I’d like to answer a few questions that have come up regarding my new book—All Riches Come From Injustice—and its argument against capitalism.
1. You criticize capitalism yet sell on Amazon, use an iPhone, etc.?
Yes, I have to participate in capitalism and have no other choice. This observation isn’t really an argument but a vague attempt at a “gotcha” moment. But capitalism isn’t voluntary. It is the system I live in. And just because I participate in capitalism does not mean I have no right to criticize it. The very opposite is true, actually. It is because I live in capitalism that I criticize it. Another world is possible!
Furthermore, the goal is not to go back to a pre-industrial age where we no longer have these technological tools. The problem is that production under capitalism is entirely oriented toward profit. Take Amazon, for example. Amazon is a useful utility. The problem is that Amazon is privately owned, i.e., all the profit goes into private hands. An anti-capitalist position would aim at making Amazon publicly owned so that its distribution capabilities would serve the common good, not the bottom line of shareholders. Also, its workers should have a more democratic say in how work is done and benefit more from their labor.
2. What is your alternative?
Socialism. For me, that means economically and politically prioritizing the needs of the many over the luxuries of the few. It means creating a system where profit is no longer the primary motivation for every decision.
This book does not directly address socialism, but I am writing a second, much longer book that explicitly deals with that question. This new book (All Riches…) addresses the witness of the Early Church and then argues that the application of their insight today is anti-capitalism. But it does not explicitly argue for socialism. I hope to finish my second book on this topic sometime next year. That is where I will more fully expound on this argument.
3. What about the Parable of the Talents? Didn’t Jesus endorse capitalism by praising the investment of the master’s servants in turning a profit?
That parable should be read together with Matthew 6: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (19-20). Thus, the parable is not an unqualified endorsement of free-market profits, but it is about the economy of the Kingdom. Also, note that the investment is not the servant’s but the master’s property. I discuss in the book how the Early Church stressed that God owns all things, that all riches are God’s and not our own, and that the rich misuse riches because they hoard it for luxury rather than helping the needy (as God intends). Thus, the rich owe a debt to the poor. That is a similar point Christ makes in this parable. To misuse wealth is to hoard it (burying it in the ground). Rather, the proper use in the Kingdom sense is the “invest” money in the poor. According to Proverbs 19:17, to give to the poor is to lend to the Lord. The parable is not a defense of capitalism but actually an inversion and subversion of it. Do not misuse riches—which belong to God—but steward riches well by helping the poor.
4. Am I suggesting that those who work hard for their money to provide for their families are unjust or that everyone should be poor?
I stress throughout the book that the Bible’s critique of wealth is directed against *inequality* not riches as such. Wealth is a blessing from God when it is shared for the benefit of all. But it is condemned when hoarded by a few while many suffer from lack. In Christ’s time, the rich were the 2-3% of society that hoarded most of the material resources. That meant the overwhelming majority lived at or below subsistence levels. So Christ’s critique of the rich was directed against the very, very rich, who today are the capitalist class, i.e., the 1%. A middle-class family just trying to survive in this society and perhaps hoping to take a vacation every now and then is not the problem. Rather, the problem is that eight men have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the planet combined! They hoard that wealth for themselves even though millions starve and die every year. That is what I am calling unjust. This book is pro-working class, and I would never suggest that those trying to survive under capitalism and seek financial security are unjust.
I hope these points clarify a few concerns you might have about the book. I do try to argue as persuasively as I can for my position. Still, I am afraid a lot of the negative reaction (though most of the feedback has been incredibly positive so far!) comes from jumping to quick conclusions about my position.
I am happy to discuss more concerns with the book as they arise. I see this book as the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. And it is a conversation I want to have because I believe it is direly necessary for us today.