Thursday, November 1, 2007

In an MBA course of study it is implied that one is ready to engage in the current economic system that dominates the world: capitalism. I have appreciated the program here at Eastern because they don't make that assumption. Each professor acknowledges the reality that capitalism is not an ideal situation, it is simply the situation in which we find ourselves, the reality of the modern context. Some professors believe in the market system more than others, but overall there is a sense that they recognize the failures and know that reliance upon God comes before reliance upon any system made by humanity.

Because of the failures of capitalism (greed, consumerism, lack of social responsibility) many people wish to abandon that system altogether. I once was one of these people. As a Quaker and an idealist I constantly judged the capitalist structure for the evils that it produced. Now, through this program, from our readings and discussions, I've been challenged to rethink my position. (Don't hear me wrong, there are still evils in capitalism and I still judge them.)

So, instead of adopting a socialist economic system, I am convinced we must re-orient the realities of the market system.

What are those realities? Market systems are based on relationship, choice, and voluntary exchange. Socialism is based on egalitarian ideals (which I don't believe are necessarily explicit in Scripture), forced exchange (which removes the heart and impact of the action), it removes incentive (motivation to work, serve, love) all of which can mar the image of God in humanity.

Seeing these realities, what are the alternatives?

It seems to me that instead of choosing an alternative which centralizes control and forces exchange, I believe that we must reshape the capitalist system from the ground up. Self-interest is a reality in humanity and capitalism. Self-interest is what drives greed, materialism, power, consumerism, and wealth. I believe that instead of abandoning the capitalist system we must reshape it so that we become other-interested. In our other-interestedness we can then use the opportunity created by capitalism to encourage voluntary exchange (charity, community, etc.) to enrich the lives of others.

Many people try and use the parable of the rich young ruler and the early church in Acts as arguments away from a wealth-creating capitalist system. Both of these examples, I believe, miss the mark. In the rich young ruler, Christ is exposing the realities of the young ruler's life and challenging him to do away with that which gets in his way of God. Jesus did not deny the reality that there will be rich and poor, instead he seemed to challenge the ways in which the rich view their money and showed that true devotion is good stewardship of that money.

The early church also pooled their resources. But the reality is that they were just that... their resources. This means that the members of the Church had private property rights and gave willingly the resources they had gained.

Finally, capitalism is driven by the mindset that we must consume more, and therefore we must produce more. But, in reality, that is not the only option. If, instead, we lived within our means and desired less, then we would not have to produce more and get into the perpetual cycle of consumption that we find ourselves. And a decreased desire to consume would shift the economic factors of supply and demand and would not necessarily adversely affect the economy in the long-term. It would also possibly balance out our national debt if we were able to slow our consumption to a steady rate. We would therefore rely less heavily on Chinese investment.

So, if we shift our thinking to be more other-oriented, willing to give, and able to desire less, I believe we would not see the evils of capitalism as starkly as we do. Obviously there will be problems no matter which system we adopt, but I'm seeing the good that market economies have brought the world and also the need, as followers of Christ, to reorient our minds.


Krista said...

Great post! I'm thinking I like your school/program a lot!

Anonymous said...

Of course being "other minded" is obviously anti-fallen human nature, so hope on a global, national or even regional level is difficult to envision. It is exciting to see that you are (whether that is from a personal desire or because of being pushed by school) thinking through how even the BIG issues such a Capitalism affect (af or ef?) all of us.

It is hardest to contemplate the affects on family and personal motivations and lifestyles.

Do I do what I do so my life will be "better" and therefore my kid's lives? Or do I "do" because God has called me to affect "my world" in a financial way?

Enough of long response to a long post.


Michael said...

Thanks for the comment Dad...

Other-minded is anti-fallen human nature, so it is hard to envision a large-scale movement away from self-interest. But it seems that it would be easier for people to swallow a modification on the current capitalist system rather than promoting a hippie Socialist system.

I am feeling pushed by the school and from within to wrestle with these issues. In my mind, this (analyzing capitalsim) is one of the big issues/questions I entered the program with. And we have been able to spend ample time really thinking it through.

Now, the family question is a different thing... and I'll leave it untouched for now.

cherice said...

I appreciate this post, Michael. I've been thinking about these issues quite a bit, although I don't have a business background at all. But how do we live in a society that is so self-centered and become other-centered form within it?

I'd like to hear more about your thoughts on what would happen if we all consumed less. Would it be possible for the world market to continue? Most of what I've heard/read suggests that if we did that, the economy would collapse. The American economy, it seems, is completely built on debt and over-consumption, so if we stopped over-consuming, our economy wouldn't work. How do you see it working out that the economy could survive a massive down-shift in consumption?