Capitalism typically holds a negative connotation and, upon its mention, most imagine the large cigar-smoking man in the pinstripe suit casually sitting on top of his stash of money earned by “capitalizing” on the less advantaged. While I by no means have the authority to claim, nor would I claim, that capitalism is a biblically mandated economic system, I will venture to point out that the values of capitalism are compatible with Scripture. Capitalism, at its unadulterated roots, does a remarkable job at showcasing God’s creativity within creation.
The foundational concepts of capitalism largely originated with Adam Smith, a Scottish philosopher who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. This book emphasizes a free market’s ability to more efficiently allocate scarce resources such as food, clothing, housing and money over any other economic structure. Smith argued that this was done by the work of an “invisible hand,” which was his way of explaining why the best possible allocation always occurred under a system with no organizer or director. While this concept seems counterintuitive, Smith argued that the possibility was due to the phenomenon known as the division of labor. For example, four shoemakers making their own shoes may make two shoes each to make a total of eight shoes per day. Smith would argue that if these four shoemakers were to work together, each specializing in the process that he or she does best, they may make a total of twelve shoes. This example demonstrates Smith’s argument because every individual is talented and passionate about different things, a society can be more productive by placing workers in their areas of strength. This strategy not only increases productivity of a society, but leads to more fulfilled laborers. Smith’s revolutionary ideas played a large role in the economic development of the Western world.
While it is true that the Bible never explicitly mentions how a nation ought to set up an economic structure, capitalism seems to parallel concepts that Scripture uses to define creation and purpose. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes specifically about the body of Christ, stating in verse 12, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” With this scripture, Paul establishes that the Christian community will have a diverse set of members all with different abilities and talents. Paul goes on to say in verse 17 that, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Paul is speaking specifically in terms of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. While many members will have different gifts, there is no gift greater than another and all are needed for the full body to properly operate. This concept goes beyond just spiritual talents to include physical talents. Scripture mentions that humanity is “beautifully and wonderfully made” and that God has intentionally endowed each person with skills suited to fulfill the plan that He has laid out for his or her life. An economic system that thrives on celebrating the differences and uniqueness of each person seem—on these merits—to be fully compatible with Scripture if utilized correctly.
Beyond just the specialization of labor, there are many other aspects in which capitalism seems to adequately foster our duty as Christians. While capitalism is not void of flaws, I have arrived at the conclusion that there is no better economic system that enables human flourishing in the midst of a fallen nature.