Category Archives: Politics & Economics

Book Review: Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, by Brent Waters

Just CapitalismIn Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, Brent Waters argues in favor of a transition from nation-states to market-states as our current best economic option from his perspective as a Christian moral theologian. Several problems quickly arise in this text. I provide the following examples:

 

Problems with Waters’ Method:

1) Beginning with the introduction and extending throughout the book, statistical data is manipulated to support the author’s argument.

2) The author’s arguments are overly simplistic, as he acknowledges throughout, but urges the reader to be patient because he will eventually bring it all together in a fuller and more convincing manner. He eventually does not.

3) Examples of others’ arguments are most often on extreme ends of spectra, would likely not be used by critical thinkers today, and do not adequately address concerns of nuance lacking in the author’s own arguments. All too often it is stated that there is not enough time or space to work out much-needed nuance and the reader is simply referred to a number of other texts via footnotes.

 

Problems with Waters’ “Christian Moral Theologian” Perspective:

1) “Human flourishing” is defined by a particular “Christian” economic and political view that is more “of this world” in favor of the “haves” obtaining more to potentially aid the “have nots” than it is about following Jesus in the kingdom of God as it is now. It is argued that all should be able to meet their desired needs and wants, that this is impossible within any nation or community anywhere in the world, and thus global trade is necessary for “human flourishing” as defined by the author. This is simply ignorant of how many places in the world function and assumes everyone’s “wants” are going to be “good.” This also makes unnecessary the provision of God over and above our own efforts, something for which God has often chastised his people.

2) It is rightly argued that affluence is not usury (obviously, by definition) and can, given the right circumstances, be a good. However, any Christian theologian should know and take into consideration that not all are set on the same path, that we are not all called to have “more than enough” in this life, and that living according to the Way is primarily seen by taking up one’s cross, living humbly, and following Jesus’ example of sacrifice, all while relying on God and not oneself for provision. This should not be taken to mean that we do nothing, but the arguments in this book have little to do with the potential workings of God and, subsequently, a “Christian” moral theology.

3) The reader is expected to take the author’s argument that the Spirit can work through capitalism and globalization as evidence for their being the best way forward. This argument, however, has been and is used for many programs and methods Christians desire to perpetuate and need to stamp with approval—a tactic of “the end justifies the means” that ignores the fact that God can and does work in the darkest places that we cannot even imagine without justifying that darkness as “the best way forward.”

 

Problems with Waters’ Idealism Conveyed as Pragmatism:

1) For the author’s argument to work, all of the world’s kingdoms and nations would need to move to market-states simultaneously and be concerned with one’s neighbor in the same manner (as argued, that would necessarily entail one taking care of oneself and making sure oneself has more than enough before aiding one’s neighbor). It is accepted that not everyone will act as a Christian and that people will be hurt and oppressed in this system, even by Christians, but that it will be a smaller percentage than any other conceived way forward.

2) Any system argued against can be (and often has been) in similar fashion to the author’s idealism and come out as “the best way forward.” If everyone cared for one’s neighbor as Christian’s ought, then Socialism and Communism could both potentially work quite well (remember, we cannot deny the Holy Spirit can work through [insert preferred system], right?)—arguably even better than capitalism given its bent toward greed rather than love of one’s neighbor. That is not to mean that all capitalists are selfish, greedy individuals, but it certainly opens the door to that possibility at least as much (probably more) than to loving one’s neighbor.

3) Given the author’s concerns for the neighbor, there are several non-capitalist and non-free-market exceptions that are found to be necessary goods for the overall system to work (e.g., a socialist education system and unspecified government intervention with trade, the environment, and community are included), which should prove obvious to any reader that the ideal system does not work if it cannot work.

4) The author admits in his final chapter that if he is wrong about the environment and the overabundance of natural resources believed to exist to provide for our ever-increasing selfish desires for more and more energy/power, his entire argument falls apart. I don’t think we need to wait to see the failure.

 

My wife is an economist; I’m a theologian. Though I have certainly gained insight into economic theory, systems, and jargon through my wife’s teaching and working through some of that with her in light of scripture, the lens through which I read this book is primarily that of a Christian theologian and what I believe to be honest, rational thinking. I concur with Waters that globalization can be a good and that giving people the freedom of choice and open borders (borders that are often militarily—or at least by the threat of violence—established) is a good thing. However, I believe this because God has given us all the freedom of choice and that violence is contrary to the way of Jesus (Waters comes from a more Reformed theological perspective, so we likely disagree on exactly what “choice” implies, and his pro-military stance is something I obviously believe to be contrary to proper Christian moral theology). I also don’t think this is something we can force upon others via one system or another. Entering the kingdom of God is voluntary (again, Reformed folks will disagree here); likewise, the way Christians live should demonstrate the same method of volunteerism.

 

Regardless of the system(s) in which we live, we (Christians) are first citizens of the kingdom of God who should love our neighbor no matter the degree to which we “flourish.” The ideal human flourishing described by Waters and many others awaits us in the gift of eternal life when there will be no more fighting, separation, heartache, or tears of any kind. Given the words of Jesus, I do not believe this can or ever will happen prior to his return.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

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