Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Good capitalism, bad capitalism

I am very impressed with Eduardo Porter, who not long ago was appointed to write the column called Economic Scene for The New York Times. He writes about the intersection of economic issues with ordinary human lives. As such, his column has a distinctly ethical dimension. One of his recent columns , written shortly before the national elections, is entitled "At the Polls, Choose Your Capitalism." He contrasts "America's cutthroat capitalism" with that of other countries: "We are more...willing to accept market outcomes, including high inequality and deep poverty. More than citizens of other countries, we tend to believe that success, like failure, is deserved."

This has Christian implications. "Deserving" is the least theological of all categories. In the world-view of the gospel, no one is deserving, because we are all caught in the same web of greed and deceit. Those in power exercise greed and deceit while others suffer as a result. (Those on the unfortunate bottom of the economic heap are not free from greed and deceit--they just have less opportunity to play around with them.) Hamlet said, "Use every man after his deserts, and who shall 'scape whipping?" The Psalmist says, "There is none righteous, no, not one."

On the other hand, the ineffable Dick Cheney, in his days of power, said that the US should mete out treatment to detainees according to "what they deserve." Never mind that America is supposed to be founded on principles of justice safeguarded by courts of law, not by whims of individual persons in power, whether they be CIA operatives, platoon commanders, prison guards, or Vice Presidents.

Eduardo Porter continues, "The US may be good at generating wealth. It is arguably one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial economies in the world....But the American way has not been effective at transforming affluence into broad-based well-being." This is surely an issue that the Christian church needs to address--not just the liberal churches but also the evangelical churches.

(The date of the Times article by Eduardo Porter is Oct 31. I have not figured out how to do links at the remote site I am presently using. We have had no Internet, land line or TV for 11 days but are otherwise warm and well situated.)