Ask 10 people to define capitalism. Chances are, eight or nine will stress the importance of buying things.
They’re making a common mistake -- equating capitalism with consumerism. As our friends over at the Acton Institute understand, capitalism, properly understood, involves more than just spending. It’s an economic system that (to the horror of liberals) puts decision-making power over financial matters where it belongs -- with free individuals, not with government.
It’s the antithesis of the central planning that characterizes communism and socialism. Small wonder that the economist Friedrich Hayek wrote: “I regard the preservation of what is known as the capitalist system, of the system of free markets and the private ownership of the means of production, as an essential condition of the very survival of mankind.”
As our economy continues to react to the fallout of the mortgage madness, it’s important to understand the difference between capitalism and consumerism -- as a recent post on Acton’s PowerBlog makes clear. The seeds for the crisis were sown, according to Fortune magazine editor Geoff Colvin, when “people began to believe that the more they borrowed, the better off they would be. Their thinking went like this: With the cost of capital so low and asset prices rising steadily, risk was evaporating.”
But the party couldn’t go on forever. Eventually, Colvin says, consumers “began to live within their means, shutting down the profit-growth machine.”
That’s the key point -- “within their means.” To act as wise stewards of our money we must decide not only when to spend, but when not to spend. We must make informed decisions about where to invest our money. For those of us who are Christian, it means putting biblical principles to work. As Crown Financial Ministries teaches thousands of people every year through their in-depth course on financial management, the Bible addresses economic issues with surprising frequency.