By: Jay Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
In Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the solution and not the problem, Jay Richards details and refutes eight common myths about capitalism. Richards is responding to the mounting arguments that the values of Christianity and capitalism are incongruous: a person cannot be a Christian and accept an economic system based on a profit incentive. He rebuts these claims through a combination of philosophic inquiry and personal experience.
Richards tackles some of the most common issues involved in many discussions about capitalism, including: comparing the results of capitalism to an unrealized utopia; the unintended consequences of good intentions; believing that trade is a zero sum game rather than win-win; and, whether or not greed is the primary motivator of capitalism. Richards recounts how his attitude and beliefs about free markets have changed since he was younger. He works through the arguments with a willingness to say how his thinking has developed. As a result, he can sympathize with those who believe that other economic systems resonate with an underlying moral sentiment; he challenges his readers to apply critical thinking to this sentiment and consider where the arguments lead.
Readers will enjoy how Richards presents his arguments. Each chapter is a conversation about the major arguments, rather than a dissertation of all germane and tangential issues. His writing style is very conversational; rather than defaulting to an academic and abstracted voice, he engages his readers and works through each of these arguments in an accessible way. Critics will sharpen their proverbial pencils on how much time he spent on one topic at the expense of another, and ask why he was not more specific about other points. Remember that Richards is providing a summary retort to the common myths and helping his readers think through the foundational arguments.
There is a surprise “extra” in the appendix section, which was my favorite part to read. Richards compares Adam Smith’s concept of the “invisible hand” with F.A. Hayek’s theory of Spontaneous Order. In “The Wealth of Nations,” Smith demonstrates that markets function in a certain order; this observation leads him to describe an “invisible hand” that directs the workings of the market in certain ways. Later, F.A. Hayek countered his claim by saying that markets are manifested through a spontaneous ordering; in other words, order is created out of chaos. Richards teases out the tension of these ideas and presents both of them in a “side by side” way which allows readers to understand how these ideas overlap and how they differ.
I will conclude with a note on the title: I think a more accurate subtitle for the book is “Why Christians can support free market capitalism.” The main thrust of Richard’s argument demonstrates how Christians can be consistent in their faith and support free markets. Following the teachings of the Bible does not preclude a person from supporting capitalism; he maintains that support for capitalism is needed in order for economic growth in the United States and around the world.
Capitalism and Christianity are two distinct systems. I do not want my readers to understand me to say that one must fully embrace capitalism in order to be a Christian. For a longer discussion on this topic, please read my piece entitled “Was Jesus an Anti-Capitalist: A Kind Response to Jake.”