Thinking Wisely And Biblically About The 2020 War On Capitalism

Feb 22nd, 2020 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination—Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—have declared war on American capitalism.  Columnist Bret Stephens cites Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute, who has tried to calculate the costs of the programs these two candidates have proposed:  “By his calculations, the federal government would double in size.  Half the American work force would be employed by the government.  Government spending as a percent of GDP would rise to 70% (in Sweden it’s less than 50%).  The 15.3 % payroll tax would hit 27.2 % to help pay for Medicare for All.  Total additional outlays would reach $97.5 trillion on top of the nearly $90 trillion the federal, state and local government is projected to spend . . . Fracking and health insurance—two industries that collectively employ hundreds of thousands of people—wouldn’t be better regulated or reformed in [their] administration.  They’d be abolished.  Much of Silicon Valley, America’s premier growth engine for 40 years, would be turned into a quasi-public utility.”  These are stunning numbers, beyond anything I can truly comprehend.  These are devastating and would be destructive, undermining everything central to American capitalism.

Columnist David Brooks offers another perspective on the immense challenge now posed to American capitalism.  He writes, “This is a golden age for ‘Theyism.’ This is the belief that there is some malevolent, elite ‘they’ out there and ‘they’ are destroying life for the rest of us.  There is Donald Trump’s culture-war Theyism: The coastal cultural elites hate genuine Americans, undermining our values and opening our borders. And there is Bernie Sanders’s class-war Theyism: The billionaires have rigged the economy to benefit themselves and impoverish everyone else . . . Democrats are doing this even though it’s political suicide. Class-war progressivism always loses to culture-war conservatism because swing voters in the Midwest care more about their values . . . than they do about proletarian class consciousness.  Democrats are doing this even though the Sanders class-war story is wrong.”

  • “Sanders starts with a truth: Workers need more bargaining power as they negotiate wages with their employers. But then he blows this up into an all-explaining ideology: Capitalism is a system of exploitation in which capitalist power completely dominates worker power. This ideology crashes against the facts. In the first place, over the past few years wages for workers toward the bottom of the income stream have been rising faster than wages for those toward the top. If the bosses have the workers by the throat, how can this be happening?  Second, wages are still generally determined by skills and productivity. For example, Edward Lazear of Stanford University finds that between 1989 and 2017, productivity in mostly high-skill industries rose by roughly 34 percent and wages in those industries rose by 26 percent. Productivity in industries with mostly less-skilled workers rose by 20 percent while wages grew by 24 percent.  As Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute puts it, capitalism is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s rewarding productivity with pay, and some people and companies are more productive. If you improve worker bargaining power, that may help a bit, but over the long run people can’t earn what they don’t produce.  Third, and most important, most of the increase in earnings inequality has happened between companies, not within them. As John Van Reenen of M.I.T. has found, all over the world superstar businesses are racing ahead of their competitors. As those companies grow more productive, they earn more profit per employee and pay their workers more. Companies that can’t match that productivity don’t, and their workers lag behind.”
  • “A recent Brookings Institution/Chumir Foundation reportalso notes that there is a growing productivity gap between superstar companies and everybody else. Whether it is in tech, retail, manufacturing, utilities or services, productivity growth at the leading companies in each industry has remained very strong. Those productive businesses are capturing larger and larger market shares. But productivity is not growing fast among the lagging companies. Workers in those businesses suffer.  Today’s successful bosses are doing what they should be doing: increasing productivity, growing their businesses and offering great service. A side effect of their efficiency is they spend a smaller share of their revenue on labor even while raising their workers’ wages. In a global information-age economy, the rewards for being best are huge.”
  • “Thus, the core problem is not capitalists exploiting their workers; it’s the rise of productivity inequality. It’s the companies and individuals who don’t have the skills to take advantage of new technologies. The real solution, therefore, is not class war to hammer successful businesses. It’s to boost and expand productivity for everybody else. That’s done the old-fashioned way — by having better schools and better vocational training, by having more open competitive markets, by creating incentives to expand investment, by making sure superstar businesses don’t use lobbyists to lock in their advantages.  The job of public policy is to make it easier for everybody to do what successful people are doing. Productivity is the key to national prosperity. Every time we increase productivity for one person, we all thrive a little more, together.”

Finally, does the Bible help us to think clearly about economic issues?  About socialism?  About capitalism? The 8th commandment as an ethical absolute establishes the sanctity of private property (“You shall not steal,” Exodus 20:15).  The Old Testament affirms this in the Levitical code (see Lev. 25:10).  Neither the government nor society owns property; individuals do.  The Mosaic covenant was based on laws that defined punishment for stealing and the restitution for damage to another person’s animals, fields, etc.  Deuteronomy 19:14 even affirmed the importance of boundaries for privately owned land.  This ethical standard is also affirmed in the New Testament (e.g., Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Ephesians 4:28, etc.).  The New Testament also states that individuals have the right of ownership of money, possessions and are to use them wisely, as a stewardship from God (e.g., Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 4:28, etc.).

In the modern era, the emergence of communism (and socialism) was an attack on the sanctity of private property.  Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto:  “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence:  abolition of private property.”  Theologian and ethicist, Wayne Grudem comments that “an abolition of private property as occurs under communism is horribly dehumanizing because it greatly minimizes people’s freedom to make wise choices regarding the stewardship of their resources and prevents human economic and cultural flourishing as God intended it to occur.”

Grudem also offers instructive application of the 8th commandment:  “It protects property and possessions.  By implication, we are right to think it also protects another person’s time, talents, and opportunities—everything over which people have been given stewardship.  We are not to steal someone else’s property, time, talents, or opportunities.”  What follows are important biblical principles for evaluating Democratic Socialism:

  1. Private Property as Stewardship: God entrusts to us our time, talents, property, possessions and opportunities as a stewardship.  He expects us to manage these well and to be wise and thankful for what He has entrusted to us.  This proposition has several implications for us as Christians:
  • We are accountable to God for how we use our property (see 1 Corinthians 4:2).
  • God dispenses different levels of stewardship responsibility when it comes to property. Thus, everyone is responsible for being faithful with what they have received from God.  Those who receive much are held to a higher standard of expectation (see Luke 12:48).
  • There are no expectations in Scripture that God will bring about complete equality of stewardship or equality of possessions among His people either in this life or the age to come.
  1. The Blessings of Private Ownership of Property: Our personal possessions are not to be a source of guilt or of feelings of superiority over others. They are to be a source of blessing.
  • Humanity’s dominion authority over God’s world brings glory to Him (Genesis 1:28; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • Since God richly “provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), personal possessions should promote a spirit of thankfulness in our lives (see Psalm 103:2; 136:1).
  • Since God richly “provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), personal possessions should promote a spirit of joy in our lives.
  • The private ownership of property is an ongoing test of our faithfulness and devotion to God (see Psalm 62:1; 73:25-26; 1 John 3:17).
  • Wayne Grudem writes: The 8thcommandment “gives (1) the opportunity for human achievement (by entrusting property to us), (2) the expectation of human achievement (by making us accountable stewards), and (3) the expectation of human enjoyment of products made from the earth, with thanksgiving to God.”
  1. The Dangers of Private Ownership of Property: The Bible is filled with counsel that we need God’s wisdom when it comes to private ownership of property.  Without such wisdom, dangers lurk to snare us into egregious sin.
  • The danger of materialism: See 1 Timothy 3:3 and Matthew 6:24.  1 Timothy 6:9-10 argues that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
  • The danger of the “health and wealthy gospel” (aka “prosperity gospel”): Such teaching claims that God desires for each believer to have good health and material prosperity and that the role of the believer is to have enough faith through a “positive confession” of that faith through our spoken words. {Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, etc.)  God never makes such a promise in the NT.  Consider these verses:
  • He promises to meet our needs (Philippians 4:19) and that as we generously give to His work, He will generously supply our needs in return (Luke 6:38).
  • The poor are often used by God as examples of deep faith (see 2 Corinthians 8:2; 1 Corinthians 4:11 and most importantly James 2:5).
  • Nowhere does God command us to seek prosperity but He does warn of us of its dangers (see 1 Timothy 6:8-11; Matthew 19:24; James 2:6-7 and 5:1-2).
  • The Danger of False Asceticism: A teaching that constantly opposes and criticizes the enjoyment of material things that God has placed in His world. See primarily Colossians 2:20-23, where Paul resolutely condemns such teaching.

The current war on capitalism is not only dangerous and unwise; it decidedly violates clear biblical teaching and principles.  It will not only bankrupt the nation, it will introduce a set of assumptions totally alien to wise decision-making when it comes to the stewardship of God’s resources.

See David Brooks, “The Bernie Sanders Fallacy,” in the New York Times (16 January 2020); Bret Stephens, in the New York Times (25 January 2020;  and Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, pp. 895-916.

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One Comment to “Thinking Wisely And Biblically About The 2020 War On Capitalism”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Thanks for the informative and relevant study.