Is Capitalism One of the World’s Greatest Restraints on Evil?
For most of my adult life the word “socialism” was treated like a four letter word. Rightfully so.
More people were killed in the 20th century at the hand of socialist governments (including Nazism and communism) that any other time in history–over 100 million innocent people.
Even those who were spared by the socialist regimes became enslaved and impoverished by heavy-handed governments.
Yet, socialism seems to be in vogue in the 21st century with a recent poll indicating that 40% of Americans now view it somewhat favorably–especially young people.
Why do many embrace socialism and want to do away with capitalism–the largest driver of prosperity and freedom?
Because capitalism just might be one of the greatest restraints on sin in the world today.
Capitalism: A Restraint on Evil?
Before we look at the effects of capitalism (I prefer “free enterprise”), let’s look at a variety of motivations that stand behind all human activities. I will list various motives in order of their goodness.
The highest motivation to which a human being can aspire is to live for the glory of God. This comes about when a person realizes they are a sinner, turns from their life of selfishness and learns to daily live to honor God in their attitudes and actions.
1 Corinthians 10:31 is one of my favorite verses: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
In other words, in the same way you learned as a child to honor your parents in what you said and did, do the same in your adult life to your Heavenly Father. Always ask the question: “What would make God happy?”
That’s another way of stating “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD). It’s hard to go wrong in life when your conscious motivation is to please the only Person in the universe who is perfectly holy, loving, just, honest and kind in all His dealings.
God’s perfect character becomes reflected in you when you live to glorify Him.
A second noteworthy motivation in a fallen world is to live to serve God and others. This motive recognizes that human beings work with only two entities in life: relationships and material things. In other words, life is made up of people and stuff.
On the “things” side of life, God ask us to be stewards. Take care of and improve what you have. That includes the physical world, which the Bible calls the “Dominion or Cultural Mandate” (Genesis 1:28).
We also have relationships to other free beings (who make moral choices). That begins with our relationship to God (spiritual, yet real) and blossoms in various human relations with family, friends, and those we meet along life’s journey.
Good relationships require that we serve God and others. This is why the first four of the Ten Commandments relate to God and the last six talk about right relationships with our fellow humans.
A great motive to wake up with each morning is a commitment to serve both God and people with your time and talents.
A third good motivation for living is acting out of self-interest that also cares for the concerns of others. This motivation begins with self but doesn’t flower into selfishness. Rather, it does something for ones’ own good while helping another person. It’s loving your neighbor as yourself.
The fourth human motivation (moving to the “bad” side of the spectrum)–is self-interest that doesn’t care about others. This philosophy pushes “Me only” or “Me first.” We’ve all done it and it’s not pretty. If we mature beyond self-focus in life, we see it for what it really is–narcissism. This motive doesn’t really care about people.
The final motive is selfish evil. It’s doing what I want to do and hurting others if they get in the way. This motive leads to theft, lies (breaking the Commandments) and government-wise, includes tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao who killed millions of people for personal gain and glory.
To summarize, human beings can act out of many different motivations. Some are God-and-other-oriented and bring good. Others are self-serving and can be moderate to extremely destructive.
The latter motivations exist because of the Fall which enthroned selfishness in the human heart. That’s why sin and evil exist. God’s plan of redemption countered the evil motivations through Jesus dying for our sins, changing willing hearts and lives, and transforming people’s motives who put their faith in Him.
God also used another natural means to restrain sin on earth after the Fall.
We call it work.
After Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God cursed the ground (Gen. 3:17,18) making it harder to sin. He changed the physical earth (Isaiah 24:14-16) so that people wouldn’t find it easy to ruin paradise. They needed to work from sun-up to sundown–using most of their time to survive. Work was a curse but also a blessing. It restrained many aspects of sinful behavior.
Even so, over the first 2000 years of history, the motives of human hearts became darkened and evil (Genesis 6:5,6). God destroyed that world with the Flood but saved Noah and His family because “Noah walked with God” (i.e. he had good motivations).
After the Great Deluge which wiped out the ancient world, God altered the earth in various ways (Romans 8:20,21), caused human beings to live shorter lives (less than 120 years) and continued to use work as a means of restraining sin.
Fast forward 3700 years to 1776.
Just three months before America’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith, published “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” The Wealth of Nations laid out in detail the economic blessings that comes from free people moving in self-interest to meet the needs of others.
Smith’s treatise, coming on the heels of the Magna Carta, the Renaissance/Reformation, English common law, and 18th century spiritual revivals, showed that free peoples–acting for themselves to benefit others–could multiply prosperity. His revolutionary theory based on biblical ideas unleashed a global economic revolution for 250 years that would alleviate half of world poverty and produce stunning global wealth the world had never seen.
What is the genius of capitalism?
- It allows free people to benefit by selling what others want (goods) to receive what they desire (money).
- It benefits the common person, not elites, and levels the playing field to creativity (not privilege) and hard work (not entitlement).
- The “invisible hand” of the consumer keeps everyone honest, prices low, discourages laziness, stimulates competition, and helps create better products.
- It requires honesty and other character qualities to succeed.
- It’s a WIN–WIN proposition and, when done for the glory of God (as are many faith-based businesses), is a triple win.
- Global capitalism links nations together in common interest, greatly diminishing the need and likelihood of war.
We have two sons that manage businesses on the west coast. Ryan tells his employees: “Leave your personal problems at the door and serve our clients.” That encourages character growth and non-self-centered behavior. Jason says: “Put the customer first and be a friend that serves them.”
When the employees follow their advice, everybody wins–all due to the brilliance of capitalism.
Yet, socialism is making a comeback today for a number of reasons. Ignorance and forgetfulness lead the stampede. But behind the human deceptions stand satanic forces who want to destroy life and liberty. Demons do their most diabolical work through government tyranny and control.
To accomplish that work, capitalism needs to be trashed and socialism must ascend.
We must stop them.
Remember that other than the Church of Jesus Christ changing people’s hearts and lives through evangelism and discipleship, capitalism just might be the greatest restraint against evil the world’s ever known.
Use it, for the glory of God, in your own life and nation.
Thanks, Gordon (and James). I just got back from a YWAM North American Leadership Conference and am encouraged how God is speaking to us about all these issues. We all know someone with these various motives. The key is to keep consciously living the first one–for the Glory of God–until death (Revelation 2:10).
I believe Charlene did that very thing, Gordon. Love you much and hope our paths cross sometime soon.
Ron, I echo Gordon’s comments. Great article. Thank you. r/ Jim Oas
Thank you for writing this great article. As usual it was laced with interesting points that kept the reader engaged adding fresh insights along the way. After reading your six positive comments about free enterprise I thought, why am I so moved by this? I guess, I had an real-life comparison for each point. Eighteen years of conducting business in the ‘seriously-social’ business environment of China … Toxic socialism! Hard business, no PROFIT ! Hard church planting but much, much FRUIT. Thank You Lord for using Ron and many of his team-members to keep us vitiable and afloat.. All we needed was miraculous wisdom and favor then and the same for now here at home..