Can Christians Be Capitalists?
by: Anthony Keith Whitehead
For reasons of space, we have to be very concise in this article.(An extended contextual discussion can be found in “The Path To Freedom” at http://www.christianword.co.uk)
By Christian we mean people who put Christ first in their lives as their guiding principle. These are not those who call themselves Christians but who live independently of the Body of Christ.
What Is A Capitalist
A capitalist is one who owns capital. From an economics perspective capital is not money or finance. Capital is what is used to produce goods or services: machinery, tools, equipment, etc. It used to be said that the distinctive feature of a capitalist is that he can “wait”, in distinction from a worker who cannot wait because what he acquires from his work is what he needs to live from week-to- week or month-to-month.
Labout And Capital
To be a capitalist, therefore, one must have the means to wait. Mainly this is because goods and services all come into being only through some process of production. And such processes inevitably involve time and therefore waiting. This is the initial source of the capitalists market power, and the inherent cause of labour’s market weakness. One sees this power struggle in every industrial dispute, especially when it engages the ultimate strategy of the strike, when called by labour, or the lockout, when called by capitalists.
Capitalists And Markets
There is another aspect attached to “waiting” which is central to the question we are discussing. How do capitalists behave within a competitive market environment?
Behaviour is considerably determined by the market. His basic objective is to survive. What does his survival depend on? Profits. Without profits he will not continue into the long run.
On what do profits depend? There are many parts to this answer, but the principle components are efficiency and establishing a market advantage. The latter, in turn, depends on out-thinking and out-performing competitors. That means producing at a high quality level or, what amounts to the same thing, a lower real price level.
This takes us to the real nub of the question we are addressing. Where markets are highly competitive, out-performing competitors is difficult. So long term survival is difficult because every organisation will be pressured into using the same most, efficient technology and prices will be competed to levels which produce relatively low levels of profit.
No-one likes this kind of situation because it is constantly threatening to the long term objective of survival. Yet, conditions of uncertainty are the norm. And market capitalists do not like uncertainty. They have always and will always attempt to reduce uncertainty. They do that by, one way or another, getting rid of the competition. It is a remarkable paradox that the greatest argument in favour of a market system, its competitiveness, is the one thing which market participants spend their time trying to get rid of.
Eliminating Christianity In The Market
Eliminating competitors unavoidably means eliminating Christianity from the market environment. Competitors are got rid of by driving them out of business before one’s own organisation is driven out. And that is the major principle involved in long term survival. Historically it has frequently involved illegal means, but in any case it involves taking every advantage and using every possible means to outreach and eliminate competitors.
In “The Wealth Of Nation” published in 1776 at a very early stage in the development of market capitalism, Adam Smith, who coined the phrase about the “iron hand” of the market, pointed to the essential characteristic of any market: that it works on the principle of selfishness. Markets “deliver the goods” only when participants operate in their own self interest.
So the basic principle of market capitalism is diametrically opposed to the fundamental teachings of Jesus. He taught a number of principles which are damming to the market system. One could quote many scriptures from the New Testament, but a major one comes in Luke 6. 27 – 36. To quote only verse 31: “Do to other people what you would have them do to you.” Space will not permit further quotations. This whole question at length is discussed at length in my book “The Path To Freedom”. But this passage is sufficient and is supported by many other teachings of Jesus.
And we do not have to be capital-owning entrepreneurs to be a culpable part of this system..Even those of us at work are in a market: a labour or jobs market, in which we all participate. And we get on primarily at the expense of others. We often do to others what we would certainly not want them to do to us.
Anyone who reflects on the extensive non-Christian aspects of markets must reach the conclusion that it is a system incompatible with the basic principles of Christianity. It even “grabs” Christian feast days for itself. Just consider the commercialisation of Christmas and Easter. In many respects, one would have to conclude that its principles are satanic – but we have all be bought by the system!
Markets do “deliver the goods”. More goods and vastly greater standard of living than ordinary people could ever have expected or dreamed of. But there has been a price. A spiritually horrendous price. It is expressed primarily in the way we treat others.
So what are the personal consequences and implications for the Christian?
About The Author
Anthony Keith Whitehead
Web Site: http://www.christianword.co.uk
Experience: Over twenty years in Christian healing, teaching and writing.
Qualifications: B.A., M.Phil., Cambridge University Certificate in Religious Studies.
Conditions of use: This article may be reproduced on condition that it is unaltered and that all this information is included.
This article was posted on August 22, 2005