Monday, April 26, 2010

Socialism and Capitalism

William F. Buckley used to say (although I guess he was quoting Austrian analyst Willi Schlamm), "The problem with socialism is socialism. The problem with capitalism is capitalists."

What could he have meant by that?

Well, let's start with socialism. Jonah Goldberg wrote a column a couple of days ago about this very topic. He explains that we are all capitalists (it is human nature) and this is why socialism simply cannot work. He writes:

"The problem with socialism is socialism, because there are no socialists. Socialism is a system based upon an assumption about human nature that simply isn't true. I can design a perfect canine community in which dogs never chase squirrels or groom their nether regions in an indelicate manner. But the moment I take that idea from the drawing board to the real world, I will discover that I cannot get dogs to behave against their nature -- at least not without inflicting a terrible amount of punishment. Likewise, it's easy to design a society that rewards each according to his need instead of his ability. The hard part is getting the crooked timber of humanity to yield to your vision."

I will add to Jonah's excellent observation that one of the other problems of socialism (its biggest problem) is that it runs counter to God's admonitions. God is explicit in His instruction to take care of those in our society who cannot take care of themselves. In Acts 6 people were complaining that "their widows were neglected." And so the apostles said, "Let's find honest men of God and appoint them to be deacons." This sounded like a good idea so the first deacons were appointed--specifically to take care of people in need.

Were these men government employees? Of course not. Stephen, Philip, and all the other deacons were not only not members of the (Roman) government, they were not even members of the established religious hierarchy. Stephen paid for his service with his life and is considered the first Christian martyr (he was stoned after testifying before the high priest and the elders and the scribes and the council).

James writes, "Look after orphans and widows in their distress." And even while he was on the cross, Christ instructed John to look after Mary, his mother.

Clearly God does not want people who are unable to provide for themselves through no fault of their own to suffer unnecessarily. This is why Christian charities abound. Christians have always taken this directive seriously and have always attempted to supply the physical and spiritual needs of the helpless.

What God never says is that the government should do all of these things. Why not?

This goes back to what Jonah stated in his column. It's because we're all capitalists at heart. In order for someone to be a true socialist, my welfare must be as important to him as his is. My family's needs must be as important to him as are his family's needs. People simply do not work that way. In hard socialist societies (like China or the Soviet Union) we find that privilege does indeed exist--party members live in better houses, their children attend the elite schools. Everyone is not equal, everyone does not have the same opportunity. Because even Socialists are capitalists.

God, because He knows human nature even better than humans do, understands that about us. He is also very big on personal responsibility. Look at what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right."

Through Paul God explicitly states that He has no problem denying food to the lazy. He instructs us to take care of those who need care and to deny care to those who are able to provide for themselves.

No thinking person wishes to deny health care (or food or shelter) to anyone incapable of providing it for himself. This is why the repeal of Obamacare must be accompanied by reform of the health care system. But Obamacare goes beyond providing for those unable to provide for themselves (as does any socialist program). Obamacare forces those who are willing to work to provide for those who are able but unwilling. Obamacare rips from us the ability to make our own choices in life and forces us to do what the government (that does not know or understand us or our families or our goals and desires) has determined is best for us.

Capitalism is the economic system founded upon God's principles. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells his disciples a story known as the Parable of the Talents. In this parable, a rich man gives varying amounts of money to his servants before he goes away. He gives one servant five talents (a talent was a significant amount of money--about twenty years' wages for a laborer), one servant two talents, and to the last servant he gives one talent. The first two servants invest the funds and each is able to double the amount of money he was given. The third servant buries the money in the ground.

When the rich man returns he wants a report from his servants. He is very pleased with the results reported by the first two servants. To each one he says, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!"

When the third servant reports that he buried his master's money and therefore can only return the original amount he was given, the rich man is furious. "You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

God doesn't mess around. He rewards hard work and punishes laziness. Socialism does the opposite. Those who work hard find their earnings taken from them and given not just to those who cannot help themselves but to the lazy. Nothing in Scripture supports this kind of action.

We ignore God's instructions at our peril. He understands the nature of human beings because He created us. He instructs us as individuals and as church members to care for those who need help. But He warns us not to give that help to those capable of providing it for themselves. If we do that, they have no incentive to work and to become productive members of society. He understands that those who work and contribute are happier and more fulfilled than those who don't--His instructions are always for our own good.

The problem with capitalism is capitalists. When God is taken out of any equation, the results deteriorate. And when capitalism is practiced without God as the foundation the results can lead to excesses and corruption. It is imperative to remember that this is not the fault of capitalism; it is the failure of human beings to incorporate God's instructions in every part of our lives. The answer is not socialism. The answer is Christ.

More later...


  1. A morality that holds need as its claim check, holds emptiness its standard of value; it rewards an absence, a defect, weakness.

    Under a morality of nonexistence, the first value to become nonexistent is morality, the next is self-esteem. When need is the ideal, every man is both victim and parasite. He cannot approach his fellow men except in one of two disgraceful roles: he is both a beggar and a sucker.

    "You fear the man who has a dollar less than you, that dollar is rightfully his, he makes you feel like a moral defrauder. You hate the man who has a dollar more than you, that dollar is rightfully yours, he makes you feel that you are morally defrauded."