Questioning Western Capitalism

Reading about Paulson's new direction on the $700 billion 'bailout' today in the Tribune reminds me of my serious qualms with contemporary Western Capitalism. In concept, capitalism seems necessary for sustaining a healthy economy long term. But in reality, I have real questions about whether this is true. Ask yourself, How is America fairing in the global technology race? How many scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc. does America produce (percentage-wise) compared to other, lesser-capitalistic nations? Not well, actually. How are we doing educationally compared to, say, the wealthier parts of China and India? Again, not as well. But I am not ready to abandon capitalism altogether, because I believe it is necessary for free society in general, which I affirm.

However, I am concerned about what appears to be the only way forward in the present economic situation: increase consumer spending by opening up more lines of credit. That's what got us here in the first place. Is capitalism founded upon the necessity of consumers buying things (lots of them) that they don't need? Is it not based on the premise of excess? Is the only way out of our recession to "increase consumer confidence" so that they will buy more goods in order to keep businesses in business in order to maintain more jobs in order to keep making money in order to buy more goods, etc., and on and on? Jobs and money and goods and services are necessary for any society. But does the capitalist system work if the quantity and variety of goods expands at more rapid pace than the population? Is it predicated on excess?

I ask this, because the cause of the economic crisis was out of control lending and out of control spending by those who did not have money to spend. What would happen if all of Americans only took out debt for major purchases, but purchases which can reasonably be repaid within 15-20 years (e.g. homes, college degrees, business startup)? That would prevent all the insane mortgages that have been offered to people who couldn't afford to own homes, as well as the credit lines viz a viz credit cards to those who cannot afford lesser purchases. What would that do to our economy? If it would wreck our economy, then our economy is built upon an unChristian and unsustainable foundation. For moderation and living within one's means, not to mention providing for those less privileged and leveraging our resources for the kingdom and mission of God, are the Christian way of stewardship.


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