The other day a friend sent me this article, written by Swedish economist Paul Segerstrom, about “what the Bible teach about economics”. The title should rather have been “Why capitalism rocks and communism sucks, and here’s some Bible quotes to prove my point”. It isn’t well written and it is using very weak arguments. I still want to comment it though, since it is an oppurtunity for me to share what I think about capitalism vs communism (hint: I think the Kingdom is better than both of them).
In summary, Segerstrom is saying that the Old Testament is teaching great respect for private property, especially in the tenth commandment (“you shall not covet… anything that belongs to your neighbor” – Ex 20:17). The Old and New Testament is a unity and both Paul and Jesus were teaching about the ten commandments, thus they also defended private property. Of course, we should be generous in charitable giving to the poor, Segerstrom is careful to emphasise this – still he doesn’t like equality but says that good ol’ Abraham proves that we can and should be richer than others.
Segerstrom is stating several times that some Bible verses indeed can be used to support socialism “if taken out of their context”. However, he is not commenting any of them. He’s not even mentioning the community of goods in Acts 2 and 4, something you would expect from a real study about “what the Bible says about economics”. It gets really awkward in the section “What does Jesus teach about economics?” (p. 13) where Segerstrom quotes Matthew 19:18-19 to show that Jesus wants us to follow the ten commandments, but doesn’t even mention verse 21 in the same chapter where Jesus is commanding the rich man to sell everything he has and give to the poor – nor any other of Jesus’ countless economic teachings!
The same severe selectiveness is present in Segerstrom’s review of the Old Testament. Sure, I agree with him that the Israelites weren’t communists, but he doesn’t even mention the economics of the Jubilee. When the Israelites entered the land it was distributed equally, and even though they were free to sell and buy land it had to be redistributed every 50th year, along with cancellation of debts and freeing of slaves. This is very different from both capitalism and communism, and should definitely be mentioned in a real study about the economics of the Bible, yet it is absent in Segerstrom’s article. He isn’t even mentioning stuff like the tithing, which was a tax to the poor, or the fact that interest was forbidden.
And again, he isn’t mentioning the community of goods in the book of Acts, where we are specifically told: “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32). How on earth do you combine capitalism with THAT? Now, the economic system of the Roman Empire was far from communist, and juridically the disciples’ stuff surely were private – but they didn’t treat them like that. They knew that God wants economic equality and so they practiced economic equality, not through coercing the rest of society through the state but through the love and Spirit-filled life they were experiencing in church.
To summarize, Segerstrom is far from succesful in convincing that the Bible supports capitalism, so at the end of his paper when he shows a picture of North and South Korea to prove that “the Bible is right”, it just feels tiring. The Bible wants economic equality between people (Lk 3:11, 2 Cor 8:14), period. But equality doesn’t equal communism. I don’t like capitalism’s exploitation and glorification of inequality, and I don’t like communism’s anti-religious roots and glorification of oppressive regimes. I believe the calling of the church is to be a joyful, Spirit-filled redistributor between the rich and poor in the midst of both capitalist and communist societies, and to work for an economic system that is better than anything we yet have seen.