Protests are mounting. Corporate greed must stop. Few would disagree with that, for the last few years have produced much suffering as a result of appalling greed. So the protesters’ anger is an understandable response. But it may not be the right response.
While the protest movement is big on questions and short on answers, its trajectory is clear: the system must be dismantled. There is little consensus on what should replace it, but the assumption is that capitalism has finally been seen for what it is: the goal of profit maximization has been a pursuit of corporate greed. But should this assumption be challenged?
Hill and Rae (in The Virtues of Capitalism, p.61) think it must be. They write, “The charge of greed is misplaced because it aims at the wrong target. Greed is fundamentally a matter of the human heart, not of any economic system.” Yes – the vast amount of wealth that has been generated under capitalism creates a context in which greed in the human heart can flourish. But then it has also flourished under various forms of socialism, and is shockingly apparent in the poverty of developing nations being gouged by their dictators. Greed in every context needs to be restrained by laws that punish all who abuse their power and privilege to exploit others. But the problem is not the system, it’s the heart.
The system (any system) provides the temptation to sin. But temptation is not sin. Since the sin exists in the human heart, the solution is spiritual not political. All that the state can (and must do) is prosecute relentlessly those whose sinful hearts overflow into sinful actions that harm others.