Capitalism is the iron of our economy. Long ago men found they could melt iron ore and produce new weapons and new tools. Iron improved the lives of everyone and would eventually launch the industrial revolution. I have cast iron pots and pans even today. But iron was found to be brittle and easily broken. The discovery of alloys led to the creation of steele. Steele is tough and hard, but maleable. Steele allowed man to build sky scrappers and bridges that span the golden gate. Capitalism is like that. Brittle without alloys.
So what are the alloys of capitalism. We have previously written about the founding of this country as a marriage of capitalism and christianity. Slow down, cowboy, let me explalin. The first two successful settlements in this country by the Europeans were Jamestown and Plymouth. Jamestown was essentially founded on the back of trade. Plymouth was founded on the ideal of religious freedom (as long as you followed their religion). But the point is that these two elements, Christianity and capitalism, alloyed to create a strong country. Christianity and Capitalism are like two horses on a team pulling the family wagon – they have to work together.
Understanding the properties of these elements demonstrates the usefulness of the marriage. Capitalism is based on greed – to put it bluntly. Capitalism is all about “Let the buyer beware,’ and the worth of anything is based on what the seller will take and the buyer will give. The idea for both the buyer and seller is to maximize profit. I know good Christian businessmen who have added an eleventh commandment – Thou shalt not lose money in bad deals. Joel Osteen has built a mega ministry on the proposition that God wants individual followers to be wealthy.
But Christianity is about Jesus Christ – and what was the essential message of Jesus? Help others – to oversimplify the idea. ‘ Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ ‘What ever you do to the least of these you do to me.’ These messages are central to the faith of Christ.
At first glance these philosophies might seem contradictory. But I submit that they are as compatible as peanut butter and chocolate, a horse and a carriage, love and marriage, (cute). Capitalism teaches Christians to be good stewards – they are to manage the money of the church wisely. Christianity inform the Capitalist to be fair and honest.
The past two decades in America have seen a distortion of both Capitalism and Christianity. Joel Osteen and Bernie Madoff are examples.
Christianity has been nationalized – dedicated to the proposition that all things American are right and just, that God wants us to prevail over our fellow man. Judgement has replaced forgiveness as the central tenant.
Capitalism became fragile and brittle without the alloy of fairness and honesty. Capitalism broke under the strain of greed. Deals were made in the sole interest of money, without regard for individual or institutional consequences. Business leaders turned on their own business in favor of personal gain. Respect for others became based on the value of their portfolio rather than on the content of their character.
Honest and fair business, blended with a concern for others, are the qualities that have led to the greatest nation in the history of mankind. When we think of America, of the United States of America, what image do we conjure? True patriots see the flag as a symbol of the ultimate goodness of mankind, with liberty and justice for all. I am not one to give a rats behind whether we have the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. But the concept of unbridled capitalism does not serve us well.
I am one to believe in the separation of Church and State – I am not advocating a theocracy. We should be a country of law – governed by commonly held beliefs in liberty and justice for all. Our laws should reflect our moral values. Laws are not wanton devices to protect one more than another. Laws are not devices to give business advantage to one over another. Laws are not devices designed to grant government authority over individuals and institutions.
The greed of a few that has led to the misery of the many will result in new laws, new business regulations, to prevent future collapses of our economy. But we have to ask, what is the driving force behind any law, any business regulation? We must be careful for we do not want to kill the horse of capitalism.
This is a time in America when we must revisit our basic value systems. We must restructure our regulations of capitalism with the simple but profound ideas of honesty and fairness.