U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made some confusing and questionable statements during his speech at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas on Friday, claiming that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity than socialism is.
"While I would not argue that capitalism as an economic system is inherently more Christian than socialism ... it does seem to me that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity than socialism is. For in order for capitalism to work — in order for it to produce a good and a stable society — the traditional Christian virtues are essential," Scalia stated during his speech.
It's not clear what Christian virtues he's referring to, i.e. the seven heavenly virtues, or the three theological virtues? Let's assume the latter, the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. Any economic system would benefit from these virtues, be it capitalism or socialism. Scalia's assertion that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity only makes sense if he is drawing parallels between the hierarchical nature and excess of capital within both systems.
Capitalism in practice is hierarchically structured to benefit a minority in power. It upholds a moral and legal defense of an individual's pursuit of self-interest and private ownership. This has been shown to lead to monopoly power, exploitation, and vast economic inequalities. In this case, yes Scalia, capitalism desperately needs to be more dependent on Christian virtues to be morally effective and charitable, but through its dependence on these virtues, the current foundation of capitalism would change.
Scalia, a devout Catholic, seems to overlook the excessive capital the Catholic Church hoards with minimal spending towards charitable efforts. The Economist estimates that
"annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures) … with Catholic institutions employing over 1m people." To draw a correlation to corporate structure, in 2010 General Electric's revenue was $150 billion and Wal-Mart employed about 2 million people.
Scalia makes further cryptic statements regarding his conservative ideologies:
"The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude ... It's not my place or my purpose to criticize these developments, only to observe that they do not suggest the expanding role of government is good for Christianity."
Does his statement implicitly criticize the government for being a charitable institution? That seems in direct opposition to his advocacy for the endorsement of Christian virtues. In the U.S., the current capitalistic model actually endorses the government and corporations to depend on one another, usually involving the governmental support of capitalistic corporate greed and failures. The problem is not the "expanding role of government"; it's the economic relationship between respective institutions and entities.
Christian virtues alone are not going to resolve the imminent economic injustices. It requires a repositioning of economic modes of thought, a restructuring of the relationship between church and state, and accountability of particular capitalistic practices.