Capitalism

Books reviewed:

Capital and the Kingdom by Tim Gorringe

Crumbling Foundations by Guy Brandon

Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics by Theodore Jennings

How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck

Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, not the Few by Robert Reich

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by Michael Novak

With Liberty and Justice for Whom? by Craig Gay

 

Christian viewpoints:

Two of the books that we have reviewed (The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and Capital and the Kingdom) present contrasting Christian views of capitalism: the former (published 1982) coming from a free market viewpoint and the latter (published 1994) coming from an essentially Marxist viewpoint.

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism was published at a time when the term “capitalism” was used in many Christian circles with contempt and many Christians believed that socialism was the only legitimate Christian option. It played a leading role in changing that position and it is still worth reading today as a clear justification of what it calls “Democratic Capitalism”.

It may be felt that Marxism is now so dated that Capital and the Kingdom can be of no more than historic interest. However, the ideas set out in it are often heard from the mouths of bishops and other church leaders and there are signs that they are making a political comeback. It is thus important that their theoretical basis be understood and analysed and this book contains a clear exposition of them.

With Liberty and Justice for Whom? is very different. It analyses the spectrum of conservative protestant views about capitalism. It is also quite old (published 1991) but remains valuable as an overview of the various approaches and the issues raised in it are of continuing importance. Indeed, there would be merit in reading it before reading any Christian analysis of capitalism since it will help lay bare the theological and other factors underlying such analyses.

Crumbling Foundations (published 2016) is only 40 pages long and it focuses on a single, specialist subject: it is, it claims, “A biblical critique of modern money”. Many people will wish to take issue with its application of a number of passages of the bible and others will find some of the issues too specialised for them. However, it is a good introduction to some of the issues raised by the modern global financial system.

 

Historic faith-based approaches:

Good News to the Poor (published 1990) is an examination of the economic views of John Wesley. Clearly, this is a more specialist book than most of the others that we have reviewed and many people will feel that they can give it a miss. Furthermore, as Richard Turnbull’s review indicates, this book does not always reflect Wesley’s thinking in a balanced way. However, it is wise to allow the views of Christians from past centuries to challenge our views today and consideration of John Wesley’s views on economics may still have a role to play in developing our thinking.

 

Modern issues:

There are a number of recently published books relating to current issues in western economies. Those that we have reviewed are broadly hostile to capitalism as a system (at least in the form currently experienced in the West).

Although recently published, How Will Capitalism End? (published 2016) largely comprises a collection of previously published papers, which gives it an unstructured feel. It is deeply pessimistic in tone and the author’s structuralist view of society pervades the analysis. This viewpoint needs to be understood and considered but this book does not provide positive suggestions and its approach is philosophically flawed.

Platform Capitalism is a wholly new book (published 2017). It has many defects and, were it longer, these might outweigh its merits. However, it is short and is worth reading as a brief analysis of the digital age phenomenon of “platform companies”. It should assist understand of the way in which the business world is moving and reduce the risk of outdated solutions being proposed to modern business problems.

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, not the Few is another recent contribution to the debate (published 2016). It also comes from the left of the political spectrum (although it is not Marxist) and it sees redistribution of wealth and other activist governmental intervention as the solution to the issues that it perceives exist in capitalism. It is more polemical and directly political that most of the other books that we have reviewed but it is a worthwhile read. Although we have categorised it as a book about capitalism, much of its concern is about poverty and might be read alongside Wealth, Poverty and Politics by Thomas Sowell (see our reviews relating to “Wealth and Poverty” in the tab below) which advocates a radically different, free market, approach to the alleviation of poverty.