Anyone who has read my profile knows I call myself a Christian, conservative, libertarian, capitalist. It’s in that order for a reason. I am a follower of Jesus above and before all else. I make no apology for that, though it may cost me readers and followers. After that, I believe in fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, limited Government, individual liberty and responsibility, and the free market.
It is the Christian part that drives my bus and creates the lanes for those other three core values to travel in. My faith shapes the boundaries, the limits and the scope of all my other beliefs and practices. With that caveat, I’d like to address my evolving thoughts on capitalism and the free market.
First, the daggum Government should stay out of the market. Frankly, Government never makes anything better. Most regulations serve a special interest and not really the common good. They are frequently couched in language that sounds noble and in the public interest, but almost always are really about more Government control over us.
When we look closely and think critically (which most have lost the ability to do), it is clear to see that if we follow the money, we’ll discover that most regulations are sponsored by and enrich certain interest groups, resulting in big donations and votes for the promoters of the regulations.
A case in point; food safety. We all want to be assured that what we eat is fit to eat. Since, though, many of us want nothing to do with taking responsibility for our own food chain, Government (this is a bi-partisan matter) steps in to take care of us and create food safety regulations. A deeper dive, though, will easily reveal that food safety regulations, benefit and often exempt big Agra and big Business at the expense of small producers and individual freedoms.
The overwhelming majority of food borne illness comes from big, rather than small producers. Yet, it is the small farmer and rancher who bears the burden of heavy handed regulation while the deep pockets of the big nationals and multinationals provide them virtual immunity. But I digress. I will return to this subject another day.
While I believe Government should largely stay out of the market, I believe business owners, small and large, have a moral obligation to police their own integrity and practices. This task is much easier for the small, and/or private company that for a publicly traded one.
Most, if not all, companies begin with a notion that they can provide a product or service that will solve problems or provide benefit to their customers. In return for those products and services the provider will be remunerated; a win for all parties. Care is taken to look after the best interest of customers and employees. Loyalty is seen as mutually beneficial.
Many businesses stay true to those values and become beacons in a dark, grey world. Knowingly, or unknowingly, said companies are practicing a Biblical principle. St. Paul, the apostle, wrote in his letter to the Philippians (Chapter2), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ”
Imagine what the world could look like if all businesses followed such a code. It is my opinion that everyone’s standard of living would improve.
Some businesses, and nearly all publicly traded ones, somewhere along the way, lose sight of their origins and move the goal line. Profit itself becomes the target, the end game, which inevitably leads to customers and employees becoming pawns, tools to be used to drive the bottom line. When that happens, Capitalism becomes a nightmare come to life; a Frankenstein’s Monster.
In Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, the antagonist Socialists are rightly portrayed as misguided buffoons who blunder through their lives wrecking corporations and society. Sadly, though, her heroes, who see profit as the stand alone prize, are equally selfish and immoral, gratifying their own appetites without giving a thought to the lives and relationships they are harming. Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden and Francisco D’Anconia are as empty, morally bankrupt people as are James Taggart (Dagny’s brother) and Lillian Rearden (Hank’s wife).
As a side note, I continue to be shocked at the number of Christians I meet who love “Atlas Shrugged”. They see it as a triumph of free market Capitalism over Socialism. I see it as a tragic parable of a fallen humanity living in a world without Christ. The book makes my heart hurt.
On more than one occasion, I have been in meetings at various times and places over the years, where I heard corporate leaders say, regarding price hikes, “We should make them (customers) squeal, but make it impossible to leave.” When asked what the customer receives in return, the reply is a blank stare. I find that chilling. I’m old enough and have traveled enough that I have even seen Churches so focused on budgets that ‘church growth’ is about paying the bills. It makes me shudder.
It is especially difficult for publicly traded companies who are forced to appease the unquenchable hunger and thirst of the shareholders. The best interests of customers and employees becomes subject to the relentless pursuit of profit and share price. The business becomes Seymour to Audrey II’s demanding, “Feed me.” In the end, “Little Shop of Horror’s” Seymour is reduced to a killer who is consumed by his own monster.
Unfettered Capitalism and Govt. controlled Socialism both result in manipulation and enslavement a hapless population. I can’t find any good guys in that scenario.
In addition to Paul’s admonition to look after the best interest of others, Jesus himself said, “Whoever wants to be the greatest among you, should become the servant of all”, Mark 10:43-45.
I guess what I’ve taken a long time to say is, I have come to a place where I realize that profit is not bad as a by-product or a secondary goal. In fact, it’s a blessing, but when it becomes the quarry, the pursuit of profit can become something dangerous and turn us into loathesome creatures.
Again, it was Jesus of Nazareth who said it best; “You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.