The last century was marked by a spectacular battle between two powerful economic systems and ideologies: communism and capitalism. By the end of the 21st century, it has become exhaustively clear that capitalism seems to prevail and bring countries to prosperity and economic domination. Communism, on the other hand, has since been widely criticized, especially given the often inhumane methods of its implementation.
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Yet, despite the apparent victory of capitalism, a great number of people are still apprehensive of this system. Due to the pervasiveness of this perspective, several academics have put forward comprehensive argumentation to make a case for capitalism. One of them was Jay Richards, an analytical philosopher and free-market advocate. This paper defends his view that capitalism is the solution and not the problem. Apart from that, the present paper discusses the impact that the book has made on the academic circles, as well as my personal motivation for selecting this particular book for analysis.
Money, Greed, and God: Book Overview
“Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not a Problem” is a recent book by Jay Richards that was published in 2009. The entire argument put forward by Richards hinges on the premise that communism proponents and capitalism opponents, in general, seem to have a misunderstanding of what capitalism is as well as faulty ideas about economics as a whole. Richards (2009) starts off with transforming the very definition of economics. The traditional one that is also given in the book goes as follows: “the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”
The author challenges this definition by not necessarily negating it completely but by expanding it and including more details and particularities that he deems important. Namely, Richards (2009) argues that economics at its heart is largely about “what we choose” and “what we value.” The philosopher explains that economics has its own way of expression through language and symbols, which can be found in market interactions.
Therefore, it is safe to assume that according to Richards (2009), economics is not strictly about what we do as much as it is about what we believe. Taken this into account, it becomes clear that every economic system has a strong ideological foundation, which compels people to interact not only for rational but also deeper, emotional reasons.
This emotionality that is not that obvious when it comes to economic analysis may be the reason why people commit to wrong beliefs or misinterpret facts. What is compelling about Richards’ (2009) approach toward untangling the debacle between capitalism proponents and opponents is that he pulls together Christianity and free-market advocacy. Nowadays, many Christians decide that capitalism is a system that is not quite compatible with their faith.
In particular, some parts of the New Testament may be especially misleading. For instance, on one occasion, Jesus Christ says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” From this, some Christians might conclude that in alignment with Christ’s teaching, it is necessary to stop chasing money and personal prosperity. Richards (2009) contradicts this notion by showing exactly how capitalism and Christianity are not only compatible but are actually complementary.
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Richards opens his argument by citing the New Testament, namely, the Gospel of Matthew. In his own words, he explains that in actuality, Christ has never prescribed his adherents to be selfless to a fault. Instead, Jesus saw self-love as a foundation of informed choices and generosity, which is why it is said that one needs to love one neighbor as much as one loves itself. Further, Richards (2009) highlights the importance of prioritizing Christ before other people: the philosopher explains that one needs to give to others as if they were giving to Christ.
After making this point, the author unfolds his ideas further in a quite compelling manner. He manages to show exactly how almost everything that defines the capitalist mindset can actually be seen as a virtue. Richards criticizes communism because, to him, it makes citizens self-absorbed: they are impatiently waiting for wealth distribution and feel entitled to other people’s resources. As opposed to that, entrepreneurial citizens who support capitalism anticipate the needs of others.
A simple example of my own that I can give to illustrate this point is opening a small business and providing customers with something to which they would otherwise not have easy access. In this case, they keep other people’s needs in mind and do their best to serve them. It is true that opening a business has self-serving motives: after all, its end purpose is the generation of stable revenue and improving the lives of everyone involved. However, if the business owner does not overcome their selfishness and think about their “neighbors,” they will not stay afloat for too long.
Another virtue that a person might develop when aligning their economic behavior with the values of capitalism is disciplined decision-making. Richards (2009) says that thoughtfulness and conscientiousness are something that the Bible prescribes to develop.
Capitalism teaches a person to be more autonomous and self-reliant. On the other hand, in other economic systems where the state takes over and makes decisions for its people, the latter eventually lose the incentive to plan short-term and long-term (Richards, 2009). Many aspects of their lives are heavily influenced by the state, and their outcomes are predetermined. Capitalism, however, prompts a person to be more put together and independent.
As Richards (2009) himself pointed out in one of the interviews, he sought to answer the questions that he had about capitalism when he was on the fence between two ideologies (Kevin DeYoung, 2009). First and foremost, the philosopher emphasizes the discrepancy between doing and intending to do that is evident in many Christians (Claar & Klay, 2015). The author expresses his point of view in the following passage that at first might come off as somewhat cryptic: “Spiritually you’re better off a little mixed up about economics than indifferent to human suffering. Economically, though, only what you do is important, whatever your reason.”
When asked in one of the interviews about the meaning of this fragment, Richards (2009) cited Gilson, one of his main intellectual influencers: “Piety is not a substitute for motivation (Kevin DeYoung, 2009).” In other words, the author shows that action is more effective than thought. Many Christians choose to be sympathetic to the underprivileged, but it does not actually help the latter. At that, Richards (2009) does not mean that people should be absolutely indifferent to human suffering. However, pure motivation and willingness to help can only do as much. As opposed to that, hard work, disciplined decisions, and entrepreneurship can help improve society in the long term, even if it does not feed the poor in this very instant.
Surely, this schism between motivation and actual help is not the only problem that plagues the Christian community. “Money, Greed, and God” is neatly organized into chapters, each of which illustrates one particular myth about capitalism and Christianity. Below is a comprehensive list of chapters with their brief explanation and critical appraisal:
- The Nirvana Myth. According to Richards (2009), many people are unhappy with capitalism because they contrast it to unrealistic ideals as opposed to realistic alternatives. In theory, if we compare the actual state of capitalism in the developed countries and the perfect vision that communism provides, surely, the latter will look more favorable. However, this is a mental trap: the communist ideals have never been attained no matter how hard some countries tried to do it;
- The Piety Myth makes people rather focus on good intentions than take action to actually solve a problem;
- The Zero-Sum Game Myth enables people to think that when it comes to trade, there are always winners and losers;
- The Materialist Myth tells people that wealth is only transferred and distributed and not created;
- The Greed Myth. Richards (2009) argues that many individuals are misled by the notion that the essence of capitalism is always greed;
- The Usury Myth tells that charging interest on money is always exploitative, no matter the situation;
- The Artsy Myth deceives people by making them believe in aesthetic rather than rational reasoning. For instance, some of the ideas propagated by ideologies such as communism and socialism might have a nice ring to them and offer a better-looking reality. However, they do not stand a chance against the reality of economics;
- The Freeze-Frame Myth prevents people from understanding that the world is never static. Some resources are on-demand today, but tomorrow the situation might as well drastically change beyond recognition. Therefore, it is difficult to even speculate about the transfer of goods because the latter is not always clearly defined (Richards, 2009).
The Impact of the Book
Upon researching the critical response to Richards’ book, I discovered that “Money, Power, and God” did not cause that much resonance in academic circles. Namely, I could not locate any scholarly papers containing a review or a critical appraisal following its publication. I suppose that one of the reasons why it is difficult to track back any outstanding feedback is the overall lack of controversy around Richards’ figure. Even though the philosopher defies the predominant paradigm that now leans toward welfarism, he does not appear to be attracting that much negative attention. If anything, his most controversial views concern not economics but intelligent design for which he passionately advocates (Seiglie, 2019).
Nevertheless, it was possible to locate some reviews that provide insights into how the public reacted to “Money, Greed, and God.” For example, Nothstine (2009) praises Richards for his courage in addressing the problems that often go unnoticed. In particular, he says that the philosopher is able to identify “lethal holes” in socialists’ and communists’ argumentation and explain the faultiness of their thinking.
Nothstine puts an emphasis on Richards’ ability to articulate the most challenging and thought-provoking ideas for the reader to understand (Nothstine, 2010). It seems that the most compelling part of the book, as per Nothstine’s review, is when the philosopher explains the morality of entrepreneurship. The reviewer highlights that business people are often disregarded as greedy and unethical. To counter this, he cites Richards: “Unlike the self-absorbed, they anticipate the needs of others, even needs that no one else may have imagined.” Nothstine ends his review by stating that this book came out in time as the crisis of democracy in America keeps on unfolding.
Benefield (2010) also provides a positive review of the book, pointing out the argument that ties together religious beliefs and basic economics. Benefield (2010) seems to be appreciative of the fact that Richards does not follow the capitalist ideology blindly, nor is he deluded about it. According to the reviewer, Richards understands that capitalism can be implemented in different ways, and in some situations, it indeed causes harm. However, when it relies on a virtuous society, it can eliminate poverty and improve the quality of life.
In his review, Challies (2010) argues that Richards manages to show that many people take economics for granted. This especially applies to those who never had to live in poverty or struggle to cover their most basic needs. These people often fail to recognize how much contribution capitalism and capitalist-minded people have made to their lives. With “Money, Greed, and God,” Richards attempts to open their eyes to the reality of economics and the real reason behind the prosperity of the most developed countries. Lastly, just like the other reviewers, Challies (2010) praises Richards for being able to explain how Christianity is compatible with capitalism and entrepreneurship.
Motivation Behind Choosing the Book
I have chosen this particular book due to my personal interest in both the free market economy and religion. I myself am a Christian, but I am also guided by capitalist ideals, which is why I was compelled to understand how these two worldviews can coexist. Apparently, I am one of the many Christians who do or have held some prejudice against capitalism because of its perceived contradictions with Christianity.
This is how I discovered that those misconceptions were quite common. It made it even more interesting for me to finally figure everything out for myself and pick aside. Besides, this book was recommended to me by my mother, who has a fine taste in non-fiction literature. Before that, I had never heard of this book nor the author. My mother told me that she was moved by the central argument and the examples that Richards provides, which sold me on this book completely.
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What impressed me the most about the book is the amount of thought that Richards paid to the topic. From what I see, he conducted extensive research to express his worldview. Every point that he makes is backed up by real-world data that can be easily tracked to its source. Personally, when it comes to non-fiction and especially books about politics or economics, I tend to disregard emotionality. I disliked empty claims and appealed to the reader with the sole purpose of influencing them psychologically. Richards never resorts to emotivism: instead, he uses persuasive thinking and lets the reader draw conclusions of their own.
Besides, the author does not solely rely on Biblical plots, even though Christianity is an integral part of the book. For instance, Richards (2009) demonstrates the effects of capitalism and lack thereof on different countries. He explains that North Korea and South Korea are almost identical in demographic properties (the homogenous ethnicity) and natural resources. However, as of now, South Korea is a developed country with high standards of living, whereas North Korea is struggling with poverty, violence, and corruption. These real-world examples are quite telling and make a good case for the central argument.
Another virtue of “Money, Greed, and God” is its readability and comprehensibility. In my opinion, many people remain economically illiterate because they are put off by the complexity of economic concepts. Their hesitation is partly justified: it is somewhat difficult to find a book or some other source that would not overwhelm the reader with various theories, formulas, and examples. Richards, who is also a brilliant public speaker, knows how to guide the reader without too much hand-holding. Firstly, while reading, I had the impression that the author and I knew each other and were peacefully conversing over the subject matter.
Further, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness behind including extremely thought-provoking passages and their breakdown to more “digestible” ideas. I felt like I was carefully guided through the narrative of the book, but at the same time, I had plenty of opportunities to pause and ponder on my own.
Apart from what I have already mentioned, what also makes “Money, Greed, and God” so convincing is the author’s personal experience. For example, I really enjoyed the analog of the trade game he played when he was in school. As Richards tells in this book and also some lectures that I had the pleasure to listen to, his first exposure to economic concepts happened in primary school. His teacher set up a game in which he gave each of the 25 students an item from a dollar store. Then the teacher constructed a free market situation in which students had a chance to express their preferences for certain goods and form prices.
The end result was eye-opening for Richards as he realized that even though the teacher bought all these items for the same price, they were evaluated widely differently by the “consumers (Jay Richards: why Christians should support economic freedom, 2017).” This is a good example of how the author broke down a complex idea from the economic field and also used his own experience to be relatable.
What I also appreciated about “Money, Greed, and God” is that before becoming a free-market advocate, Richards used to have a different worldview. As he mentions in one of the interviews, he used to be in the “Christian socialist camp” for quite a long time when he was in college (Kevin DeYoung, 2009). However, due to his exposure to the alternative approaches to the economy and also his own critical thinking abilities, the philosopher changed his mind completely.
This is what I find especially compelling: practically, he has been on both sides of the fence, so he knows the argumentation of each political community. The author studied the many ideologies in-depth and came up with his own opinion based on a great deal of consideration.
Also, Richards escapes a common pitfall that many thinkers prove to be fallible for. In an attempt to stray away from leftist ideologies (communism and socialism), some people not only find themselves was drawn to the opposite side of the political and economic spectrum, but they adopt very radical views. In this regard, the author seems to be level-headed. In fact, when researching his background and motivation to write the book, I discovered that he does not agree with libertarians, and namely, Ayn Rand. Rand was insisting on acknowledging greed as a central motivation for capitalism; moreover, to her, greed was a virtue (Younkins, 2016). Richards, on the other hand, considers greed as neither inevitable nor moral. He argues that capitalism requires the enforcement and encouragement of moral values.
At the same time, even though Richards does not share beliefs with libertarians, communists, and socialists anymore, he does not show any disrespect for them. Throughout the book, I did not feel like he was trying to tear anyone down or insult his opponents. In fact, the book is organized in the form of peaceful dialogue or even a friendly conversation as opposed to a heated debate. The author tries to intuitively guess what the reader might find confusing about the compatibility of capitalism with Christianity and answer all the questions in great detail.
I was happy that I chose this book when I was having doubts about my own stance because it helped me greatly with forming my own opinion. I think that “Money, Greed, and God” provides plenty of information for raising awareness of different economic systems. It is reader-friendly and can be an excellent first book for anyone who is undecided about their own stance. Besides, I would like to highlight that this book can ignite optimism in readers.
It clearly demonstrates that we are living in such prosperity that has not been possible before. At present, there are fewer people living in absolute poverty than at any other point in the history of humankind. I am sure that “Money, Greed, and God” could help Christian entrepreneurs to find the right balance between serving God and making a profit.
One of the many issues that people appear to be having with capitalism is the notion that it is predominantly based on greed and selfishness. In their mind, capitalists are the few that ascend above the rest of the people because they exploit limited resources and transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. In his book “Money, Greed, and God,” Jay Richards, an American analytical philosopher, seeks to address the most common myths about capitalism. What makes the book interesting is its format that gives the impression of conversing with the writer as opposed to just becoming familiar with a new point of view.
Another virtue is Richards’ elegant argument that makes a case for the compatibility of capitalism with Christianity. This book did not trigger that big a reaction in academic circles. However, it is safe to say that book critics provided an overwhelmingly positive response to it. Personally, I not only expanded my knowledge about economics but also started to appreciate my life situation more. Now I see that my current status and living conditions provided me with a lot of opportunities to improve my life financially without impeding my spiritual growth.
Benefield, N 2010, Book review: Money, Greed, and God. Web.
Challies, J 2009, Money, Greed, and God. Web.
Claar, VV & Klay, RJ 2015, Economics in Christian perspective: theory, policy and life choices, InterVarsity Press, Madison.
DeYoung, K 2009, Money, Greed, and God: an interview with Jay Richards. Web.
Nothstine, R 2009, Review: Money, Greed, and God. Web.
Nothstine, R 2010, ‘Money, Greed, and God’. Web.
Richards, JW 2009, Money, greed, and God: why capitalism is the solution and not the problem, Zondervan, Grand Rapids.
Seiglie, M 2019, Interview with intelligent design proponent Jay Richards. Web.
Younkins, EW 2016, Ayn Rand’s Atlas shrugged: a philosophical and literary companion, Routledge, Abingdon.