The Greed Of Capitalism


One of the early Twentieth Century "muckraker" novels


This topic is too easy — except people have forgotten what the basic assumption of capitalism was. (What are they teaching in schools these days? 😉 )

Once upon a time, capitalism was believed to be all about how to give the best products for the lowest prices. Logically, if a consumer has two products to choose from, one well made but expensive and the other constructed with inferior material in a hasty manner, but inexpensive, the buyer would make a personal choice based on need and resources. But what if a third product came out that was both well made and inexpensive? Would there be any question which item consumers of all stripes would buy? That was capitalism.

Except certain greedy entrepreneurs figured out that they could buy up or force out the competition, then set the price and standard of the goods at whatever level they wanted. Thus, monopolies were born.

Enter government regulation. Citizens put into a situation in which they needed goods or services, such as oil or rail travel, were helpless against a well-funded corporation unless government kept businesses from taking advantage. The Sherman Anti-trust Act were passed to keep in check the greed of the unscrupulous.

And yet, here we are again.

Not so long ago “Ma Bell,” which seemed to handle phone service quite well, without exorbitant rates or poor service, was “broken up” because government declared it to be a monopoly. But I think a good many people would argue that we haven’t changed all that much. Phone service is back in the hands of a few (as opposed to one), so it can be argued that there is competition, but complaints abound regarding quality. And price? Hard to compare to know if prices would have become what they are now since the technology has changed so much. Perhaps those changes would never have occurred. Or perhaps new businesses with the new technology would have naturally become the competition Ma Bell had lacked.

Those who decry government regulation criticize such measures as the Sherman Anti-trust Act.

Alan Greenspan, in his essay entitled Antitrust condemns the Sherman Act as stifling innovation and harming society. “No one will ever know what new products, processes, machines, and cost-saving mergers failed to come into existence, killed by the Sherman Act before they were born. No one can ever compute the price that all of us have paid for that Act which, by inducing less effective use of capital, has kept our standard of living lower than would otherwise have been possible.” (“Sherman Antitrust Act“)

So where is greed in all this? I suggest that Mr. Greenspan’s position ignores one important Biblical truth, in the same way that socialism ignores one important Biblical command: Man is sinful. Left to our own devices, we will act selfishly, we will take advantage of others, we will grab what we can at the expense of others.

If anyone is in doubt this is true, he need only to think about some of the common tag lines that have run through our culture: “It’s not personal; it’s just business” or “Just win, baby,” or “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Man is sinful. Why then are we surprised when sinful man acts sinfully? We shouldn’t be surprised; we should expect it.

As I understand what the Bible says about the function of government, it has the job of punishing wrong doers. I conclude, therefore, that all regulation isn’t bad. Unlike Mr. Greenspan, I tend to think monopolies would resist change — sort of like oil companies resisting alternative energy sources, sort of like Ma Bell might have resisted cell phone companies. Why would a monopoly welcome competition? These companies, remember, are run by sinners. They are not generally looking to see ways that they can cut the costs for consumers.

What’s the point of all this? Primarily, I think Christians need to beware falling in love with a human system — economic or political. God did not mandate democracy or capitalism. He did give us principles to follow such as working for our daily food and paying a laborer his due. Jesus told a parable that seems to encourage investment (though his purpose was clearly spiritual). The Mosaic laws, on the other hand, forbade usury, even as they provided for the poor by allowing them to go into fields and “glean” after the workers had harvested a crop — sort of a work for welfare system. There were other provisions in place to insure that poverty would not be a problem, yet when Jesus was teaching, He said, You will have the poor with you always.

Can we fix government, or greedy corporations? Sure. One heart at a time. Are we Christians praying for our President (not against him)? Are we praying for our Senators and our Congressmen? How about the corporations we think are so greedy — has anyone thought to look up the name of the CEO and start praying for him to meet the Savior? That’s what all sinners need. All of us.

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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