20 March 2012

Markets and Capitalisms

Communitarian types like Stanley Hauerwas and lots of others often decry capitalistic economies because they tend to dissolve natural and social bonds and relationships. The capitalist mantra of creative destruction is not, one must admit, heartwarming. Free marketeers such as folks associated with the American Tea Party movement are pro-market but express some queasiness about the way capitalism has been practiced in America. Everyone can observe that the recent privatization of profits together with the socialization of losses in the financial industry (and others) gives the lie to a "free" market.

If you click here you'll be taken to a post by Peter Leithart where he briefly comments on a book that observes that there is nothing as capitalism as such. In other words, there are as many capitalisms as the are political economies in which there is a market for goods and services. The cited author takes the position that the presence of a market does not determine whether its exchanges corrode or maintain the natural and social bonds in which it is enmeshed.

True enough as a matter of theory. But from my limited observations the corrosive effects of the market seem darn-near inevitable. (Those observations being limited to parts of the the U.S. and India.) So shall we turn to the benign socialistic state as an alternative? Yikes! Even worse. (See, e.g., North Korea.)

What then? Well, that's the question for which I have no clear answer. If you do, let me know. At the very least, perhaps peripatetic folks like me could stop moving around so much. A lack of a sense of place or rootlessness, is both a cause and an effect of an oversized market. Commitment to a single location with permanent family, church, and social relationships would reduce the corrosion that correlates to capitalism.


  1. Scott, What is a communitarian? It seems to be a young term, at least in its modern usage. I really am curious.
    As far as capitalism coroding social bonds I am skeptical. When I use the term it is a shortened version of laisezz faire capitalism which as I understand means that government keeps its hands off of the free exchanging of privately-owned land, labor, and capital unless it is enforcing contracts.
    It seems to me that social bonding would increase in a society in which exchanges are arrived at freely than one in which government uses its monopoly of force to pick winners and losers through charter, license, and tax policy.

  2. Rather than offering a definition of communitarianism, I suggest that you read some of the posts on Front Porch Republic: www.frontporchrepublic.com communitarians argue in favor of subjection of individual wants and desires to those of a broader community, at least the family. They most definitely do not, as I understand them, suggest the state as the arbiter of which desires should be satisfied. Rather, we as individuals should seek the welfare of others with whom we share a natural and local affinity.

  3. I will check out FPR. Thanks for the information. My comment was more to the point of capitalism as an economic/legal system operating as a corossive upon those voluntary subjections. I thought that by using the term capitalism you were referring, by neccessity, to the limtation of state action.

    It is obvious that the Christian is called to a life of voluntary subjection. If the oblgation for this subjection is ultimately based in subjection to God and not to the collective, I am a communitarian. If on the other hand it is owed to the collective I am not. If the duty is to the group then the group defines the terms. If the duty is to God then He defines the terms.

  4. While I can no longer claim to be a capitalist (using the most common definitions applied in the United States), the problem isn't with capitalism as such, but its preeminence over other branches of study and operation, such as ethics, religion, and even politics. There is no perfect economic system (by definition, from a Christian perspective). All economic systems will be corrosive, just not all in the same way. However, what keeps them less corrosive is ethics and morals (and dare I say religion/theology) which should both direct and limit economics and politics (as well as all other endeavors). However, that is not happening, at least in the United States. Instead, economics (i.e., capitalism) is directing and limiting politics and the influence of ethics and morals. When capitalist leaders (e.g., Milton Friedman) state that using ethics in making economic decisions is bad, it is clear that something is wrong that is way deeper than just the definition of capitalism.