Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paul Rauschenbusch at Chautauqua

Paul, Rauschenbusch, great-grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, delivered this afternoon lecture on Ethics and Capitalism. In my humble opinion, Rev. Rauschenbusch brought to this weeks program what had been sorely missing; a clear, concise, Christian critique of Capitalism. While Michael Sadler did approach a critique of Capitalism, the other lecturers that I heard, Niskanen and Friedman specifically, simply espoused the glories of Capitalism.

Rauschenbusch entitled his lecture 'Yoking Freedom to Love'.

Rauschenbusch began by talking about how 'encompassing' Capitalism is, and anyone who had heard Sadler would recognize his point. Rauschenbusch went on to suggest that those who lived in a Capitalist society needed to practice attentiveness and engagement in capitalism as opposed to passive participation.

Rauschenbusch made some bold claims such as 'Economy should have a purpose' and the suggestion was that it should have a purpose other than simply profit, and his own suggestion was that the purpose of a capitalist economy could be creativity. In this idea Rauschenbusch's thoughts on capitalism merge and agree with Catholic thought as expressed by Cavanaugh... human being are created to be creative, which Genesis ch. 2 highlights. Rauschenbusch also connects with Friedman (and Sacks) by suggesting that Capitalism has the potential for creative good.

Rauschenbusch then criticizes the practice of Capitalism that allows the majority of profit, property and therefore power to collect in the possession of a few. Again Rauschenbusch reminded me of Cavanaugh by highlighting that this consequence (the majority left wanting of wealth, resource, or even just enough to live) diminishes their freedom... that which capitalism proposes to protect most ardently. (I was also reminded of Marx's criticism that Capitalism leads to alienation, but Rauschenbusch didn't go there, and I understand that decision)

Rauschenbusch suggests that we reclaim a theological term 'sinful' to describe the a system that alienates humans from each other and distributes power to the hands of the few. But then he suggests that Christian's can also help to move us toward a 'Morally Mature Capitalism' that values or has the purpose of connection, community and commitment.

His final movement is to suggest 1 Cor 13 as our scriptural and theological guide... to allow love to guide our economic decisions and shape our practice of capitalism.

finally rauschenbusch gave us all something to do... look for companies who practice love in their business ventures; paying living wages to workers, taking care of the environment, among other virtues. by supporting these companies and boycotting companies who do not practice love we shape the Free Market Economy with our own love.

I found Rauschenbusch's lecture to be insightful. he did not shy away from being critical, but did so constructively. I found his talk to be quite prophetic, cutting through what was ideological defense of Capitalism, with gospel truth and in a way that pointed to a resurrection after so much loss.

He was also very gracious at the booksigning and I enjoyed talking with with.

1 comment:

Rich said...

For a pretty comprehensive guide to companies that "practice love in their business" see