II Corinthians 10:5

"Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

October 15, 2009

The Economics of Jesus

A few weeks ago I was watching an interview between ABCs Terry Moran and filmmaker Michael Moore. The interview was about Moore’s view on economics most recently voiced in his newest film, "CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY". Now besides the fact that it is the capitalistic system that has allowed Mr. Moore to create the films that he has, I decided to (after choosing each word with painstaking precision) look at this subject through the lens of Christianity.

First off, let’s take a look at some of the comments he made during the interview.

“Capitalism is an evil. And you cannot regulate evil. This is probably public enemy number one as far as I'm concerned.” Moore went on to say that his views were founded by his deeply held religious convictions. “Well, I'm radically in love with this country. I believe in democracy. And I believe in the core Christian values that I was raised with. I think it's (capitalism) anti-Christian. It goes completely against the values of Jesus and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha, all the great religions say that the pie at the table is to be divided fairly. And that you're not to leave a whole group of people behind, and that you will be judged by how you treat the poor. And capitalism, our form of capitalism today, is all about gimme, gimme, gimme, make as much as you can and to ( ) with the other guy.”

The first obvious sign that Moore’s religion is slightly off kilter would be that he believes the values of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha are the same, and that there is more than one “truly great religion in the world”. Anyways, those points aside, I’ll take a look at whether or not the Bible and Christianity actually believe that the “pie at the table is to be divided fairly”, and also if capitalism is indeed anti Christian.

So does the Bible say (or imply) that the pie is to be divided fairly? Well, while the Bible does clearly teach us that we should care for the needy (Proverbs 21:13, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.”), it never says that we should just distribute goods equally, without people having to work for them. In fact, the Bible actually teaches the opposite. Proverbs is full of verses that talk about wealth following work. For example, Proverbs 12:11, “He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding”. Clearly this Bible verse teaches against Moore’s view of an equal slice of pie for everyone. This verse also introduces the principle of incentives (motivation to do something based on the rewards it will bring about), which is perhaps the biggest force behind our capitalistic system. The New Testament also supports the idea of incentives. 1 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Common sense will also tell us that when people’s rewards or results are directly correlated to the effort that they expend, people will be more willing to take personal responsibility for their actions. Now, that being said, I do believe that there does come a time to extend help to those people who are doing everything they can, and still don’t have enough to meet their needs. In 1 Timothy, Paul sets up very strict guidelines in determining whom among the widows of Timothy’s congregation should be receiving help. “Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God…Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: of she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work…If any believing man or women has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve whose who are really widows.” (1 Timothy 5:3-16) As a general rule, the Bible teaches people to take personal responsibility for their needs, and then, when someone is in real need of help, the church (not the government) is to help them.

Now, I will briefly address the second point (which has been partly covered already), and that is the idea of whether or not capitalism is anti-Christian. Or perhaps the better way to put it would be: why do most Christians closely align themselves with the economic system of capitalism? According to Dr. David Nobel, “The Christian approach to economics is less concerned with money and how to get rich, than it is with freedom, justice, and order.” In communism we see a loss of personal freedom, as there is a higher authority that determines how to use our resources. We see a lack of justice when people who don’t work hard get the same benefits as those who work hard for them. And finally, we also see diminished order when people catch onto the idea that they can pretty much do what they want, and they will be rewarded for it. Dr. Nobel goes onto say that “…capitalism is most in accord with biblical teaching and principles. It is this system that provides not only for personal responsibility over resources, but also for retaining the freedom of all people.”

Now, I’m not saying that capitalism is THE perfect economic system…we live in a fallen world, and people often twist a good thing into a bad thing. I’m sure that in the name of capitalism and free market, people have cheated and exploited other people. They have probably used it as an excuse not to help someone in need. But the system as a whole does give people an equal playing field, and it best promotes the Biblical principles of personal responsibility, justice, freedom and order.

-Meagan Wanschura


christina hall said...

Good post, friend. I really like the first Doc Noebel quote.

Anonymous said...

Great read Meg. You are dead on too. Our goverment has made it so the non-workers can have everything the worker has....not good. I think Michael Moore should donate his mansion in his gated community to the "poor" that are lacking. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Isaac said...

You made good points in your article. It's a very important issue, too. When the government spreads the wealth and exacts socialist regulations on business, that decreases the incentive to work and infringes on the laws of supply and demand. Over time, there will be less and less wealth to spread around.

Tyler Godin said...

Well said, Meagan.

I heard a Jason Lewis show earlier this month, and he was discussing the relationship between the welfare system and the resulting crime. Sooo many taxpayer dollars are flowing into the ghettos, and it is just fueling the corruption. Rather than helping people get back on their feet, the whole welfare state is just letting people lay around and kill each other, and not worry about the next pay check. This is just one way anti-capitalism ideas rear their ugly head.

I thought the following had some really great points...

"Welfare beneficiaries call my city 'Moneyapolis.' They've moved here from all over America to get more subsidies than they were getting back home. Along with them came big increases in crime, drugs, alcoholism and dysfunctional family behavior. In Minnesota, we devote more time to worrying about our fishing limits than whether little kids should stay with parents who are prostitutes or drug dealers. This year we're concerned if someone catches more than ten crappies or sunfish, but not at all concerned about parents who aren't fit to raise a stray cat.

In our state you get free healthcare, free housing, food stamps, paid heating bills, aid to dependent children, welfare benefits, unemployment, and if you want to claim your nerves are bad, a thousand bucks a month from social security. It's an attractive package that acts as a reverse incentive for those who may not want to work."

From http://www.worldviewtimes.com/article.php/articleid-3709/Brannon-Howse

David Quimby said...


A thought-provoking essay.

- Key distinction between dividing the pie 'fairly' and dividing it equally' Highly unlikely (for many of the reasons that you've given) that fair is also equal. Moore would like to pass 'equal' as 'fair'. Twisting words / fuzzy logic - not justice.

- As you've probably learned in economics, unequal distribution is likely to result in optimal production - producing more output for (justifiable) re-distribution.

- In any free society, individuals will show differing levels of productivity / output - you'd need to constrain the higher performers in order to keep everybody at equal productivity levels. If you don't constrain productivity, than you need to redistribute - and involuntary / coerced redistribution is theft. True, God is pleased when the higher performers redistribute to the (legitimately) disadvantaged. But 'all' redistribution should be voluntary. God loves a cheerful giver [2 Co 9:7].

- I agree that the church (not the government should meet the needs of society. But we should be realistic in recognizing that the church (due to the imperfection of the human heart) has not been perfect in meeting the needs. This imperfection has given the government a foothold for its increased role. Nonetheless, the Christian faith is the largest giver around the world and throughout history, relative to other religions and the secular realm. The church has probably been less willing than the government to meet 'illegitimate' needs, while government will use any justification (even 'illegitimate' needs) to expand its role (like a cancer). Another reason why the church doesn't 'appear' to be meeting the needs. In any case - even if the church isn't meeting the needs - God loves a cheerful giver. He doesn't want a coerced giver. Just like he doesn't force us to love him - wouldn't be true love. And, ultimately, his supernatural reason for giving is to disciple the heart of the giver, not meet the needs of the recipient. He can flick his finger and meet the needs - he's not agonizing over our giving to meet the needs.

- Good point about Paul's framework for assessing widows. If only the welfare state were so critical / insightful.

- I like the framework of freedom / justice / order. Moore is looking at capitalism as an end, not a means to an end. We can look at capitalism as a means to the values (ends) of freedom / justice / order. What are the values to which he aspires? Seems like he places 'equality' above freedom / justice / order.

- I agree with your various citations of the connection between work and rewards. I think that you could enlarge this coverage to the biblical concept of 'fruit'. Although the bible is often referring to spiritual fruit - with careful interpretation (short of prosperity theology - we're talking about material rewards for work / effort, not material rewards for faith), you could probably make a case for material fruit.

"Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." [2 Co 9:6]

- A common confusion from which Moore and his ilk often suffer: money is 'not' the root of all evil - the 'love of' money is 'a' root of 'all kinds of' evil [1 Ti 6:10].