Last Wednesday evening, Messiah College had the distinct privilege of playing host to two prominent members of the political community, Dr. Arthur Brooks and Mr. Jim Wallis, as they debated the issue of the morality of capitalism. The speech was moderated by Messiah alum, Peter Greer, who characterized the subject matter as, “a timely issue of the utmost importance and relevance”. In many ways, Peter Greer was correct in his assertion that capitalism is a pertinent topic that demands the attention of the scholarly world; but for me, casting it in the light of morality was an intriguing concept to grapple with. Both of the debaters suggested that capitalism should be characterized as a moral issue because it is a mechanism of people, and people by nature are either moral or immoral beings. Where the speakers disagreed, was on what the best, most effective means of achieving economic parody and spreading economic opportunity.
Dr. Arthur Brooks, President of The American Enterprise Institute, suggested in his opening remarks that rather than spreading wealth through government distribution, the economically moral action is to make opportunities for prosperity readily available. Describing what he calls the “Moral Promise of the Pursuit of Happiness”, Brooks asserts that wealth, in and of itself, does not make people happy; but rather, wealth that an individual feels that they have earned is what will truly make them happy. He went on to argue that the government, through programs of federal subsidy and economic stimulus, cannot be the sole avenue to accomplish this goal. “If this is the case”, Brooks said, “we will end up an envy nation, and not an aspiration nation.”
Mr. Jim Wallis, who among other notable accomplishments is the founder of SojournersMagazine and spiritual advisor to President Obama, had a significantly different perspective on the issue. He began by discussing the concept of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”, which is the idea that the market, left to its own devises, will correct itself; but then went on to suggest that sometimes the “Invisible Hand” might let go. In instances such as these, Mr. Wallis believes that government intervention is essential to protect the interest of people that he calls the “poor and powerless”. Mr. Wallis proceeded to characterize himself as a “Matthew 25” Christian, sighting the popular passage of scripture that commands Christians to lend aid to the poor and helpless. In his opinion, he seemed to suggest that the government might be the most appropriate entity for the accomplishment of this goal.
As I was sat listening to “debate”, the thing that was striking to me, was the lack of an actual debate. Both sides of the argument were extremely receptive to what the other side had to say; and throughout, effectively executed a dialog of true civil discourse. In an increasingly partisan time in our country, I found it to be both refreshing and encouraging to see two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum communicate in such a way. No, it was not the heated, controversial debate that I am sure much of the student body was looking for; but perhaps, it is the kind of dialog that we need more of in the United States today.