Book Review: Money, Greed, and God

Jay Richards’ book Money, Greed, and God offers a defense of capitalism from a Christian perspective. Richards goes further, noting that capitalism depends on a virtuous society.

A market economy needs not just competition but rule of law and virtues like cooperation, stable families, self-sacrifice, a commitment to delayed gratification, and a willingness to risk based on future hope.

Richards discusses several myths used a criticism of capitalism. In a chapter titled, “What would Jesus do?” Richards discusses the “piety myth” – i.e. that good intentions are not enough. He outlines the failure of numerous policies – “living wage” laws, “fair trade,” the welfare state, and others intended to help the poor, that fail to do so.

Richards combines a bit of theology with basic economics – discussing the value of trade (both internationally and between any two partners seeking mutual benefit); the merits of expanding the economic pie, rather than just redistributing wealth; as well as a biblical presumption of property rights.

Richards cautions that capitalism need not be based on greed, noting the discrepancy between misers, and entrepreneur capitalists, who make wealth by meeting the needs of people. He also notes that capitalism has many flawed outcomes, such as conspicuous consumption. However,

We shouldn’t expect the economy, free or otherwise, to instill virtue in people. … It can’t take the place of the family, church, synagogue, and the Boy Scouts.

Note that he doesn’t list the government among those – “there’s no evidence that state control of the economy makes a citizenry more virtuous.”

The interaction between charity, virtue, and economics in a common theme (see here and here) in debating the role of government. Money, Greed, and God offers a useful discussion of these issues.