Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I'm not a political animal. That being true, I like to find people who know more about political issues than do I and are able to talk about them better than can I. So here goes.

But first there is a need to understand that I'm presenting this simply as an American citizen concerned about the country I love NOT as a preacher. I don't often speak on political issues much less write on them but believe this is one time I should.

In our present crisis economically as a nation there is much political talk about the good/bad aspects of government intervention in the business life of America. Most agree that it is a move toward socialism albeit some say to only a small degree. Besides, they would say, what's wrong with that?

Some people would argue that socialism helps the poor while others would argue it is anti-American and destructive. Those who view socialism favorably would argue against capitalism because they say it favors the rich and is therefore more destructive than socialism.

I don't really know what to say. I do know what I intuitively think but would not be the best in stating why I think it because of the truth of the first five words of the body of this post.

But I did find this fellow who said something I think is worth hearing. [Obviously it rings my intuitive bell.] Below is a portion of a speech given by Michael Novak on the Virtue of Capitalism. The full speech can be found here...http://www.nationalreview.com/novak/novak200402180913.asp.

As you read this I want to say that I desire for it to simply add to the discussion of where we are as a nation and where we perhaps need to be. It's political but we CAN have a civil discussion about things of this nature as well as theology I believe. At least I hope so. What do YOU think?

Wealth @ Virtue--A Moral Case For Capitalism... given in Sri Lanka on January 11 2004 by Michael Novak.

"It is not difficult to understand why the practical case for capitalism is easy to grasp. No other system so rapidly raises up the living standards of the poor, so thoroughly improves the conditions of life, or generates greater social wealth and distributes it more broadly. [Than does capitalism]

In the long competition of the last 100 years, neither socialist nor third-world experiments have performed as well in improving the lot of common people, paid higher wages, and more broadly multiplied liberties and opportunities.

This point needs elaboration since, in Marxist analysis, the only beneficiaries of capitalism are said to be the rich. In actual fact, it is the poor who gain most from capitalism. [Italics mine] That is why the poor have always gravitated toward capitalist countries. That is why my own grandparents (and scores of millions of others) left Europe for America. They sought opportunity, and they found it. Desperately poor on their arrival (just before 1900), they lived to own their own homes, watching their children and grandchildren advancing in income and education. "Give me your tired, your poor. . ." the Statue of Liberty beckoned to the world; and nearly 100 percent of Americans did come to America poor. Today barely over 12 percent of Americans are poor (which is defined as having an income below $18,000 per year for a family of four). That means that 88 percent are not poor, and we still have about 12 percent to help. In 1990, 38 percent of the American poor owned their own homes; 95 percent of the poor had their own television sets; and a poor American was more likely to own an automobile than the average Western European.

Today, the percentage of the American poor who own their own homes has climbed from 38 to 46 percent; more than half own two or more color televisions; almost two-thirds have cable or "dish" TV; three-quarters have a VCR or DVD player. Nearly three quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more. Beyond the poor, half of all families have incomes above $50,000 per year. About 20 percent have incomes above $91,000 per year.

It is sometimes suggested that American blacks are poor. But in the year 2002, 24 percent were poor; over 75 percent were not poor. Half of all black married couple households had incomes over $52,000 per year. The total income of America's 26 million blacks over the age of 15 came to $650 billion in 2002. This is larger than the Gross Domestic Product of all but 15 nations.

This is not to say that the task of eliminating poverty in America (or other capitalist countries) is finished. It isn't. But it is crucial to grasp that the task of capitalism is measured by how well it enriches the poor. To an amazing extent, it does do this. [Italics mine.] I would bet you that the great majority of Americans can remember when their families were poor, two or three generations ago; but they are not poor today.

In the nations of Western Europe and in Japan, the case is similar. So also in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other newly capitalist countries. Measure capitalism by how well it raises up the poor. That is the test it is designed to meet. Look around the world and see."


Paul B.


Chris Ryan said...

Capitalism may do a good job of putting money in the pockets of poor Americans. And yet that is possible because we exploit so well the poor of other countries. Countries in Africa and South America have been trying at capitalism for generations, and yet it has taken far more than 50-60 years for those families to move from rich to poor. Most haven't. The degree to which government corruption inhibits this goal, I don't know. But the poor American can thank for his wealth the starving child in a foreign land.

We say that their lives are enriched, but they have only been conditioned to obey the primary motivator of capitalism: greed. They have been taught by the system that they must have a certain amount of cash and a certain amount of stuff. Is that enriching? To encourage a system that promotes what is morally bankrupt?

While they are not paid near enough for the work they put in, their bosses are paid millions a day for much less effort and toil. And we call this lifting the poor up?

No system is perfect, but I don't think that a moral case can be built for either Marxism or Capitalsim. Those who try are usually those who are wealthy enough to need to justify what they have done or have acrued enough power to need and justify its protection. I don't have Novak's bank records, and I can't pretend to know his heart, but I always wonder when I hear stuff like this.

Aussie John said...


I also would say that I was a non-political animal. In this country my biggest surprise is when a politician is found to be ethically and morally above board, which has caused me to be a non-political animal who is cynical about those who steer world politics.

I was born about three weeks before WWII was declared, to very poor parents. I was five when the war ended.

I can say this: If I had been living in a Marxist country, I would probably have been imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, and would certainly not be alive, with the health issues I have. My wife would also be dead, or at least, be a cripple.

If we had managed to survive,at our age, and with the health issues we have, our struggle would be extremely difficult and harsh, as is easily verified.

Instead of five Christian children and two sons-in-law, and two daughters-in-law, who are Christians, and who give liberally of their incomes, who are raising seven grandchildren in Christian homes, we may or may not, have one or two, who live in poverty.

I can also say this: Because I live in a capitalist country, in which much of the political activity of my early years had, at least a flavor of Christian ethical and moral attitudes,all were regarded as equal, and encouraged to strive for a better future for themselves and the country we love. The incentive to do so was there, which those who have escaped Marxism will testify doesn't exist under that system.

The problem which Chris identifies is not a problem with capitalism, it is the age old problem of the same sin which affects both capitalists and Marxists.

I know Christian capitalists in this country who give most of the profit they make to those who are in need and for the furtherance of the Gospel. One of your own countrymen was such a man, R.G.LeTourneau.

I may not be a political animal, but I'm sure glad that our sovereign God has deemed that I was born in a capitalist country in which Christians are free to not indulge themselves in luxuries, but instead seek to be Christ to those who live in the devilish darkness of Marxism.

Paul Burleson said...


I appreciate hearing from you about this. it is obvious to me that you have some strong feelings about it. I'm hoping to understand better your view of this.

What do you mean by..."But the poor American can thank for his wealth the starving child in a foreign land."? Could you give some specific example or statement of what it is you're referring to? This would help me think through your comment.

I appreciate the dialogue on this. As an American citizen I'm genuinely interested.

Aussie John,

I sure understand this..."The problem which Chris identifies is not a problem with capitalism, it is the age old problem of the same sin which affects both capitalists and Marxists."

It is because of greed in the heart of fallen humanity that our gospel is needed by every person in any political state they might find themselves. That you, Chris and I would all agree with I'm sure.

Paul Burleson said...


As I read over your comment again, I was reminded of a rather simplistic [but helpful] distinction about capitalism that was made in an article written In October of 2000 by a young man named Brent Baccala entitled "Is capitalism an unchristian philosophy?" in which he articulated three defintions of capitalism that would have to be understood to properly understand one another when conversing about it.

I'm not sure I would agree with ALL he said but this was helpful to me.

He said capitalism could possibly be boiled down to three definitions..

capitalism¹ - a laissez-faire economic system, characterized by the separation of economy and state, "anti-socialism", free markets, free trade, relatively light taxation, and a minimum of government interference in commerce

capitalism² - an industrial model of production, well illustrated by Henry Ford's assembly line, characterized by heavy specialization of both capital and labor, economies of scale, with the cost of goods reflecting the distributed costs of production

capitalism³ - a pseudo-religion of greed, characterized by pursuit of self-interest, often associated with the claim that each individual, by advancing his own self-interest, ultimately advances the good of society

When I speak of capitalism I would basically be referring to capitalism1. To a lesser degree capitalism2. It seems to me that capitalism 3 is untenable for a truly free society. It relects the fallen nature of man quite well. It certainly doesn't possess a christian ethic.

Chris Ryan said...


Yes, I have strong feelings on this one. Sorry if I came off a little strong last night. As for a specific example of what I mean:

I realize that there are a lot of people who say we should only buy American made products. I understand there was even a resolution proposed (for VBS materials) to that end at the SBC that didn't make it out of committee (as though Southern Baptists are all American). However, the vast majority of people cannot afford on a regular basis the products of American industry. The cost of production in America is that much higher because we require people be payed to a certain degree (to what degree the minimum wage is anti-capitalist, I don't know. To me, it only seems wise). Instead, we find ourselves buying products that have been produced in other countries and shipped in because the workers in other countries will recieve 15 cents/hour to our $6. Even where the cost of living is lower, these pay conditions usually make it impossible for a family to make ends meet forcing them to place their children in the work force. Even then, many families go to bed hungry having worked all day long.

It is economic fact that the surest way to get rid of child labor is to pay working adults better. But you will never hear a serious outcry for that from America because it would be severely to our economic disadvatage. If adults in foreign lands were paid better, then their children would get to stay in school. A higher degree of education means that they are considered more valuable employees. Which means that once the next generation hits the work force there is a dramatic increase in the cost of labor, thus in the cost of production, thus in the cost of the product to the consumer (unless the company decided it doesn't need to make 70% profit, that it can get by with 30%, but I'm not holding my breathe for that). If the cost to the consumer goes up, then the working poor here in America suddenly don't have what it takes financially to survive in this world or this market.

So we will content ourselves with saying capitalism makes poor Americans richer, and try to ignore the fact that it does so at the expense of the working poor of other countries.

To your second post in my direction:

I understand the distinctions being made by those three definitions. How distinct they truly are, I wonder about. Capitalism1 seems to be a theory. Capitalism2 seems to be the mode. Capitalism3 seems to be the motivator. To what degree any of these work without the other two I am unsure. I have my doubts that any one definition is entirely adequate. If it is possible to makes these sort of distinctions (i.e. Capitalism1 could survive without either Cap2 or Cap3) then perhaps it is fair to say that we are only talking about one or the other definitions. I really think that each definition is just a different facet of the same phenomenon, so I'm not sure to speak of one without the other. Maybe you could help me out there?

Paul Burleson said...


Gottcha. This really helps me see where you're coming from.

I'm not sure I would connect all three as an explanation of capitalism but I can see where the third would be an ever present temptation of a perverted system.

I think a strong case can be made for the compatibility of Christianity and capitalism– if capitalism is properly understood or at least properly defined.

But there are, I know, some difficulties with things correlated with capitalism as you have pointed out quite well. At this point it may all be beyond my ability but I love to talk about even those things I know little about.

What little I've read and researched today would lead me to think that it is far easier to make a negative argument of capitalism were one to do a thorough critique of much of the political activity in America over the last couple of decades. I'm afraid that capitalism3 HAS been on display far more than any thinking moral person would like.

But I still hold that, because of what I believe about private property and individual responsibility to not steal etc., captialism is, in it's truest definition, the best political philosophy for any society where it can be established. Chile has proven that over the past couple of decades.

Your concerns are right and needed in ANY societal system I would thinK. But capitalism1 would permit a society committed to a truly moral standard an ability to perform those concerns you've so wisely pointed out it seems to me. I could be wrong on this I know.

Chris Ryan said...


So what is the way forwar? If we have been too much driven by Cap3 in the last few decades, what is needed to establish Cap1 while limiting the effects of Cap3? In other words, what does the Christian businessman (or businesswoman) do to be both Christian and capitalist, what will make their business different than other businesses?

Paul Burleson said...


I'm not the one to give any counsel to a christian business person other than to say that I think Matthew 25:14ff and Luke 19:12ff reveal something of a need for a free market enterprise it seems to me. To understand the parable of the talents is to know we are required to use our gifts properly toward increase with some risk involved but that NOT driven by a fear of loss OR greed for more. But the capability for making more should exist.

I read someone who said they thought "capitalism is the 'least worst' way of channeling our wordly efforts properly." But it is, like any human device, limited and flawed it seems to me.

As to how a christian business person would do it differently than the many of the past couple of decades who have failed, I have no definitive answer as my history is with a service organization [The Church] rather than a product organization. [Producing televisions say.]

But that being said, I do believe any endeavor [service or product oriented] of a believer in a free market place should involve honesty, respect of personhood and the sacredness of life. With that would be a host of character qualities including fairness, diligence toward earned income, [Giving value of time and effort in exchange for received monetary value.]

In that free market atmosphere I envision I see the government giving limited but ESSENTIAL oversight to regulation of that free market system. That, for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of evildoers who violate the laws established for such an enterprise.

We cannot trust, as I read another say, the "limited and flawed humans in government to micro-manage the affairs of the limited and flawed humans in business at all." That, [giving to government such micro-management responsibilities] it seems to me, is the basic weakness of all systems other than the capitalisic one.

All this is not on target with my life calling but it is fun and I have a personal stake in it all as an American citizen. In addition, I personally bring into the whole equation my relationship the Lord of the Universe which many other citizens do not. My greater concern is their knowlesge of my Lord as I'm sure is true of you also. But I really have been challenged by this conversation with you. Thank you so very much.

Megan said...

Ok Im going to be the devil's advocate again.

Capitalism is a good idea. A poor person can create a store and have it be uber successful and gain great wealth to not be so poor or even surpass the middle class. One example is Wal-Mart.

But I think a great capitalist government needs some socialism. Without socialism we wouldn't have public schools, libraries, police officers, or firefighters. All these things we get for free.

These services that we get for free are through our tax dollars. No one complains that a poor lady who was raped shouldn't be able to use the police to find the person that did that to her because of her economic status.

Because we are human we want people to be protected and cared for. Why should this change for health care? Instead of the premiums you were paying to your health care provider you just give that extra money to the government to provide a service like you do the police, schools, libraries, firefighters, and so on.

You can still utilize capitalism by building companies and watching them grow or whatever you want to do in your life. By using a socialistic idea,(which we already do, don't make me list them again) you create an opportunity for sick people to get well. Its a win win.

Did you know our military personal get their health care through the government. Older citizens get their health care through Medicare, a government run program.

Are you willing to tell these people they are socialists? Our soldiers who are dying in wars are not socialists to me.

I think it would actually be patriotic to have a government run health care plan. It would show that our country cares for its people as a unified nation rather than labeling people and deciding who should have it and who should not.

All Americans want the same thing, not to be turned away from medical help. So I say be patriotic and vote for government run health care!

Paul Burleson said...


Hi Megan. Some good thoughts.

I REALLY like this one..."All Americans want the same thing, not to be turned away from medical help. So I say be patriotic and vote for government run health care!"