Economics 101

Could Capitalism Actually Breed Compassion?

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Despite the ravages of sin, the world is an amazing, awe-inspiring place. This should not be much of a surprise as we know the One who created the world. Sin is less powerful than God and his creation, or sin would have already destroyed everything.

There are many bad things surrounding us. In sub-Saharan Africa, many children go to bed hungry. Terrorism is alive and well in the Middle East, and Venezuela is in crisis due to the rise of authoritarianism.

We are so blessed to wake up under the banner of a largely free society. We benefit from the compassion of capitalism and we must help others achieve the same blessings.

I hardly use the word “capitalism” anymore because it has such baggage associated with it. Most think it has to do with rich and greedy corporations running around unchecked, developing Ponzi schemes to exploit the rest of us. Those are the distortions, not the foundations, of capitalism and free-market exchange. Compassion results when capitalism is undistorted.

Free-Market Exchange Encourages Service

Google defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

There are some important keywords here.

  • Sympathetic pity—meaning I can put myself in your shoes, or at least I attempt to, so that I can better understand what you are enduring.
  • Sufferings or misfortunes of others—we feel a current state of uneasiness or hardship that we want to improve.

Adam Smith, sometimes called the father of modern economics, was, in practice, a moral philosopher. He talked about sympathy a great deal:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it…. As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation.

Adam Smith is correct because this is how God designed us. We cannot thrive alone because we were not made that way. We were made for community. Even the most selfish among us cannot thrive if left to our own devices. We must be able to have sympathy for and identify with the sufferings of others in order to solve problems and serve others.

Sympathy and concern for others form the bedrock of free-market exchange. Entrepreneurs play a vital role in identifying the misfortunes of others, putting themselves in others’ shoes, to really experience what they are going through. We can create better ways of doing things only when we’re able to do this—and are incentivized to do so. Free-market exchange provides for both.

Who Is Henry Turkel?

In a free society, men like Henry Turkel can take their natural sympathies toward others and aid them in their misfortune. Property rights, prices, and profits/losses provide the incentive to do so. Turkel was a medical doctor who invented the infant nasal feeding tube. Through his profession, he had many occasions to understand the needs of infants and others who are incapacitated and cannot feed themselves.

Turkel came up with an idea that then became a patent, which was submitted in 1950 and awarded in 1952. This made nasal infant feeding tubes a real product upon which newborns and their families could rely upon to survive. I made it my business to know about Turkel because my daughter Bailey Grace was born very prematurely almost three years ago. If not for Dr. Turkel’s sympathy, understanding of suffering, and the incentives to do something about it, my Bailey Grace may not be where she is today. I tell Bailey’s story in this video, “Why Economics Matters”:


Turkel has saved the lives of people he will never know. His invention lives well beyond him. I will never have a chance to thank him, at least in this lifetime, but I want to. This type of innovation, Turkel’s invention, is encouraged when one lives in a capitalist system, which can breed compassion even among the greedy and selfish.

Capitalism doesn’t eliminate greed. No system can. But it does encourage ordinary people to unleash their God-given creativity to identify the sufferings of others and eliminate them. That is compassion, and we need more of it everywhere.

Editor’s Note: Limited time offer for IFWE blog readers! Get 15% off Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives of Capitalism in the IFWE Bookstore. Use code: CTCBLOG. Offer ends: 8/31/17.

On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on June 6, 2016.

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