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RE-THINKING MONEY, RELIGION & POLITICS

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The Method of Work in a Virtuous Capitalism

This is the 6th in a series introducing the book Redeeming Capitalism by Ken Barnes. You can pick up the start of this series here. See the chart here for the context of METHOD OF WORK in the major historic forms of capitalism.


“Traditionally, economic activity – work – was rhythmic in that it reflected humankind's relationship to the natural world, the seasons of the year, and the seasons of life. It was also family- and community-based and intergenerational, and it was viewed within the greater context of life itself. It was a time of apprenticeships and civic societies, church fetes and almshouses. Not until the modern era did work become far more regimented, as workers became seen as extensions of their machines and work itself was dehumanized.

 

Image Credit: Canva


In the postmodern era, this regimentation has given way to compartmentalization: people are more likely to live their lives in virtual silos. Business and family do not mix; neither do civics and religion, recreation and work, money and community. Compartmentalizing one's life makes it easier to pro­ fess compassion for the poor on Sunday but to oppose welfare on Monday or to ‘beggar thy neighbor’ on Friday and host a neighborhood barbecue on Saturday. In an era of 24/7 electronic communication, compartmentalization also fuels the fire of workaholism, as people fearful of losing their jobs or being passed over for promotions allow themselves to be virtually at work all of the time – and at great personal, familial, and societal costs. Postmodern capitalism has taken the proverbial rat race to new depths, and its redemption will depend upon a renewed appreciation for the importance of integrating economic activity with life's other requirements.

 

Maslow's classic hierarchy of needs demonstrates the vast array of human wants from physiological to self-actualization. But our current system, with its emphasis on economic excellence, has reduced almost every aspect of self-actualization to the pursuit of nonstop stimulation, whether in the form of information, entertainment, wealth, or pleasure. It does not need to be that way.

 

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, ‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8:36). What good indeed? Unlike the radical compartmentalization of today, virtuous capitalism would naturally produce a method of doing business that is holistic in nature and that understands compartmentalization as an addiction. The holism of redeemed capitalism recognizes the needs of whole persons and challenges the economic assumptions that work is a ‘disutility;’ that employees are ‘human resources;’ that people's concerns are not the concerns of the company, that a balanced lifestyle is a sign of weakness, and that business is merely about making money. For people of faith, the concept of ‘whole life discipleship’ is a calling to holistic and redeemed economic activity.” (Barnes, Redeeming Capitalism, p. 194-5)(Emphasis throughout is ours)

 

We at BetterCapitalism.org are fond of the phrase, “Questions are the engines of thought and action.” From that posture, we invite you to give thought to a few of our questions.

  • Is your work life compartmentalized from the rest of your existence? If so, does that compartmentalization make you feel fragmented?

  • Do you think fragmentation impacts mental health?

  • You’ve heard the phrase “work/life balance.” What does work/life balance mean to you and do you think it’s sustainable?

  •  Do you think America can replicate traditional capitalism’s connectedness to the broader context of life? What might “work/life integration” look like to you?


How might these questions prod you to re-think your perspective of capitalism? How might these questions prod you to make different marketplace decisions? We'd love to hear your answers and so invite you to share them with us.

Stay tuned for future excerpts of Redeeming Capitalism. Or. Why wait for us? Buy and read a copy for yourself now.



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"This book merits close, sustained attention as a compelling move beyond both careless thinking and easy ideology."—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary


"Better Capitalism is a sincere search for a better world."—Cato Institute

 

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