go of the “things” we hold so tightly, only then can our hand be open to receive the miraculous provision that He gives.

Here is a two part podcast that helped me on the issue:

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Here is another resource on wealth, this one from Dave Ramsey.

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Wow! Those were very good and very helpful. Thank you so much!

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