An economic system that is inherently sinful is hard to accept. A system where wealth is generated through paying workers less than the value of their labour and charging customers more than the value of the goods and services is inherently unethical. And yet phenomenal numbers of people of faith and from across the political spectrum either gladly support capitalism or accept it as an inevitable and eternal, even if they personally desire a more equitable and egalitarian system..
There are apologists for capitalism who complain about capitalism– the price of gasoline; the quality of cell phone services; the treatment of passengers by many airlines; discrimination in hiring; workplace injuries—who see such things as aberrations rather than capitalism functioning properly. It is an expense to provide comfortable seating or effective technical support or decent working conditions and costs need to be minimised.
Support for the excesses of capitalism seem to be growing. Attacks on trade unions, public interest organisations and other organised responses to injustice and exploitation have widespread and vocal public support. Efforts to undo generations of progress in workplace health and safety, pay equity, environmental standards, food safety, safe drinking water, public transportation and accessible good quality health care are being eroded. On-line comment sections of the media are filled with hateful attacks on public servants and public sector unions. There is wide place resistance to the rise of unfettered capitalism but often not in the public eye.
I wonder if the reason capitalism is in resurgence is that progressive forces have been content to try and tame capitalism, rather than abolish it. The ideas of a mixed economy, of regulated competition, of corporate social responsibility and other efforts to reshape capitalism haven’t made it into a friend to all humanity and a gentle presence on the planet but yet these ideals have been expressed by many, myself included, as ways of helping to address the worst aspects of capitalism trying to move things in a more positive direction in the long term. Like apologists for Stalin, the crusades or the militarisation of the concept of jihad, we apologists for capitalism have much to answer for.
The resurgence of capitalism is happening in South Africa and in Toronto, in China and in Devonshire. It is one potential expression of Think Globally Act Locally. A profitable corporation thinks locally by threatening to move a factory if labour and environmental standards aren’t weakened. It thinks globally by moving wealth away from those that create it into massive private accumulations.
I am angered by corporate greed; I am saddened by people of faith who justify it. I look at my scriptures and see a preferential option for the poor, a call for sustainability, community and compassion. I can’t make the leap to the view that capitalism is compatible with Christianity.