After the misadventures of Enron, Bernie Madoff, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and assorted inside traders, many in government and media are pointing their fingers at capitalism -- calling for tougher laws, stricter enforcement, and even the end of the free market system.
After all, they reason, didn't the capitalists on Wall Street land us all in this economic crisis? Well-known pastors have asked can capitalism possibly fit into a Christian worldview?
Addressing these questions is my friend Dr. Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute. Jay's newest book is Money Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem.
In the book, Richards begins with the question of economics and worldview. All truth is God's truth, he writes. And "Being a Christian doesn't mean you can disregard economic facts." In other words, economic truths are God's truth, as well.
One of those great economic truths, he explains, is the heart of capitalism: "What we now know is that market economies work because they allow wealth to be created, rather than remaining a fixed pie. Economics," he goes on, "need not be a zero-sum game in which someone wins only if someone else loses. We have discovered an economic order that creates wealth in abundance-capitalism."
This, he points out, is the only real, long-term hope for the poor in this country and across the globe. Not charity, not foreign aid, and not government handouts, but access to markets where human creativity can result in wealth-creation.
But Richards is quick to point out that wealth-creating capitalism requires more than just competition and trading. Beneficial capitalism is founded, he says, on the "rule of law and virtues like cooperation, stable families, self-sacrifice, a commitment to delayed gratification, and a willingness to risk based on future hope. These all," he adds, "fit nicely with a Christian worldview."
Richards's book tackles a number of economic myths. Two I've already mentioned: that wealth is a zero-sum game and that it merely gets transferred, not created. He also debunks the myths that capitalism is based on primarily on greed, and that lending money at interest is always exploitive.
Finally Richards looks at resources. Are we in danger of using up all earth's natural resources? His answer is a resounding, No. That kind of thinking assumes things never change, but they do. Just as the age of the horse passed, so will the age of the internal combustion engine and the petroleum economy.
Why? Because people are our greatest natural resource. Humans aren't primarily users of resources and polluters of the environment. Created in the image of God, we're bursting with ingenuity and industry; we are co-creators and stewards. And so straight-line extrapolations about the future are almost always wrong.
Richards' book is, above all, realistic. As a Christian thinker he is well aware of the nature of the Fall. And he does a wonderful job showing how capitalism rightly understood forms the basis of human economic flourishing--and provides the key for getting us through the current economic crisis.