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Biblical Capitalism in Uncertain Economic Times

September 29, 2008

Stock Market guyThe recent dramatic events surrounding our economy and its regulation raise huge questions for every American. (Indeed, citizens of capitalistic societies throughout the world may find this blog of interest.) It should also raise issues about how Christians should join in the debate. The purpose of this essay is to begin a discussion as to how to define Biblical Capitalism.

Often, putting Scriptural principles to work is a matter of inference rather than direct command. Certainly this is true here. But let’s examine how Christians might think about matters of the economy, capitalism, and government.

First, we must deal with a basic issue of whether capitalism itself is fundamentally biblical at all. Some liberal Christians have argued that indeed it is not biblical! They point out how harsh capitalism can be on those who fail, and question whether such a harsh system could be biblical. They also point specifically to Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-5:11 of Christians having everything “in common,” an example apparently favoring some form of socialism. Indeed, in the second passage it may appear that Ananias and Sapphira were actually killed by God for holding back land sales proceeds from the group!

Let’s quickly address this viewpoint. Regarding the example in Acts, the notes in the Reformation Study Bible point out that this example of Christian giving was voluntary, not compulsory (Acts 5:4). Further, Ananias and his wife had the right to keep all of the proceeds from their land since the land and the money was theirs (Acts 5:4). Ananias was killed by God not for withholding his money from the church, but for lying (Acts 5:3-4). And certainly (and importantly) this example is not an example of government involvement in any sense, and clearly gives no mandate for government interference. So this example clearly seems to be taken out of context and misapplied by liberals. Here is some further comment on this: Does the Bible Support Communism?

Conservatives argue that the Bible is firmly in the camp of private property rights, which is the center point of capitalism. We remember, beginning with the Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Steal and Thou Shalt Not Covet. These commands and elsewhere in the Bible we note confirmation of private property rights. It is noted that communisim, the antithesis of capitalism, requires by law of the state that all property be held in common. There is no such concept in the Bible.

We should also note that communism is at its core atheistic. Karl Marx said, "The idea of God is the keynote of a perverted civilization. It must be destroyed." This is in sharp contrast to America's founding ideals.

The issue of the harshness of capitalism in many situations must also be addressed. We cannot help but observe that while capitalism is indeed harsh at times, it has produced far better results than any other system. As Winston Churchill observed, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

Thomas DiLorenzo, in his book How Capitalism Saved America, surveys history and convincingly demonstrates that there is no better solution to poverty than capitalism. Capitalism is indeed, the most compassionate system. Further, DiLorenzo argues that despite the oft-repeated claims of anticapitalists, capitalism actually reduces income inequalities within a nation as well.

DiLorenzo insists: "Overwhelming evidence indicates that the more economic freedom a nation has, the more economic opportunity there will be and the more vibrant that nation's economy will be. And the opposite is also true: the more regulations, controls, taxes,  government-run industries, protectionism, and other forms of interventionism that exist, the poorer a country will be."

DiLorenzo proves that when government intervenes in the economy—no matter how well-meaning—the usual result is counter-productive for the economy. For a recent and very real example, the whole mortgage mess is traceable to two government interventions: (1) the Federal Reserve Board’s keeping interest rates too low too long in the early part of this decade, and (2) government’s persistent pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make loans to people who could not afford them! Both of these efforts were done with the best of intentions!

However, we suggest that there are issues of compassion that may mitigate DiLorenzo's strict conclusions. In attempting to develop a concept for Biblical Capitalism, we note certain principles from Scripture:

• Man is sinful by nature, and as such can bring chaotic situations to the economy where innocent people are hurt.
• The rule of law is important, but should be based on biblical principles.
• Man is to be truly free—within certain constraints set by Scripture or civil government.
• Man is a social creature and our efforts are inevitably interrelated.
• Government has a proper role to play.
• Self-government, as America’s founding fathers noticed, places more importance on the individual, family, and church levels of government than civil government.
• We as Christians care about our fellow man.
• Justice should be a goal of government.

WORLD magazine (February 12, 2011) suggested 3 starting principles for biblical economics: (1) All wealth comes as a gift created by God. We don't own it. But He lets us create more wealth, and then lets us take care of it. (2) There's no limit to how much wealth there is in the world. It isn't like a pie to be divided up. God helps his people create more and more wealth. (3) Giving wealth away is a bigger blessing than getting wealth. But people should give away only what's theirs—not what belongs to others.

From these ideas, we can begin to put together a model of Biblical Capitalism. While this is not an easy task, it might first help to define what Biblical Capitalism is not:

• It is not evolutionary/darwinian capitalism, which we would define as unrestrained capitalism. Biblical Capitalism would contain laws that protect property rights, protect the rule of law, enforce contracts, protect against fraud and collusion, etc.

• It is not libertarianism. Libertarianism is related to evolutionary capitalism in that it is relatively unrestrained. The reason that libertarianism is not biblical is because one does not have the right to do wrong. There are certain businesses, such as abortion clinics, that do not have a fundamental moral right to exist.

• It is not socialistic capitalism. In general, any law that interferes with free enterprise, except for certain broad limitations to protect the public interest, is not biblical. The role of government should be to encourage free enterprise—not favoring certain enterprises over others unless there is (a) a clear moral mandate or (b) a systemic risk, that is, a risk to the whole economy (as opposed to a risk to a company or industry or locale). Any distortion of free enterprise outside of these parameters—no matter how well-intended—is probably a hindrance in the long run. Government should be leery of aiding inferior businesses or activities at the expense of successful businesses. Government should not reward failure. Further, it is a reasonable inference that the best regulation is done at the lowest level of government rather than at the highest, as this puts the activity closer to the people.

• It is not selective intervention by government. Government should not punish large or successful firms just because they are large and successful. Government should not favor companies that are failing just because they are failing, or favor industries that may be dying or uncompetitive. Further, in general, government should not do social engineering or interfere with free markets by favoring technological changes—unless there is a clear national interest such as national defense.

But is a short list of what defines biblical capitalism:

  • the rule of law
  • objective moral values to protect the innocent
  • unalienable rights given by God
  • equal treatment for all under the law
  • private property rights
  • encouragement of Christianity and its elements of mercy to others in society
  • free enterprise without government distortion except to enforce the above

In terms of justice and mercy, the role of government is primarily—though perhaps not exclusively—to administer justice. We note that the biblical role of government is clearly spelled out in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Here we see that the role of government is limited to punishing evil and rewarding good. There is no broad mandate for government in any other sense. The role of the church, on the other hand, is most certainly to administer mercy. So we conclude that there is a distinct difference between the biblical roles for church and state.

Applying these principles is not necessarily easy. But we need to try. Let’s analyze some areas as to whether the government should play a role:

• Welfare State? No. In general, the federal government’s continual attempt to socialize welfare programs is not biblical. While limited programs such as temporary unemployment compensation can have a positive economic stimulus during periods of recession, broad-based welfare benefits such as large scale unemployment compensation encourages sloth and failure. Government should not encourage people to sin. It should encourage people to work, to save, and to marry. Further, Marvin Olasky in his landmark book The Tragedy of American Compassion argues that a biblical model of compassion should be (1) challenging, (2) personal, and (3) spiritual. Civil government—especially the federal government— cannot deliver on this. President Bush’s massive federal government initiatives in education and prescription drugs, while well-meaning, are misplaced. This is becoming even clearer now, as these massive government programs have us in large budget deficits which restrict government’s ability to help when a very real crisis—like now—comes upon us. Indeed, I would argue that most of the federal bureaucracy should be disbanded.

• Social Security? Debatable.  Social Security is not a situation whose purpose is primarily to arbitrarily save those who have failed financially. It is a broad-based insurance system. It is also a system that clearly has a compassion component for people who are too old or otherwise unable to work. Having observed how many senior citizens have benefitted from Social Security, I would say that the program is desirable even if it is shown to be economically wasteful. But in the name of freedom, citizens should have some options within the Social Security system. Or at least, the Social Security system should be strongly solvent and provide the citizen a positive return on his money.

• Progressive Income Tax? No. Using the power of government to take money from one person to benefit another is not justice; it is theft. Involuntary wealth re-distribution is neither morally defensible nor beneficial for the long run health of the economy. While Christians should desire to help the less fortunate, aid should be done voluntarily rather than by coercion. As Christian thinker Marvin Olasky concludes in his book The Tragedy of American Compassion, welfare when correctly applied should be (a) challenging, (b) personal, and (c) spiritual. Government cannot meet these criteria. But the church can meet them.

• Banking Regulation? Yes. Because of man’s sinful (greedy) proclivities, banks should be regulated to minimize financial disasters. It is all too true that massive bank failures can lead to widespread disasters to innocent parties. We learned from the Great Depression that margin rules for investors are reasonable restrictions. Likewise, the government should require down payments on home purchases and the government should set stricter rules about how much banks should be able to lend against their balance sheet. The government also has a role to play to punish loan applicants who do so fraudulently. Had such regulations been in effect, the current mortgage/banking crisis would not have occurred. The purpose of such regulation is not to protect any one company or industry or locale, but rather to protect the general welfare from systemic loss. In general, the banks are at the heart of the economy and thus the banking system must be kept healthy or the economy will not function.

• Zoning Laws? Debatable. I would argue that local zoning laws would be acceptable on the basis that they are local and thus close to the people. While in one sense they restrict freedom of enterprise, in another sense local citizens should have the right to set community standards.

• Environmental Laws? Yes. A company that creates “spillover costs” to some by dumping pollution into the air or water are violating the above rule that no one has the right to do wrong.

• Taking Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Yes. These companies were creations of Congress and thus the federal government has at least some moral obligation to them. Because of man’s sinful proclivities to mess things up, business cycles can be overly severe, and massive damage to innocent parties can occur. Liberals are correct to observe that capitalism can have great swings to the downside that are unnecessarily destructive. Government intervention in the economy since the Depression has in fact smoothed out the business cycle. The purpose of saving Fannie and Freddie is not to save these companies specifically but rather to protect the general welfare and systemic loss.

• Government Support for the Auto Industry? No.  This is a distortion of capitalism that should be avoided. We must resist such well-intentioned interventions. The primary purpose for such support is to support a particular industry rather than the general welfare.

• Nationalized Healthcare? No. This question is more difficult than the preceding one. The purpose of nationalized healthcare is not to save specific healthcare businesses, but rather to promote the general welfare. The answer in this case is mostly a question of logic. Those who support nationalized healthcare say that everyone has a “right” to healthcare. But by that logic, we could say that everyone has a right to food and housing as well. Should government take control of the food and housing industries too? We must be able to see that the logic is flawed and that the result of nationalized healthcare—just like nationalized anything—would be worse healthcare rather than better healthcare.

Evangelicals tend to like things black and white. But such is not possible with this topic. These conclusions must be tentative. Since we are drawing on inferences as well as historical observation, others may disagree as to how government should intervene in the economy. But perhaps these concepts can serve as a basis for further discussion.


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Lisa P
Posts: 98
Economic Crisis....
Reply #9 on : Mon November 10, 2008, 22:21:05
These days that one of the major problem we are facing is the economic crisis. The stock market is plummeting, the banks are falling and the increasing number of unemployed in the country. Some of the government leaders are taking away our financial freedom. The election is over and America has appointed a new leader. The people have chosen “change” by electing Barack Obama for the next President of the United States. Whether the United States changes for the better or for the worse, there is no doubt that change is in store for our country. It’s clear that Americans believe Obama will bring a positive change to our country. We’ve heard many of the promises he has made to the U.S. from lowering taxes for the middle class to putting a timeline on the war in Iraq and trimming the federal budget “line by line.” This is just some of the promises that Obama has made. We are all familiar of payday loans right? This is a short-term loans entitled to help the people during their financial needs. However, do you that Obama also supports the elimination of the payday loan industry? Because he believes that eradicating the payday loan industry will protect low-income and families in general from falling victims to predatory lenders. On higher ground, it will be a violation to our financial freedom if the option to utilize affordable payday loans is wiped out. Eliminating of payday loan will not help us but rather it will just put us in a worse situation. Threatening our rights to financial freedom is not a great start to creating positive change.
Payday Loan Advocate
Posts: 98
On Financial Crisis
Reply #8 on : Tue November 04, 2008, 22:53:46
According to some analyst, financial meltdown is a natural occurrence in every nation. Financial Crisis is one of the biggest problems that we are experiencing today. Because of this dilemma, different economic problem also occurs. Problems like lack of food supply are one of these things. That is why some of us suffered from malnutrition, which is a medical condition, caused by insufficient diet. America isn’t exactly the healthiest nation in the world. It’s been obvious for some time now. Every time you turn around, there’s another story on the news about how bad American health has become. A recent article in the New York Times reports that kidney stones are becoming more and more common in children, some as young as 5 or 6. Children with kidney stones used to be incredibly rare, but now pediatric clinics are opening kidney stone units in order to accommodate the demand. The best preventative medicine for parents is to make sure that their children stay hydrated and discourage overconsumption of salt. It’s hard to watch them all the time, and sometimes they just don’t listen, but not only is a kidney stone harmful, and excruciatingly painful, but it can also put a serious dent in your budget. If your child develops a stone, or some other issue, and you can’t afford to keep them healthy and the lights on, you could always look into payday installment loans to stomach the costs.
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Jessica Culp
Posts: 98
Reply #7 on : Mon November 03, 2008, 07:10:26
No one deserves to be sick and not go and get help. Personal "grey" point: I was mentally ill and worked as a waitress, no health insurance, had 2 children who had health insurance through their father. I was not eligible "through general welfare" to receive help for my mental problem, thus suffered terribly. This was wrong and Jesus would not have wanted me to suffer like that. If that makes me liberal then so be it. I am now fine, and pay my taxes, if I could make a donation to this "fund" for others I would---I cannot. Therefore I am willing to pay for health insurance for others through my taxes. I am sure I'm not convincing anyone--why do I bother?
Buckley Cloud
Posts: 98
there is no such thing as biblical capitalism
Reply #6 on : Sat November 01, 2008, 06:17:06
The writer of this article dismisses the example in Acts, but not very satisfactorily.

In Acts 4:34-35 it says: "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." Yeah, so people were voluntarily giving their wealth so that it could be redistributed among the needy, but would that have been discouraged by the disciples? Or encouraged? The sharing of wealth in this instance in Acts is decidedly non-capitalist. At the very least, capitalism doesn't encourage it.

In the article the author states: "Conservatives argue that the Bible is firmly in the camp of private property rights, which is the center point of capitalism. We remember, beginning with the Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Steal and Thou Shalt Not Covet." I doubt that from those two commandments we were meant to infer that all things ought to be private property in some form or another. Take public libraries for example, are they unbiblical? I'm not for utter socialism, but I don't see how it can be seen as evil by Christians (or, I guess I mean to say, Republicans) in all of it's manifestations.

Andrew Carnegie, though a philanthropist, was a ruthless capitalist, exploiting his workers. A corporation, by it's nature, only has to treat it's employees well enough to where the company makes a profit, which might well mean exploiting employees. Because of laws there's a limit as to how much they can be exploited, but capitalism itself isn't biblical and it doesn't inculcate biblical principles.

And in any case, trying to reverse-engineer a biblical justification for capitalism seems misguided and pointless. Governments have evolved over time, and while I forget what the government of Israel was before they had a king, the Israelites asked for a king and got one. Someone could argue, "because God allowed Israel to have a monarchy, the only kind of government that is of God is a monarchy". That argument *was* made by kings in Europe, was it not? Divine right of kings and all that, right? Not only is it shameless, but it's also devisive of Republicans, of Christians, to make the claim "God wants it done this way" when issues are far more open to debate than that claim implies. The Bible has been used to justify a good many things that it was never meant to: slavery is one, and that the earth does not revolve around the sun is another. For the latter, see Psalm 93:1, Psalm 104:5, and Ecclesiastes 1:5... based on those verses, Galileo was called a heretic. The article you cited is outright dangerous, because people are uncritical enough to read it and believe it, and then they have the idea that anyone who disagrees with it is anti-God, or against God's principles. The article is utterly devisive... but it is devisive in the same way that people argue over which translation of the Bible is more accurate. You know that there are people who will only read one translation, and say that all other translations are not of God. And you *know* how devisive people can be about that, when in fact which translation you read should not be a devisive issue.

The author also states: "We note that the biblical role of government is clearly spelled out in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. The role of government is limited to punishing evil and rewarding good." From my reading of those verses I don't get that the government is supposed to "reward good" and "punish evil". The government is the people, it's a man-made system, and it has power because we say it does. What those verses are saying is that the government will do what it will, and if it is just, submit to it.

Jesus told his disciples to renounce their possessions. It is difficult for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven, so if you want a biblically-based government, if wealth is an impediment to spirituality, then the fewer the rich people the better.

Finally, as to the question of healthcare, his argument is a nonsequiter: "The answer in this case is mostly a question of logic. Those who support nationalized healthcare say that everyone has a “right” to healthcare. But by that logic, we could say that everyone has a right to food and housing as well." The Declaration of Independence says that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights. What impels doctors to volunteer, to do missionary work in other countries? Is it not compassion? Did not Christ preach compassion? If doctors feel so impelled, does that not speak to a higher moral law, that people suffering from disease ought not have to suffer? We support state funded education, so why not medical care? If you're doing missionary work as a teacher, don't you on a certain level feel that education is a right? I do, and in the same way I feel that every human being has a right to medical care.
Russ Cannon
Posts: 98
Payday Loan Companies
Reply #5 on : Tue October 21, 2008, 19:48:56
One of the best ways of doing in payday loan and car title loan programs is to enforce usury laws. What many people do not realize is that such programs provide a means for lower income borrowers with poor or no credit to obtain some money. The loans come with high interest rates because of the high risk inherent to providing such loans. "Traditional" banking companies and credit unions could not possibly be harmed by these types of loan providers because they serve an entirely different clientele.

What I do not understand about the ACUS and others is why they would care about the existence of payday loans and such like. The lending standards and criteria of credit unions is such that clients likely to seek payday loans could not possibly qualify with the "traditional" providers. This is especially true in today's climate of increasingly stringent standards. Putting payday loan businesses out of busines would just serve to deny credit altogether to their clients, many of whom are minorities.
Payday Loan Advocate
Posts: 98
crush the competition
Reply #4 on : Mon October 20, 2008, 03:29:24
The Arizona Credit Union System would be very happy if payday advance companies shriveled up and died in the Grand Canyon State, but their opinion is certainly greased by the wheels of their own commerce. The credit union is stepping up its lobbying efforts to crush the competition and absorb all the former cash advance customers into their coffers. In a massive E-mail campaign that they estimate will reach as many as 1.6 million credit union customers, System will encourage voters to give Proposition 200 an emphatic thumbs down. On the flip side of the coin, Prop. 200 supports organizations like the Arizona Community Financial Services Association that claims that Proposition 200 will indeed lower state loan fees, eliminate extensions by introducing flexible payment plans, regulate Internet lending and cull the number of total walk-in stores in Arizona. These very real reforms will not only help payday loan customers, but will keep industry employees off the breadlines past the current lending sunset year of 2010. Who wants to lose their job, particularly in our current economy?

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Russ Cannon
Posts: 98
Government Regulation
Reply #3 on : Sun October 19, 2008, 03:09:10
I don't think you realize the role government regulation has had to play in the major financial crises that have plagued this nation. Government regulation was almost exclusively at fault both in 1929 and in 2008. In each case--then the Republicans and now the Democrats--politicians attempted to manipulate financial markets in various ways to satisfy their political constituencies. The Republicans later learned from their mistakes with the help of Milton Friedman. There does not seem to be anyone on the horizon prepared or able to open the eyes of Democrat zealots.

Your zeal for regulation of banks and for the environment is well intentioned but misguided. The problem is that regulation requires the centralization of power, and power corrupts. A great, black American, the conservative economist Thomas Sowell, has some sobering words about "greed":

"It is not at all obvious to me why greed for power is better than greed for money.

"Often what is sanctimoniously called greed is nothing more than a desire to provide a comfortable and secure home for one's family, with perhaps some amenities to make their life pleasant, and something put aside for old age or a rainy day. Surely history tells us that men have done worse things than that.

"Greed for power is something else. We can all have more material things and more spiritual things simultaneously. But, we cannot all have more power simultaneously, for power is one person's advantage over another."

He says elsewhere that, "Greed for power is more dangerous than greed for money and has shed far more blood in the process."

What you need to understand is that a free market will not have runaway swings and robber baron plunder. These artifacts from the past were, themselves, creations of government--particularly through government sponsored monopoly enterprises. Before anyone expresses an opinion about Capitalism, biblical or otherwise, I think they should take some time to study. And the best way of so doing is through the writings of great minds such as Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises. These men make a very good case that the trouble has always been political power unwisely wielded by politicians seeking to pay off their constituencies and hold onto office.

I fear regulation. I do not fear a market unregulated.
Russ Cannon
Posts: 98
Present Crisis
Reply #2 on : Sat October 18, 2008, 15:28:39
The causes of the present economic crisis that we are in are more complex than you state because there are other government interventions behind it--namely the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOA). Moreover, groups such as ACORN, associated with Barack Obama, threatening to bring suit against banks that did not make high-risk loans to less qualified borrowers had a hand in the mess as well.

In 1995, the CRA was the first big intervention that opened the door for lawsuits against banks that did not make the higher risk loans to minorities, and ACORN has aggressively used the tool to bully financial institutions into doing so. In 2002, the SOA forced corporations to err on the side of undervaluing their assets. While this might seem to be a wise move, the unintended side-effect, which effects are always ignored by politicians, was that banks' real estate assets had to be down-valued suddenly and drastically if even one house was sold under value in a large area. The consequence was a rapid and dramatic decline of the value of real estate once things began to destabilize.

The key difference between the present situation and that of 1929 is that capital assets now are undervalued whereas then they were overvalued. What this means is that the present downturn is artificial and fighting against the real value of equities and captial assets and could be cured almost overnight by the repealing of the CRA and SOA. It would be like a cork held underwater being suddenly released. The only problem is that there is little prospect for government regulation getting anything but worse.
Guillermo Garcia
Posts: 98
Biblical capatalism
Reply #1 on : Tue September 30, 2008, 09:08:32
Well,This is a strong topic to debate. I myself depend on the government since April 15,2005, I was on a motorcycle accident in which I was left paralized. Iam founder/director for an non-profit org. that helps people of all ages to break-free from any drug addiction they may have.We are faith-based soley.Iwas on my way to pick-up a donation for a kids festival on drug awerness we were going to take about for the community. Even though I think it was not my fault,Iam still paralized and now depend on the government to help support my family,though the government does not fully support us.I still continue to work with our commuity.In these three years I've seen so many people asking from the government's welfare system.The problem I have noticed is that these people can work,but as the topic aboves states,it's the welfare's fault for not checking the homes properly before handing out the help.I've seen drug addicts taking the government money and buying drugs with it,that's why I founded Treasures in the Faith inc. because it's not fare for the rest of us.Also why should the government penlize someone that worked hard all year for their hard earned money by telling them that ,they are going to pay over earned taxes.I myself put my money into T.IN THE F. out of my own pocket just to educate these folk that it's better to work than to recieve from our government. About national health care,that's another hard topic,But yes there are too many people asking for welfare instead of working because it's so easy to get welfare and just sit around the house eating themselves to death from the government.This is a known fact.If the government went back to it's beginning to work with GOD and not against GOD we'd all be in a better position than we are now,it's going to take lots of effort.In last,the government needs to stop give for too long a help for those that can work but are not willing to.Believe me I SEE IT EVERYDAY! in my daily work,because most of the people we work with are on welfare.Anyway,thanks for listening to my thought and point of view.
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