This is the often misinformed picture the modern American tends to conjure up when she think of capitalism. That, and fat stubby cigar wielding men in suits with big bags of cash. People from all over the spectrum will tell you capitalism is a dog eat dog policy, it's survival of the fittest corporate edition. In his book War of the Classes Jack London said, "This is the key-note to LAISSEZ FAIRE,-- everybody for himself and devil take the hindmost. It is upon this that the rampant individualist bases his individualism. It is the let-alone policy, the struggle for existence, which strengthens the strong, destroys the weak, and makes a finer and more capable breed of men."
This is the view of capitalism held by many today in America. But what really is capitalism? Does competition in the market place really create winners and losers? Does every dollar I make another loses? The whole point of capitalism is greed right? I mean, didn't the famous capitalist apologist Ayn Rand write a book titled The Virtue of Selfishness? Well let's take a look at some of these questions.
It is often said that capitalism is a zero-sum game. I win, you lose. Senior Fellow at Discover Institute Jay W. Richards describes this view in Money, Greed, and God, "From there it's a short step from individuals to nations: strong nations like the United States win; weaker countries like Nicaragua lose and lose and lose and lose. If that's right, then a market that allows some to get richer than others is basically theft on a large scale. The strong prey on the weak; end of story." Now this is important, because if this is true about capitalism how could any person with a healthy functioning conscience support such a thing?
But turns out this is not the case. Competition doesn't create a win-lose situation but rather a win-win situation. I may lose my $5.55 when I order a Double-Double from In-N-Out (Yes I know the prices.) but it I gained a Double-Double with fries and a drink. I valued the meal more than the money, I felt it was a fair trade. I won, I got a burger, In-N-Out won they got $5.55. Now more competition doesn't make things worse but rather better. Let's say that instead of In-N-Out I wanted a burrito? I could go to Chipotle down the street, but what if there was no Chipotle? What if all I could get was an In-N-Out burger? Well, I would still have satisfied my hunger but I would not have valued that burger as much as the Chipotle burrito. So competition adds more choices, more choices allows me as the consumer to get what I really want. "An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game." (Richards, 2010).
Next we tackle the charge that capitalists are fueled by greed. This idea has been embraced by many. Including those who call themselves capitalists. But is it factual? Is it the only reason that I start a business is because I love money and want more of it? This question causes rather a problem for Christian conservatives.
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Christianity has always taught that the love of money is the root of all evil. So if capitalism is based off of the love of money, greed, than it is evil and should be rejected by any moral people, right? Well let's examine that claim.
I like the simple way Dinesh D'Souza explains it in his book America, while some people have used the term "greed" or "selfishness" to power prosperity, Adam Smith used the more precise term "self-interest." Now there is a huge difference between greed and self-interest. I've heard it said that greed is Scrooge or the old miser from Aesop's fables. You know, the one that did nothing with his money but buried it. Greedy people hoard their money, and do nothing with it. They don't invest it or take risks with it and most certainly don't give it away to charity. That does not sound like the capitalist entrepreneur to me.
So then what is capitalism? Well D'Souza introduces to us George Gilder. And according to Gilder giving is the moral center of capitalism not greed or self-interest. These things you might see expressed in the free market but they are not what make up the free market. They are just parts of human nature. But capitalism revolves around the idea of serving others. The one that can provide the best way to meet the needs of others is the one that gets the business. "Capitalists who make their good profits," writes Dinesh, "do so not because they are especially self-interested but because they are especially good at empathizing with and serving other people." So capitalism then far from promoting greed and selfishness promotes the Christian principle of servanthood. It is by serving and meeting the needs of others that you become successful.
As Jesus said in Luke 22:26 "But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth." So in this aspect far from being frowned upon, the true capitalistic entrepreneur can be seen as an imitator of Christ the Greatest Servant.