In a faceoff with lawyer and writer David French, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf said, “There are no effective replacements for capitalism. The question is, what is the Christian responsibility for the proper functioning of it, and to what extent can we steer the whole of capitalist production to serve genuinely human ends as they are articulated by the Christian faith?”
Of course, the US is not capitalist and efforts to reform capitalism always lead to socialism. But French doesn’t know that. In responding to theologian Volf, French conceded that, “Every economic system has culture-creating and culture-dissolving elements. Every one of them… All of these economic systems has tradeoffs.”
Having read little in economic history, French does a decent job of defending capitalism, but he fails because he surrenders to Volf’s fiercest fallacy, his false anthropology that says the economic system creates the character of the people. Both should know that is the atheist foundation of socialism.
Hayek proves it in his classic The Counter-revolution in Science. Atheists in France’s Revolution fabricated the silly idea that people are born good and turn bad only because of oppression, and property is the greatest oppressor. The state can save mankind and restore us to our natural state of innocence through legislation, regulation and education.
Today, Marxism has so suffused our culture that even Christians have embraced this atheistic anthropology. But for 1,800 years, Christians had insisted that humans are not born good; we are flawed. We have a strong tendency toward evil. The government, church and family can try to direct human nature to the good, but only Christ can free us from enslavement to our tendency toward evil.
If the Bible and 1,800 years of Christian theology aren’t enough to convince French and Volf, they should look to the field of sociology, especially Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress by Samuel P. Huntington. The essence of the book is that religion creates culture and values, culture creates institutions and institutions determine economic development. Also, Helmut Schoeck’s Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior demonstrates the role of envy in creating culture and that only Christianity has managed to suppress envy enough to allow for economic development.
Once French gave away the Christian doctrine of original sin, the conversation shrunk to a discussion of how much state control of the economy is needed. French argued that only the most extreme libertarian would want to give up our web of consumer protection, workplace safety and food regulations. But French doesn’t know Nobel laureate James Buchanan’s work in public choice, Bruce Yandle’s Bootleggers and Baptists, or the economics of regulatory capture.
In sum, those teach us that corporations buy politicians who appoint company men to run regulatory agencies. It’s most obvious in the revolving door between the federal agencies overseeing banks and the banks like Goldman Sachs, but it exists across all industries. Regulatory capture explains why most industries in the US are organized as cartels: corporations use regulations to eliminate small competitors. Much of what Volf and French dislike about the US comes from the regulations they admire.
Giving in to Volf again, French stated, “In the absence of cultural virtue, in the absence of a virtue in citizenry, a dog-eat-dog capitalism can be a miserable place.” French doesn’t explain how such a form of capitalism might come about or what the phrase means. I can only guess that he has fallen prey to socialist definitions of laissez-faire in which there are no laws prohibiting theft, fraud, murders, etc. If so, no dog-eat-dog capitalism has ever existed and no promoter of free markets, capitalism, or laissez-faire has ever proposed anything so ridiculous.
Part of the definition of capitalism includes the rule of law, that is, God’s law prohibiting theft, fraud, murder, kidnapping, enslavement, etc. The most extreme libertarian, and the man who minted the term “libertarian,” Murray Rothbard, insisted on the need for natural law and independent courts to adjudicate it with private police enforcing it. Even the atheist and immoral Ayn Rand recognized the need for law in capitalism.
Francis Wayland, a Baptist minister and president of Brown University, wrote the best-selling economic textbook of the 19th century. In his book, he insisted laissez-faire was based on natural law (God’s law) and the Bible. He called it laissez-faire because Marxists hadn’t invented the term “capitalism” at the time. So, if one understands what laissez-faire capitalism is, dog-eat-dog capitalism is an oxymoron, like a lead zeppelin or iron butterfly. It can’t exist.
David French is an important ally in the battle for freedom and we wish him the best. He needs to become better informed in order to be more effective. He and Volf need to reclaim the Christian doctrine of original sin, because of which a government cannot change the character of the people; government merely reflects the character of the people.
How should we respond to Volf’s question about steering capitalism toward Christian ends? The answer is that capitalism doesn’t need us to steer it. It produces Christian results on its own because the principles of capitalism came from the Bible and natural law. It takes care of the poor by creating jobs, the only long term solution to poverty. Charity is a stop-gap measure. But capitalism increases wealth so that people have more to give to charity.