It’s hard to deny that capitalism is the best economic system around. It creates wealth far better than feudalism, communism, socialism or any other system one could name. But for all its advantages, capitalism has one major drawback that [Christians] need to be concerned about: It needs people to stay perpetually hungry for more. If Americans as a whole ever followed Paul’s instruction to be content with basic food and clothing and not pursue wealth (1 Tim. 6:6-11), the system would come to a grinding halt. The undeniable truth is that capitalism runs on greed.
For example, Americans enjoy a lifestyle that is about four times the global average. Yet we on average spend 97 to 98 percent of our wealth on ourselves – despite the fact that close to a billion people live on the threshold of starvation with 40,000 dying each day of issues related to poverty, malnutrition and preventable or treatable disease. This is greed. We are hoarding resources while neighbors lack adequate food, shelter and medicine.
As Jenn pointed out in her comment yesterday, economists estimate that people in developed countries consume 32 times more natural resources than people from undeveloped countries. The looming crisis comes from the fact that a lot of undeveloped countries are developing, and starting to catch up with our consumption factor. There are 2 billion people in China and India who are eager to live the same sort of lifestyle that we currently enjoy:
But the world doesn’t have enough resources to allow for raising China’s consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our levels. Does this mean we’re headed for disaster?
No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.
Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.
...which is just fancy economist-speak for "Money doesn't buy Happiness."
What I find most interesting about this topic is that Christian evangelists, economists, ecologists, and environmentalists are beginning to find common ground.