Thursday, November 5, 2015

Christian Capitalism

The core values ...  of a Christian?  Of a capitalist?

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, laughingly pointed out today that super-rich people get super-richer on capital gains taxed at 20%, while "regular wage earners depend on wages taxed at forty-something percent." "It's almost like it was designed by the capitalists."

It does appear that our economic model inordinately favors the upper income participants.  The last 3+ decades demonstrate it rather well.  So can a Christian be a capitalist?

Christian conservatives have indeed sided with capitalism and an unfettered marketplace for a while, citing benefit for all and the rights associated with business, wealth accumulation, and competition.

Christianity's full endorsement of capitalism is actually rather recent, however. Through the 19th century, capitalism had mixed reviews; then world war and the Great Depression spooked everyone.  Public fear and distrust, however, were slowly turned aside as the nation recovered economically.

The timeline includes an interesting defense of wealth by James Fifield, a Congregationalist pastor from the war years.  He made his fortune in Southern California by preaching to the fabulously wealthy and accepting their patronage. He praised capitalism and business leaders while denouncing Roosevelt and the New Deal, and was especially gifted at assuring wealthy Christians that their riches were evidence of virtue rather than vice.  ~Elizabeth Bruenig

This 'prosperity gospel' circulated in various forms and was well accepted through the years as the stories morphed to fit the day. The ethical imperative of 'trickle down' was sold to Christian conservatives as an extension of the gospel by extraordinarily wealthy spokespersons, and such sermons continue today despite the failure of the concept.  
"The promise was that when the glass gets full it would overflow, benefitting the poor.  What happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger.  Nothing ever comes out for the poor."  ~Pope Francis
As the pursuit of wealth becomes ever more predatory, mega-money and its political supporters no longer talk about 'good for all' and 'right thing to do', finding it progressively more difficult to frame their story from a Christian viewpoint.  After a century of collaboration, will capitalism and Christianity perhaps go their separate ways?  Today as capitalist trade practices reshape the world workforce and marketplace, economic inequality is the stark byproduct.
"Capitalism has no inherent morality. However, it was thought that Christian virtue would not only temper capitalism’s natural excesses, but also guide abundance toward humanitarian purposes. Our history has shown that not to be the case.  
Capitalism’s inexorable drive for more and more accumulation has cast Christian virtue aside in exchange for a modern social morality that proclaims “I deserve all that I can acquire.”        Victor Goode, associate professor at CUNY School of Law 
Persistent inequality is addressed perhaps most effectively by education, opportunity, and enablement.  Fair trade, fair markets, and fair wages are part of the solution as well.  If the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else, is that a problem?   Is there something wrong with capitalism, or is it just the participants?

"The role of business cannot be overstated in the drive towards greater equality. Data from Pew shows people tend to believe governments are responsible for the wealth gap – but governments cannot solve the problem on their own. Addressing inequality is not only a responsibility but also an opportunity. Efforts to reduce inequalities and achieve inclusion are a multistakeholder responsibility which will require concerted action at all levels, from local to national, and regional to global."