Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Newbigin on Capitalism

Some of Lesslie Newbigin's most caustic insights relate to Capitalist economics.
Traditional Christian ethics had attacked covetousness as a deadly sin... [but] the eighteenth century, by a remarkable inversion, found in covetousness not only a law of nature but the engine of progress by which the purpose of nature and nature's God was to be carried out... In the economic realm the basic law is that the free operation of rational self-interest will alone secure general well-being... Each person must be free to better his condition as far as he can, and he alone is the judge of what is better. There can be no imposed or even generally accepted norm of what is good...
The driving power of capitalism... is the desire of the individual to better his material condition... The name the New Testament gives to [this] force is covetousness. The capitalist system is powered by the unremitting stimulation of covetousness...
The result is that increased production has become an end in itself... Growth is for the sake of growth and is not determined by any overarching social purpose [beyond the temporary satisfaction of unlimited desires to consume - which Newbigin takes as internal to the model]. And that, of course, is an exact account of the phenomenon which, when it occurs in the human body, is called cancer.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans, 1986): 109, 111, 113-4.

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