This is Part 2 of a two part series. In Part 1, I spent some time defining socialism and comparing this philosophy to capitalism. While supporting with scriptures, the focus was predominantly on that of God given freedom and rights as ordained by God. I posited and argued that socialism tends to violate biblical views of freedom and God given rights while Capitalism operates in a manner more consistent with true biblical concepts of freedom and rights.
So, what is the rub?
Many Christians on the Left seek to reinterpret Jesus’ earthly mission in exclusively economic and political terms. In their view, Jesus came primarily to deliver those who were poor and oppressed in a material sense. But every member of the human race is poor in the sense of being spiritually bankrupt. Jesus came to end our spiritual poverty by making available the righteousness that God demands and that only God can provide. It is heresy to state that God’s love for people varies in proportion to their wealth and social class. It is nonsense to suggest that all the poor are good and all the rich are evil.
Once we eliminate the semantics by which some refer to as a non-coercive voluntary utopian type of socialism, it becomes clear that socialism is incompatible with a truly free society. The Rev. Edmund A. Opitz was a Congregationalist minister who for decades championed the cause of a free society. He wrote;
“As History’s vice-regent, the [Socialist] Planner is forced to view men as mass; which is to deny their full stature as persons with rights endowed by the Creator, gifted with free will, possessing the capacity to order their ownlives in terms of their convictions. The man who has the authority and the power to put the masses through their paces, and to punish nonconformists, must be ruthless enough to sacrifice a person to a principle. . . a commissar who believes that each person is a child of God will eventually yield to a commissar whose ideology is consonant with the demands of his job.”
Opitz concludes that, “Socialism needs a secular religion to sanction its authoritarian politics, and it replaces the traditional moral order by a code which subordinates the individual to the collective.” All of this is wrongly justified in the cause of improving economic well-being and in the name of compassion.
Some Christian socialists profess contempt for the more coercive forms of state-socialism we witness in communist countries. They would like us to believe that a more humane, non-coercive kind of socialism is possible. They would like us to believe that there is a form of socialism, not yet tried anywhere on earth, where the central ideas are cooperation and community and where coercion and dictatorship are precluded. But they provide very little information about the workings of this more utopian kind of socialism, and they ignore the fact that however humane and voluntary their socialism is supposed to become after it has been put into effect, it will take massive amounts of coercion and theft to get things started.
Socialism is a gigantic fraud which attacks the market at the same time it is forced to utilize the market process. Unless socialists make allowance for some free markets which provide the pricing information that alone makes rational economic activity possible, socialist economies would have even more problems than those for which they are already notorious.
One dominant feature of capitalism is economic freedom, the right of people to exchange things voluntarily, free from force, fraud, and theft. Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to replace the freedom of the market with a group of central planners who exercise control over essential market functions. Basic to any form of socialism is distrust of, or contempt for, the market process and the desire to replace the freedom of the market with some form of centralized control. The best starting point for this comparison is a distinction made most recently by the American economist, Walter Williams. According to Williams, there are two and only two ways in which something may be exchanged. He called them the peaceful means of exchange and the violent means of exchange.
The peaceful means of exchange may be summed up in the phrase, “If you do something good for me, then I’ll do something good for you.” When capitalism is understood correctly, it epitomizes the peaceful means of exchange. Capitalism then should be understood as a voluntary system of relationships that utilizes the peaceful means of exchange.
In a violent means of exchange, the basic rule of thumb is: “Unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you.” This turns out to be the controlling principle of socialism. Socialism means far more than centralized control of the economic process. It entails the introduction of coercion into economic exchange in order to facilitate the attainment of the goals of the elite who function as the central planners.Conclusion
One of the great ironies of Christian socialism is that its proponents in effect demand that the State get out its weapons and force people to fulfill the demands of Christian love. Even if we fail to notice any other contrast between capitalism and socialism, we already have a major difference to relate to the biblical ethic. One system stresses voluntary and peaceful exchange while the other depends on coercion and violence.
Critics of capitalism claim that capitalism must be abolished or restricted because it is unjust or because it restricts important human freedoms. They argue that capitalism is unchristian because it allegedly gives a predominant place to greed and other unchristian values. It is alleged to increase poverty and the misery of the poor while making a few rich at the expense of the many. Socialism, on the other hand, is portrayed as the compassionate economic system of people who really care for the less fortunate members of society. Socialism is also recommended on the ground that it encourages other basic Christian values such as community.
The truth is that capitalism is not economic anarchy. It presupposes a system of morality as well as the existence of inherent human rights, such as the right to make decisions, the right to be free, the right to hold property, and the right to exchange what one owns for something else. Capitalism should be thought of as a system of voluntary relationships within a framework of laws which protect peoples’ rights against force, fraud, theft, and violations of contracts. “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not lie” are part of the underlying moral constraints of the system. Economic exchanges can hardly be voluntary if one participant is coerced, deceived, defrauded, or robbed.
The limited government willed to Americans by the Founding Fathers was influenced in large measure by biblical considerations about human sin. If one of the more effective ways of mitigating the effects of human sin in society is dispersing and decentralizing power, the conservative view of government, as is the conservative vision of economics, is on the right track.
The truth turns out to be something quite different from this widely accepted myth. It is not the free market that produces monopolies; rather it is governmental intervention with the market that creates the conditions that encourage monopoly.
Various people often approach economic exchanges with motives and objectives that fall short of the biblical ideal. But no matter how base or selfish a person’s motives may be, so long as the rights of the other parties are protected, the greed of the first individual cannot harm them. As long as greedy individuals are prohibited from introducing force, fraud, and theft into the exchange process, their greed must be channeled into the discovery of products or services for which people are willing to exchange their holdings. Every person in a market economy has to be other-directed.
The alternative to free exchange is violence. Capitalism is a mechanism that allows natural human desires to be satisfied in a nonviolent way. Little can be done to prevent human beings from wanting to be rich. But what capitalism does is channel that desire into peaceful means that benefit many besides those who wish to improve their own situation.
Capitalism is quite simply the most moral system, the most effective system, and the most equitable system of economic exchange. When capitalism, the system of free economic exchange, is described fairly, there can be no question that it, rather than socialism or interventionism, comes closer to matching the demands of biblical ethics and morality.