My junior of high school, I experienced my first history class to move past the American Revolution, Louisiana Purchase, and the 49ers and onto more recent history.
I was fascinated to learn about the red scares, "McCarthyism", the Cold War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it wasn't long at all before I heard it.... the word spoken in hushed tones... this c-word seemed mysterious, dangerous, and something that good, Christian girls like me would surely steer clear of.
This history class required me to do some reading. Suddenly, I was discovering text about the promotion of cooperation and the value that people deserve care regardless of their production in the marketplace.
And the more I thought about it... it actually sounded somewhat Christian to me.
At least.... it seemed to mirror some of the things I’d learned in church. Put others before yourself. Value comes not from our jobs, savings accounts, or possessions but simply by our creation as sons and daughters of God.
Of course, then I opened my mouth. Sitting among my youth group friends in our class, I expressed my interest in this economic system and questioned its automatic demonization. Immediately, a friend pointed and simply shouted, “Communist!” It took two seconds and the group joke was "Sarah is a Communist."
I didn't know a lot, but I definitely knew this label was one I should reject. So I promptly defended myself, saying simply, “It just sounds like a pretty good system.” And then I shrugged and added, “But it’ll never happen this side of heaven.”
Who has the power to oversee the distribution of resources? And how can you trust someone with that much power? If the public owns the means of production, who makes the decisions about them? And if compensation is based on personhood instead of production, how will anyone ever work hard enough to get anything done? The limitations of Communism were clear to me. And if they aren’t to you, ask most any American, and they will quickly tell you what is wrong with Communism.
But something else has become clear to me over the years, and especially recently... the limitations of Capitalism.
If profits are the only goal, what will happen to workers in an increasingly technological and global society? When companies can save money by damaging the environment or placing employees in dangerous situations, how can we trust them not to? If basic necessities (food, health care, housing, etc.) are for-profit entities, what happens to those who can’t afford them? And if an industry vital to the public is owned by individuals, does the public have to bail it out if the individuals make unwise, greedy decisions?
In short, what I’ve realized is that Capitalism has strengths as a system. It’ll just never work right this side of heaven.
So where does that leave me? Disillusioned with all economic structures? No, I don’t think so. I feel that I can evaluate, critique, and then support legislation that accounts for the limitations of the particular economic structure in place. To accept any system without accounting for the inevitable weaknesses of it only leads to many of the abuses that have come to be associated with it.
As a Christian, I don’t feel any requirement to pledge my allegiance to any economic system. When economics contribute to oppressive leadership, Christians must stand against it. And when economics promote a message that you must always chase the next shiny thing no matter what the cost, then I believe Christians must call out for simplicity over materialism, value for human workers, and care for the vulnerable.
At least as long as we’re on this side of heaven.