At it’s very foundation, Capitalism works because of people’s selfishness. Adam Smith the Father of the modern capitalist economy said,
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
I’ll begin, for the sake of Virgil, by saying that in practice in our society, I have not seen or know of a better system then capitalism. I’ve thought that there is a chance a different governmental or economic system would better serve society, but I’m not sure, nor do I know enough to argue, that it would. That being said, Capitalism still has it’s downsides.
We often make choices and contribute to systems that we believe in and agree with. There are personal and moral reasons people boycott stores, flee countries, choose not to vote, refuse to pay taxes, or live off the grid. It’s a much more daunting task, but I wonder if we should not at least consider the same possibility as it relates to our economy.
If our economy by it’s very structure encourages us to act in our own self interest, it goes quite counter to the life that Christ calls us to. And if our economy by in it’s flaws creates a structure of economy that oppresses people, then it goes against our calling to love our neighbors. Is there a way to remain a part of that system, to contribute to it, play a role in it, and benefit from it, yet in a way that still allows us to fully follow Christ?
We don’t know much about a large portion of Jesus’ life but it seems likely that he was a carpenter for most of his adult life. It’s possible he paid taxes and was involved as much as the next person in the economies of that day. Yet, during his ministry we see challenges to the structures in place. He makes satirical play of a question about taxes. Jesus when the tax is required conjures it up out of the mouth of a fish. He dines at people’s homes, relying on the hospitality of others rather then his own wages to provide food and shelter. When he dines at a Tax Collector’s home though, isn’t he benefiting from the corrupt system?
It just seems that economy is another area that Christians don’t think about at all. We just take for granted the system that is in place and don’t consider whether it’s appropriate to be involved or if there is another way. When Mindy and I went to Papa Festival they tried to use an alternative currency during the event. It was similar to the Ithaca Hours, which a whole city adopted. It seems like a creative way to step out of the current economic system (though it seems like it’s just replacing it with a similar one, although more local and maybe less corrupt).
Maybe we are supposed to be moving off the current economy and joining the Amish. Or maybe there is a way to involve our selves in the economy of the world in such a way that it is still honoring to God and not involving ourselves in a corrupt structure.