Majority of Americans believe capitalism at odds with Christian values

by Richard on April 27, 2011

I can’t say that I would have predicted this, but according to a new survey for the Public Religion Research Institute, more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible.

I’m not sure what to make of it, but there are some fascinating nuggets in there:

  • More than 6-in-10 (62%) Americans believe that one of the biggest problems in this country is that more and more wealth is held by just a few people.
  • Strong majorities of all religious groups except white evangelicals also say it’s fair for wealthier Americans to pay more [tax]. (my emphasis)
  • Most (61%) Americans disagree that most businesses would act ethically on their own without regulation from the government. This holds true across political and religious lines, with the lone exception of those who identify with the Tea Party movement
  • Americans across the political and religious landscape agree that the federal budget is a moral document

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1

doug 04.27.11 at 6:21 pm

This study implies unbalance if one doesn’t also look at the exact opposite as well. It would be interesting if people thought in a majority that Communism or even S…ism is at odds with Christianity. I think the percentage would be the same. So one cannot imply anything from this study when it only looks at one segment of the many economic systems in the world no matter how much Kim says “Capitalism is it”.

2

Richard 04.27.11 at 6:31 pm

OK Doug. Where are these “many economic systems in the world”?

3

doug 04.27.11 at 6:40 pm

Communism, S…ism, Capitalism, etc., etc. Need I say more? It may not be many but it clearly doesn’t necessitate focusing solely on Capitalism like this article does.

Also, it appears from the article that a majority of the General public do not believe that Christianity is at odds with Captialism when only 44% state this. Is 44% a majority? no

4

doug 04.27.11 at 6:41 pm

…other than democrats, there is no group where a majority of people think Christianity is at odds with Capitalism. You can’t lump in the “not sures”.

5

Joel 04.27.11 at 6:59 pm

Because so many people opt out of any process or opinion, where true majorities lie can be elusive. Ronald Reagan won in a landslide in 1984. Sort of. Allowing for rounding, 32% voted for Reagan, 21% voted for Mondale, and 47% didn’t vote for anyone. Probably more than 50% of Americans couldn’t come close to defining the basics of either capitalism or socialism. I’m either a qualified capitalist or a qualified socialist, depending on the nuances contained in the definitions.

6

Richard 04.27.11 at 7:03 pm

Except that if you say ‘don’t know’ you haven’t really voted, so those ‘not sures’ don’t count.

And those other economic systems aren’t really being used anywhere, are they. So what would be the point in asking a bunch of Americans about them? They might just as well have been asked about the feudal economics of medieval Britain or whatever system of exchange the tribes of the Amazon use. I’m genuinely surprised by this survey, and was rather hoping for some insight in to its meaning (if any). Trotting out your very tired old lines about soc ialism and communism is unhelpful and, to be honest, more than a bit dull.

7

Paul F. 04.27.11 at 7:23 pm

“More than 6-in-10 (62%) Americans believe that one of the biggest problems in this country is that more and more wealth is held by just a few people.”

Presuming this survey was well-conducted, this statistic is a sign of hope. Now if we could just translate it into action.

8

Richard 04.27.11 at 7:31 pm

Can’t argue with that Paul.

9

Earl 04.28.11 at 1:43 am

Given the source of the poll and those responsible for conducting it, the results can only be described as completely unimpressive. It is not possible to seriously consider that a such a poll could be credible given that it is conducted, evaluated and reported by people with multiple linkages to left-wing groups and the current administration in Washington.

10

PamBG 04.28.11 at 11:04 am

I wonder what you think that “Capitalism” means, Earl?

I honestly don’t understand how a Christian minister can defend Capitalism so tenaciously.

11

PamBG 04.28.11 at 11:06 am

In terms of the poll, if it’s a well-conducted poll and it’s correct, then the outcome is heartening.

Of course, we don’t live out what we say we “believe”. (I use scare-quotes because I think that what we do is what we believe and we obviously “do” capitalism rather than community.)

12

PamBG 04.28.11 at 11:17 am

I’m genuinely surprised by this survey, and was rather hoping for some insight in to its meaning (if any).

There probably a lot of people in the US who actually do believe in the little guy having a fair shake but don’t understand what the underlying problem is. Much like Earl and Doug, they see only a dichotomy of “big government” versus “small government” and then feel the need to come down on the side of “small government” as being “moral”. They are then surprised when rich and greedy people come along and say “Thank you very much for creating a system that allows us to exploit you.”

The fundamental problem is our values. As I keep saying. We hold on to the myth that if you just work hard enough, you can have money. Therefore those who don’t have money are lazy and don’t deserve to have anything. Therefore, it is good and just and right that money should buy you human rights and power. And it is good and just and right that not having any money should strip you of your human rights as well as of your dignity.

It would be perfectly possible, for example, to simply reshape our values and “how things are done” - without any government interference at all - to allow retail workers to have a living wage. Only it would mean that retail goods would be more expensive and we wouldn’t be able to buy as many (largely disposable) items as we currently do. “Consumer choice” would be affected. Which, of course, would be immoral.

All we need to do is change our values to believe that people matter more than making profits and people COULD matter. Without any government interference.

By the way, the UK is not exempt from any of this and I think it’s going the way of the US in this third or fourth post-war generation.

13

Richard 04.28.11 at 12:30 pm

That’s very helpful Pam. And I agree about the trajectory of the UK.

14

Earl 04.28.11 at 1:41 pm

“I honestly don’t understand…” etc. Viewed against the exceptionally less compelling choices of so-ism and its more militant cousin communism, to advocate for Capitalism is plain common sense.

15

Kim 04.28.11 at 2:01 pm

That is well-observed and -stated, Pam, thanks, including the trajectory - and not just in the UK: as Kissinger said, globalisation = Americanisation. (Terry Eagleton, BTW, in a stroke genius, sardonically dedicated his recent book On Evil to Kissinger.) Alas, as far as this goes -

All we need to do is change our values to believe that people matter more than making profits and people COULD matter -

do you agree that these perverse values are so deeply, culturally embedded in our national character and sense of identity, replete with justificatory mythical-historical narrative, that the “All we need to do” makes cleaning the Augean stables look like a dustpan and brush affair? ;)

16

PamBG 04.29.11 at 1:01 am

Viewed against the exceptionally less compelling choices of so-ism and its more militant cousin communism, to advocate for Capitalism is plain common sense.

So what you actually believe in is that capitalism is a pragmatic, least-worst option. And you preach that it is morally and ethically “good” and not something that needs improvement?

17

PamBG 04.29.11 at 1:04 am

do you agree that these perverse values are so deeply, culturally embedded in our national character and sense of identity, replete with justificatory mythical-historical narrative, that the “All we need to do” makes cleaning the Augean stables look like a dustpan and brush affair?

Yes.

By “all we need do”, I mean that it doesn’t necessarily require any kind of government interference at all.

The fact that we Americans truly believe it’s evil to stop the big guys from exploiting the little guys shows how lost we are.

18

PamBG 04.29.11 at 1:06 am

Minorities Earn Less Because They Don’t Work as Hard

I think this must also apply to women too because we don’t work as hard as men either.

19

Alec Macph 05.01.11 at 9:37 am

Terry Eagleton is, in many ways, like Ezra Pound. A genius in his area of expertise - literary theory or poetry - but with repugnant politics.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the “capitalism doesn’t work” crowd either are loosers or bloomin’ well have benefitted from the model.

Doug already has pointed to the issue of 44%. Honestly, with all the AV campaigning going on, you’d have thought that people could tell the difference between a plurality and majority. Following on from that, I assume Richard doesn’t hold with calls to increase voter turn-out with his dismissal of don’t knows (not actually no-shows, but watt hay).

I wonder what you think that “Capitalism” means, Earl?

The same question could be asked of you.

I honestly don’t understand how a Christian minister can defend Capitalism so tenaciously.

Never mind Christian minister, Pam, I don’t know how an honest debater can make this elementary piece of demagoguery. You have decided that the capitalist model is inherently flawed, and easily described as with your elevating it to a capitalized-idea.

Easy ideas for people who want easy answers.

It’s not a way to convince the undecided, though.

Then there’s Richard’s turning this to another example of how compassionate European-like liberal Christianity trumps the untrustworthy American White evangelical Christianity.

~alec

20

Avraham Reiss 05.01.11 at 11:23 am

I’m offering here the Jewish approach to Capitalism, as I personally understand it.

Unlimited wealth requires 3 factors: unlimited Land, Money and Man-power. All three of these factors are limited in the OT by 2 commandments:
(1) Slaves are set free every seven years (the Sabbatical year), and debts are cancelled every seven years. This limits both man-power and money.

(2) Land returns to its original owners at the time of the Jubilee.

Leviticus 25:10 - Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you - and you shall return every man unto his own clan, you shall return every man to his family.

Leviticus 25:23 - The land must not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners, my tenant farmers.

Thus Capitalism is acceptable, as long as it does not exceed its limits.

Judaism also has a saying: “The jealousy of scribes increases wisdom”. This emphasizes the value of competition, which is the heart of the Capitalist system. Under the Soviet/Communist fiscal regime, if you went to buy a computer you had little choice in brands. The same with most other consumer items as well. Neither was quality an issue, thru lack of market competition. Whereas under the Capitalist system its “survival (on the market) of the fittest”, and the public benefits from the competition, the striving to be the best.

So the OT in no way talks against Capitalism, but does limit its scope of activity. And Capitalism, thru competition, enhances mankind’s surroundings.

21

Tony Buglass 05.01.11 at 4:01 pm

Avraham: “So the OT in no way talks against Capitalism, but does limit its scope of activity. And Capitalism, thru competition, enhances mankind’s surroundings.”

I think this puts the finger on the issue for me. When I hear the word “capitalism” (in the sense Pam was using it) I hear “unbridled capitalism.” Such a thing is utterly demonic, not least because it makes money more important than people.

However, you are giving a more nuanced and biblical understanding, which allows for the values of competition, but reigns it all in - money/capitalism can be a useful servant, but a terrible master.

22

PamBG 05.02.11 at 12:47 am

The same question could be asked of you.

I think that “Capitalism” means the privileging of Capital. It is a value-system that believes that capital should attract the highest returns possible at the expense of everything else. Notably labor; one of the other major economic inputs.

You have decided that the capitalist model is inherently flawed, and easily described as with your elevating it to a capitalized-idea.

I don’t understand that sentence. Care to explain?

Easy ideas for people who want easy answers.

Where have I offered any easy answers? For the record, I don’t think that anything in life is easy. Certainly not economics or business life.

I’m willing to hash things out in a conversation. One thing I do know is that I don’t believe Capitalism is the only moral and ethical choice for an economy.

23

PamBG 05.02.11 at 12:56 am

Thus Capitalism is acceptable, as long as it does not exceed its limits.

In the US we behave as if we believe that money buys human rights and that lack of money denies human rights.

We don’t say that this is what we believe. But we order our society in this way and we don’t question the values around which we live our everyday lives.

To construct our society such that a person can work 40-50 hours a week and not make a living wage or pay for his/her own healthcare and then to declare that this individual does not have the right to any of these things is, in my view, exceeding the limits of Capitalism.

24

Earl 05.02.11 at 1:51 am

“So what you actually believe in is that capitalism is a pragmatic, least-worst option. And you preach that it is morally and ethically ‘good’ and not something that needs improvement.”

In the modern reality of a secular pluralistic society I do not consider that there is any intelligent case to be made for any system other than Capitalism. If either of the two lesser options produced more freedom, choice, opportunity, lower cost and greater profit, then which ever offered such benefits would be the logical choice. I do not preach on economics, etc. Such matters may from time to time serve as illustrations in a sermon or Bible study. But the the sermon or Bible study will be drawn from the Bible.

25

Earl 05.02.11 at 2:06 am

“Capitalism” means the privileging of Capital. It is a value-system that believes that capital should attract the highest returns possible at the expense of everything else. Notably labor; one of the other major economic inputs.”

This is a fundamentally flawed statement of Capitalism. There are many sources available from which one may develop a correct definition of Capitalism. Basic to any definition of Capitalism is the private ownership of property/means of production, the production of goods/services, the selling of those goods/services in a market(s) at prices determined by supply and demand and wages/salaries.

26

Earl 05.02.11 at 2:29 am

“To construct our society such that a person can work 40-50 hours a week and not make a living wage or pay for his/her own healthcare and then to declare that this individual does not have the right to any of these things is, in my view, exceeding the limits of Capitalism.” Not all employment is of equal value. Some jobs are simply more important and of greater value that other jobs. Wages and salary are the result of the interaction of what employers are willing to pay and what employees are willing to accept in return for their work. Not all employers will pay the same wage/salary for the same job. Not all employees are willing to work for the same wage/salary for the same job. The interaction of employer/employee constitutes a labor market. Entry level employment is a starting point in employment. It is not the sort of job that one takes as a career. It is what one leaves behind as one develops job skills/abilities and moves on to better more lucrative employment. Such jobs do not produce a high income relative to the number of hours worked. This is not a value judgment on the employee. It is simply a recognition that such jobs as washing dishes, bagging groceries, cutting grass, etc. do not require a great deal of skill, training, etc. The incentive to develop ones skills, seek further education, etc. is that one can compete for and find better employment offering higher wages/salary and better benefits, etc. They can then buy what suits their needs and interest and that they can afford. People have the right to spend their income as they choose. Healthcare is a purchasing choice like any other good or service. People who want to buy it are free to buy it according to their own interest and budget. Those who do not want to buy it are free to use their money to buy what they do want.

27

Richard 05.02.11 at 8:15 am

I don’t think Pam is in any way arguing that all employment should be equal, and you know very well that she isn’t. What she does suggest is that even the most basic job should be rewarded sufficiently that the employee is able to live decently. It has always puzzled me that at the bottom end of the market, ‘incentive’ is the excuse used to keep wages low, whereas at the top incentive is used to keep wages high.

“Healthcare is a purchasing choice like any other good or service. People who want to buy it are free to buy it according to their own interest and budget.”

That’s wrong at so many levels. Morally and ethically, of course. But economically too. Sitting in a doctor’s surgery, I am not a customer or consumer, I am a patient.

You didn’t say why you thought that Pam gave a flawed definition of capitalism and went on to illustrate her definition pretty well. The ‘privileging of capital’ is exactly what the capitalist economy is about. As Avraham pointed out, in scripture there are limits placed on ‘private ownership’, and these weren’t just rules for the faithful but for the ordering of society.

28

PamBG 05.02.11 at 11:24 am

I do not consider that there is any intelligent case to be made for any system other than Capitalism.

And part of what I’m suggesting is that possibly you’ve not thought a lot about what other options might be. Since you seem to think that there are only two other options. And I don’t think that we do think a lot in our society about what other options we might have. We just keep moving along as if “the economy” were some unstoppable force that existed above human life.

And yes, you DO preach on the economy, when you declare here as if your opinions were above contradiction that Capitalism is the only moral option.

For the rest, Richard has already made my comments. For a start, I think you are confusing “freedom” and “capitalism”. Maybe it’s time to think beyond the boxes and stop assuming that if we don’t privilege capital that somehow this necessarily means that we’re advocating heavy-handed government control.

Maybe what we really need is a change of heart, to start viewing those who provide labor as God’s good creatures and recognize that God created them as well as those who have capital to put into the system.

29

Avraham Reiss 05.02.11 at 12:39 pm

@Tony:
“However, you are giving a more nuanced and biblical understanding, which allows for the values of competition, but reigns it all in - money/capitalism can be a useful servant, but a terrible master.”

It’s my understanding of the Bible that it comes to regulate man’s behaviour. For example, in Judaism we recognise that a man can be born with a tendency to shed blood, so we recommend that he become a butcher or a doctor (no offense intended to either profession!), where he can shed blood in an accpetable manner which is contributary to society. In other words, find himself a valid outlet.

The competition thing is IMHO inherent in Man, and is a neccessity for society’s progress. Just compare the USA and the old USSR. The USA gives much attention to competitive sports, educates in schools towards baseball, basketball (and to a lesser extent, football) as positive activities. This is preparation of the young for the competitive world into which they will soon enter.

The USSR, on the other hand, not built on competition, concentrated more on athletics, where each person performs separately, and the competitive aspect - without which there is no sporting contest - is somehow played down.

And to take this just one step further - the USSR system failed, but the American system is still up and running.

Maybe Britain, a capitalistic system but with a welfare state, got the best mix of them all.

30

Earl 05.02.11 at 6:40 pm

“And part of what I’m suggesting…” etc. Capitalism is a considered choice conditioned by economic, political and social results that are superior to those produced by the popular alternatives of so-ism and communism. These two options have been tried. They have been weighed in the balance and found wanting in results. They are at best lesser options against which fact and logic argues immune. Stating this which is so obvious is not preaching. It is simply stating the obvious.

Once the Primitive Church ventured to try a sort of mutual aid society structure. There is no indication of why it did not endure. Perhaps it failed for the same reason the “common-store system” of Jamestown failed, i.e., everyone receiving equal amounts regardless of what each actually had contributed. Later thinking that the Second Coming would be quickly unfold, some believers appear to have ceased working. It is to such people that Paul spoke saying, “… that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (II Thess. 3:10). If such a system is to prove workable, it will be the result of a work of grace in the hearts and lives of men and women who have come to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. That will require more than a mere change of heart. To use that particular enduring phrase of Jesus, it will require that those who comprise society be “born again.” If we want to institute a different economic, it can be done. But there is no short-cut. If we want to institute a different economic, we must evangelize!

31

Avraham Reiss 05.03.11 at 3:59 pm

Apropo earlier comments in this thread, I’ve just seen on the web a book titled “How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business!”

I haven’t read it, maybe it will interest someone here.
Check:
http://www.learntolead.com/businessbythebook.cfm
- or Google the tile.

32

PamBG 05.03.11 at 4:10 pm

Avraham: looks interesting. Thanks for the link.

Earl: There are a number of people - mainly outside the church - who are reconsidering what it means to run and invest in ethical businesses. Socialism and communism are NOT the only two alternatives to the kind of worker-beware, buyer-beware money-privileging system we passively endorse without thought. Sorry, but after 23 years working in the field, I really do know more than you about this. But changes DO rely on many sectors changing their expectations. If Christians refuse to lead or participate in ethical business practices, there are fortunately many others outside the Church who God is already using.

33

Richard 05.03.11 at 4:28 pm

Hmm. I notice there’s nothing in the index about ‘jubilee’ or ’sabbath’, both key economic principles I’d have thought.

34

Earl 05.03.11 at 5:18 pm

“There are a number of people…” etc. No one has a corner on development/innovation. If there is a better system that Capitalism, it will come to the forefront as it out produces Capitalism. More power to the one(s) who can devise a system that will afford people greater freedom, opportunity and reward. Experience in business is simply anecdotal and not authoritative or definitive. My personal experience reflects immediate and extended family members who have been involved in middle level corporate management since 1976. Several have started, run and sold at profit businesses. Very much acquainted with the business practice and cycle. If there is positive change in business practice, fine… all for it. Not at all supportive of any change in business practice that restricts personal individual freedom and self-determination or that privileges any one particular groups by providing the equivalent of bread and circuses to gain their political support at the expense of those judeged to be at fault for being successful.

35

Richard 05.03.11 at 6:29 pm

Hang about Earl. Pam’s experience is merely anecdotal and not definitive, but you expect us to take yours seriously? How does that work exactly?

Of course it is true that no one’s experience of anything should have the final word, but I’m puzzled about why you think you have the right to be so disdainful. Apart from anything else, it’s bloody rude.

36

Earl 05.03.11 at 10:45 pm

“Hang about Earl.” What??? Please explain use of the word “hang.”

Experience was described for what it is, personal and not definitive. The experience of any individual is not the standard of judgment. Pam’s was not denigrated. Mine was not lauded. Both are simply what they are, the experience of individuals. Nothing more. Others draw whatever conclusions they wish. That is all. To describe that as disdainful is to find what does not exist. It is not at all rude. Such a criticism would be justified had the response employed crude gutter language, name calling, etc. That is not the case.

37

Richard 05.03.11 at 10:55 pm

My apologies Earl. I wasn’t being deliberately obscure. “Hang about” is an idiomatic expression. I suppose, but don’t quote me on this, that it might be called an interjection. It means something like “Whoah there” or similar.

I accept that you didn’t intend to be rude. But I have to tell you that the way you write comes over as dismissive and disdainful of others. And not just to me. You can be rude without using specifically rude words.

38

PamBG 05.03.11 at 11:51 pm

I think this conversation has pretty much run it’s course. I note that Earl was not trying to be dismissive. Theory is not definitive either.

39

Beth 05.04.11 at 9:17 am

“If there is a better system that Capitalism, it will come to the forefront as it out produces Capitalism.”

Sort of begging the question, aren’t you, Earl? You’re asking us to accept that the way to judge the success of political systems is by the standards of Capitalism. But the whole point is that not everyone would agree that “out-producing” another system is the yardstick of success. That is a very Capitalist outlook.

40

Earl 05.04.11 at 1:09 pm

“Sort of begging the question…” etc. The only rational yardstick of success is success. One never has to wonder which runner is the best. Just look and see who crosses the line first. Explanations are only necessary for those who were expected to do better but failed. In economics, competition is an inescapable reality. In that competition, Capitalism simply out produces so-ism and communism. It produces greater demand driven development and innovation geared to the consumer. It produces greater freedom of opportunity and reward, greater individual freedom and self-determination. Capitalism simply succeeds where so-ism and communism fail. Capitalism affords the individual the most fundamental expression of self-will apart from any government as in market exchange they spend their money for what they value. This is superior to any system where a government body/agency confiscates (taxes) money from citizens and then spends that money on or transfers that money to those interest/persons who it decides may or may not best meet the interest/desires of those from whom that money is taken.

41

Richard 05.04.11 at 2:41 pm

>> “One never has to wonder which runner is the best.”

Unfortunately, in the world of modern athletics that isn’t always true.
In any case, judging who is the best runner on the day is only one of the outcomes in the economy of the athletics track. After all, the runners would not race without a crowd to cheer them.
Furthermore, the winner of today’s race does not take an advantage into tomorrow’s.

42

Beth 05.04.11 at 3:30 pm

“The only rational yardstick of success is success.”

Well, yes. But the question of what constitutes success is more complicated than you make it out to be. At work, for example, I might complete my assigned tasks more thoroughly and correctly than anyyone else does, but finish a week past my deadline. Or I might finish a week before every deadline, but do so by going massively over budget. Or I might get things done well under budget, but in the process alienate key clients. Success is a balance of many different things, not simply a question of scoring points in a single area.

Even in a race, running fastest isn’t the absolute measure of success. I might be faster than you over 100 metres, but slower over the course of a marathon. More than that, there’s the question of fair play: I might be faster than you if I’d used steroids or taken a stimulant; I might be faster than you if I’d given you valium; I might be faster than you if you had to run barefoot or with your shoes covered in cooking oil; I might be faster than you if you hadn’t eaten for a week. Coming in first in any of these situations would not necessarily make me more successful as a runner than you are.

A political system that uses only one measure of success is a broken system, in my view. A system that says “it doesn’t matter if some of our people are dying of starvation or poverty or from treatable conditions as long as we are producing as much as we can” is no more successful than a race winner at peak fitness whose only competitor was dying of typhus.

43

Earl 05.04.11 at 6:31 pm

“Unfortunately, in the world of modern athletics…” etc. I have run a lot of cross-country races. From time to time I’ve even won a few. Even when several competitors approach the tape together, seldom is the winner really disputed. There are lots of cameras and stopwatches. It keeps everyone “honest.” In evaluating the success of economic systems, the equivalent of the tape is what is produced. In a comparison of systems, the track record of Capitalism is remarkable for the economic, political and social results produced.

44

PamBG 05.04.11 at 6:48 pm

The only rational yardstick of success is success

This is where, to me, you just don’t get it.

When you set up any kind of system whose rules are that the strong can hurt the weak, of course the strong will be “successful”. Laissez-faire capitalism is a system where the rules are that not only can the strong hurt the weak, but they should do it and be applauded for doing so. (And no, I’m not talking about strong-armed government regulation. I’m talking about people giving damn whether their fellow citizens have a good quality of life and even if the poor abroad have a good quality of life.)

We seem to be going back to a system where wages for the working person are approaching unlivable. There will be a backlash although possibly not in my own working lifetime as an older middle aged person.

Alternatively, we could decide that labor - as an input of a successful economy - deserves to be fairly remunerated. Which is actually simply done within a free market process. Except that people for the most part don’t actually believe that the working person should be fairly compensated. Yes, we believe it in our heads. But not if it means we have to give up cheap consumer goods.

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Earl 05.04.11 at 6:51 pm

‘Well, yes. But…” etc. Ask the owner of a business what success means. Ask a teacher working with students in a classroom what success means. Ask an officer leading soldiers in the field what success means. The answers will be verbalized differently, but the answers will focus on results produced. The success of Capitalism is that it produces results that are better than those obtained with so-ism and communism. Those who have placed their capital at risk judge if the results suit their risk. Buyers judge if the good/service offered by the seller offers real positive utility/benefit and make their buying decisions accordingly. Marginal businesses/products/services fail. Sometimes lack of capital, expertise, judgment, etc. lead to failure. The risk attends to the investor. The benefit accrues to the common community which is best served by such economic competition. If voters want a political system that adopts a social welfare approach to economic organization, they must accept the less than ideal results that will be produced.

46

Beth 05.05.11 at 9:55 am

“The success of Capitalism is that it produces results that are better than those obtained with so-ism and communism.”

Again, you are treating a subjective category (”results”) as though it were an objective universal. What are the “results” which capitalism produces so much better than other systems? Do you mean consumer goods? Massive personal wealth for a tiny proportion of individuals? A hugely productive working class which is given little opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their productivity?

I’m sorry, but those don’t sound like good results to me. I’m not arguing for Communism or Socialism or any other specific -ism. I’m arguing for a system where profit is not a good enough excuse for environmental disasters and human rights abuses, and where being poor is not a barrier to decent education and healthcare. For me, the “results” of a healthy social and economic system would be measured in terms of justice, not dollars.

47

Earl 05.05.11 at 4:38 pm

“Again, you are…” etc. I am treating concrete reality as concrete reality. Subjectivity is left to others. No one can live in subjectivity. They can not wear it. They can not eat it. They can not do anything with it. Concrete reality is goods and services produced, salaries earned, homes and cars and food, and clothing and education, etc., purchased. For that is the gross national product of Capitalism. It is countable… quantifiable. It can be weighed and judged. Humanist find that indomitable reality grating. Denial is not a workable alternative. Let them produce a better reality. Put it on display for people to judge for themselves. Reality exemplifies the triumph of Capitalism. Red China has had to accommodate itself to the market realities of the Capitalistic economic structure that shapes the world. Deprived of soviet subsidy in food, fuel and manufactured goods Cuba now has finally had to begin a shift to routine Capitalism by permitting Cuban citizens to operate for profit businesses. North Korea teeters at the edge of the abyss as they try to deny that reality. Capitalism produces a better and broader standard of living, greater opportunity of choice and self-determination, and greater advancement politically, educationally, socially. To date, no free nation with a capitalist economic structure has reverted to a less effective system, either so-ist or communist, except at the point of armed force. Given the choice, people do not choose state-sponsored slavery over personal choice and self-determination. That is the sort of social justice that merits the support of everyone. It is real. It changes lives. It changes the world.

48

PamBG 05.05.11 at 5:36 pm

I’m not arguing for Communism or Socialism or any other specific -ism. I’m arguing for a system where profit is not a good enough excuse for environmental disasters and human rights abuses, and where being poor is not a barrier to decent education and healthcare. For me, the “results” of a healthy social and economic system would be measured in terms of justice, not dollars.

Precisely. Well said.

49

Richard 05.05.11 at 5:43 pm

There’s that dismissive, disdainful tone again, Earl. It wears very thin…

50

Kim 05.05.11 at 6:37 pm

It goes with the demonic possession, Richard. So does Earl’s resignation to what Wink calls the “domination system”. And Earl’s reference to “social justice” - it’s right off of a billboard in Oceania. And observe the evangelical zeal: It is real. It changes lives. It changes the world. No, it’s creepy.

Now, compare Beth’s well-put (absolutely, Pam), hopeful, deeply biblical, and - certainly if Christ reigns - achievable social vision. That’s the saddest thing about Earl’s economic nihilism: his Christ is quite socio-politically otiose.

51

PamBG 05.05.11 at 9:11 pm

Concrete reality is goods and services produced, salaries earned, homes and cars and food, and clothing and education, etc., purchased

I wonder what part of the country you live in, Earl? Around here a very large minority of people are not earning sufficiently well to keep their homes and cars and sometimes even to buy food. That is their flipping reality, Earl.

They were working in heavy industry which you off-offhandedly seem to dismiss as jobs that are not worth anything.

Go to Upper Michigan and give people your lectures on self-sufficiency.

I repeat: When was the last time you tried to live on $8/hour and no benefits? Or is it that you thing “they” are used to it so it doesn’t matter?

52

Earl 05.06.11 at 12:41 am

“I wonder what part of the country…” etc. In my area of the country unemployment is currently 11.5% down from 12.4 (10/2011). Everyone understands how hard it is to find employment. Few businesses are hiring. Some folks are doing alright. Some folks are struggling. That is our reality.

In my home town the iron, steel and cotton mills are gone. They could not compete with cheaper Chinese steel, fabric, etc. Up north of us the Ford plant is gone. Lot’s of good jobs vanished as so many now prefer foreign cars. Ford is now making competitive cars, but it came to late to save the jobs at that plant. Such jobs were wonderful. Lots of folks made good solid incomes. Like working on a dredge or construction yard, etc., the work was not glamorous. But it was good work. And the wages paid built the local economy. That is now gone. Much of what used to be stamped “Made in U.S.A.” is now stamped “China” because the cost of production is dramatically less. We are all living with the consequences. It is not uniform throughout all industries, businesses. But none or unaffected by it. At one time American heavy industry, etc., was insulated from overseas competition. Those days are gone. To write that jobs in such heavy industry have been offhandedly dismissed as insignificant is a unmitigated error.

Upper Michigan is not the world any more than any other region of the nation is the world. When Silicon Valley crashed, much of the rest of the nation continued to do fine. When the housing industry tanked, it especially slammed California, Arizona and Florida. But other areas of the nation that were not so overbuild were far less affected. When the price of farm commodities went through the floor I stood on the courthouse steps with friends and church members as everything they had was auctioned off to pay debts and taxes due. Those not involved in agriculture did not seem to notice that there was a crisis in farming.

There are very few places that are not struggling with the impact of a dramatic change to the economy. Things are hard. Regardless of where you are, screaming will not help. In this area lots of folks would be glad to make $8/hr. I have friends and family that are finding it hard to find a good job. In the local community many make $6 to maybe $6.50/hr. and make maybe 30 - 32 hours a week. There are no benefits. Those who are teachers or nurses, etc. make better wages commensurate with their education. The same is true of those employed by the school system, hospital, etc. But such jobs depend on money paid in taxes. Such jobs do not produce/bring money into the local community/economy. Many folks simply do not have a good education having either failed to finish high school or possibly not valued continuing their education in a local college or technical school.

At graduation (1980) many left this area and even the state to find jobs. Few have come back. This may be what happens in areas like Upper Michigan. It is not good. People move to where they can find work just as my parents did during the Depression.

53

Earl 05.06.11 at 11:16 am

Please allow me to correct an error in the previous post. The last sentence should read “as did my grandparents.” They moved early in the Depression.

54

Beth 05.06.11 at 11:23 am

“Concrete reality is goods and services produced, salaries earned, homes and cars and food, and clothing and education, etc., purchased.”

Yes, that’s one set of realities. Concrete reality is also children not going to school because they have no shoes. Workers spending more to rent a substandard place to live than they can earn by working two or three jobs - even if there are jobs available. People whose teeth are rotting out of their mouths because they can’t afford dentistry. Hard-earned and desperately-needed money going to pay obscene and unnecessary bank charges. Unemployed people who eat a single meal a day while the bankers who drove the economy into the ground are paid multi-million dollar bonuses.

Sure, I earned the (relatively modest) salary I take home every month. Does that mean that it is unjust for me to give some of it to the less-well-off, through charity of through supporting social initiatives? Sure, the companies and governments of the world earn their profits and their tax incomes. Does that mean it is unjust for them to redistribute some of it to people for whom it will make the difference between eating and going hungry? Between education and ignorance? Between pain and comfort? Between life and death?

55

PamBG 05.06.11 at 1:45 pm

Thanks for sharing, Earl. I hope that those individuals who you know in real life who are working hard don’t receive the lack of compassion that you seem to project here.

56

Earl 05.06.11 at 2:53 pm

To admit reality is not applause. Lamenting will not change it. Hardship and desperation cyclical and sometimes extended are as old as the human experience driven by everything from famine, plague, pestilence, war to economic upheaval and even persecution. To admit it is not applause. Lamenting will not change it. In theory a so-ist or communist structure could address broad social needs. If enacted according to the ethic of Christ, Believers could support such a structure. It is understandable that non-Christians would likely object. To date neither has lived up to its theoretical potential. To date, the best advances have occurred in societies where freedom was greatest. To date, Capitalism as an economic component of a free society has afforded the best opportunities for individual self-determination and advancement of the broadest categories and numbers of persons.

This does not eliminate injustice. One can hope for and believe the best of mankind. As Scripture clearly states, the painful truth is that the heart of man is desperately wicked. Every enterprise of man bears that mark. This includes systems of government, economics, etc. The consequences are as painful in the countryside as in the suburbs and downtown. Rural poverty and rural hunger is just as real and just as desperate as urban poverty and urban hunger. It seldom gets above the center fold in the daily news. Rural or urban the vulnerable are always impacted.

So what is to be done? Personally, we share. Politically we vote for representatives who will reflect our will for positive change. Economically we engage as opportunity and resources allow. But fundamentally, we reach out to lost men and women with the Gospel of Christ. For apart from that new birth that Jesus said was absolutely necessary, “no one can see the Kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:3). Apart from that absolutely necessary experience, everything else is about as much use as rearranging chairs on the deck of the sinking Titanic.

57

PamBG 05.06.11 at 4:28 pm

I wonder why you feel the need to continue this conversation, Earl? Do you honestly think that I’m totally clueless after 23 years working in the capital markets and that if you just lecture me about how unrealistic I am that I will change my mind? I wonder what your objective is here?

To admit reality is not applause.

I wonder what “reality” it is that you think I’m not admitting and what “reality” it is that you see that is going to change this conversation?

Lamenting will not change it.

Who is talking about “lamenting”? I’m certainly talking about active change. But nothing is going to change if we don’t see the reality of what is going on around us.

In theory a so-ist or communist structure could address broad social needs.

The reason our conversation cannot go on, from my perspective, is that you don’t seem to want to believe that I’m not advocating either communism or socialism.

I can’t see any point in wasting my time trying to communicate with you any more.

58

Kim 05.06.11 at 5:00 pm

To admit reality is not applause.

It’s worse - and worse than the resignation and nihilism I mentioned in #50 - it’s the faithlessness I gestured at there. But thanks, Earl, for getting to the bottom of the matter. Ethics, politics, economics - they all ultimately hinge on what is REAL. For you the market is the real, the given, the omnipotent really - and therefore the deity - which only the foolish or naive oppose and challenge. For others of us, the resurrection, ascension, and present reign of Jesus Christ is real, the perfecting presence of the Holy Spirit is real, Yahweh the living God is real, the poor-blessing mighty-humbling God for whom all things are possible. You seem to see the human world not as the historical stage of God’s eschatological agency and activity but as a phone box for born-again heaven-headed individuals. Instead of contesting the pagansim of this world view you concede it, are indeed a priest of it. It’s Baalism.

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