There is a moral value to economic growth. In difficult economic times, it is important to pursue policies that serve the disadvantaged. It is also important to pursue policies that increase wealth more broadly—policies that encourage the creation of private sector jobs, which are a source of personal independence and dignity. Policies that reward effort, enterprise and investment.
Sometimes Christians view the creation of wealth as a second order concern. And there are many biblical warnings about the spiritual dangers of greed and materialism.
But a respect for facts requires another recognition. Capitalism—the economics system in which the means of production are privately owned—has been history’s greatest engine of economic growth, wealth creation and prosperity. And this should mean a great deal to anyone concerned about the poor and oppressed.
In our book, The City of Man, my coauthor and I argue that capitalism has produced two things that for much of history were regarded as inconceivable: a large middle class and intergenerational wealth-building. In doing so, it has lifted untold numbers of people out of poverty and misery. The medical, scientific and technological advancements associated with capitalism have brought greater health, longer lives and relief from backbreaking labor. By contrast, where capitalism has not yet taken root, we often find destitution, widespread misery, illiteracy and much early death.
Because of the wealth created by capitalism, charity and generosity are increased. The moral philosopher Adam Smith put it this way: “If our own misery pinches us very severely, we have no leisure to attend to that of our neighbor.”
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