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Questions used may be lightly edited for length or clarity.Dear Chuck,With all the talk about socialism in this election cycle, I keep wondering if there is a way to better deal with greed than our country's capitalistic system. Do you think that greed can be controlled through economic policy? Does socialism do a better job than capitalism in controlling greed?Puzzled by the Headlines.
Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late, Larry Burkett.
Dear Puzzled,Great question. I believe that a lot of the conflict in the debates about socialism and capitalism can be informed by considering God's law found in the Ten Commandments.In Exodus 20
, God outlined two commandments that influence our economic lives everyday (and that most of us agree with): Thou Shalt Not Lie and Thou Shalt not Steal.Pretty much every government in the world has some structures in place to protect or reimburse people from theft and to guard against those who would rip-off a buyer. People generally agree that they don't want their homes robbed or that they don't want to be deceived by a crooked salesman or be the victim of a fraud. Our own government has set up all kinds of regulatory agencies — like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — trying to ensure that products sold deliver on their claims or are not dangerous.My point is this: These commandments obviously have strong economic implications. When either one or both are chronically violated, people, businesses and the economy as a whole will suffer. High crime leads to bad economic growth.But I believe that it's the last commandment — Thou Shalt Not Covet — that's the hidden issue behind the headlines now, as many people consider economic policies that look into other people's lives, homes and businesses, making a judgment about whether they "deserve" their possessions. And as the commandment says, considering other people's possessions is a bad idea. Fundamentally, a socialistic structure evaluates people's possessions to determine if they deserve it — and that is a judgment call, made by human beings.In any governmental structure, whether capitalism or socialism, sinful people are going to be making the decisions. Empowering a government to determine who "deserves" what they have worked for and earned is a form of coveting fraught with greed on a grand scale.I checked in with my friend, economist and columnist Jerry Bowyer
to get his input on your question. He replied that "every system of political economy (which is what we call the study of the proper relationship between the state and the economy) involves money. Capitalist countries have money; socialist countries have money. Both systems have rich people. Both systems have poor people. The difference is that under socialism, it is the politically connected who become rich."As I've noted in previous columns
on this, in a socialistic system, the government picks winners and losers, and hard work may not benefit the worker.As Bowyer noted, "freedom does not equate to more greed. And in fact, social redistribution of wealth will never be fair but will always favor the political allies of those in control."Even if we assume good intentions on the part of all politicians, massive governmental manipulation of an economy has been proven to fail repeatedly. Both Cuba and Venezuela are prime examples that greed does not end when governments control the economy.Bowyer has also stated that the Bible warns those in power to refrain from taking advantage of their position to get rich.For example, in Ezekial 22:25, God condemns the corrupt use of power by the rulers, "There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her."
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In fact, there are only two people who Jesus talks to directly about selling what they have and giving it to the poor: Zacchaeus and the Rich Young Ruler. Both are government officials!Zacchaeus was a tax collector. The Rich Young Ruler was an Archon, a Sanhedrin member, basically a Senator.Again, there are many warnings, throughout the scripture, to those in power about how they are to govern and against lining their pockets by taking advantage of the powerless.Here is the bottom line: Other than the power of God, which can transform the motives of a human heart, no law can end greed or corruption. And because people do tend to use their power to get rich, it is naïve to believe that a socialistic system that allows politicians to seize resources would be less greedy than a capitalistic system.The Founding Fathers of this great nation did set up a capitalistic structure in which work would be rewarded, but they were also clear in their belief that the nation also required a strong spiritual foundation to truly thrive.Carson Holloway
writes, "In his Farewell Address, George Washington reminded his countrymen that 'religion and morality' are the 'firmest props of the duties of men and citizens' and therefore are 'indispensable supports' of 'the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity.' He added, moreover, that morality depends on religion: '[R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.' Religion, he thus suggested, is necessary to the preservation of 'free government.'"And while a capitalistic system does provide a more flexible structure in which to earn a living, the Bible is clear that we have a personal responsibility not to be greedy and to share our resources with those in need.On a practical level, we at Crown
work hard to help people who struggle by teaching principles of faithful stewardship and management of the resources they have.Luke 16:10-11 contains a wonderful principle for individuals (and governments) to focus not on what I do not have but on my responsibility to be faithful with what I do have: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."Crown has a free assessment
you can take, to see whether your values match your use of money. Because it's not only governments that will be held accountable for actions, each of us must also answer for how we use what we have been given.To #Ask Chuck @AskCrown your own question, click here: more >>