Gospel & Culture blog
Jimmy Carter said that the most significant social justice issue facing us in the 21st century is income inequality. Research shows that (at least in wealthy nations) wealth inequality leads to social problems like demoralization, homicide, and depending on who runs the economy, racism (see Chua.). And as free markets take off, especially in this era of globalization 2.0, levels of inequality keep rising. In the past 200 years from 3:1 to 72:1, meaning the richest countries are now 72 times richer (and increasing) than the poorest (see World Centric). If this has happened since 1820, and industrial nations are among the most unequal, it seems to be correlated with the industrial revolution, and especially with capitalism (or free markets). But does that mean the free market is to blame? Some have suggested that if capitalism is correlated with inequality, capitalism is inherently flawed (or even evil). But let's consider the syllogism
before we throw the baby out with the bathwater:
But this doesn't mean that capitalism is causing human suffering. Consider ten children in a sandbox who want to make a sand castle, and you need a bucket to successfully build a sandcastle:
And that's the way it is with the free market. Not only are some doing fantastically, but there are finally, at this point in history, enough resources to go around. The resources aren't shared equally, and some have barely benefitted- but for the first time in history we have enough resources for all people to flourish, and those tools are accessible to us because of the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on liberty, production, education. These tools are the only hope for bringing the bottom billion out of poverty (hence, for addressing issues of malnutrition, health inequality, lack of sanitation, etc)- the only tool that has every brought a nation out of poverty is the free market (which usually brings democracy).
Granted, the free market doesn't always bring INDIVIDUALS out of poverty- that is a complicated issue of restoring social capital, addressing worldview, restructuring governmental policies, etc. But when advocacy and justice organizations address social capital, worldview, and governmental policies, their end game is almost always finding path for the most vulnerable and marginalized to enter the free market economy. Like inventing more machines that make more buckets to make more sandcastles.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor