"There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it's not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise--the principle at the core of American culture."-- Arthur Brooks, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2009
Nowhere is this schism
Download Audio as MP3 more visible than within American evangelicalism, especially among the rising generation of twenty-somethings and college students commonly referred to as "Millenials." Left-leaning evangelical activists such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo criticize the capitalist system and argue that in a nation as wealthy as America the government can and should take care of the poor. These arguments resound with Millenials--whose values reflect as much care for child soldiers in Uganda as for unborn infants in their own hometowns.
What is missing from this discussion is a thoughtful consideration of whether the criticisms of free markets are actually valid. Is it possible that market-based solutions are the key to ending poverty, providing health care and education, and raising the standard of living for all? At this event, Jay W. Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009) will lead a discussion of the way in which the free enterprise system can be used to meet the biblical mandates to alleviate poverty, care for the sick, and steward our environmental resources. This is the second event of a new initiative of the American Enterprise Institute to engage young people in a conversation about the relationship between the free enterprise system and values.
|5:15 p.m.||Registration and Dinner|
|5:30||Introduction:||Henry Olsen, AEI
|5:45||Address:||Jay W. Richards, Heritage Foundation|
|6:30||Question and Answer|
WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 30, 2009--Typically economists rely on the statistical evidence to demonstrate the superiority of markets over other economic systems, but before a large crowd of students, young professionals, and leaders from a variety of fields, economist Jay W. Richards outlined three arguments for the superiority of free market capitalism based not on statistics, but on Christian morality. His argument debunked three prevalent myths about free market economics. In so doing, Richards took a stand against increasingly vocal spiritual leaders who argue that Christian faith is incompatible with capitalism. Richards pointed out, "As long as you define capitalism correctly and you avoid a certain number of basic intellectual mistakes that cause our moral intuitions to misfire, you can be a serious Christian and also an advocate of capitalism."
Richards was careful to point out that capitalism is not to be understood as the "Christian" or the "biblical" economic system. He clarified that you can indeed be a Christian and a Socialist and go to heaven, but "You would just be in the 'bad economics' section of heaven." He continued, "The basic Christian worldview lends itself to capitalism and, in fact, the Judeo-Christian gave rise to capitalism and economic freedom in the West."
Richards first tackled "The Piety Myth," saying it leads to "Christian Socialist" thinking along the following lines: Christians should care about the poor; Socialists talk a lot about caring for the poor; conclusion, Christians must be Socialists. Debunking this Piety Myth requires acknowledging that while intentions are important in many instances, "We ought to focus our moral reasoning on the consequences of policy and not on the intentions of those who advocate policy."
"The Greed Myth," the premise that the market system is based on the sin of greed, came next and Richards described it as the most difficult to uproot because it is so often advocated by supporters of capitalism. Richards differentiated Ayn Rand's "radical amoral individualism" from the "traditionalist" moral philosophy of Adam Smith. Smith, said Richards, "Was not a radical individualist . . . he believed in the invisible hand of the market, but noted that the invisible hand of the market only worked to social benefit when the visible hand of social institutions and the rule of law were oriented and incentivized correctly." Richards continued by clarifying the difference between "selfishness" and "self-interest."
The final myth was "The Zero-Sum Game." Arguing against the notion that wealth can only be created at the expense of someone else, Richards pointed out that the logic of "free exchange" is by definition win-win. He continued by demonstrating that we do not live in a "fixed-pie" world, but that the total amount of wealth in the world is capable of expanding at no one's expense.
Henry Olsen is vice president and director of the National Research Initiative (NRI). He disseminates and publicizes the Institute's work to the academic community; works with AEI's visiting, adjunct, and NRI research fellows; commissions and supervises NRI projects; and oversees the production of NRI publications. Mr. Olsen previously served as vice president for programs at the Manhattan Institute and as a judicial clerk to Danny J. Boggs, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Jay W. Richards has served in leadership positions at the Discovery Institute and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. His most recent book "Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem" seeks to explain the market economy to people who don't like economics, and defend it against its religious critics.