Money, Greed, and God – Introduction

Jay Richards has written what appears to be a very helpful defense of capitalism from a Biblical perspective entitled Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem. I’m just now starting to read it. He debunks these eight myths that Christians make concerning economics: 1) The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives); 2) The Piety Myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions); 3) The Zero-Sum Game Myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser); 4) The Materialist Myth (believing that wealth isn’t created, it’s simply transferred; 5) The Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed); 6) The Usury Myth (believing that working with money is inherently immoral or that charging interest on money is always exploitive); 7) The Artsy Myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments); 8) the Freeze-Frame Myth (believing that things always stay the same – for example, assuming that population trends will continue indefinitely, or treating a current “natural resource” as if it will always be needed.

Here are a few highlights from the introduction:

A good definition of economics: “At bottom, economics is about us – what we choose, what we value, what we represent in language and symbols, how we interact with each other in a market, and especially how we produce, exchange, and distribute goods, services, risk, and wealth. Understand these things, and you’re well on your way to knowing what you need to know about economics.” (5)

A reminder that Christians need to think about economics: “The great Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper once said that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not declare, “Mine!” This holds for economics as well. Thinking as a Christian doesn’t mean we just slap some Bible verse on our economic views so that they sound biblical. It means taking the core truths of the faith and using them as a lens to case new light on unexplored territory.” (7)

On the essence of capitalism and how wealth is created: “To prosper, a market economy needs not just competition,but rule of law and virtues like cooperation, stable families, self-sacrifice, a commitment to delayed gratification, and a willingness to risk based on a future hope…Despite what you’ve been told, the essence of capitalism is not greed. It’s not even competition, private property, or the pursuit of rational self-interest. These last three items, rightly defined, are key ingredients in any market economy; but the heart of capitalism lies elsewhere. What we now know is that market economies work because they allow wealth to be created, rather than remaining a fixed pie. Economies need not be zero-sum games in which someone wins only if someone else loses. We have discovered an economic order that creates wealth in abundance – capitalism. And only the creation of wealth will reduce poverty in the long run. How is wealth created? The economist can’t easily answer this question, but the Christian can. Paradoxically, the key source of material wealth in a modern market economy is immaterial. It’s spiritual. Wealth is created when our creative freedom is allowed to prosper in a free-market environment undergirded by the rule of law and suffused with a rich moral culture. This creative freedom should be no surprise to Christians. We believe that human beings are created in God’s image – the imago dei. Our creative freedom reflects that divine image. This is one of the least appreciated truths of economics.” (7-8)

SDG

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