Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can Christians be capitalists?

"God is a relational being, whose priority is not economic growth, but right relationships both between humanity and himself and between human beings. Christ's injunction to 'love God and love your neighbour' points to the priority of relational wealth over financial wealth because love is a quality of relationships."
- Ross Gittins, summarising Michael Schulter
Ross Gittins, economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, has done a good job summarising a paper by Michael Schluter of the Relationships Foundation, a Christian think tank dedicated to re-conceptualising social and economic relations from a relational rather than purely economic standpoint.

Schluter's short paper makes five main criticisms of capitalism as we know it today: its exclusively materialistic vision; its tendency to offer rewards without responsibilities; its limitation of liabilities on shareholders; its tendency to disconnect people from places; and its undermining of social safeguards. Whether these criticisms apply to all forms of capitalism or only to what Schluter calls "corporate capitalism" is a question for further discussion, but as a brief and accessible Christian critique of trends in contemporary economic theory and practice, it's not a bad effort.

The whole paper is worth reading, but if you'd like a slightly condensed version, then at least look at Gittens' summary in the SMH. If you enjoyed Schluter's critique, you might also like to look at his brief outline of a possible alternative approach, called Beyond Capitalism: Towards a relational economy.
H/T Dad, John Shorter and Josh Kuswadi, who all sent me links to this article. I'm touched to know that so many people associate me with anti-capitalism.


Anthony Douglas said...

Pro-apostrophes, anti-capitals.

Is that street sign in the photo a subliminal message? ;-)

Christopher said...

Interesting. I will read the paper. Reminded me of the 'iron cage' section from Max Weber. It is too long to put here, but I have put it up over here if you're interested. http://crmayes.blogspot.com/2010/06/weber-light-cloak-of-goods-or-iron-cage.html

byron smith said...

Anthony - indeed. ;-)

Christopher - thanks for the quote. Fascinating, especially how Weber identifies the reign of capitalism with the period of fossil fuel use.

H.R said...

Interesting. I'm writing a paper on Democracy in post 9/11 United States...and I think this paper is going to help me. Thanks.


Unknown said...

I would say that there is a big difference between Commercial capitalism and other forms.

The belief in a free market economy if it has the right morals behind it is certainly not necessarily an evil but would only work in a world where each country can be assured of fair trade. In fact for a truly fair free market economy fair trade would be a given. Unfortunately in the real world we have such wonderful people as the WTO skewing things in favour of the rich.

The protestant work ethic is part of a form of non-atheistic capitalism and is rooted in respect for authority and the concept that 'he who eats must work'. A very Biblical concept.

Parts of the Business world are starting to realise that fair treatment of employees and customers produces a more productive workforce and a more loyal breed of customer. Proof positive that business and ethics CAN be bedfellows.

I would say it is COMMERCIALISM that is the problem. The old proverb "Give me neither poverty nor wealth, for if I am poor I may be tempted and steal and if I am rich I may grow proud and forget God" is never more true than in today's world. It is rare to find a company these days that is content to simply earn enough to pay everyone's wages. It is the modern (and yet age old) emphasis on profit first that does all the damage. I wouldn't call it Capitalism though, I'd call it by its more old fashioned name.


byron smith said...

Thanks MalaChi, I think you're on the money here. It is important to note that the Schluter paper is a critique of "capitalism as we know it today", not capitalism per se. I guess my headline was a little simplified, but that is often the case with headlines.