Wealth is not a static quantity. If it were a static quantity, it would be true that the prosperity of one person can only come at the expense of someone else. But actually, in a capitalist system, new wealth can be created and increased, through entrepreneurial brilliance, innovation, and effort. This fact is proven by the negative: that is, in a capitalist system it must also be true that the total amount of wealth can decrease and evaporate as a result of stupidity, ravenousness, and short-sightedness. And that is exactly what we have seen. The economic catastrophe of 2008 has given us a powerful and undeniable proof of the dynamic quality of wealth. The dollars that Bernie Madoff’s clients lost are not hidden somewhere in a drawer. They simply do not exist.
In many ways, the Enlightenment agenda of open-minded scientific inquiry and the unfettered exercise of human reason has been overwhelmed by commercialism and turned into scientism and group-think. When massive corporations seek only to maintain their own power by artificially stimulating consumer demand and then stuffing the consumer’s face with everything they now imagine they want, our souls and our civilization continue to devolve and decay. But when entrepreneurs, through shrewdness and innovation, create wealth by benefiting others as well as themselves, this increased prosperity improves all of life and is in line with God’s request that we “be fruitful and multiply”. This is why the ‘Master’ in Christ’s parable welcomed the slave who had ‘turned five talents into ten’ back into His joy, but threw the slave who merely maintained the status quo back into the outer darkness.
Prosperity is the goal of economics. But for society as a whole, economic prosperity is a means to an end – and all too often we have perverted this ideal through envy and greed, making the accumulation of wealth an end in itself, making it the cold relentless motive for all the decisions we make as a nation and as individuals. The result of this is the emptiness and drudgery of the human ant hill, increased poverty and misery, and ever more violence in our cities and across the world, rather than the magnificent cultural flowering of Beauty, Wisdom, and Spirit, that was the dream of the American Founders.