Wealth & Poverty Review NYT Debate: God and Mammon

The New York Times published a debate recently over the compatibility of capitalism with Christian values. It’s a hot topic, because many people, Christians included, associate capitalism with greed, selfishness, and excess. The question to ask is: does the Christian worldview see greed and selfishness as a product of capitalism? Or is greed a constant across the economic systems — be it capitalism, socialism, or something in between?

Capitalism certainly isn’t perfect. Novak calls it “the most moral of a bad lot of economic systems known to humans” — a statement reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s famous characterization of democracy: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In both government and economic systems, power is best dispersed rather than held by a privileged few, because greed doesn’t disappear from human nature in a socialist economy (nor in a mixed economy like that of the U.S.).

But the good of capitalism isn’t just that it channels human greed to material prosperity — something that shouldn’t be overlooked for its staggering effects on decreasing poverty — but also that it goes hand-in-hand with a culture that is creative, innovative, open, free, giving, and entrepreneurial.

For more, see Michael Novak’s 4 specific ways that capitalism reflects Christian values.