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A quote from Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology had a significant impact on me the first time I read it several years ago:

. . . In criticism it is not sufficient to find flaws in a given view.

One must always ask,

“What is the alternative?”

and,

“Does the alternative have fewer difficulties?”

John Baillie tells of writing a paper in which he severely criticized a particular view. His professor commented,

“Every theory has its difficulties, but you have not considered whether any other theory has less difficulties than the one you have criticized.” (p. 61)

The following little clip of Phil Donahue interviewing Milton Friedman is a good example of this principle at play.

My point of posting this is not to defend capitalism (though I believe it can be defended from a biblical worldview.) But the main reason for posting it is that is serves as a nice illustration of the fact that criticizing a theory is insufficient if one’s  alternate theory is equally weak or worse.


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Comments:


31 thoughts on “Yes—But What About the Alternative?”

  1. Aaron says:

    I can tell I would really like that Milton guy.

  2. Justin,

    Great video. Thanks for that – made my pm and if ever I make it to be PM, it will be Capitalism aaaaaalllll the way. Oh to see the day…

    K

  3. Aaron Britton says:

    ok. agreed. And, genius I might add.

    So, can we go ahead and talk about the difficulties in the best system? I find that this line of reasoning is often used politically to construct a kind of “Stepford” “no questions asked” philosophy toward the view that is deemed most effective.

    I just want there to be serious discussion around the concerns on an issue, any issue, no matter how effective. . while refraining from throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  4. Brent Hobbs says:

    I don’t ever remember seeing an interviewer being so thoroughly demolished by the answer to a set of questions. Of course Donahue doesn’t appear to push back much, but I’d say from the look of him, he didn’t have the slightest idea how to answer.

  5. Paul Shane says:

    Some of the most precise and efficient words in favor of capitalism that I have ever heard.

  6. paul says:

    Superb!

  7. The answers were marvelous, and I thought that Donahue took those answers pretty well. Maybe he flipped his lid after this clip, but he seemed to take his spanking with humility.

  8. Justin Taylor says:

    The whole thing seems to be on YouTube in 5 parts, starting with:

  9. Mark says:

    Before you commend Friedman, read his writings. I don’t see how any Christian could honestly come to the conclusion that Friedman’s abolute free market economy is in line with Scripture. Our government is by the people and for the people, and as Christians how can we not argue for at least some support system for those with great needs? How can we say no environemental regulations are necessary to protect God’s creation? How can we say no laws are necessary to protect the welfare of workers? I undertand the argument that handouts offer no incentive to achieve and better yourself, but going to the extremen advocated by Friedman is, in my opinion, far worse.

    1. agreed says:

      mark, i agree with you. While I can find some common ground with Friedman, it’s a small sliver of ideological land….

      1. Michael says:

        There were poor Israelites in the Old Testament. Yet I do not see any welfare program instituted in the Torah. Why?

        1. Mark says:

          what about jubilee and the portion of the tithe that went to the poor, and the command to leave a portion of your harvest in the field for the poor?

        2. Alex says:

          Michael. Just because we all may want to keep more money in our wallets doesn’t mean we don’t need a government and systems in place.

        3. Richard says:

          Although I do not not completely agree with Mark, I don’t think your reasoning Michael really applies to this discussion. OT Israel was a theocracy in a way so different from all other world governments that you cannot pull regulations from the former and apply them to the latter.

          The equivalent to OT Israel is the NT church. That is where we are to see the kind of social action that Mark spoke of.

  10. Dave Bissett says:

    Hey Justin, this is one of my favorite video clips — I show it to my economics students every year.

    (I have also recently discovered this fine ‘rap’ video, pitting F.A. Hayek against J.M Keynes!)

  11. Brandon says:

    Very cool blog!

  12. Paul David says:

    Christianity will never move forward in the 21st century until it learns to untangle itself from capitalism.

    1. Alex says:

      I wouldn’t go that far Paul, but I agree that this is an issue. Capitalism isn’t Gospel. But capitalism can’t stop the Gospel either.

    2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      Paul David: “Christianity will never move forward in the 21st century until it learns to untangle itself from capitalism.”

      Blogpost Title: “Yes—But What About the Alternative?”

  13. Inchristus says:

    Somewhere in the faint background I hear the Fiddler whispering “tradition!”

  14. Johnny says:

    It seems the point of the post has been overshadowed by the video.

    I generally agree that when one criticizes, an alternative should be offered, but does that have to be an absolute rule? Do I have to have the “right” idea to spot somebody’s incredibly foolish idea?

  15. Jeff Schultz says:

    I happen to agree with Friedman, but agree with him or not hopefully we can all appreciate his tremendous talents in logic and rhetoric. Watching the videos of his presentations is a rare treat. Where are the public figures today who can talk so intelligently and compellingly on any topic?

    1. agreed says:

      we’re all on the internet, johnny…..(just kidding…maybe)

  16. Jake says:

    Why did Justin choose a clip where Capitalism (or any theory/perspective) was not being challenged or criticized in a manner where an alternative view was being presented? I think that would have been a much better representation of what the explicit point of the post is. Sometimes showing what not to do is effective, but I think in this case showing what TO do would reinforce a good point made by Justin. He could have at least added another clip to show the contrast. Also, to claim that this post isn’t in defense of Capitalism, but to show a video of someone absolutely rhetorically dominating the inquirer while defending Capitalism is a little dissembling. I don’t think God advocates any specific economic principals, unless you are taking verses out of context. Jesus didn’t come to free us from underachieving economic situations, or promise us that we would be able to use our talents to pursue our interests any way we think is most personally beneficial.

  17. Brent says:

    “Also, to claim that this post isn’t in defense of Capitalism, but to show a video of someone absolutely rhetorically dominating the inquirer while defending Capitalism is a little dissembling.”

    Exactly. Why not just admit that you’re in love with the system, and really wanting to defend it. Most overweight, upper-class conservatives are and do. I mean, Jesus said we’d always have the poor anyway. Who cares? What we really need is a survival of the fittest type mentality, and fierce competition for resources (since there’s no existing alternative). It’s not like we could put our ideas together and create a new system. No, it’s obviously not in the rules. Sounds great. Is this Rush Limbaugh’s blog?

  18. Jake and Brent,

    I’m not going to deny that I love the system – I do and part of the reason I love it is because there is no alternative unless of course you just managed to come up with one (rather than attack a straw man)

    KC

  19. Aaron R. says:

    I have two comments, one on topic (!) and one on capitalism.

    (1) I am extremely sympathetic with Millard Erickson, but I think it seems profoundly incorrect that we must have all the answers in place before we can make a criticism on any subject. We can critique something based on its own internal principles, for example, without having to appeal to external alternatives. You can show how a position is inherently contradictory, etc. A theologian, then, can point out an economist’s flawed thinking, without knowing economics well enough to propose an alternative.

    (2) Re. Capitalism
    Setting aside the questions of “greed” or “self-interest,” I think more interesting is the question of “individualism” that is at the heart of capitalism. Capitalism is also known as “economic liberalism,” i.e. classical liberalism, which is radical individualism. Is homo economicus compatible with the Corpus Christi? It’s not an economic question, it’s an anthropological one: are human beings fundamentally independent, isolated, atomistic, asocial creatures, as capitalism paints them? Or are humans instead socially-embedded, contextual, relational, social creatures? Augustine, Aquinas, and indeed Paul all teach the latter.

    The reason we have laws against social ills (theft, murder, etc.) is to prevent people from acting out on individual self-interest. But when it comes to economic ills, for some reason Christians think we should baptize individual self-interest as the one and only way we can think about these issues.

    I’m sad that Christians so fervently believe economic liberalism (individualist capitalism) is so synthetic with our Christian faith. I’m not some bleeding-heart liberal, I’m a conservative; but I’m conservative enough to know better than to think capitalism has anything to do with Christianity. If God’s people (Church in the NT, Israel in the OT) provide the template for human flourishing, both of these examples promoted institutional economic altruism, rather than institutional economic individualism (Jubilee et al., Acts 2, 4).

  20. Jake T says:

    It’d be a shame if you couldn’t say, “This particular thing we’re doing now seems broken to me. Other ways have been tried and failed. Let’s try to imagine a new and better way of doing things.”

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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