DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, May 2, 2014

On Christianity and Capitalism and Cronyism

Despite contentions to the contrary, Christianity and capitalism are not incompatible. In fact, combined properly they might represent the best way to help the world's poor, a panel of authors who contributed to the new book For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty contend.

The new book is the latest in a series by the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics (IFWE), which cosponsored the panel presentation with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Dr. Jay Richards, an analytic philosopher, intelligent design advocate, and author of the book Money, God, and Greed: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem said that the purpose of For the Least of These is "integrating the truths of theology with the truths of economics."

"We are not going to learn everything from the Bible," Richards said. "There are certain intellectual insights we are morally obligated to learn from economics."

Rev. Art Lindsley, vice president of theological initiatives for IFWE, noted that "the Bible does command us to care for the least of these." However, he contended that that care should fall under the auspices of the church, not the state.

"We think as Christians that we are called to the consideration of poverty not only to help people survive, but to thrive," Lindsley said. The minister said the best way to assure that thriving is to combine Christian and capitalistic principles, rather than rely on charity and government handouts.

Dr. Ann Bradley, the vice president of economic initiatives at IFWE, pointed out that focusing on income inequality solutions can prove troublesome since "the way it is researched and measured is a complex thing."

"What if how we have been thinking about it is wrong?," she asked. For example, she pointed out that income inequality is far less in Afghanistan than it is in the United States. "But I don't think that knowing that is going to make you pack your bags and move to Afghanistan tomorrow," Bradley added.

"Income inequality can tell us some things, but it can't tell us everything," she said, noting that some might say anyone born in this age "has won the income lottery" since studies show that "life has really progressed for all people." In fact, some experts believe extreme poverty could be eliminated in the next few decades.

However, while she believes a combination of Christianity and capitalism is an answer to poverty reduction, she did offer a caveat.

"We have cronyism in government. The rich lobby for their own protection. Only the rich can lobby on K Street (the central home of wealthy lobbying firms in DC). And politicians are willing to listen to people with cash," Bradley said.

Peter Green, who wrote a chapter titled "Stop Helping Us: A Call to Compassionately Move Beyond Charity" said his years working in poor, under-developed countries had led him to 5 convictions.
  1. If you talk only in economic, not personal, terms about poverty "we lose the debate before we say anything."
  2. People talking to others about the problems with poverty need to "engage with the heart." Green talked about seeing mothers taking dirt and a small amount of flour, mixing it, drying it, and then baking it just so their children could have a little something to eat. "That's not OK in this world of plenty," he said.
  3. Traditional ways of helping such as handouts with no concern about the lifestyle of those being helped often cause long-term harm. "In the wake of our good intentions, we leave a mess," Green said. "We create entitlements and dependency and leave the people with feelings of worthlessness and shame.
  4. A job is better than a handout. Green says the organizations he works with try to deliver on that belief.
  5. And finally, as good as that is, "a job is not enough." Green talked about a worker in Rwanda who his organization helped to establish a small business. However, when he returned, he saw the businessman's family and children were not benefitting from the new prosperity. The father was spending all his earnings on alcohol and prostitution and gambling. "Life is more than an accumulation of what we have," Green said.
"We don't want to end up empowering today's oppressed to become tomorrow's oppressors," Green concluded.

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