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The Best Broken System

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb. There is a subtle, but at times blatant message which has flowed from the pulpits and lecterns in our churches and universities. The message is this: Our world is increasingly poor, accelerated primarily by the rise of global capitalism and its chief culprit, “big business.” An anthology of leading Christian thinkers described capitalist economies as a tyranny. The authors went further to indict capitalist economies as wholly “antithetical to the gospel.” One of the contributors, Marcelo Vargas, did not guise his critique:
In the beginning, [it] appeared to be a blessing, but it is a blessing that has been transformed into a curse.
It is really easy to throw stones at capitalism. Vargas and others cite stories of ruthless sweat shops, unbridled consumerism, Ponzi schemes, extreme income inequality and gluttonous Wall Street executives. There are undeniable flaws, abuses and inequalities within our current economic system. However, if you are at all concerned about the poor; then this system is absolutely the best one we’ve got. In spite of its flaws, many of which are heinous, the increasingly connected global marketplace is undeniably the best broken system—and its positive impact on the lives of the poor far exceed any system we have seen in our world’s history. The problem with many of the sweeping condemnations of capitalism is that they castigate capitalism based on its villains rather than by its record. The most critical measure of success, a literal “life or death” statistic, is one that examines whether the world’s most vulnerable have escaped extreme poverty. To that point, and contrary to what many of the its loudest critics proclaim, extreme global poverty has been cut in half over the past 25 years and opportunities for the poor to progress have grown exponentially. Percentage of people in extreme poverty Source: 2009 World Development Indicators, World Bank In a recent theology conference at Wheaton College, theologians Dr. Brian Walsh & Dr. Sylvia Keesmat described capitalism as “crucifixion economics” and went on to say that “Greater prosperity for [the United States] or its rich neighbors… will not and cannot result in a more peaceful planet.” They slammed global markets and encouraged Christians to withdraw, suggesting that when the rich get the richer, the poor will surely get poorer. I guess my question is this: Just who is being crucified in our current global system? Over 1.4 billion people have escaped extreme poverty over the past 25 years. Global capitalism has provided unprecedented opportunities for innovative economic development and transformative missions. Tens of millions of families have escaped extreme poverty on its back. Professor Hans Rosling, statistician extraordinaire, articulates this progress beautifully in this four minute clip–illuminating that by every measure (child mortality, life expectancy, etc.), enormous progress has been made. On the flip side, Rosling’s data highlight that the poor in the countries which have chosen to practice an anti-capitalist economic models (e.g., North Korea, Cuba) have not fared as well as they have in capitalist and pseudo-capitalist (e.g., China) economies. Even Fidel Castro admitted the failure of his system recently, when he said, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” The poor in emerging capitalist economies like Rwanda and India have a different story to tell, as millions have bootstrapped their way out of extreme poverty. Collectively, we have two options: We can vilify capitalism till the end of days, or, we can be citizens of redemption—salt and light—bringing healing to the brokenness which exists in our current broken system while also being honest about its incredible successes. We can start and run “best of class” global businesses, provide entrepreneurial opportunities to the poor, invest in businesses which do things right, and give generously to the vulnerable. This is the message which should resound from our pulpits and lecterns.