The Fruit of Industrial Capitalism
Perhaps industrial capitalism is more easily seen in the fruit of it’s labor. One could quickly point to the recent Walmart debacle and a dozen others like it. But if we look back to the beginning we see from the inception the same patterns. Think quickly of three of the greatest “capitalist” in American history. Who comes to mind? I’m not talking about the modern day Bill Gates and Warren Buffet types, although with all their giving to the abortion industry I think they make the case very nicely as well.
But likely, if you thought for just a moment your mind would wonder to the names of Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan and the like. For good reason, these men became men of great wealth. What is an interesting and little considered fact is that all three of these men begin their careers just prior to the war between the states. Each of them born within a four year period in the 1830’s managed to position themselves prior to the war in such a manner as to come out of the war with the capitol and means to build the businesses that made them the household names they are today.
So why do we remember them, and for what should they be remembered? Do we speak the name of Carnegie and talk about the 30-40 junior partners he made millionaires when he sold National Steel? Do we talk about how JP Morgan made Carnegie the richest man in the world when he bought National Steel for $492 million in 1900? When we talk of Morgan do we think of the fact that he combined 170 different companies together to form US Steel, a company worth around $700 million at that time. Do we marvel at the vast oil holdings of John D. Rockefeller?
I would submit that these are the very reasons these men are remembered. It is not because of the Carnegie Foundation, or the Rockefeller Trust. It is not because they were great philanthropist, but because they were the pioneers of industrial capitalism. Their notoriety is due to the great fortunes they amassed not the money they gave away. Many may point to the great sums of money they have passed on through their trusts and foundations as a sign of their virtue. But if that giving is examined in light of scripture, it may be found wanting.
Crimes of Philanthropy
RL Dabney spoke clearly to this issue in his essay The Crimes of Philanthropy. He made the case that as sinful man we often do the wrong things for the right reasons and the right things for the wrong reasons. Using Carnegie as an example, he had a heart to give back to society and redistribute the wealth he had accumulated. However, Carnegie was subject to the passions and teachings of his times, namely the Socialism in the political realm and Unitarianism in the church. Each of these effected him and his giving in such a way that Dabney would have called it a crime rather than a gift.
If we start with the reformed doctrine of the depravity of man and believe the catechisms that state man’s chief end is to glorify God and we further contrast these views with the goals and fruit of Socialism and Unitarianism we can see where the crime is committed. Both of these institutions remove the emphasis from God and place it on man. As such Carnegie’s giving was to help his fellow man, not to glorify the God who created him.
The result of giving with the goal of helping man, without bringing glory to God, is that it ultimately does not help man. In fact a case could be made that to lift a man from poverty without pointing him towards God will cause greater harm still. If we bring this back to Walmart and the Sam Walton foundation we see the causes they are supporting are civil interests such as government programs and public schools. These it can be argued do not help the public interest, but only further the interests of the government many times at the expense of the people’s liberty which we discussed in previous posts.
The second challenge in this debacle is the fact that Carnegie and other’s like him considered themselves Christian men. Again, as was stated about Sam Walton, ultimately that must be left to God. But we can look to the fruit of their lives and the worldview in which they operated to discern if there were Christian principles at work worth imitating. If a review is done on Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth, is sounds much more like a socialist rant than a Christian philosophy of giving. Every principle put forth is in direct opposition to a basic biblical principle. (That is a story for another day.)
The point in this comparison, is these men and others of that era laid the foundation for Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Conrad Hilton, and yes even the recently defamed Sam Walton. There is a pervasive philosophy that grants an appearance of Christianity but denies the substance there of. There is an order of business that brings financial prosperity without considerations for the order of the universe or the God who created it.
In short we ascribe the descriptor “Christian” to people because they go to church or claim the name of Christ, without examining the fruit of their lives. We as a culture have separated and compartmentalised our lives into the secular and the religious. It is this prevailing philosophy in the church that allows us to call men like Sam Walton “good Christian men” without regards to the fruit of the business they engaged in.
If one makes the claim that “God blessed Sam Walton”, then one must also make the claim that God judged and destroyed the small town where I grew up in rural Arkansas. (and thousands of others across the nation) Because as Walmart opened it’s doors most of the other little mom and pop shops that supported many good “Christian” families were shut down as they tried to compete with the high cost of low price.
If this is the case than one must say that God paid Sam Walton to destroy these small family run businesses and if we look at the balance sheets we can see that God pays very well for this kind of work. It would be hard to seriously make this claim. However, that is the claim made when folks try to say God blessed Sam Walton and that he was a good Christian man.
There is more that needs to be considered as this is studied. To understand how this happened and the principles behind it we must understand the difference in the local economy and the national economy and the biblical examples of decentralization must be considered.
The Fruit of Industrial Capitalism