8 myths Christians believe about wealth and poverty

I’m no champion of capitalism, and this list seems overly apologetic, but I do think we need to be aware of some of these myths. (Source: JT – Don’t Just Care, Think.)

  1. The nirvana myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
  2. The zero-sum game myth (believing that wealth gained in one place always means that wealth was lost someplace else)
  3. The materialist myth (believing that intellect cannot create new wealth)
  4. The greed myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
  5. The usury myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitive)
  6. The piety myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
  7. The artsy myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
  8. The freeze frame myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming population trends will continue indefinitely or treating “rich” and “poor” as static categories)

– Jay W. Richards lecture: Don’t Just Care – Think: Myths Christians Believe About Wealth and Poverty, (mp3). His book: Money, Guilt and God: A Christian Case for Capitalism. (Forthcoming 2009).

My cautions:

  • [#1] At the same time, this doesn’t mean that the current forms of capitalism are necessarily good; nor does it mean that we shouldn’t try to make capitalism more responsible. Is there room for trying alternatives even if they aren’t currently present? [cf. #8]
  • [Re: #4] while greed may not be the essence of capitalism, I’ve frequently seen capitalism become an excuse for greed.

See also the comments on my source: JT’s Don’t Just Care, Think.

Richards is right on with the following quotes:

For Christians, compassion for the poor is a non-negotiable. Compassion alone, however, doesn’t help the poor. In fact, many ideas that Christian leaders advocate really exacerbate the very problems they were intended to solve. So how do we insure that we not only mean well, but also do good? We have to learn to think economically about wealth and poverty.

Don’t worry. At its base, economics isn’t supply/demand charts and complicated math. Rather, the “art of economics,” as Henry Hazlitt puts it, “consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

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