The developing world needs capitalism
re "Religion’s cutting edge: lessons from Africa" (Dr. Tina Beattie, 2/14/07)
Dear Dr. Beattie,
In your recent article about the role of religion in the quest for human rights, you slip in a couple of subtle items which deserve objection.
First, although I am not Christian, and no fan of President Bush's tendency to want to include faith-based organizations in the activities of government, it is fairly outrageous to imply a similarity between "Bush's version of Christianity" and "Osama bin Laden's version of Islam". There are many people who oppose the war in Iraq for various reasons, but I have never heard anyone (nor would I ever expect to hear from an intelligent person) that part of the motivation for the war was some sort of crusade-like attempt to replace Islam with Christianity. On the other hand, killing or converting non-Muslims is precisely the goal not only of bin Laden but, if you study history, the goal of Mohammed himself and the religion he founded.
Second, and I suppose this is actually not so subtle, is your unconscionable juxtaposition of "rampant capitalism" and "political corruption", as if somehow capitalism is a source of evil or destruction. Even the use of the word "rampant" as a modifier betrays your leftist bias. As if your view weren't clear already, you then call capitalism a source of "blight".
While the results of capitalism are not always pretty, capitalism is the single greatest force for good in history. There is no system which is more capable of or more responsible for raising living standards among the world's poor. In most places where the poor are remaining poor, it is not the fault of capitalism but of politicians and systems which prevent true capitalism. The single biggest impediment to improved living standards is a lack of property rights. Whether you like it or not, people who do not live in ivory towers tend to be inherently capitalist. In other words, they believe they can make their own situations better if there were actually freedom to take risk, start a business, etc.
You correctly note the importance of microcredit in raising the poor out of poverty. What is microcredit if not capitalism? Why is it that anything in which "big business" or "corporations" are involved is deemed by people like to to be inherently bad whereas exactly the same sorts of behavior -- based in the same profit motive -- is OK if performed on a small scale or by poorer people?
If not capitalism, what do you propose? Are church groups or NGOs suddenly going to be able to make positive impacts which they never have before? Churches are too small to make a significant difference and NGO's, by funneling most "aid" through governments, simply contribute to corruption and the continuing poverty and repression of the world's poorest. Are the anti-capitalist policy ventures of Stalin and Mao more to your liking? As a very smart economist friend of mine always points out, when someone days that something is good or bad, one must ask "compared to what?" So, I ask you, capitalism is a bad choice of economic system compared to what?
While it was interesting to read your defense of religion in the developing world, something you rarely get from a liberal, your article was polluted by your obvious biases. I do not enjoy defending George Bush, as I am not a big fan, but your discussing his religious stance in the same breath with militant Islam is ridiculous. Even worse, though, your hatred for capitalism represents the worst of liberal elite bias against the only system that has ever proven itself to maximize national wealth and freedom.
To someone arguing that religion does good things for the developing world, I will say this: "Rampant capitalism" is exactly what you and the world's poor should be praying for.
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