This is the sixth post that explores the tenets of objectivism as stated by Ayn Rand which are: reality, reason, self-interest and capitalism. In the last post self-interest was explored, defined and compared with Christian beliefs. This post will explore the possible similarities between Ayn Rand’s concept of capitalism and biblical economic concepts.
Capitalism is generally defined as an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Ayn Rand’s concept of capitalism aligns closely with this. She does not regard capitalism as an amoral or immoral means to some “common good”, but as a moral social system. The Library of Economics and Liberty has a more detailed definition and explanation which is a good primer for what I will reference in a later post.
Capitalism, Rand argues, is not today’s system, with its mixture of freedom and government controls, but a social system in which the government is exclusively devoted to the protection of individual rights, including property rights — one in which there exists absolutely no government intervention in the economy.
One of the first verses that may come to mind relating biblical references and economic models is Jesus’ response to temple taxes, which were part of the religious government system at that time and were a load on the economy to ostensibly fund the operations and staff at the Jerusalem temple. As it is told in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said to “…cast a line into the lake and pull out the first fish you hook. Open its mouth, and you will find a four drachma coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.” Peter’s first occasion with Jesus also dealt tangentially with taxes. “The Chosen” film depicts the background of Peter's need for a catch of fish to pay his impending tax debt.
Jesus asked a curious question of Peter prior to delivering the answer to paying temple taxes; whether taxes were collected from sons or foreigners. When Peter answered that taxes were levied on foreigners, Jesus replied that the sons, then, are free from paying taxes. Though he ultimately paid the temple tax as recorded by Matthew to not bring offense, the principle was espoused that taxes are for those that are not a part of the family, the group or the entity. In other words, the business of governing had a throttle on their size which was limited to their ability to negotiate with foreigners for their funding, and they existed to serve the group as if they were family.
It was kind of a strange question. The natural use of the Temple tax income might logically be construed to benefit the Jewish people that utilized the temple. But the analogy fits amazingly well with Ayn Rand’s concept of the role of government in relation to the economy.
The prevailing thoughts on economy that are presented in Scripture pertain to Jesus’ words to the rich man: Sell all you have and come follow me. The book of Acts records that Christians shared all things in common, including property. This has been used by socialists to portray their ideal society which they use to denigrate capitalism and individual wealth. In apparent support for this rejection of individual wealth, warnings about money and wealth are scattered through Scripture:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10)
“Those who would be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts” (I Timothy 6:9)
“Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have…” (Hebrews 13:5)
In all there are 113 different verse pertaining to money throughout Scripture. Taking the time to delve deeply into each one is a great exercise for the reader of this blog. The common theme is that the pursuit or love of money leads to spiritual weakness and decay. But money is a means and not an end in the definition of capitalism that is recorded in dictionaries. Capitalism and its polar opposite, socialism represent economic models for how money is traded and utilized in a society and how wealth is ultimately created and allocated. There are models that fall somewhere between these disparate models, extracting and rejecting the strengths and weaknesses of each.
The bible addresses the motivations behind any economic system whether it is capitalism or market driven, or centrally controlled as socialism and fascism have historically been implemented. The bible also shows that any economic system will be flawed most seriously by those who possess the earthly power of wealth, whether the communist dictators of North Korea and China or capitalistic beneficiaries such as Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" provides a backdrop for contemplation with the various symbolic "rings of power" that exist on earth, what their ultimate end will be, and how we should best respond to their temptations.
Apart from the concept of wealth then, does the Bible address which economic model is “best” for mankind, capitalism or socialism? From my reading it does, but not directly. What it does directly show is that we should resist evil in all forms, and work to be free people to serve and worship God, assured of our individual worth to God and others, and work in a way that respects and honors the image of God in others. Loving our neighbor is the second command after loving God. This pulls in questions about how we live with each other, and share the wealth potential God has built into this temporary home planet.
Ayn Rand regards capitalism a moral social system in contrast to socialism. This is understandable because she experienced the immoral nature of socialism in her native country. The underlying question is whether one is better than the others in terms such as equity of wealth, efficiency, opportunity or other metrics, and if the Bible provides any indication that people are better served in a given economic model. I believe it does, and will develop that in the next post.