The Colson Centre has produced a series of short, apologetic videos, “What Would You Say?”, to help Christians address issues of social and moral concern. (View at https://whatwouldyousay.org/.) The following are transcripts of three of these videos, all dealing with socialism and capitalism. [AL, Editor]
Socialism is the answer?
You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Socialism ensures a just and equal society. The only way to guarantee a basic standard of living for everyone is by adopting a socialist system.” What would you say?
At some point, we all look around at the problems in our society and wonder if there’s a better option. We should be asking if there’s something we can do better, and we should be looking out for the weak or oppressed. People who advocate for socialism think that they’re doing just that.
But socialism doesn’t deliver on what it promises. So, the next time you’re in a conversation and someone says that socialism ensures society is more just, here are three things to remember:
Number 1: Socialism doesn’t mean what most people think it means. When most people think of socialism, they often have mental pictures of picturesque Norwegian villages, farmers’ markets, and a lot of smiling people working together for a common cause. Some people think that socialism means a guarantee that everyone has their needs met and can live a prosperous life. Who wouldn’t want that? However, if you look up socialism in the dictionary—let’s use Merriam-Webster—here’s what you’ll find:
Socialism is any of the various economic or political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; it’s a system in which there’s no private property; or a stage of society in Marxist theory that ends in communism.
Whew—that’s a lot of words. Basically, in its pure form, it means the government owns and controls all industry, markets, stores, and property. You don’t decide what you buy or sell. The government decides what people can do. It decides who should have what.
The truth is, few people want to abolish private property and hand everything over to the government, especially if they like certain clothes, food, décor, music, movies, or coffee. But they don’t realize that socialism calls for this. They also don’t know that whenever socialism has been tried, markets collapse, shortages appear everywhere, and in the worst cases, a lot of people die. In other words, it would be more accurate for people to imagine Venezuela or Cuba rather than Norway.
This leads to our second point.
Number 2: Socialism has been tried many times, and we even have very recent examples of how badly it went. When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, they said that socialism, the stage before the communist utopia, would come about by revolutions led by the working class. But workers never were the ones who led the revolutions. In fact, worker wages were going up when the Communist Manifesto was written. Instead of workers, writers and intellectuals led most of the Marxist revolutions. Wherever they tried to usher in Marx’s vision, millions of people died. For instance, when the Khmer Rouge attempted to turn Cambodia into a communist paradise in the 1970’s, they instead killed at least a fourth of the country’s population in just a few years. Similar nightmares occurred in places like China, the Soviet Union, or Venezuela. One hundred million people died at the hands of their own socialist governments just in the twentieth century.
We don’t just have to guess at what the consequences of socialism are, and we shouldn’t rely on our fantasies of what we hope it will bring. We know the real results. Abolishing private property and giving control of the whole economy to a few powerful people in government is a really dangerous idea. It’s so dangerous, that people risk their lives to flee these countries for free ones. People vote with their feet. And real people who have experienced the conse-quences are voting for free enterprise, not socialism.
Which leads us to our third point.
Number 3: Socialism doesn’t lead to utopia and pretending that it does hurts real people. We should always be working towards a more just society, but we have to resist the temptation to compare real options with an impossible ideal we can’t bring about. Any political movement that promises utopia is doomed to fail. When people act on that unrealistic ideal, they can end up killing and oppressing millions of people.
Ideals are not enough, we also have to look at the outcomes—and never has there been a greater gap between ideals and outcomes than in twentieth century socialism. It’s not a question of whether a society like the US is perfect—it’s not. The question is whether there is a better alternative this side of the kingdom of God in its fullness.
Socialism played out in real life is catastrophic. It’s not enough to pretend that if we tried socialism it would somehow be different than every other time it’s been tried. The steps that modern socialists propose now have already been taken several times, and we can see the real consequences of those steps. We have to stay focused on reality rather than romantic ideals that turn into nightmares.
So the next time someone proposes socialism as a way to improve society, remember these three things: Number 1: Socialism doesn’t mean what most people think it means. Number 2: Socialism has already been tried, and we even have very recent examples of how badly it went. Number 3: Socialism doesn’t lead to utopia and pretending that it does hurts real people
Dr. Jay Richards served as the consultant for this video/transcript.
Capitalism only benefits the rich?
You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Capitalism only benefits the rich, not the middle or lower classes. And when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” What would you say?
Though people have different ideas of what capitalism means, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as
an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, productions, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.
Basically, it means a system with free trade and private property. In other words, capitalism gives citizens the freedom to own and to trade, and here are 3 reasons why that benefits everyone and not just the rich:
Number 1: Free trade is a win-win game, not a win-lose game. In a free trade system, everyone can benefit. Most games we play, such as chess, or football, or basketball, have winners and losers. So, people often think that trade within a free market system also involves winners and losers. But in reality, free trade is not like that at all.
In his book Money, Greed, and God, Dr. Jay Richards describes a trading game that was played in his sixth-grade class. His teacher passed out a different little toy to each student in the class, things like silly putty, a paddle ball, Barbie trading cards—stuff like that. She then asked each student to rank their toy on a scale of one to ten. If they really liked their toy, they gave it a ten. If they hated it, a one. Most started out somewhere in the middle. The teacher then added up the total of all the points given to the toys and wrote it on the board. Then, the teacher allowed them to freely trade their toy with anyone else in their row. Some kids traded and some didn’t, but everyone had the freedom to if they wanted to. She then asked the students to, once again, rank whatever toy they had from one to ten. When the teacher wrote the new total on the board, it was a higher number even though it was all the same toys. Then she allowed the students to trade with anyone else in the entire classroom, as many times as they wanted. All of a sudden, lots of toys were changing hands. And, you guessed it, when everyone ranked their toys after this round of trades, the total number went up again. In fact, it went way up this time. This little exercise with a bunch of silly toys demonstrates that trade, if it’s truly free, is a win-win game. Almost everyone ended up better off than they started, and no one ended up worse off.
All of us experience something similar each day. We buy groceries when we want or need them more than the money they cost. And the grocer will only sell them to you if he wants the money more than he wants the groceries. Both sides benefit. Of course, for free trade to benefit everyone, rules and limits must be made clear beforehand and then enforced. If students were allowed to steal toys because they wanted more than one, or if the teacher forced some students to trade even if they didn’t want to, it wouldn’t benefit everyone. There would be clear winners and losers. Limits and rules to protect trade are always necessary.
Number 2: Free trade creates wealth. Notice that in the trading game, students placed different values on the toys. Within the “market” of the game, toys didn’t have a fixed value. The value of something, in economic terms, is how much someone is freely willing to give up to acquire it. Economic value is in the eye of the beholder.
This is very different from Karl Marx’s “Labour Theory of Value.” Marx said that the value of something should be determined by how much labour was used to create it. But that doesn’t work in reality. Think about it: digging a trench in the middle of a forest is a lot of work, but it isn’t as valuable as, say, digging a trench in a neighbourhood to mitigate flooding. Both projects require hard labor, but a trench that protects people’s homes offers way more benefit. The value of this work is determined by what people are willing to pay or trade in order to protect their home.
Trading freely can add significant value even when no new “stuff” is added. The number of toys in the classroom never changed, but the total value was increased when the students were allowed to acquire what they considered more valuable.
Number 3: Free trade is inclusive—the more players there are, the better off everyone is. Notice that in the trading game, the total value of the toys went up even higher when the number of participants allowed to trade with each other increased. The number of possible trades was much higher when the whole classroom could trade with each other, rather than when the students were limited to trading only within their row.
The same is true of any real market system. When more people are allowed to participate, the overall value to all involved increases too. Of course, in a real market, we don’t trade toys. We trade money, time, effort, skills, ideas, and innovations.
So the next time you’re in conversation and someone says that capitalism and free trade only benefit a few, here are 3 things to remember: Number 1: Free trade is a win-win game, not a win-lose game. In a free trade system, everyone can benefit. Number 2: Free trade creates wealth. Number 3: Free trade is inclusive—the more players there are, the better off everyone is.
For What Would You Say, I’m Brooke McIntire.
Jesus was a socialist?
You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Jesus was all about helping the poor and needy. That means Jesus was a socialist!” What would you say?
It’s true that during his earthly ministry Jesus cared for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. It’s also true that some proponents of socialism also care about the needy. But that doesn’t mean Jesus was a socialist, and here are four reasons why.
First, Jesus never advocated for government coercion to help the poor. Though many socialists want to help people, so do advocates of other economic systems. What defines socialism is not concern for the poor but the desire to use the state control of others to help them.
Socialism involves government control over industries, markets, and private property. The result is things like rent controls, minimum wage laws, maximum wage laws, tax structures designed to redistribute wealth, and even requirements to purchase things—like health insurance. But this is not the biblical model for helping people.
Jesus’ opposition to coercion is seen in many ways, including the Golden Rule, from Matthew 7:12 “do to others what you would have them do to you.” Socialism depends on forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. Jesus’ belief that charity should be done voluntarily is seen in Matthew 26:11, Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” The key words here are, “you can help” and “anytime you want”.
Throughout scripture, helping the poor is always virtuous and always voluntary. Nowhere is anyone forced to help the poor, or told to help the poor by taking their neighbours’ possessions against their will. That’s because helping people’s financial situation is not Jesus’ priority.
Which leads to the second point. Jesus cares more about our hearts than our financial situation. Socialism teaches that it is unjust for some to have much while others have little. These ideas are not new, and Jesus spoke to them directly when a man complained to Jesus that his brother had not divided an inheritance with him. Jesus’ reply, which you can find in Luke 12, was, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Instead of rebuking the injustice of inequity, Jesus rebuked the man for complaining about it; for caring about the wrong things.
Matthew 20 records a different complaint over money, this time about income inequality. In this parable, workers who had laboured all day complained that other workers, who had laboured only part of the day, received the same pay. These complaints are rebuked as well. Jesus explained that justice required honouring the contract, not necessarily paying everyone the same hourly rate. He said, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” That is not the response of a socialist.
Which leads to the third point. Jesus redistributed wealth to the diligent, not to the needy. In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, Jesus talks about a man who entrusts his wealth to three servants for a time. When the man returns, he learns that one of the servants protected his share by burying it, the second put his share to work and multiplied it, the third invested his share and generated the greatest return of all. Who’s the hero in the parable? The wealth-creating third man. The first one, the poorest one, is admonished, and his share is taken and given to the third man, the wealthiest. Though this parable is addressing deeper realities about the Kingdom of God, again, Jesus doesn’t sound like a socialist.
Where socialism is motivated by a desire to take from those who have for the benefit of those who don’t have, Jesus’ concern is good stewardship, regardless of how much we have. Because Jesus focused on the heart, followers of Jesus learned to be both content and generous.
Which leads to the final point. The earliest followers of Jesus did not build a socialist community. In Acts 2, Scripture records that Jesus’ first followers “… had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Later, in Acts 4, we read that, “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they held everything in common.”
Some believe these scriptures show that early Christians were socialists and if those who actually walked with Jesus were socialists, that means Jesus must have been a socialist himself. Though Jesus’ first followers did demonstrate radical generosity, there is no evidence that they shared in the means of production, that they abolished private property, or that anyone was coerced into giving what they had. In fact, when Ananias and Saphira lied about what they had given to this community, they were not condemned for refusing to give everything they had, they were condemned for lying about what they had done. Peter rebuked them saying, “While it remained, was it not yours? And after it was sold, was it not in your power?” Those are not the words of someone who believes the poor have a right to the property of the rich.
Later in Acts, we read of churches gathering in homes owned by members. They still owned their own property. Holding everything in common was an expression of love that people had for each other, not a mandate on early Christians.
The fact is, neither Jesus’ words or the behaviour of the early church support the idea that Jesus was a socialist. In fact, scripture consistently calls us to contentment regardless of our situation, generosity out of love not compulsion, and urges us to put our faith in God, not our government.
So next time you hear someone say that Jesus was a socialist, remember these four things. Jesus never advocated for government coercion to help the poor. He wants us to be generous, but he doesn’t want us to force other people to be generous. Jesus cares more about our hearts than our financial situation. He is more interested in making sure we respond well to our need than he is in solving our problems. Jesus redistributed wealth to the diligent, not to the needy. Jesus calls us to be good stewards with whatever we have. The earliest followers of Jesus did not build a socialist community. They helped each other because they wanted to, not because they had to.
For What Would You Say, I’m Joseph Backholm.