SA Voters’ Guide Critique #4: Free Market vs. Socialism

We continue our critique of the Christian Action document Biblical principles for Using Your Vote on http://www.savotersguide.com. The author’s fourth principle is ‘For Free Market (Against Socialism)’.

Is this principle Biblical?
It is very difficult to make this kind of judgment in a definitive way, because we have to use scripture to assess economic systems that did not exist yet, and these systems are themselves complicated.

Working negatively, there is much about socialism that is thoroughly unbiblical. It is based on a view of mankind that does not take sin into account, and it naively assumes that ‘everything will turn out alright in the end’ once it’s removed the misanalysed cause of all evil. Marx certainly had no idea how perfection would emerge from the ashes (once all the oppressors of the masses have been killed), nor how perfect society would be organised. It is a foolish, incendiary system that can indeed encourage cheap promises, laziness and what amounts to theft.

On the other hand, there is much in scripture that idealises support for the poor, and sharing of all things in common (as in Acts, although the events concerning Ananias and Sapphira demonstrate that private property is assumed and acceptable). Scripture (in agreement with socialism) also recognises that the rich and powerful are often in that position because they exploit the poor. In fact, in Israel, perhaps partly to avoid this, debts were cancelled and bonded land was returned to it ancestral owners every fiftieth year. So, care for the needy and justice for the oppressed is close to God’s heart, as well as to the heart of socialism.

Likewise, there is much about free market capitalism that accords with scripture, such as that it encourages hard work and enterprise. However, the unregulated free market also makes naïve and unbiblical assumptions about human nature. It assumes that people will play by the Queensbury rules, whereas in reality, greed and gluttony and envy rule, people with money are able to use their influence to protect themselves, and the rich do exploit the poor, often in the most horrific ways. One only needs to investigate the conduct of Coca-Cola in the Third World to see that. In fact, there is some evidence that the current problems with pirates off the coast of Somalia is as a result of the West using their ungoverned seas for illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste (see http://www.alternet.org/audits/136288/we%27re_being_lied_to_about_pirates/)

Is it essential?
If we have to choose one of the two options given, then the free market with its incentives to succeed seems most likely to provide for the vast population that our economies must support. Socialism is ill-conceived and wicked, and it routinely fails with devastating results.

However, if there is to be such a thing as a Christian free market, is would need to be a place where justice is done. This would presumably require a more realistic picture of the evil that is provoked by the love of money, including restraint of greed and fair treatment for those who are otherwise easy to exploit.

Given that this is not likely to be a free market any longer, a truly Christian market would almost certainly be a third option, a combination of reward and integrity, with concern for the welfare of others, generosity and even self-sacrifice.

Therefore it is not essential that a Christian votes in favour of a free market. It might be the better of two bad options, but it is not a Christian system.

Has the author been fair?
Once again, not entirely. It’s bad enough that the scriptures that support the author’s case all unfairly characterise socialism as theft, and that the free market has been given a thorough whitewashing. But more than this, he claims that the ID are opposed to the free market when the quote he supplies says the opposite, and likewise the IFP claims to support less government intervention and more privatisation, but also gets a ‘no’. Unless he has more evidence that he hasn’t shared, this is strange.

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4 thoughts on “SA Voters’ Guide Critique #4: Free Market vs. Socialism

  1. Brendon Schafer says:

    I think you’re missing an important point on this topic.
    It’s true that the Bible doesn’t speak about political systems and the like. It does however have a lot of principles we can pay attention to. Thankfully, you’ve listed some of the negatives already.
    You made mention of that incident in Acts of Annanias and Sapphira. Unfortunately you are wrong in equating that with socialism.
    What you’re seeing in this story, are Christians willingly selling their property and giving it to the church. The church is in turn administering the funds in such a way that all the Christians were cared for.
    The church here is also the organ of charity.
    Statist socialism is confiscation of assets (theft) and an oppressive tax system whereby the state over taxes the rich and says they (the state) give to the poor, which doesn’t make sense, because the poor just seem to stay poor anyway.
    The state should have no role to play in any charity. Jesus said that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are the one’s that are to feed the poor, care for the widows and orphans. If the entire church (body and individuals) did as (we) are supposed to do, we would make government bankrupt in this area.
    They also have NO role to play in housing. This is our responsibility as families.
    Socialism as an ideology does not work, it feeds laziness, under-productivity and too many other ills.
    I agree with you though that Free Market also does not work – but for different reasons. Having said that though, the failure of the US banking system has more to do with state interference in the banking system than it does have to do with the banks themselves.
    The free market though, in my opinion does reflect the Bible’s principles better. The area where free market does not work is in the inherent greed of sinful human nature.
    Actually, I tend to agree with most of what you said in this comment.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Brendan. I hope I didn’t come across as saying that the Bible supports Socialism. I merely meant to point out that there are a number of areas in which scripture and Socialism share a concern, such as in caring for the poor. Whether or not that is the church’s exclusive mandate or also part of government’s responsibility is a debate that I’m happy to leave alone.

      Regarding Ananias and Sapphira, I did in fact mention that event as an example of scripture affirming private property (because Peter is very clear that having their goods in common was an uncoerced, voluntary phenomenon). So, I’m aware that that is a point against Socialism. I was simply pointing out that the ideal community in the Early Church exhibited the goal of all things in common that Socialism tries unsuccessfully to bring about by force.

  2. Michael Wiles says:

    Okay, so if you removed the humanistic elements from Socialism would it be the evil that it is? I understand that it at it’s heart it exalts man, but on a pragmatic level is it not simply a “wisdom” issue, since as you say…
    “Socialism as an ideology does not work, it feeds laziness, under-productivity and too many other ills.”

    The private property issue is an interesting one, because in the Old Testament it was ownership by the clan and not by the individual. Each tribe was allocated an area and each clan was allocated land from that. You were allowed to buy and sell land, but then at the year of Jubilee which was every 50 years, the land reverted to who it had originally been allocated.

    You use Ananias and Sapphira to prove private property was in force, but surely even in Socialism, my fork is mine, or my loaf of bread is mine (I own it), and that is the kind of thing they would have shared. I agree that the bible affirms private property with respect to land – there are other examples of private property. The parable of the man who buys a field springs immediately to mind. Ahab and Naboth’s Vineyard, Naboth would not _sell_ the vineyard. I may however be wrong on the nature of private property in Socialism.

  3. Brendon Schafer says:

    I hope I didn’t come across as saying that the Bible supports Socialism.
    No you didn’t, but I wasn’t totally convinced either.

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