"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

Is Free Enterprise Moral?

On November 30, 2011, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute and Jim Wallis of Sojourners debated the morality of free enterprise and the economic systems they believe are most effective in lifting nations out of poverty. Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, the Stephen Phillips Chair in History and Director of the Center for Christian Studies and Jerusalem and Athens Forum at Gordon College, moderated the debate hosted by Gordon College. Opening remarks by Jim Wallis: Opening remarks by Arthur Brooks: Watch the discussion and Q&A here. Tal Howard opened the debate and described the goal of the discussion as “faith-seeking understanding,” a concept most closely associated with theologian St. Anselm of Canterbury. He said:
“Our faith should not be a matter of self-satisfied piety, an isolation from the life, culture, and intellect; rather we should be engaged in great issues, ideas, and debates of our day. “
Jim Wallis emphasized the need to focus on policy that works rather than political ideology:
“Don’t go left, don’t go right, go deeper.”
Wallis touched on relevant topics like Occupy Wall Street, the Circle of Protection, growing income inequality and the concentration of power in Washington and on Wall Street. He posed the question, “What happens when the invisible hand lets go of the common good?” According to Wallis, we are called to be Matthew 25 Christians because a nation will be judged by how it treats the weakest and most vulnerable. In his opening remarks, Arthur Brooks stressed we should not only be concerned with lifting people out of physical poverty, because money does not buy happiness. Rather, earned success, the belief that you are creating value with your life and the value in the lives of other people in your vocation, is fulfilling. He complemented Wallis’s Matthew 25 reference by explaining how the parable of the talents can guide Christians to deal with the issue of wealth. He said:
“The only way you’re going to save millions of lives, the only way you’re going to lift up whole countries is with a system, and the only system that has ever done that is the free enterprise system.”
As the third debate in the series, the Brooks-Wallis debate at Gordon College was by far the fieriest while still maintaining a civil discourse. Howard asked questions that encouraged Wallis and Brooks to elaborate on topics they disagree on most, which boils down to two major subjects: financial regulation and income inequality. They argued about hedge fund managers; who is to blame for the financial downturn; and the best way to hold Wall Street accountable for risky lending. Though their differences are stark, both Arthur Brooks and Jim Wallis agree America must cling to morality, or capitalism will devour everything in its path.