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Capitalism and Christians: Tough Gospel Challenges in a Troubled World Economy.

What Keatings and Boeskys never told about capitalism

It is not likely that this book will be found on the list of recommended readings of Michael Novak or William F. Buckley or their soul mates. Or among the books that Charles Keating takes to his cell for weekend reading. Nor is it likely that Ivan Boesky or Michael Milken will add it to their diaries. Which is not to say that I would not recommend it to them. Quite the contrary.

The difficulty is that the author does not like capitalism, to which they are enfeoffed. He makes it clear early (page 8, in fact): "This book will show that I do not like capitalism." He does, however, like business, a point he also makes clear. This is possible because he does not, as some do, simply identify capitalism and business.

Jones distinguishes between good capitalism, bad capitalism and ugly capitalism. He identifies business with good capitalism I have a certain reserve about such an identification, but let it pass. He is not opposed to profit. On the contrary, he recognizes that it is necessary to the survival of the enterprise and cites Pope Paul II in support

What he is opposed to is the maximization of profits. From that has come the apotheosis of greed and all the evils that transform good into bad and ugly capitalism. The author seems to suggest that capitalism, after getting off to a good start, made a wrong turn, reading the word maximize before profit in the signpost.

I have my doubts about the good start. I am not an expert in the matter, but my picture of early capitalism is peopled with Dickensian images. Greed wedged its way into the driver's seat long before Reagan. If there was a fork in the road, it must have been reached at a very early stage, perhaps in transition from the drawing board of Adam Smith to the ugly world of reality.

Adam Smith had a good theory. It looked good on paper. As for "good capitalism," I question whether it has ever existed anywhere other than on paper. There are perhaps isolated exceptions such as the remarkable Mondragon cooperative movement in Spain's Basque country, briefly described by the author.

Adam Smith's theory, however good, was not without its flaws, chief of which was its failure to consider original sin in its formulation. The problem arises when the practitioners (entrepreneurs) move to apply theory to practice. If original sin was absent from theory, it soon manifests its presence in hard reality. Good capitalism, like the handsome prince become a frog, is transformed into bad and ugly capitalism.

I am quite serious.

One of the most memorable incidents in my life was a conversation at some length in the wartime Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., with Yuri Brusilov, the No. 2 man in the propaganda (read espionage) section. One of the more interesting bits of that conversation followed my affirmation that "one of the greatest mistakes made by Lenin , as by Marx, was that he ignored the fact of original sin."

Brusilov was initially a bit vague about the meaning of original sin, but he knew that I was not joking and found the ensuing discussion, as he put it, "very interesting, very interesting."

The point is that a sociopolitical economic system that looks good on paper looks quite different if seen through the prism of original sin. "To each according to his/her needs, from each according to his/her abilities." What more beautiful ideal than this communist ideal, which is also the monastic ideal. But thanks to original sin, history has seen examples of good, bad and ugly monasticism; and one or the others predominates in different stages of history with the ebb and flow of grace and sin.

Again, the point is that if man would do what reason -- or truly enlightened self-interest or, equivalently, the gospel values -- tells him he should do, the world would be radically changed, to the point of being unrecognizable.

As it is, in fact, says Arthur Jones, capitalist activity is "(a) detrimental to the common good, (b) injurious to the planet, 9c) [and] worst of all, promotes a false god, materialism, in the form of personal affluence and social success."

Thus he summarizes his main charge, which he convincingly argues through the first seven chapters. The eighth and concluding chapter, which I wish had been more fully developed, offers his answer to getting our entire Western culture back on track. It will surprise only those who have still not recognized that, as I argued above, what we are dealing with, more than economic graphs and charts, is sin.

I should perhaps have established at the outset that Jones is no poacher. He is fully qualified to meet apologists for classical economics on their own turf. His academic background is economics. He was for some years an associate editor and European bureau chief of Forbes magazine, a columnist for Financial World, a correspondent for the Financial Times of London, a contributing editor of Financial Planning and a Washington Business Journal reporter.

Enough said, although there is much more that could be said. Without more ado, I heartily recommend this insightful little book to all, especially to those who consider themselves Christians.

Jesuit Father George Dunne is on the faculty of Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
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Author:Dunne, George H
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 2, 1993
Words:898
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