The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume
It is an astonishing phenomenon: the predominant influence
on America today is a militant minority committed to what might be called
"Evangelical Capitalism." Evangelical Capitalists say they are devoted to
individual liberty first and foremost. By this they mean economic liberty, which
they apparently view as divinely inspired-"the hand of God," as it were-at work
in human institutions. This is translated concretely into their demands for
business deregulation, lower taxes, and free trade come hell or high water.
Evangelical Capitalists are not talking simply about the
laissez faire doctrines of Adam Smith, the freedom of individual entrepreneurs
to engage in commerce. They seek unfettered freedom for huge corporations that
already dominate national and global markets. They oppose any governmental
interference with corporate actions, for the business of government is business,
not welfare, or education, or public health. Evangelical Capitalists' devotion
to economic liberty is so extreme that it seemingly precludes any concern for
the common good.
Max Weber, founder of modern sociology, observed that the
rise of capitalism is related to the emergence of the Protestant ethic, with its
emphasis on thrift, saving, and diligent effort; and also with its view that the
accumulation of wealth is a dispensation from God rewarded to those most
deserving of it. American workers may be the hardest working and most productive
in the world, though we are now told by Evangelical Capitalists (contradicting
the work ethic and thrift) that they need to "spend and consume" to stimulate
the economy! Evangelicals fervently believe that everything should be left to
the free market. This will stimulate economic growth; a rising tide will lift
No doubt there is some truth to this. The free market,
released from the dead hand of inefficient governmental (or corporate)
bureaucracy, can be a powerful engine of economic growth, as the former
proponents of "social planning"-such as China and now Russia-have learned.
But surely the free market is not a panacea for every
social ill, nor an infallible instrument for human progress. One cannot test
every human need by the profit it generates. Those who wish to privatize
everything-perhaps even social security-court enormous risk. And they disregard
countless unmet social needs: environmental protection; crumbling national rail
and metropolitan transit systems; declining inner cities; the demutualization of
life insurance companies for the benefit of stockholders but to the detriment of
policyholders; the loss of retirement funds by employees working for bankrupt
companies; a static minimum wage; and the disgraceful fact that 42 million
Americans have no medical health insurance.
The latter item is especially poignant: the United States,
the wealthiest nation in the world, does not have a universal system of health
coverage. Here a basic humanistic principle is at stake: the conviction that
health care is a human right and that each person is entitled to some coverage.
The legislation now enacted and signed by the president to
provide prescription aid for the elderly may be long overdue, but it is also
another illustration of "too little, too late." Worse, it rewards private
health- maintenance organizations, encouraging them to enter this arena, perhaps
one day to supplant government-run Medicare. Nor will this bill allow cheaper
drugs to be imported from Canada, a sop to the pharmaceutical industry.
Evangelical Capitalists claim that "we cannot afford"
universal health insurance or adequate prescription- drug coverage for the
elderly. Yet government provides massive handouts to corporations, farm
subsidies for agricultural conglomerates, and a huge tax cut and the gradual
repeal of estate taxes for the wealthy. Lobbyists toil for the special
interests: the hogs feed mightily at the pork-barrel trough and keep the feed
coming through deal-making lubricated by campaign contributions. There is a long
line of suitors buying political influence. No wonder corporate profits today in
industry after industry are breaking all records.
Interestingly, as the nation's piety increases, its
compassionate concern for those most in need tends to decrease. European
democracies are much more secular than the United States and equally committed
to freemarket economics, yet they manage to supplement private enterprise with
principles of social justice. America at present cannot and will not pursue
social justice-because it is committed to the dogmas of Evangelical Capitalism.
We need a free market, yes, but with a human face—a free market that also
recognizes principles of equity and fairness, welfare and justice, and some
concern for the common good.
If freedom and the free market are sacrosanct, then why not
privatize the armed forces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central
Intelligence Agency? The heavens forbid. If freedom from government regulation
is sacred, then why not truly defend the rights of individual freedom and
privacy? Let's start with a woman's right to choose, the right of terminally ill
patients to choose euthanasia, the right of any two individuals to cohabit or
marry. The Evangelicals wish to regulate the most intimate part of each person's
life. Here liberty ends and piety intrudes.
Paul Kurtz is editor-in-chief of
Free Inquiry, professor emeritus of
philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chair of the
Center for Inquiry.