- - Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas is not only a time for religious celebration and expression, but also for rejoicing in the value of free markets. The close relationship between the values that characterize Christmas, Christianity, and capitalism may not be obvious at first, but at closer glance, they make complete sense.

Christianity and capitalism both have moral foundations, which are based on a deep respect for individual rights.

In a free society, not only do free markets flourish but religious expression flourishes as well, and Christmas is a perfect example of that.

Americans often fail to see the link between religious freedom and the free market. We often take for granted the revolutionary principles outlined by our Founding Fathers, which include keeping religion free from government control. The United States is a country that enjoys a high standard of living, a high degree of economic freedom, and it is one of the most religious countries in the world as well, because we are able to freely participate in the religion of our choice, the free market of religion.

Too often, people confuse capitalism with crass consumerism and the secularization of Christmas. But before we blame free enterprise for this connection, let us first imagine Christmas in a society that does not respect individual rights. In such a society, all resources are owned by the government, and an individual’s ability to buy or sell goods and services are subject to government approval.

Suppose also that a group of practicing Christians wish to erect a church, print copies of the Bible, or for that matter, provide charity to the poor. How does one go about acquiring the resources for such goals? Without the free market, individuals cannot purchase the land, materials and resources required to pursue these goals.

Craftsmen, artists, plumbers, carpenters and other skilled tradesmen would all be employees of the state. Individuals would be at the mercy of the bureaucracy who may or may not approve of the religious faith they practice. In effect, by controlling the use of resources, and suppressing free markets, the government effectively infringes upon an individual’s ability to express their religious faith.

Free markets facilitate and reinforce religious freedom as well as religious tolerance. In a free market, you do not have to agree with the religious goals of the buyer or seller in order to do business with them. The parties only have to agree to a price, and nothing more. The seller could be an ardent atheist, and still not care whether the resources will be used for religious goals.

Our system is certainly not perfect and the seller may object or even refuse to sell resources to a Christian, but in a free market, the cost of religious discrimination falls upon the seller, not the buyer. Buyers are free to take their business elsewhere, to competitors who will tolerate the religious beliefs of the prospective buyers. In effect, free markets punish religious discrimination and promote religious tolerance.

Take this article as an example. Whether you are reading this from a sheet of paper, a computer, or smartphone, you are most likely unaware of the religious affiliation of the individual who sold the paper or device to you, let alone the millions of individuals involved in bringing the product to the market for you to consume. In the end, you engaged in a peaceful transaction, and along the way you probably unintentionally enhanced someone’s ability to practice their religious beliefs by providing them with the income to do so.

Not only has the voluntary exchange of goods and services been the basis of capitalism and economic growth, it has also created unprecedented wealth that allows individuals to spend more time and resources on religious practices, such as the celebration of the Christmas holiday. Without this material abundance, we would have fewer resources to support our churches, charities and our loved ones.

As we celebrate the holiday season, let us be thankful for the existence of free markets to facilitate not only the freedom to express our love through gift giving, but also for the freedom to express our religious faith as well.

Rosolino Candela is a Mercatus Center affiliated scholar.

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