Does another worldview better describe those who kill others for the latest toys and gadgets? It is the habit of some to blame capitalism for the tramplings, stabbings, and shootings on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Capitalism, so they say, causes people to be greedy enough to disregard the lives of others. However, this condemnation stems from a misunderstanding of capitalism and the nature of humanity. An understanding of human nature and free market economics will show that capitalism is not to blame for the carnage and death that happens on Black Friday.
Let us first understand the economic system called capitalism. It is a free market system made possible by a system of laws against force, fraud, theft, and violation of contract. Within a capitalistic system, economic exchanges are non-violent and voluntary. No one is forced into buying or selling anything. Some may say that this definition does not describe the economic system in the United States. I agree. The United States has an interventionist, or mixed economy, which has some elements of capitalism and some of socialism. Yet, the question at hand is whether the Black Friday killings happen as a result of capitalism.
Whenever people trample, stab, or shoot others in order to get the last toy on the shelf on that fateful day, they are not entering into capitalistic exchanges. No exchange takes place between buyer and seller. No nonviolent fair exchange occurs between the customers involved. Even if we were to use a definition that fits an interventionist economy, the incidents are still against the law of the land. Yet, one could still argue that although these killings are not capitalistic, capitalism creates the greed that leads to such carnage.
This argument that capitalism leads to greed is a fallacy of false cause. After all, greed also exists in socialistic countries. The late Ronald Nash wrote,
One may lust after the property of another all he wants. But as long as the rights of the second party are protected, the greed of the first individual cannot harm him. As long as the first person is prohibited from using force, theft or fraud, his greed for another’s property must be channeled into the discovery of products or services for which people are willing to exchange their own holdings… Thus, every person in the market has to be others-directed. Each must ask himself what other people want and how he can best service those wants… The market is one area of life where concern for the other person is required. The market, then, does not pander to greed. It is rather a mechanism that allows natural human desires to be satisfied in a nonviolent way. The alternative to free exchange is violence.1
Greed is part of our evil human nature. Socialism fails to recognize that greed exists in the human heart. Capitalism, recognizing this aspect of human nature, harnesses it in a nonviolent way such that the ill effects of greed are minimized, or even neutralized. A greedy store owner, in order to maximize profit, must put the customer first. Otherwise, the customer will shop elsewhere. In the context of Black Friday, a greedy store owner would want to protect customers from hurting one another. After all, a dead customer, or an imprisoned customer, can’t buy anything. In addition, news of deaths occurring at the store could lead potential customers to shop elsewhere, or to wait for Cyber Monday. Killings and bad press are the last things a greedy store owner wants. Within a free market system, a greedy store owner must put others first, or go out of business.
The blame for the Black Friday killings goes to materialism, not capitalism. Within a capitalistic system, others must come first. Materialism, by contrast, puts self first, and the acquisition of things that delight the self second. The materialistic worldview has no restraint on greed. Yet, materialism can erode away at the moral framework that is necessary for an economy to remain capitalistic. In the final chapter of his book Poverty and Wealth, Nash concluded,
I have agreed with those who argue that a people’s morals, religion, and culture holds important consequences for its economic life. If that claim is true, what can the friends of economic freedom think when they survey the declining role that Judeo-Christian morality is playing in Western civilization… A capitalism grounded on God and Judeo-Christian values versus a capitalism grounded on hedonism, the love of money, and materialism are heading in two different directions… Christians who want to help the poor need capitalism. Rational economic activity is quite simply impossible apart from a market system. But, and let all friends of a market system pay heed, capitalism needs Christianity.2
In order to reduce the murder and mayhem on Black Friday, we must harness greed in a nonviolent way, and replace the materialistic worldview with the Christian worldview. What better time than the Christmas season to tell others the good news that God sent his uniquely begotten Son that those who trust in Him might live and be freed from slavery to our evil selfish desires?