I received the following question from a friend and blog reader in the Caribbean…
How best can we protect the well being of the disadvantaged under free market capitalism, without supporting some social policies? Harmony and prosperity sounds lovely but it’s not easy to adequately opportune all participants.
The major problems with free market capitalism are greed and lack of integrity, as well as governmental intrusion, not the Biblically based principles of capitalism. We have already spoken extensively in these blogs about greed so let’s talk about the government’s role.
Can governments be trusted to take care of the poor? Their track record is not good. Consider the Roman government into which the Christian church was born and prospered. Many abortions were allowed to take place in the Greco-Roman world. Slavery was legal and encouraged by the government. It was estimated that in time of Christ about 75 % of Athens and over 50% of Roman population were slaves. Much of ancient society believed that the hungry and sick should be left alone. Plato’s statement, “a poor man should be left to die if he could no longer work, ” was symptomatic of the societal and governmental thought of the day.
Thanks to Judea/Christian influence and reformers this has changed over the centuries. Now the other extreme is true. Those in government feel they are the best at taking care of the poor; better than the churches, private individuals and private organizations. The problem with government programs that help the poor is that they tend to keep the poor “poor”, if I can say it like that; and sadly, dependent on the government.
On the other hand, research does show the best way to get people out of poverty is to create wealth. “Wealthier nations are healthier nations,” reported a 1996 study in the Journal of Human Resources. Researchers found that life expectancy sharply increases and infant mortality sharply decreases along with gains in per capita income. Wealth is such a powerful factor in public health that study authors reported that in a single year, more than “half a million child deaths in the developing world” were attributable to the poor economic performance of the previous decade.
So yes…governments have a role to care for the poor, but they will never lift the poor out of poverty. This has been accomplished historically by individuals and groups fueled by free market capitalism. For example, consider the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. They now give close to $3 billion annually to help the poor with public health around the world. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American taxpayers spent $12.8 billion last year on global public health. So one private foundation is giving a third of what the entire US government is giving and with a “business savvy” attention to results that cannot be matched in the government sector.
And progress is being made; there is a significant decline in global poverty. Consider that in 1990, 35% of the world population was living below the international poverty line. Last year, in 2016 this percentage has decreased to 9% (Brookings Institute).