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Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization Paperback – September 14, 2016
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"Hallelujah! A theologian who understands economics! Brent Waters's work on the intersection of theology and economics will likely annoy his friends on both the left and the right, which suggests to me that he has nuanced this discussion properly. He recognizes that the vast differences between the zero-sum economy in biblical times and the dynamic market economies of today make a very big difference in the way we ought to read the Bible and understand Christian tradition on economic matters. Waters keeps us from a simplistic reading of the Bible, yet he recognizes that there are serious issues with globalization and that Christian moral theology has something relevant to contribute. He openly defends the goods produced by affluence while at the same time affirming that affluence is a means and not an end in itself. His thesis that markets and exchange (set in the proper regulatory and political structure) are necessary but not sufficient for human flourishing opens the door to the important place for civil society—namely, the church—to round out what is necessary for full human flourishing this side of eternity."
—Scott B. Rae, PhD, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
"Brent Waters has written a book about global capitalism with which almost every reader will find some reason to disagree—and that is exactly what makes it significant and well worth reading. Central to his theological analysis of both the necessity and the insufficiency of global capitalism is a Christian concept of 'communication' that is neither market exchange nor governmental coercion. He argues that a global economy shaped with that in mind offers the most promising way to take seriously in our world a preferential option for the poor. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book."
—Gilbert Meilaender, Senior Research Professor, Valparaiso University
"This is a book I've been waiting for: a careful, nuanced, but bold argument for the good of markets that neither demonizes them nor idolizes them. In other words, I no longer have to wait for Oliver O'Donovan to write a book on economics: Brent Waters did it instead. If you care about the poor, he argues with a contrarian flair, then you should affirm globalization. And if you care about capitalism, he adds, you should want to tame it. With verve—and just the right amount of acerbic wit—Waters articulates a theological defense of capitalism that will challenge deeply held assumptions on both left and right. I'll be pressing this into the hands of a lot of my friends, and even more opponents."
—James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College, and author of How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor
About the Author
Brent Waters is the Jerre and Mary Joy Stead Professor of Christian Social Ethics and director of the Jerre L. and Mary Joy Stead Center for Ethics and Values at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Christian Moral Theology in the Emerging Technoculture: From Posthuman Back to Human; The Family in Christian Social and Political Thought; and From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World. He has also written numerous articles and lectured extensively on the relationship among theology, ethics, and technology.
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Complexity Problem: Capitalism is not the main culprit for world poverty nor greed. Instead, it is a complex set of factors that are preventing individuals from productive contribution and equitable distribution of resources.
Contextualization Problem: It is too simplistic to blame the problem in the rich-poor divide. Instead, there is insufficient contextualization and understanding of the circumstances surrounding the challenges in each region's market situation.
Ideological Problem: Where conventional thinking often puts blame on globalization and capitalization as the bogeymen for economic problems of the world.
The reasons for Waters's assertions is a belief that God created this world good and we are free to use them appropriately. At the same time, capitalization is the best and most realistic strategy to help the poor. More critically, he aims to show that globalization and Christian moral thought and practice are not related. Neither is it incompatible. He goes on to describe his thesis by first giving us a history of Globalization with 1.0 as the period from 1492 to 1800, largely driven by transportation advances and nationalism. Globalization 2.0 happens between 1800 to 2000 with the rise of communications and information technologies. Globalization 3.0 is about collaboration and cooperation with increasing scope; relative ease of participation; speed of exchange; and fluidity of capital resources. Moreover, globalization helps prevent the rise of totalitarian regimes. He highlights Philip Bobbitt's point about the 19th Century being the century of the nation-state, while the 20th Century boasts the individualistic freedom paradigm. Globalization 3.0 represents the rise of the market state. He makes a surprise remark by saying that wealth created through globalization were not gained at the expense of the poor. He uses the analogy of high tides that raise all vessels, dinghies and boats, but only the best ships remained afloat. However, the analogy fails when we look at the fact that only the rich or big corporations can afford the better vessels. The roots of his Christian ethic is 1) love for neighbour; 2) responsible stewardship; 3) Vocation; 4) Renewal of Church Mission. He spends the first half of the book showing that globalization and capitalism is a necessity for human flourishing. The next half of the book talks about it being insufficient in itself. Waters avoids overly simplistic diagnosis by looking at the contexts of markets, competition, and cooperation. Comparing capitalism and socialism, he notes the nature of "creative destructive" of being its own "gravedigger." In other words, there is an "expiry date" for capitalism, at least until new alternative comes along. His most comforting argument here is the work of the Holy Spirit through it all. God could expand, restrain, pause, or renew any of these forces. The Holy Spirit helps believers adapt to shifting times in a way that is faithful to the gospel. This includes the use of affluence for the betterment of society. This in turn leads us to the biggest reason for Waters's thesis: addressing world poverty.
If Part One of the book is about the positives of capitalism, Part Two highlights the flaws and the need for something more. Making capitalism successful requires a shift of human attitudes through enabling and motivation. Humans can only flourish when they communicate well and behave civil. There needs to be both freedom, justice, and responsible stewardship. All of these would make capitalism just and successful. It is a tall order and looks quite impossible in our broken and sinful world. I think Waters is being too idealistic and may have over-stated his case for capitalism. His intention is noble, but the expectations are flawed. In arguing for the need for capitalism, he admits that Christians in general are not comfortable with accumulating riches. The Bible points more toward contentment and beware the dangers of riches. He goes into the study of contexts to find support for capitalistic economy theory. He cautions against blanket criticism of it by arguing that modern Christian moral theology is a reaction against the excesses of Roman Empire often seen as rich and powerful. There is the assumption that the poor is poor because the rich are rich. The key thing he is arguing is basically the shift of historical contexts. We cannot simply superimpose our disdain for Roman Empire style bullying of the poor and marginalized in the past into our present. Here, I think Waters has a good argument but it does not let globalization off the hook when looking at the problem of unemployment, uneven economic distribution, and the ills of modern society. In pleading for us to understand the complex environment, he tries to bring in other contexts such as markets, competition, and the need for cooperation as other relevant factors to justify capitalism. All of these are necessary for just capitalism. Put it another way, when countries or states fail to expand markets; increase competition; and widen opportunities for cooperation, capitalism will fail to maximize benefits for all. If it sounds ideal, it is. Power differences are huge when it comes to negotiations and initiating globalization activities.
Waters in his proposal argues that the best of "just capitalism" can only win 2 and a half cheers. The other half a cheer is reserved for the place of fellowship and community belonging. I would argue otherwise, that we cannot compartmentalize community away into half a cheer. For community and fellowship cannot be considered just one half out of six. Gospel wise, it is essentially the whole people of God who would be doing all the cheering when there is justice, progress, and equality for all. Thus, community concerns must be in all parts of every cheer and all parts of every capitalistic endeavour. This too will remain a dream for now as the state of sin in this world is difficult to dislodge. I am impressed with Waters's courage to take a stand to give a positive but unpopular spin on capitalism. Do not be too quick to dismiss this advocate for globalization and capitalism. Study how Waters nuance the many perspectives of capitalism, the historical trends, the changing times, and try to see from his reasoned standpoint. While the book may not transform capitalism from its current state, this book offers a way forward to tweak it for the better.
Brent Waters is Jerre and Mary Joy Stead Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.
This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
Part Two of Just Capitalism builds on the general affirmation of free markets, as offered in the first part, but critiques the failures in most current forms of capitalism. The upshot of the last five chapters is that free markets without virtuous people engaged in exchange are no less evil than socialism. In Chapter Six, Waters argues that exchange is necessary for human flourishing, but it must be oriented toward that end rather than simply focusing on increasing one’s economic status. The seventh chapter shows that for markets to achieve their purpose, they must function within the context of a civil society with the purpose of sharing the goods of creation. Chapter Eight offers some provisional thoughts on possible relationships between a free, civil society that enables exchange with political orderings that prevent abuse. The ninth chapter fleshes out the concepts of freedom and justice, making an implicit case about the differences between positive and negative rights and their relationship with justice. Chapter Ten functions as a conclusion, where Waters draws together the threads of his earlier arguments to further emphasize the good that global capitalism can do to alleviate poverty.
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
Waters is clearly not arguing that every instance of capitalism is good. Neither is he arguing that the present instantiation of global capitalism has no flaws. Many contemporary critics of global capitalism assume that the abuses that arise within existing markets are necessarily a feature and not a bug of the system. On the other hand, some proponents for markets insufficiently critique the sin that is evidenced in current markets and often make a similar assumption that some of the worst aspects of global capitalism are a necessary evil.
This book challenges assumptions on both sides. Economic systems are not inherently unjust or just. However, Waters carefully argues that free markets have a higher probability in resulting in just outcomes due to the self-corrective nature of the market system. At the same time, simply accepting capitalism without working to morally form the members of the market will lead to exclusion of potential market contributors due to social injustices. Waters’ book explains that markets can be good, but we have to work at keeping them moral.
This is the best moral case for the free market economic system that I have seen. There are points where one can disagree with Waters, but he realistically examines the benefits and risks of capitalism, showing that in the balance global capitalism is the best means of alleviating poverty.
Note: This is an abbreviated version of a post from Ethics and Culture. I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.