Here are a couple issues that arise from believing in strict “free-market,” “laissez-faire” or "pure” capitalism.
The first comes from thinking that everything needs to be “privately owned and controlled.” There is no room for common resources, common capital, and common services. Everything, including our natural resources like water and air, as well as our common services such as fire fighting and the military (think of Private Military Companies like Blackwater in Iraq) must be privatized. Is there a danger with this?
Another issue that arises from believing in purely private ownership is that we begin to believe that the goal in life is to own stuff. That what I have is mine, and not somebody else’s. The top priority in a capitalistic worldview becomes our personal material well-being (for each individual, as well as for our nation).
However, this runs contrary to the biblical teaching of Stewardship. Certainly, we “own things,” but what this actually means is that God has entrusted to us these possessions – that they are actually his. Everything we have is actually entrusted to our care, including nature, our fellow human beings, our health and our time.
One of the great Christian economists of our generation, Bob Goudzwaard, wrote these helpful words. As I read them again this week, I was struck about how incredibly insightful they are in light of the current economic crisis.
Is our society characterized by this kind of stewardship? This has become a rhetorical question. Christians no less than nonchristians have frequently acted as if economic means and technology are ends in themselves. We take a steady annual growth in material welfare for granted as if it were a right we are entitled to. We also convince ourselves that our own ever increasing wealth will enable us to preserve nature more carefully as well as provide some aid to the poor nations. But our thinking presupposes that our own material well-being, personally as well as nationally, must receive priority.
I am inclined to state that in this framework of thought things have been turned upside down. Mind you, the question is not whether economic growth in itself is good or bad. Our concern here is with the sequence of things. Stewardship means: first take care of the earth for which God has made you responsible, first see to it that others have enough, and then you will discover that there is plenty left for you and your own society. This is what I would call the economics of God's Kingdom. First seek that Kingdom and all things will come to you as a matter of course.
How can capitalism help or hinder our calling to seek first the Kingdom?