Sunday, January 16, 2005

Creational Capitalism

I am a capitalist. In some circles that I run around in, that is one of the most degrading terms that can be applied to a person. I, however, carry it as a soiled badge of honor. Soiled? Yeah, because capitalism separated from the rulership of Jesus produced the military-industrial economy that has set itself up as end and means, as the idol of consumptive, ignorant, idolatrous masses. As a follower of the true King, I want nothing of this false kingdom (although, in this case, words are much easier than actions). Capitalism cannot, let me emphasized this, cannot happen without the rule of God.

The basics of capitalism, as I see them, are (1) there is such a thing as a 'market' where people exchange goods and services, (2) that people, being both consumers and producers want to use this market, (3) people need the freedom to choose what is best with regards to their local communities and families as to what they will offer, buy, and leave out of the market, and (4) the civil government should have as little of a part in the market as possible. Obviously, these basics are colored by my Christian roots, but to present them otherwise is impossible.

The idea of a market is inevitable. As humans, we are not completely self-sufficient. We cannot produce everything we want or need for ourselves. That leads us to recognize diverse and different talents among our fellow men and women that we would be happy to trade something for their services (whether monetary or not). I, for example, have currently no good way of disposing of my wastes, so I pay the sanitation company to deal with them (this is a bad metaphor, I know, since most sanitation companies are government run therefore most of my waste ends up back in my drinking water or in someone else's backyard--but, for this point, it is an admittedly bad example).

A couple things culturally have led to our misuse of the market into its current, idolatrous, monstrous form. The first is reductionism: we have made everything into a "marketable" entity, when (we learn from experience and God's word) not everything should be made so. The second is the loss of any self-sufficiency: why make for ourselves what we can have others make for us? The third is our dependence on civil government: there are few services NOT provided by the civil government in this country, the basic premise being that if we give the government the power to run our lives, it will.

Is there any way to be a Christian capitalist?

Yes. First off, God is the freer of people to responsibility. Right after the Exodus, God gave His people the Torah. They were in covenant relationship, not autonomous entities (there is no such thing as autonomy). If the Son has set us free from sin and death, we should live that way. In our economic dealings, we should love God with all our heart, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires, secondly, a suitable anthropology: man is a limited creature and shouldn't puff himself up to believe that he is. Here is a lot of the problem of modern 'capitalism' (which I don't think is capitalism at all, with its corporate dependence on government hand-outs, bail-outs, and contracts): man believes that through the market he can be the ruler of the world. There is only one ruler of the world and he delegates authority to those who show themselves responsible enough to use it. We must, in other words, be 'creational capitalists': humans who understand that God has committed extraordinary power into our hands, but who also understand the responsibility that entails and the limits that are inherent in it and that must be self-imposed.

Part of this, though, is the aspect of community. There is no such thing as a global economy. We work in our local areas after local standards, which should be the rule of economic dealings. We (by which I mean Christians) should not be trying to out compete people in other locales as they try to provide services to their communities. Instead of competing, we should be working with our local communities to offer services that actually are needed and helpful for all to follow their callings. A case in point for any entrepenuers in Beaver Falls: WE DON'T NEED ANY MORE TATTOO PARLORS OR BARS! (I might include here tanning salons, but considering the lack of sun for the better part of every winter, that might be an illadvised statement).

In this aspect of community, families must be (as much as possible) economically self-sufficient. Can we produce our own food, clean up after ourselves, and possibly offer something that we lovingly (after the pattern of God's creative acts) craft to our neighbors, whom we profess to love as ourselves (do loving neighbors offer each other food that is going to be detrimental to health or to the local ground, air, or water supply)?

Creational capitalists believe that God has given man freedom to pursue diverse and complementary callings in the care and development of the world. We cannot give these callings over to the government, but must pursue them in local, sufficient communities that are built upon the Greatest Commandment. We must care for what we earn our livelihood from and reduce human waste. Unlike socialism, we do not expect and do not want the government to handle all of this. Instead, we want to develop into mature, godly men and women that are responsible for our lives and the lives of our communities.

What then is the responsibility of government? Depends on which form of government you are speaking about. Self-government (by which I mean the self-governing of both individuals and families) is the first preventative step in the market. As families, the critique of products and services is likely to be more stringent and careful, since we will first offer the products to other family members (basically, I'm not going to give my family stones that I have advertised as bread). Families have an amazing economic control and regulation over themselves--read any essay by Wendell Berry to get a flavor of this--but families must have some backbone and not be worked over in fear by the other members. Family reconstruction and strengthening should be the chief purpose and issue of the church today. Church-government is the next step. If a person falls out of line by offering some sinful product to the market that the family has either been negligent about or not seen, the church steps in and disciplines both the family and the 'seller' in its redemptive way. Problem with that is listed in a previous post, "Elders for Everyone"--basically the church has become largely effeminate. As a strong community though, a whole church refusing to buy products from certain vendors makes a load of economic clout--all churches in an area doing it makes it even more powerful (but, like all power, this must be used wisely and with lots of hard thought and prayer). Thirdly, we have local civil government. Here is where things get a little tricky. Many have argued the line of anarchism in the market, but local government should be in place to limit any sinful activity: prostitution, pornography, etc. that has slipped through the first two levels (and if it has, the community has worse problems than prostitution, etc.). The point, though, is that the government is local and of a manageable size--less corruption comes from less power.

If we as Christians are the cultural vanguards of a creational (that is, limited and responsible) capitalism (that is, God-fearing and life-affirming voluntary and free exchange locally), we can have a great avenue to address the issues of cultural renewal, especially as they speak to things like individualism, consumerism, and other related things. Creational capitalism is the hardest economic theory to put into practice because it takes discipline and hard work, which the modern economy is rabidly against: but God is pleased by hard, good quality, honoring, and enduring work.

2 comments:

David Whitcomb said...

Let me first off say that I don't think that free market capitalism will solve the local economy's problems and would be the worst thing ever for the world to face, although I do like your call to Christians to be disciplined and unselfish. At somepoint, someone famous (I think a shorter chubby Prime Minister of England whose name has eluded me) said something like (I know the specificity is amazing), Capitalism is the best form of many bad options (socialism, communism..).

Here is my problem with some of your statements. Even though we live in the midst of local communities, and our decisions effect local communities, we can not ignore our world is moving toward a global economy. Whether you say it exists or not doesn't matter. The fact that many corporations are moving their factories to 3rd or developing world contries for cheaper labor means that we live in a global economy. We can't avoid it. Technology has made it easily possible. How do Christian politicians respond to the idea that the government should have no say in this, that it should be hands off? It seems offensive to me to take a chance to work for justice in the economic arena away from a politician. If the world were run by Christian's that would be great, but unfortunately, free-market capitalism works strongly to the favor of those with the most cultural capital, power, drive, and money. And most of those people use their power for selfish gain. Not for the gain of others. I agree with you that consumers do have have power, and that we can excercise responsible use of our money. But why not accept a government limitation on the amount of goods that can be outsources for slave labor? This doesn't seem like a bad thing to me, although I think slave labor should be banned, and fair wages should be passed on to others.

This was somewhat of a rant due to my own feelings on this issue, but it would be fun to sit and drink some fair trade coffee and talk about it sometime. Maybe you can visit our coffeeshop in Indiana and have some good conversations. TJ, The Commonplace's owner is a capitalist striving to do it faithfully, even in the midst of a very broken world, and I admire him for it.

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