Christmas is a season of miracles. Ultimately, it is the celebration of the miracle of Christ’s birth and God’s provision for our salvation. This is obviously true apart from any economic system, but I believe free enterprise makes it easier for us, imperfect and sinful humans, to appreciate the miracle of Christmas by experiencing anticipation, the joy of giving, and miracles.
Most Christian traditions celebrate Advent, the season of waiting and preparation leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time to look forward to the return of Christ and fulfillment of His Kingdom, which we anticipate through our own work and vocations. We teach children how to experience and feel the excitement of anticipation by wrapping presents and having the children wait until an appointed time to open them. Far from being consumerist, this is a way for young hearts and minds to get a small glimpse of what it means for us to wait upon Christ’s return.
[pullquote] We can better understand the anticipation of Christmas when we experience anticipation in our work and savings.[/pullquote]
Free enterprise as an economic system also promotes the experience of anticipation. The ability, which is a fundamental facet of capitalism, to save and invest your earnings denies us our selfish desire for instant gratification and delays our enjoyment to some point in the future. We do this under the promise that enjoying the fruits of our labor in the future will be better for ourselves and our families than if we spent all our money immediately. Saving and investing our money also allows others to produce value and jobs, creating a world in which all our work is interconnected and others-focused. We can better understand and appreciate the anticipation of Christmas and of Christ’s coming Kingdom when we experience anticipation in our personal work and savings.
2) Joy of Giving
The joy of giving is everywhere during the Christmas season. We often hear stories of mystery gift givers, there are popular songs which celebrate the life-transforming power of gift giving, and we are certainly reminded by every retailer that finding the perfect gift is a way we can demonstrate our love for someone dear. This emphasis on gift giving is a way to celebrate the ultimate gift that we receive on Christmas, to partake in a similarly selfless act (though imperfectly), and to demonstrate the love of God to others in need.
Again, free enterprise alone is not responsible for these good things, but it does allow us to better understand and experience the joy of giving. While some condemn what they see as rampant consumerism (and to their credit, many people misunderstand the meaning of gift giving as gift getting), the free market allows us to search for and find a wide variety of gifts, enabling us to better demonstrate love for our friends and family. In this way, it helps us to appreciate God’s perfect gift.
The free market is miraculous in that no one person can have sufficient knowledge about enough things to fully understand how the market works. Sure, economists can abstractly understand concepts like how prices are signals of supply and demand and how inflation impacts standards of living, but no one knows the complete formula for how to maximize the economy. Mostly, because there is no way to know exactly what tomorrow holds. Technology will change, politics will change, social trends will change, and with them goes the economy. Adam Smith called it “the invisible hand,” and Frédéric Bastiat called it the “what is not seen,” and many people have called it miraculous.
The Inkling writers, including C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, wrote fantastic fairy tales and fantasies because they believed that reading such stories opened up the hearts and minds of the young and old alike to believe in the miraculous. In his essay, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said,” Lewis writes:
I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? […] But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for their first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.
As I think one could with free enterprise. The free market acts similarly to fairy tales in that it opens people’s eyes to things they cannot understand, that they cannot explain, but that they believe. Because we can experience real-life miracles in the free market, we can better understand and enjoy the miracle of Christmas.