Nearly 50 percent of American adults born since 1981 (the Millennial Generation and Generation Z) would “prefer living in a socialist country,” while more than 50 percent of millennials reject capitalism outright. For those who believe in freedom and America’s role defending freedom, these numbers are alarming. With capitalism in the crosshairs, it’s time to educate these generations about the benefits of free enterprise—and the dangers of socialism. People of faith can make this case with a clear conscience.
Whereas there was once a stigma attached to socialism, today it’s capitalism that has become a four-letter word in some circles.
That’s regrettable and worrisome because capitalism is really just another term for free enterprise and free markets—the system that has shaped America and fueled much of the world’s progress. Characterized by high levels of individual liberty, private ownership of property, and freedom of choice, this way of organizing an economy and meeting the needs of society has proven more effective than any of the alternatives humanity has tried.
Socialism—an economic system characterized by high levels of state control, government intervention, and collective ownership—is one of those alternative systems. Indeed, it was the main alternative to free enterprise for much of the twentieth century, until its chief proponent—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—failed.
For a time, the Soviet system’s collapse served as proof of the futility of socialism and the superiority of capitalism—especially among Americans. But with new generations coming of age that lack the firsthand memory and/or the historical understanding of the problems associated with socialism (millennials and Generation Z will represent 37 percent of voters by 2020), America’s default aversion to Marx’s theories is evaporating.
Sadly, many political leaders seem more interested in tapping into this bonanza of new voters than in educating them on socialism’s record, which explains the torrent of socialist rhetoric and legislation: calls for government control over corporations, universal income stipends, nationalizing healthcare, and reengineering America’s entire housing infrastructure and energy grid according to standards determined by government’s “commanding heights.”
What’s this have to do with faith and foreign policy? Plenty.
Regarding our faith, while the Bible never explicitly endorses free market economics, it has much to say about freedom, work, property, and wealth—and how we should use those things to serve God and our fellow man.
Genesis tells us God gave mankind a garden to tend and a free will to use. From this, we can gather that we are made to be productive, to work, and to be free. Freedom was the natural state of man in the beginning. Indeed, the story of God’s people is one of freedom misused, lost, and regained. God wants us to be free—free to choose his path or another, free from Pharaoh and Caesar, free from Lenin, Hitler, and Stalin, free from the shackles of sin, free to decide how to use the wealth generated by the work we do.
The more of that wealth that’s confiscated, the more freedom is diminished, which raises a question for people of faith: Would God rather our wealth be controlled and directed by us or by the world?
A good nation should provide a safety net where it’s needed. But there must be limits on what government takes to maintain that safety net, or else government will discourage enterprise. And there must be limits on the size of that safety net, or else government will encourage idleness.
Governments have promised to end poverty for centuries. All have failed. Why? The problem of poverty is surely a function of our fallen nature. As a result, some people are poor because of their choices; some because of the choices of others; some through no apparent fault of their own or anyone else. There’s an inherent unfairness and unjustness in our broken world. As Jesus sighed when he gazed upon our brokenness, “The poor will always be with you.” And so, one of the constants of scripture is the challenge to pursue justice and help the poor.
Government redistribution of wealth—which is at the core of socialism—fails on both counts. Washington has redistributed some $22 trillion while waging war on poverty since 1964. Yet “the percentage of Americans dependent on government has remained virtually unchanged,” according to Heritage Foundation research.
As to justice, scripture’s repeated message is that it’s unjust for anyone—even a king—to take what is not his. In the Ten Commandments, God tells his people, “You shall not steal…you shall not covet your neighbor’s house…or anything that is your neighbor’s.” These commands apply to rich and poor alike. Proverbs teaches, “He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit.” Paul adds, “the hard-working farmer…ought to have the first share of the crops.”
The one who works the land, makes the sale, designs the operating system, or repairs the TV has earned the right to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Advocates of socialism must explain how it is just for government to confiscate her wealth and give it to someone who didn’t earn it—yet unjust for her to use her wealth as she deems fit.
This is not to rationalize selfishness. Selfishness is a sin against God and our fellow man, especially the poor. God cares deeply about helping the poor and promoting justice, which means we should as well. Jesus identifies with the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked. He asks us to see him in their needs—and to use our wealth to help them. Consider the church of Acts: “The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea,” and “from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”
As socialists point out, these verses are echoed in the Marxist slogan “from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.” What they fail to note (or notice) is that Marx envisioned the state forcing people to surrender their wealth for redistribution, while the church asked believers to give as each “decided.”
There’s an enormous difference between these worldviews. Just as God wants us to love him because we choose to, he wants us to share our blessings with those in need because we choose to—not because we’re ordered to.
No government—no matter how benevolent or big—can meet all the needs and wants of all people. Consider the Soviet Union, which adopted the most extreme form of socialism yet failed to meet the people’s most basic needs. Mikhail Gorbachev recalls how, as the Soviet Union collapsed, “I was ashamed for my country—perhaps the country with the richest resources on earth, and we couldn’t provide toothpaste for our people.”
Or consider the Koreas. Communist North Korea’s per capita GDP is $1,700 and average life expectancy 70. Capitalist South Korea’s per capita GDP is $39,400 and average life expectancy 82. And as James Morris reported when he headed the World Food Program, “The average seven-year-old North Korean boy is eight inches shorter, 20 pounds lighter, and has a ten-year-shorter life expectancy than his seven-year-old counterpart in South Korea.”
Capitalism is not perfect. However, the Koreas illustrate that it’s more effective, humane, and just than socialism. And a growing body of research shows that higher levels of free enterprise correlate with better environmental outcomes than socialism (see here and here), less corruption, more education opportunities, better health care, higher living standards, and less poverty. If America ceases to recognize this, America and the world will be worse off.
That brings us to foreign policy.
The effectiveness of US foreign policy is partly related to its liberal values, partly to its military muscle. But both of these are tied to the US economy. America’s reach and role overseas have always been a function of its economic strength at home. If those advocating a lurch toward socialism succeed, America’s economic dynamism will diminish—and with it America’s capacity to defend itself and influence the world.
The drive to expand existing programs and create new programs is increasing the cost of government in an unsustainable way. Entitlement programs already account for 50 percent of federal spending (up from 40 percent in 2009), while defense accounts for 15 percent of federal spending (down from 21 percent in 2009). On this trajectory, there won’t be much money left for defense. And there won’t be any money for defense if Washington adopts a socialist agenda enfolding Medicare for All ($3 trillion annually), the Green New Deal ($51.1 trillion over 10 years), and Jobs for All ($2 trillion annually).
While it would still be misguided, this socialist revival—with its withering away of defense—wouldn’t be so dangerous if our enemies were beating their swords into plowshares. But as Russia redraws Europe’s map, China annexes international waterways, jihadists maim civilization, and rogues menace US allies and interests, we know the very opposite to be true.
This is no time to shut down the furnace that fires the arsenal of democracy. Civilization still needs America’s military, which means America’s military needs resources, which means America needs a growing economy.
That won’t be possible if Americans turn toward socialism—and away from free enterprise.
Photo Credit: Soviet poster dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution and IV Congress of the Communist International. 1922. Via Wikimedia Commons.