I have made the case that free market capitalism is not a guarantor of just economic outcomes. The synergy of property rights, scientific rationalism, and capital markets, joined with technology and infrastructure, are more correctly understood as powerful amplifiers of human actions and values. Condemning the “technology” of free market capitalism for evil that occurs in the economy is akin to blaming airplane technology for the atrocities of 9/11. Is there something inherent in airplane technology that leads to the willful destruction of tall buildings? At issue is the will of those using the technology.
Our Christian anthropology tells us two very important things about humanity. First, we were created in the image of God. We were created as economic beings who “work the garden” as stewards for the owner. This working of the garden was not just for conservation but creative development and improvement. We participate as creative beings in community with a creative God. Economic activity is at the very core of our identity.
Second, humanity is in a state of rebellion. We are out of community with God and have substituted our personal proclivities for creation stewardship. Therefore, whether acting individually or collectively, we are prone to rebellion and corruption. So how might God address this dilemma?
One clear option is to simply annihilate humanity and start over. God has not chosen this option although the story of Noah makes clear he considered it. A second option is for God to compel right behavior. God could set in place consequences so negative for rebellious behavior that no one would dare disobey. Or more efficiently, God could simply alter our minds so that we become automatons obeying his every instruction. This clearly would get “good behavior” but at what cost? God’s vision, as expressed in scripture, is the desire for a humanity living in loving community with the triune God. If one chooses to honor God only out of fear of retribution, or if one is completely stripped of volition, can there truly be love toward God? Inherent in love is the ability to choose love.
If the story of the gospel is anything, it is the story of God’s desire for loving community with humanity. He achieves that loving community by bending our will to him through costly grace. He tolerates and greets our outrageous rebellion against him with inconceivable acts of love and compassion, ever hoping that to win us over.
This is not to say that God abides complete lawlessness. Scripture makes clear that God has established earthly authorities to give order and to punish evil doers. There are limits to the evil tolerated but within those limits are a broad range of choices that allow for limitless good and varying degrees of evil. God sets boundaries that provide us with opportunity to choose the good. However, God does not coerce us into good behavior. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, God “…makes room for good things to run wild.”
We can certainly conceive of dystopian worlds where people “do good” in response to totalitarian control of their lives. But this is not "doing good" any biblical sense. It is merely avoiding punishment. There is no opportunity to choose the good and therefore “doing good” is never internalized. There is no transformation of the will. Lift the restraints and the good will end. For Christians, this is an unacceptable path to achieving good. God is more about right relationship than right behavior.
Right behavior will naturally flow out of right relationship. Our wills must be bent toward doing good. We must have freedom to act on our transformed will for sound values to become internalized. We must not only ask about which systems work most efficiently or effectively, but also which systems nurture people into internalizing just values and acting on them.
In order for a diverse and complex economic system like free market capitalism to do sustained good and to promote economic justice, it must have as its participants people who have internalized justice and good. They are the ones shaping the economic order, not some central authority. Therefore, while it is essential to have economic institutions that will amplify justice and good, these institutions alone are insufficient.
Democratic government gives us legitimate boundaries within which to do good. Free market capitalism gives us the greatest system ever devised for integrating and coordinating masses of people into a highly adaptive and effective economic life together. But where do the morals and values come from that are so critical to both government and economy doing the maximum good? Where is the human will shaped?