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How Should Christians Think About Socialism?

It may be that Bernie Sanders is naming things in our society that need addressing. I don’t doubt that is the case. There are, no doubt, real injustices that make it harder for the poor to move out of poverty and make it easier for the rich to do wrong and get away with it. But I doubt that holding up Denmark’s economic model as the way forward—which he does—is the path of wisdom.

Forbes, for example, reports that out of a total population of 5.6 million, little more than 2 million are state pensioners, unemployed, sick or on social transfer payments for other reasons. And another 800,000 are employed by the public sector. That’s half the population employed by the state or sustained by money channeled though the state.

Or, to put it another way, out of 5.6 million people in Denmark, there are only about 1.8 million that are not directly dependent on the state for payments of some sort. And even among this group, there is high focus on cheap, subsidized childcare, free healthcare, child bonus payments, subsidized housin, and a large number of other ways to secure additional income from the state. Just an example: Students get five years of free tuition at state universities and I read of a married student who gets a $900 stipend from the state and free childcare. So, basically, living totally off the state for those university years.

Now, political liberals analyze this all over Europe right now, and everybody says, “These systems are under pressure.” That is the word that is used by liberals. They are under pressure, like most of the entitlement states of Europe. Conservatives say it’s a ticking time bomb. In other words, almost everybody says it can’t go on. The crisis in Greece is the forerunner, and no matter how angry people may get when their entitlements are threatened or taken away, you can’t create tax income out of nowhere. And the support base is not going to be there indefinitely, not to mention other disincentives that plague socialist economies over the long haul.

So, for Bernie Sanders, or anyone else, to commend a Socialism like that of Denmark as the system that is going to do things well for us is shortsighted to say the least. So in general I would say that the impulses of biblical Christianity include:

1. compassion for the disadvantaged;

2. justice under law without respect to status;

3. freedom to create and produce;

4. private property.

And my own sense is that history and reason and further biblical reflection lead to the conclusion that freedom and property rights lead to greater long-term wellbeing, or, like we say today, flourishing for the greatest number. And it should not go unsaid, lastly, that every economic and political system will eventually collapse where there are insufficient moral impulses to restrain human selfishness and encourage honesty and good deeds even when no one is watching.  

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John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. © Desiring God.