“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” – Samuel Adams

Capitalism and Socialism in Light of the Bible

j0435243Probe Ministries has a new presentation that could not be more relevant for our day. It’s on “Poverty and Wealthy” and the dominant economic systems of our day in the light of Biblical doctrine. Those systems are capitalism (the one the United States was founded on), interventionism and socialism.

We frequently hear Leftists (who have a dash of religious fealty, that is) make the claim that socialism is in harmony with the Bible and Christian doctrine. They see the sharing of wealth and property done by the early Christians in the book of Acts as proof that Marxism (the modern parent doctrine to socialism) is the way to go.

But they miss key truths about this example:

But what about the example in Acts of all Christians sharing their goods in common or of Barnabas selling his property for the good of other believers? What some people miss is that both of these examples are of individuals making free moral choices to use their property for the good of others. They are making free market decisions regarding their possessions. This can only occur when individuals have the freedom to use their possessions to help others. If all economic decisions are made by centralized planners, moral choice is removed and the option to act upon personal moral convictions is reduced.

The Probe presentation also quotes Ronald Nash’s book Poverty and Wealth: Why Socialism Doesn’t Work, pointing out that of all the economic systems out there, capitalism is the most moral and effective:

Capitalism is quite simply the most moral system, the most effective system, and the most equitable system of economic exchange. When capitalism, the system of free economic exchange, is described fairly, there can be no question that it, rather than socialism or interventionism, comes closer to matching the demands of the Biblical ethic.

And

Unfortunately, many Christians act as though the only thing that counts is intention. But when good intentions are not wedded to sound theory, especially sound economic theory, good intentions can often result in actions that produce consequences directly opposite to those we planned.

I think we all remember what road was paved with good intentions. In the end, they aren’t worth a whole lot without good actions and good results. Good intentions based on bad assumptions usually leads to hellish consequences.

In this fallen world of corrupted human nature, no economic system will work perfectly; human beings are, after all, the main ingredient in any system.

But the two opposing economic systems–capitalism and socialism–have different basic assumptions about human nature and correspondingly seek to make their system function based on those assumptions.

Socialism, unfortunately, completely disregards Biblical teaching about the fallen nature of human beings and assumes that human beings will act in a morally upright fashion if their basic needs are met. This is at the heart of why socialistic systems never work: because human nature does not work in this fashion.

Capitalism, on the other hand, assumes from the beginning that fallen nature and actually takes self-interest into consideration, working the system in such a way that the various self-interests involved in a free market system work against one another to cancel out the most egregious manifestations of greed.

For instance, a producer of goods or services may want to make as much possible from his product and thus want to set the price for an exorbitant amount.  However, the self-interest of the consumer leads him to refuse to pay such a high price, and so the producer must surrender some of his self interest and lower his price to the point where the consumer considers the exchange of money for goods/services a worthwhile surrender of some of his self interest (i.e. his money)–and the producer may need to lower the price even further to attract a wide body of customers for his product/service.

The same system of competing self interest can also be seen at work in the employment process.  The prospective employee may want an hourly wage of $50 an hour.  However, if he doesn’t have the skills and training to secure a job that will pay that much (based on how much that employee contributes to the profitability of the company), he may need to lower his wage request to the point where he and a prospective employer can agree on a wage that allows the company to be profitable while meeting the employees income goals.

As I said earlier, no system is perfect, and excess greed can manifest itself in a capitalist system. But market forces work to minimize that, and there is always the authority of government to punish egregious, harmful and immoral displays of greed that hurt others.

In today’s world of mixed economic approaches, it is often excessive interjections of government control and socialism which negate the balancing effect of competing interests in the capitalist system, and end up causing far more economic instability and harm than good.

And in a socialist system where government is the ultimate authority over all, there is no higher authority to appeal to for justice. If government caused your problem, and government is the only place to go for redress of grievances, you’re going to be deep in the hurt locker (as we so often see in Marxist and socialist nations around the world).

You can download or play online the audio presentation of this material here.


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14 Responses to “Capitalism and Socialism in Light of the Bible”

  1. Capitalism is also the “default” economic system that occurs naturally when we are given the freedom to act without outside interventions. As a boy when I negotiated with Tommy to give me five “cat's eyes” marbles in exchange for one “steely,” this was capitalism in its purest form. No one had to explain the principles to us. We knew, almost instinctively, that a mutual agreement for exchange was the fair way of distributing our goods. Capitalism is the way independent, free and moral agents decide to exchange goods and services. Because of the avarice of some it is necessary to impose some controls and regulatory statutes, but the principles are simple and natural.

    All the other economic '-isms' require complex theories, rules and regulations and continuous enforcement to make them work. They have all been shown to have unintended consequences and require constant tweaking of the theory. Yet, there are always some participants that feel they are treated unfairly by the system and they are usually right. Any system that strays very far from capitalism by that very fact will be unfair to some.

    It is a very shallow understanding of the Bible to claim that Jesus was a socialist and advocated extortion of some for the supposed benefit of others. The Master commanded His followers to love their neighbor as they love themselves. That is not the same thing as being forced to give what you have earned to others who could very well do for themselves. In fact, the latter is a gross perversion of God's law.

  2. Anyone can propose the Bible supports socialism or capitalism (because of human nature). but I bet if Jesus were alive today and witnessed the malnourished children being subsidized through government programs, he would approve. Remember , these children aren't yet able to ” do for themselves”

  3. I assure you he wouldn't, Brian, because God says theft is a sin, and people's property is stolen from them by the government to accomplish this.

    What Christ would approve of, however, is the New Testament example of how such things are to be taken care of: individuals giving of their property freely without government force or coercion to meet the needs of others.

  4. In this situation, Dr, Rutledge, the sin lies with the parents that fail to care for their own children. Yes, it is my responsibility as a Christian to feed the hungry, but that does not mean taking your money to give to the parents so they can buy beer or crack or large screen TVs.

    If these same children are being subsidized through government programs, why are they still malnourished? Those programs are exactly the cause of much of the neglect of children. Many parents have been convinced that their children's welfare is a responsibility of the state and this has led to the breakdown of the family, to the huge detriment of the children. It has been shown over and over that welfare programs don't help people out of poverty but ensure the poor remain poor and wards of the state permanently and congenitally.

  5. Well I agree that our welfare system is a shame, but I was referring to things like the U.S.'s aid to foreign countries such as George Bush's U.S. sponsored HIV/AIDS Program. Tax payer money is used to treat and help feed these kids who otherwise would have died and the program has received praise for which Bush never touted or tooted his horn.

    The NEW Testamant way of individuals 'giving there own property' would never have helped as many of these children-wouldn't even come close- as this government program which is as you say the opposite of the New Testament way.

    Jesus did want us to give of our own accord, but I do not think, were he alive today, that He would oppose saving lives of innocent children through a very wealthy nation that has the resources to help. Don't think the Bible or Jesus specifically says that should be avoided.

  6. Again, government handouts are not how God intended charity to be dispensed; it is to be done by private individuals and groups, of their own free will.

    There is also no Constitutional authority for government to take property from one person and give it to another. That's stealing, and the Constitution has no authority whatsoever to allow government to dispense charity; the founders were quite clear on this subject. A

    According to the Index of Global Philanthropy, in 2006 Americans gave (of their own free will) $34.8 billion in overseas aid alone. This exceeds the foreign aid the government took from them against their will and dispensed as overseas aid by $11.3 billion.

    And if the government wasn't busy robbing people of their property, people might be giving even more of their own accord.

    There is no real blessing to the giver or receiver in government “compassion.” The giver had no choice and has no connection to the recipient; the receiver has no connection to the giver, nor do they receive any long-term help in getting out of the circumstance that fostered the poverty, and no sense of community is produced.

    I see no reason at all why Christ would suddenly approve of theft, or abandon the most effective model for charity and compassion (the one He established) for a cold, impersonal one that usually fosters a sense of entitlement.

  7. ” No real blessing to the giver or receiver in government compassion”.I would say that medical treatments, mosquito nets, etc that save a life are compassionate and a blessing to the child who otherwise might have died. Do you take it away from them simply because it's not a 'Christian blessing' so to speak. Do you think God would object to the Bill/Melinda Gates Foundation saving millions of impoverished kids through this ' cold and impersonal ' method, whether it comes from from a secular or governmant. Our country, based on christian principles, has stood above all others because we have given aid to millions throughout our history.

    It dosen't have to be a christian or privately funded act to do good. I know that Jesus preached for the individual to act charitable to others, but i dont remeber him saying anywhere in the Bible that charity CANT come from other places as well. Did he forbid it ? If not how can you say that you feel sure He wouldn't approve of it ? How do you know that He wouldn't say ' these people are helping suffering. Bless them'

    I think your hated of government taxing for handouts and the sick co-depedancy it engenders is valid up to a point.But when it DOES save lives and alleviates suffering, is not that end result a Christian concept. One that our country has set us apart from so many others. I know Jesus was not involved in government affairs and wanted man to know the truth which he wanted all men to know. I dont for a second believe that Christianity is socialistic. How absurd for men to even discuss it. I just dont also believe that if a government does a good thing, that christ or god would condemn it.

  8. In part I mean the “Christian blessing” that comes from obeying God and extending our personal help to someone in need, but also that blessing of community I mentioned, along with the blessing of receiving the advice and encouragement to get out of the situation of need.

    The money the Gates' are giving is not cold and impersonal; it is given (not taken) from them, of their own free will to the people and groups of their own choosing, likely after they took the time to learn about the recipients of their generosity, and while I don't know, there's a pretty good chance they have actually met with many of the people they voluntarily help. In the end, however, it is their property they give, and their choice.

    Jesus didn't say charity couldn't “come from other places as well,” but he did most clearly and repeatedly uphold property rights and state that theft was wrong. Until government establishes a voluntary charity fund that people can donate to, theft is the only way government is able to dispense charity to others.

    The means are just as important as the ends, and government “charity” is at odds with the Christian model of compassion. Charity in our nation was taken care of according to the Christian model from our earliest days until the days when FDR usurped the Constitution. We need to return to it.

    As Congressman Davy Crockett (one of many founders and early statesmen who made it clear that our government has no charitable role) so aptly put it: “We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

  9. Bob- Jesus did say theft was wrong, but He never said taxes were theft or wrong for that matter. As a matter of fact, He knew they were necessary.. ” give unto Caesars what is Caesars”. I suspect He would have preferred that Caesar spend these taxes on the poor and suffering, rather than projects or militaristics endeavors. It is Christian in concept-if there were and are to be taxes which Jesus accepted, what better purpose than to spend them on a suffering child.

  10. Yes, taxes are necessary; that's why our Constitution authorizes them. Our Constitution also prohibits taxes from being spent for anything not specifically authorized in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. You won't find government charity in there, and the reason you won't is because the Founders had a Christian worldview which recognized that charity is a private responsibility, not a function of government.

    - A wise and frugal government…shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. – Thomas Jefferson

    - To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it. — Thomas Jefferson

    - Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated. – Thomas Jefferson

    - The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” — John Adams

    - [Congressional jurisdiction of power] is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.” – James Madison

    - The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined . . . to be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” – James Madison

    - With respect to the two words ‘ general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators. – James Madison

    - I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. – James Madison

    - Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government. – James Madison

    - We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. — Congressman Davy Crockett

  11. I do understand the slippery slope of Congress appropriating money for the general welfare( charity) of others. In its purest form, it seem a moral thing to do, but in practicality, it is frought with problems.

    While Medicare and Social Security are called entitlement programs, because most ALL citizens receive them, they are targeted at the less fortuneate , so in essence are a type of charity. Do you oppose these programs ? Certainly, there are the elderly that could'nt survive without this monthly money and could'nt afford private insurance.How do you feel about these as well as the faith based initiatives ?

    I guess you were against Bush's 'faith based intiatives' which is a classic case of taking taxpayer money and doling it out to those in need.

  12. Yes, I absolutely oppose these programs. They are among the earliest manifestations of socialism and unconstitutional government charity, and they should be scuttled so we can return to constitutional government.

    You are right that many, especially the elderly, would be up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle without these programs. But that is because they have become dependent on them; they have had their money taken from them for decades to support these programs, and have been fed a sense of entitlement and a sense that “The government will take care of you.”

    We need to begin phasing out of these programs (Chile actually phased out of their government retirement system in the 1990s) to return to a private system and one that fits within the boundaries of the Constitution. For the retirement system, much of what is needed is already in place through the IRA system. We need to phase down the influx of cash to the Social Security system, leave those who are elderly or close to retirement on it (we've set them up for failure, so we can't simply drop them), and cut things off at a certain age (50? 55?) where those younger people will transition over to a private IRA system and will not receive SS when they reach retirement age. As for myself, as much as I treasure my hard-earned property, I might even be willing to write off the decades of property (i.e. money) the government has stolen from me as a fair cost of transitioning out of this bankrupt and unconstitutional system.

    Phasing out of the socialist medical programs already in place would likely be tougher, since private alternatives are less organized and wide-scale, but it can be done. First and foremost, family is responsible for family; it's a Biblical principle and it's also one our government operated on until FDR began socializing things. There are also a number of cost-sharing groups out there (Medi-share is one, I believe) where people share in paying for each other's essential medical services; something like this on a wider scale would undoubtedly have a positive effect on market forces and drive both specific and overall medical costs down. And there is always the option for private charities to pick up any remaining slack.

    The American people have always been generous givers, and I have absolutely no doubts that if their pockets were lightened less by government bureaucrats, they would give even more generously, and genuine needs versus fallacious claims of need would be far better distinguished.

    As to President Bush's faith based initiatives, I initially supported them because I (naively) saw them as a great opportunity to bridge a transition from government charity to return to a system of private charity. Unfortunately, either Bush never intended to make that full transition, or the transition got bogged down in the partisan wars that surround every policy initiative. Either way, I eventually came to oppose them because, rather than transitioning, they merely shifted the money around while keeping primary control in the hands of the government.

  13. I do understand the slippery slope of Congress appropriating money for the general welfare( charity) of others. In its purest form, it seem a moral thing to do, but in practicality, it is frought with problems.

    While Medicare and Social Security are called entitlement programs, because most ALL citizens receive them, they are targeted at the less fortuneate , so in essence are a type of charity. Do you oppose these programs ? Certainly, there are the elderly that could'nt survive without this monthly money and could'nt afford private insurance.How do you feel about these as well as the faith based initiatives ?

    I guess you were against Bush's 'faith based intiatives' which is a classic case of taking taxpayer money and doling it out to those in need.

  14. Yes, I absolutely oppose these programs. They are among the earliest manifestations of socialism and unconstitutional government charity, and they should be scuttled so we can return to constitutional government.

    You are right that many, especially the elderly, would be up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle without these programs. But that is because they have become dependent on them; they have had their money taken from them for decades to support these programs, and have been fed a sense of entitlement and a sense that “The government will take care of you.”

    We need to begin phasing out of these programs (Chile actually phased out of their government retirement system in the 1990s) to return to a private system and one that fits within the boundaries of the Constitution. For the retirement system, much of what is needed is already in place through the IRA system. We need to phase down the influx of cash to the Social Security system, leave those who are elderly or close to retirement on it (we've set them up for failure, so we can't simply drop them), and cut things off at a certain age (50? 55?) where those younger people will transition over to a private IRA system and will not receive SS when they reach retirement age. As for myself, as much as I treasure my hard-earned property, I might even be willing to write off the decades of property (i.e. money) the government has stolen from me as a fair cost of transitioning out of this bankrupt and unconstitutional system.

    Phasing out of the socialist medical programs already in place would likely be tougher, since private alternatives are less organized and wide-scale, but it can be done. First and foremost, family is responsible for family; it's a Biblical principle and it's also one our government operated on until FDR began socializing things. There are also a number of cost-sharing groups out there (Medi-share is one, I believe) where people share in paying for each other's essential medical services; something like this on a wider scale would undoubtedly have a positive effect on market forces and drive both specific and overall medical costs down. And there is always the option for private charities to pick up any remaining slack.

    The American people have always been generous givers, and I have absolutely no doubts that if their pockets were lightened less by government bureaucrats, they would give even more generously, and genuine needs versus fallacious claims of need would be far better distinguished.

    As to President Bush's faith based initiatives, I initially supported them because I (naively) saw them as a great opportunity to bridge a transition from government charity to return to a system of private charity. Unfortunately, either Bush never intended to make that full transition, or the transition got bogged down in the partisan wars that surround every policy initiative. Either way, I eventually came to oppose them because, rather than transitioning, they merely shifted the money around while keeping primary control in the hands of the government.