How should the church respond to the ethics behind free-market economics?

The free-market currently generates gross inequalities where many very wealthy individuals are rich at the expense of poor.

The free-market currently generates gross inequalities where many very wealthy individuals are rich at the expense of poor. The Bible contains radical teachings about the injustice of vast inequalities of wealth and speaks fervently about helping the poor. Practically there needs to be more Government intervention of businesses to place limits on consumption, unethical behaviour and practices which harm the environment. The Government, as well as individuals, must create a fairer world economy through fairer trade rules, corporate accountability of businesses in the developed world, regulations to help diminish the huge inequalities between rich and poor countries and provide aid throughout developing countries.

A major problem with the free-market system is that it promotes personal gain ahead of the welfare of others. Adam Smith was the founder of capitalism, he provided a theory of supply and demand to meet the desires of consumers.1 He believed that the free-market system benefits everyone and that purely self-interest and greedy behaviour of consumers is not to be despised. He argued that, in seeking personal gain, the supplier is forced to address the needs of customers. On the other hand, the message Jesus brought was one of self denial, he said that “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Christianity emphasises the love of others highly, whereas the free-market gives priority to the self.

Ultimately the church must help to promote life and community, not profit and greed. They must aim to create a world where people do not suffer in extreme poverty due to the actions of rich countries promoted by the free-market system. Instead the church needs to fight for radical reform of the global free-market to promote higher levels of equality and justice, where human life is valued above all. Every system is flawed, however if the free-market is to proceed it must not continue to leave in its trail devastation and loss of life. Economy must be fundamentally concerned with livelihood. If it is to be an ethical economical system then the free-market needs radical changes and must no longer exploit the poor in developing nations. The Bible still demands institutionalized mechanisms that will offer everyone the opportunity to earn a just living.2 We need economists immersed in biblical faith who will rethink economics as if poor people mattered and demand socio-economic structures that provide people with the opportunity to acquire the capital necessary to earn their own way.

1James Cypher, James Dietz, The Process of Economic Development, p. 111.

2Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, p. 266.

Rachel Dismorr studied Theology at Exeter University, where she was a the faith link for her Speak group. While she was studying, she wrote this article on free market economics. She currently is living in Uganda.