I've been pondering the economic systems of capitalism and socialism recently. I've been taught all my life that capitalism is the only "Christian" system, and that socialism/communism is a nice idea, but one that will never work. Here's what I think that I think (my thoughts on this matter are still up in the air).
I won't argue that a quick peek at world history will show us that regulated socialism doesn't work if you're looking for a productive community. But I do argue that capitalism doesn't work either, in terms of being a productive community. North America may be productive, but it sure doesn't have the same sense of community that a lot of much poorer places do.
Here's why socialism, as we know it, doesn't work. People are naturally selfish. This has several results:
1. The people who do the regulating end up taking much more than they allow anyone else. This corrupt form of government takes away the people's freedom and their ability to dissent, because the government is the only one with the means for control.
2. People who, on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest, have a work ethic of zero continue to get the same amount of benefits that the hardest of workers get. This gives them no incentive to work hard, because for most people, there is much less internal motivation to work for the good of others as there is to work for one's own good. Therefore, laziness reigns.
3. People who have a much better work ethic will be quickly develop conditioned helplessness. If the fruits of their labours continue being ripped away to be given to the bums who don't deserve it, selfishness again reigns supreme, and they lose their motivation to work hard, and don't even try
Capitalism manages to steer clear of these issues. With the freedom afforded by capitalism, productivity soars, and most people retain the fruits of the labours. Instead, capitalism falls prey to the issues materialism, greed, and factions. Canada is so satiated by materialism, it's suffocating. What can you do when you're constantly worried about getting and keeping things? You work 9 til 5 so that you can pay for your car that you use to drive to and from work, and for the house where you sleep, because heaven forbid you sleep in the car or at the place where you work. It's a pointless cycle, or if it's got a point, it's a tragically selfish one.
Community cannot thrive in this sort of situation. For a community to exist, the focus must be people, and not things. Relationships, not goals.
Now I know that the Bible doesn't say everyone is entitled to equal economic standing. But it does say to look after the widows and the orphans. Contrary to what may appear to be the fact, not everyone is poor is because they have lousy work ethics. Sometimes they just can't quite get ahead, either due to bad luck or bad ideology. Either way, I think we, as followers of Christ, are required to help them. Help the luckless ones overcome the bad luck, love the incorrect or lazy ones and try to point them down the right path. We don't all need to end up with three cars and mansions. In fact, I think it would be better if most of us ended up with only a little more than we need.
Communism and socialism can never work when it's regulated. It can't work if it's forced. Ultimately, I think the best regulated economic system is capitalism. But if people make a conscious decision that they wish to live, sharing freely with whomever needs it, and if these people come together as one unit and turn it into a lifestyle, then what is to say that it won't work?
You retain the right to your things, if you so choose to keep them. You maintain the motivation to work. But you choose to share. And the more you give and share, the less you have, and the less you allow greed and materialism to inhibit you.
Naturally, it would be difficult to maintain this lifestyle if people didn't reciprocate, but if one could get a group started, then you'd have the best of both worlds – the community and the productivity. I like the idea of interdependence.
I want to live in a place where I can leave the door open, and people can pop by whenever they like just to chat, whip up a snack, or take a nap. I want kids to show up asking for popsicles, and where I can hug those kids without having to be worried about being sued for it. Yes, I know things might get stolen if I leave the door open. But I don't want to be worried about things. Yes, I know that some people might not deserve the things they get, but if I choose to give it to them, then it's not unjust.
Matthew 19:21 says “Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
I know this idea requires more development, and it surely wouldn't be a perfect system. But I think it's something to strive for. Yes, I know what you're thinking: this sounds something like Shane Claiborne and Gustavo Gutierrez (who, incidentally, worked in Peru). And yes, it is somewhat similar, though I don't pretend to agree totally with either one. But let me clarify one thing: I believe this would be the best economic system, though it's mostly just that. It certainly doesn't contain the entirety of Christianity.
Well, any thoughts?
“People had taught me what Christians believe, but not one had told me how Christians live.” Shane Claiborne