Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem by Jay W. Richards (New York: HarperOne, 2009. 272 pp)
Jay Richards, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute where he directs the Center on Wealth, Poverty, and Morality, and is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.
The Complicated Relationship between Money and the Church
The church holds a complicated relationship with capitalism. On one side, it praises business for its instrumental purpose within its walls. Business creates wealth which, in turn, funnels into Church programs through the donations of the congregation.
At the same time, business operates under self-interest, a seemingly anti-Christian position asserting “Greed is good”. What is the church to do? Free market wealth creation funds its projects. But the Bible promotes altruistic aims.
In Money, Greed, and God, Jay W. Richards attempts to present capitalism as a moral good, the best system for our broken world. However, his blind defense of capitalism forced me to ditch the book early.
In Search of the Best System, or Capitalism
Look, I’m no utopian. Sure, one can imagine a multitude of perfect worlds in which everyone lives in harmony. Given the realistic alternatives, capitalism seems to be the best system for our world.
However, capitalism as the best of its alternatives does not mean the alternatives are morally void. Richards provides communism and socialism as examples of competing systems. Historically, he argues, both governing structures failed. Under communist rule, millions of people died. Therefore, according to Richards, attempts at creating a utopian society have failed.
Granted, these systems have had some major issues, I don’t think it is fair to use their failure as evidence against any sort of government intervention in the free market as Richards seems to imply.
Instead, Richards suggests capitalism is the best of flawed options:
“Of course a modern capitalist society like the United States looks terrible compared with the kingdom of God. But that’s bad moral reasoning. The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God. The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life” (32).
While Richards implies that capitalism falls short of the Kingdom of God, he continues to operate uncritically against capitalism. In every instance I read, capitalism supplies the morally superior answer.
The “Problem” of Fair Trade
Take fair-trade coffee, for example. To Richards, the supposed moral good of raising farmer wages through fair trade is actually an immoral act because it alters the free market by divorcing the coffee bean from supply and demand. Richards contends that coffee farmers need free market wages to consider whether or not they should continue to grow coffee. If the supply strips prices to unlivable wages, such an occurrence gives the farmer reason to leave the coffee business.
But this defense of capitalism is much too simplistic. The world is not equal and people don’t have equal opportunity to shift career paths. Especially in developing countries where coffee is grown, the plummeting prices of the coffee bean provides grounds for a shift in career paths, but there’s no capital for these people to reinvest in a different direction. Sometimes the choice is between growing coffee at a living wage, and growing coffee at less than a living wage.
The Importance of Criticism
Arguments such as the one against fair trade made reading Money, Greed, and God unsustainable. Richards writes,
“We should do everything we can to build a more just society and a more just world” (32).
I agree with this statement completely. Part of achieving this statement, however, is placing a critical eye on every aspect of life. Capitalism is probably the best possible system to date. But that does not mean it is free from criticism and correction. Capitalism can and should be better for everyone in the world. Even if letting the free market run its course works in many scenarios, we must always question the way we operate. Improvement might exist around the corner.
I didn’t finish Money, Greed, and God because it didn’t need to read another pure defense of capitalism. Let’s live in the gray areas where we assess different situations and recognize the pros and cons of every system.
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