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Part 5 in a series on Markets & Morality

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…

- Genesis 3:17-19

Today we continue to look to the scriptures in an attempt to answer our questions about markets and morality. In our last post we looked at the story of creation. Now we turn our focus to the second chapter in the Four Chapter Gospel: the Fall.

The Fall

Genesis 3:1-19 describes the fall of the world and the fall of mankind. The Bible makes it clear that because our first parents rebelled against God (Romans 5:12), we are now fallen creatures with a sinful nature which manifests itself in selfishness, greed, and exploitation. As cartoonist Walt Kelly’s character Pogo once said,

We have met the enemy… and he is us. 

The Fall accurately describes the way things are. This fallen world has become a place of decay and scarcity. The Fall has made our work difficult. Yet as Christians we are still called to be good stewards of the limited resources God has given us.

Cornelius Plantinga writes in his book Engaging God’s World,

We are now fallen creatures in a fallen world. The Christian gospel tells us that all hell has broken loose in this sorry world but also that, in Christ, all heaven has come to do battle. Christ the warrior has come to defeat worldly power, to move the world over onto a new foundation, and to equip a people—informed, devout, educated, pious, determined people—to follow him in righting what’s wrong, in transforming what’s corrupted, in doing the things that make for peace.

How the Fall Impacts Economics

Given humanity’s sinful nature, we should be concerned about any centrally-controlled economic system that concentrates power in the hands of a few individuals. Instead, we need an economic system that protects us from the sinful effects of human interaction as much as possible. Such a system would disperse power and protect us from sinful greed and exploitation.

Free markets recognize both of these problems and provide a sustainable solution. They help us more effectively manage scarce resources, and they provide a level of protection against man’s sinful nature.

Many Christians today contend they cannot support free markets because they promote greed and corruption. The reality is just the opposite.

One of the great advantages of free markets is that they protect us from human sinfulness. They restrict the negative impact of greed on society. They are part of a system in which bad people can do the least harm, and good people have the freedom to maximize the benefits of their labor.

Milton Friedman once wrote,

The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of a system.

In a free market, it is easy to see how this self-corrective mechanism works. A greedy owner may cheat his customers, but sooner or later he is found out. His customers leave and take their business elsewhere. Over time, free markets channel self-interest into mutually-beneficial behaviors guarding against greed, making it less harmful to the rest of society.

Asking The Right Questions

The question Christians should be asking is not, “Does capitalism make people greedy?” Instead, Christians should be asking,

Are there greedy people who are trying to use economic freedom and the free-market system unlawfully to achieve their ends at the expense of others?  

The biblical story of the Fall tells us that this is the way things are.

As concepts of morality decline in our modern-day society, free enterprise, some argue, becomes increasingly at risk to be exploited by unscrupulous companies and consumers alike.

But, as we will see in my next post, there is hope.

Do you think markets are the best proection against human greed and sinfulness? Leave your comments here

Hugh Whelchel

About Hugh Whelchel

Hugh Whelchel is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of "How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work." Hugh has a Master of Arts in Religion and brings over 30 years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE. Read More...

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  • Jim Price

    Adam And Eve may have to have a level of protective custody in heaven. Surely many of us will want to have, ” a few words with them”, about them letting down their guard and causing all of us so much pain.

  • RogerMcKinney

    Nicely done! I would add that the assumptions behind the arguments need clarifying. Modern society and most Christians hold to the pagan belief that people are born innocent and society creates their character. That is the assumption behind the idea that capitalism promotes greed. They think that without capitalism greed would disappear. Communists have always thought that. The USSR was the largest experiment to prove it and it failed miserably.

    Real Christianity teaches that people are born with a strong tendency to sin. Men prefer darkness to light. Greed exists under all economic systems. Only capitalism has a non-spiritual means of controlling its effects. Socialism gives full power to a small group of greedy people.

  • Nathan

    I do not think markets are a protection from human greed or sinfulness; I think it’s wishful thinking by Christians and non-Christians alike when they imply that any economic or government system can cause people to act more or less sinfully. It seems to me that all capitalism – the economic dimension of liberty – does is buffer individuals from the sins of others.