I’m no economystic. I’m just a guy – a guy trying to follow Christ – who sees and thinks upon what he sees. And naturally, money is one of the biggy topics – I see, I think; it matters in big ways for every one of us. We’re all very concerned with it, from my brother-from-another-mother, Dave, so concerned about the mail delivery of his $20 spending check every Friday, all the way to the most interesting man in the world, _____.
I just read an article, The Compassion of Capitalism, by Dr Anne Bradley on the website The Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics (tifwe.org), in which she writes,
“Entrepreneurs play a vital role in identifying the misfortunes of others, putting themselves in other’s shoes, to really experience what they are going through. We can create better ways of doing things only when we’re able to do this – and are incentivized to do so. Free market exchange provides for both.” (emphasis mine)
I really desperately want to agree with the sentiment that Capitalism = Compassion, but I just can’t anymore. Maybe this was more true at some point in history, but it’s a far cry from the truth of today. (Like I said, I see and I just think upon it.)
Let me break down that quote: “identifying the misfortunes of others.” This is certainly true. Aren’t we all very good at this? “Boyo, I’m sure glad I’m not in your shoes.” This recognition of when someone else is up s**ts creek is easy to come by. But to care to “to really experience what they are going through”? No way. Not any more. Now we are advised to recognize purely for exploiltative purposes. The “incentivization” comes first. “How can I make money by ‘helping’ others?” instead of “I want to help, thank you for your support.”
I have no cold, hard facts, but here are some impressions, some cases in point:
– note how Big Pharma seems more interested in keeping the ill as residual customers than in actually finding cures;
– note the recent three-figure-percent increase in a much-needed medication;
– note the trend in corporate out-sourcing and down-sizing, the focus on the bottom line;
– note the ‘warehousing’ that is human services, where CEO’s of ‘non-profits’ make six-figure salaries;
– note the whole disposable-goods approach to manufacturing – nothing’s built to last anymore, in spite of what the waste does to the planet.
These are not ways that put “the good of others” first.
Sure, maybe it used to be more prevalent that industries formed around providing a service where there was need. And there certainly is good that comes from this today. But the “helping” is no longer the primary purpose (if it ever was), the profit is. Any benefits are more a side-effect of making a fortune. It’s all backwards.
This much is true:
“…innovation, which is encouraged within a capitalistic system, breeds compassion even among the greedy and selfish. It doesn’t eliminate greed. Nothing can. It does encourage ordinary people to unleash their God-given creativity to identify the sufferings of others and eliminate them. That is compassion and we need more of it everywhere.”
“Encouraged” is the key word. It speaks to the motivation for “helping. To my mind, heavily influenced by Christ, compassion needs no material reward. Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and concern for another who is stricken by misfortune accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Not a word about recompense. And literally, the origin is Latin, compati, “suffer with“, not “benefit from.”
I do agree with this quote from Adam Smith, quoted in the article, as well:
“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it… “
We are made, designed by God, our Maker, to desire to serve for the benefit of others. Making someone else’s day a little better makes our own much more so. This is compassion.
What I see today is, plainly, opportunism, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences.”
Yes, a by-product of Capitalism is benefits. But is it the best way mankind has to accomplish this? Will we ever be ready – are we ready now – to profit another way?