Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How has capitalism contributed to a messy society?

Written by: on October 26, 2023

All societies face the economic task of producing and providing for all members of society. Modern market societies are unique in assigning this responsibility to the marketplace, thereby creating entitlements to production for those with wealth, and depriving the poor of entitlement to food. All traditional societies have used non-market mechanisms based on cooperation and social responsibility to provide for members who cannot take care of their own needs. It is only in a market society that education, health, housing, and social welfare services are only available to those who can pay for it. The value of human life has been degraded to their earning power. Here are two examples:

1. Native land was taken from Indigenous people in the United States through a variety of means. Some of the ways in which land was taken include:

a. Stealing livestock
b. Burning and looting houses and towns
c. Committing mass murder
d. Squatting on land that did not belong to them1

The United States has a long history of acquiring Native American land through government acts and treaties made in bad faith. Some treaties were signed with secret provisions written only in English. Others were signed by false “chiefs” who had no authority to represent the Native nations.2

2. Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which financial institutions, such as banks and mortgage lenders, systematically refuse to provide loans, insurance, or other financial services to individuals or communities based on their racial or ethnic background. The term “redlining” originated from the practice of marking maps with red lines to indicate areas where financial services would be denied or limited. “Redlining is widely considered a symbol of racial inequity, as it perpetuated disparities in wealth, housing, and economic opportunities along racial lines.”3

All societies face the economic task of producing and providing for all members of society. It seems the bottom line in society is all about land, labour, and money. This is why Polanyi’s The Great Transformation is a book about the Industrial Revolution and the historical development of modern capitalism and its impact on society.
Certain ideologies, which relate to land, labour and money, and the profit motive are required for efficient functioning of markets. In particular, both poverty, and a certain amount of callousness and indifference to poverty are required for efficient functioning of markets. Capitalist economics require sales, purchase, and exploitation of labor, which cannot be done without creating poverty, and using it to motivate workers. The sanctification of property rights is another essential feature of markets. Thus, the existence of a market economy necessitates the emergence of certain ideologies and mindsets which are harmful to, and in contradiction with, natural human tendencies. Thus, the emergence of redlining and taking over Indigenous land.

All societies face the economic task of producing and providing for all members of society. Dr. Clark responds to this by understanding, “central to Polanyi’s thesis is the assertion that society and social relationships are vital to humans and the self-regulating market is problematic to that, owing to how the SRM is disembedded from social constraints.”4 Dr. Clark agrees with Polanyi in that, “For Christians, social life should not be subordinate to the market.”5 This is all quite interesting because Bebbington emphasizes that “each body in 1880 must be cared for according to the end for which it was formed.”6 All societies face the economic task of producing and providing for all members of society. So, what has happened?

1. Why is capitalism failing?
2. Why were indigenous groups killed or run out of their own society? How has capitalism contributed to this?
3. Why was redlining even started? How has capitalism contributed to this?
4. Why does the gap between the poor and rich continue to grow? How has capitalism contributed to this?
5. Why are so many societies failing to produce and provide for all their members? How has capitalism contributed to this?

According to Bebbington, in the late 1880’s in the United States many of the sick in body, vagrants, elderly, prostitutes, blind, and poor received attention according to their particular needs from Evangelicals. Evangelical activism carried over into social concern as an end in itself.7 This sounds good, so what has happened?

6. How has my leadership in the past 41 years been influenced by capitalism?
7. How many times have I inwardly boasted about producing and providing for all members of my society and outwardly excluded some in the name of “being right.”
8. The big question for me, how is my business teaming up with other businesses to educate (not train), help, and intentionally disciple the poor?
After reading three books on how capitalism has influenced our society, my heart, body, and emotions are being disturbed because I have more questions than answers on what to do next…in fact, I am sure I don’t have any answers.

1. https://www.britannica.com/video/212505/shrinking-native-american-lands-in-the-united-states-indigenous-peoples
2. https://flowingdata.com/2015/01/13/mapped-history-of-how-native-american-land-was-taken/
3. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/17/realestate/what-is-redlining.html
4. Jason Clark. Evangelicalism and Capitalism (Ch.4 ‘The Great Disembedding: The Search for Identity Within the Market’ p.127).
5. Ibid, 126.
6. D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A history from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge,1989), 120.
7. Ibid, 120.

About the Author

Todd E Henley

Todd is an avid cyclist who loves playing frisbee golf, watching NASCAR, making videos, photography, playing Madden football, and watching sport. He is addicted to reading, eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking H2O. His passion is talking about trauma, epigenetics, chromosomes, and the brain. He has been blessed with a sensationally sweet wife and four fun creative children (one of which resides in heaven). In his free time he teaches at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and is the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center.

7 responses to “How has capitalism contributed to a messy society?”

  1. Jenny Dooley says:

    Todd, You wrote, “All societies face the economic task of producing and providing for all members of society. Modern market societies are unique in assigning this responsibility to the marketplace, thereby creating entitlements to production for those with wealth, and depriving the poor of entitlement to food.” I really want to quote the entire paragraph. Very well said! What really got me was my own lack of awareness. Not that I didn’t know about the long list of atrocities, but that I had never heard the term “redlining” until now.

    After reading your post, I headed to my basement bookshelf for one of the few social work textbooks I have kept over the years. I remember reading that it was the church that responded to the increase practical needs of people as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The need was great. The church was not able to keep up and government welfare agencies began to address the needs. I couldn’t find the book…it must not have made the cut years ago, otherwise I would reference it. But it strikes me that government agencies tasked with addressing such things as poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, healthcare, etc…are addressing needs created by the SRM and government practices like redlining. It is a vicious cycle. Passing the buck of responsibility for society onto unstable SRM’s that created the problem in the first place… I’m not sure I have words for that right now. Any thoughts?

    • Hey Jenny! Well, my first thought is I would love to know the name of that textbook. Maybe someday you will come across it.
      Second, it seems because of our theological beliefs we tend to not get involved in areas that don’t align with our beliefs. For example, if a certain denomination or church is known for “having good financial means” it may be rare for that church or denomination to reach out to the homeless or address food insecurity because those things are labeled “the social gospel” I agree with you, it’s passing the buck, but the Church may see it as “We are committed to the Gospel and addressing healthcare or other needs created by the SRM is not what Jesus came for.” So, we continue to pass the buck! Not a savy answer but It’ll do for now.

  2. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Todd, I am moved by the questions you are asking yourself. Especially how these books have caused you to take a step back to see capitalism has influenced you and how you are in the world. How do you see yourself keeping these unanswered questions alive as we move rapidly through this course?

    • Hey Jana, good question young lady! A big question for me is how are we as a business intentionally reaching out and helping those who cannot fully pay for therapy. This causes me to think how am I educating my Board of Directors (who are business minded) to inwardly ask:
      1. What does it mean to be a Christian organization that lives by faith?
      2. Since helping the poor is a biblical mandate, how are we doing offering our services to the poor, abused, and the emotional unhealthy.
      3. How does money influence the above questions, our mission, and vision.
      4. Do we raise money to build a brand new facility for our home base or do we continue to use or rent space for religious organizations.
      5. How can we make sure capitalism does not influence our decision.

      These are just a few important questions I am asking and will continue to ask.

  3. Hey Todd! Your post really gets into the nitty-gritty of how capitalism affects our society, and I appreciate your thoughtful approach. It’s clear you’ve been doing some serious thinking.

    The examples you bring up, like how Native American land was taken and how redlining worked, show how capitalism can lead to some pretty unfair stuff. It’s a reminder that our economic systems can sometimes create big problems.

    Your questions about why capitalism isn’t working so well, what happened to indigenous groups, and why there’s such a big gap between rich and poor are spot-on. These are the kinds of things we should all be thinking about.

    I’m curious, though, with all this in mind, what are some practical things you think we can do to make capitalism work better for everyone? How do you see yourself taking action based on what you’ve learned and experienced?

  4. Cathy Glei says:

    When you were illustrating your comment, “The value of human life has been degraded to their earning power” I began to wonder how much it must break God’s heart to see the “value” of His children measured by their ability and earning power. I am hopeful. . . there is an awakening happening in “the Church” that is shifting some patterns of thought, practices, ministry budgets, and how followers “do” church. This brings me hope.

  5. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Todd! I like your post.

    What do you think about the hope that Christianity receives from Christ to answer the challenging economic situation you mention in your post?

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