Is Capitalism Based on Greed?

If capitalism is driven by a sinful desire (greed), then it must be rejected as an immoral system.

Such issues have come up again in recent months as a number of new members of congress (and old members) are pushing the country away from capitalism and towards socialism, mostly on moral grounds. Even some well-meaning evangelicals, who have a genuine care for the poor, find themselves drawn to this new movement and its disdain for capitalism.

 

Ever since Gordon Gekko’s character in the movie Wall Street uttered the phrase, “Greed is good,” there has been a wide-spread and oft-repeated myth that capitalism is based on greed. And, so the argument goes, if capitalism is driven by a sinful desire (greed), then it must be rejected as an immoral system.

Such issues have come up again in recent months as a number of new members of congress (and old members) are pushing the country away from capitalism and towards socialism, mostly on moral grounds. Even some well-meaning evangelicals, who have a genuine care for the poor, find themselves drawn to this new movement and its disdain for capitalism.

In light of this current climate, I appreciate Jay W. Richards’ book, Money, Greed, and God:Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009).  Richards sets out to dispel many myths about capitalism, and is particularly intent on showing that it is not at all contrary to the teachings of Jesus and Christianity, as so many suppose.

Chapter five is devoted to the myth that capitalism is driven by greed, and Richards makes a number of useful points:

1. The fact that individuals in a capitalistic society happen to be greedy, does not mean capitalism is actually based on greed.  Richards is quick to distinguish the greedy intentions of individuals (which, unfortunately, are prevalent), with the capitalistic system itself.

2. There is a difference between selfishness and self-interest.  Capitalism is based on people operating out of their own self-interest, says Richards, not operating out of selfishness.  Self-interest is not in itself immoral.  Indeed, many of our daily actions are based on self-interest, such as brushing our teeth, looking both ways before crossing the street, and eating healthy foods.  One might even say, our self-interest is an act of stewardship of the things God has given us.

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