Monday, June 14, 2010

was Jesus a capitalist?

It is an interesting, strange, and somewhat disappointing fact that christianity today often tends to be associated with right wing politics - the Republican party in the US and the Liberal-National coalition in Australia. Strange, because I have long thought that Jesus' teachings on money and wealth seem much closer to communism than capitalism.

So it was very interesting to see an article in the Business section of the Sydney Morning Herald titled "What would Jesus do about economic growth?"

In the article, economics writer, Ross Gittins discusses a paper by Michael Schluter which argues that the market economy is having a number of impacts which are condemned in the Bible, and thus should be of concern to all christians.

These impacts are:

  1. Capitalism is "exclusively materialistic" and based on "the pursuit of business profit and personal gain". No surprise there, but of course Jesus called this "mammon" and said we cannot serve God and mammon.
  2. Capitalism offer "reward without responsibility". Investors can earn their money without accepting any responsibility for the impacts of their investment on others - for example the exploitation of poor and powerless third world workers.
  3. Shareholders have "limited liability" - if the company goes bankrupt, creditors and employees lose out. This means that managers and shareholders can be tempted to take risks because they know they won't bear all the potential losses.
  4. Corporate capitalism "disconnects people from place". The Old Testament Jubilee laws returned land to the original owners every half century, so that people could always regain connection with their land and ensuring distribution of political power. (Australia's indigenous peoples have a similar strong connection to the land, to "country".) In contrast, modern capitalism tends to splinter families as people move in search of better pay or are moved by their employers, to the detriment of social cohesion - grandchildren may lose contact with grandparents and the care of the elderly and people with disabilities shifts from the wider family to the state.
  5. Thus corporate capitalism isn't constrained to protect the vulnerable - advertising encourages spending beyond means and debt, and de-regulated working hours can result in workers being cut off from their families.

These results of capitalism have three serious results:

  • inequitable distribution of wealth,
  • family and community breakdown, and
  • increased Givernment welfare spending to make up for the loss of family care.

All of this seems to me to be valid analysis, and clarifies that, in these aspects at least, capitalism and christianity are opposed. I wonder what we christians will do about it?

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