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Fall 2004 · Vol. 33 No. 2 · pp. 217–219 

Book Review

A High Price for Abundant Living: The Story of Capitalism

Henry Rempel. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2003. 164 pages.

Reviewed by Don Isaac

Henry Rempel, Senior Scholar in Economics at the University of Manitoba, has had the unique privilege to both teach economics and to travel broadly in the third world on various missions analyzing the intersection of economics, politics, and social structures. This book presents a fresh look at capitalism as it has evolved from Adam Smith to corporate North America.

In twelve chapters Rempel moves from a clear description of classical capitalism based on the Smith model (those who take care of themselves do a better job than if production were planned), to the mixed economy of corporations and governments defining success as growth and who actively create wants through advertising. In contrast, the farmer and shopkeeper of 1776 produced similar items that met the needs of their communities. In chapter 4 (“Born to Shop”), Rempel discusses how the small producer, using the technology of the industrial revolution, rapidly morphed into corporations who understood the desire of society to shop. John L. Lewis, early labor leader, once said the goal of labor is to “get more now!” Corporations understood this statement from a consumer’s perspective as well and increasingly place before us products and services that tap into our desire to increase satisfaction.

Chapter 3, however, lays the foundation for another way of looking at stewardship of our own resources and of world resources. It is here {218} that Rempel critiques most significantly the values which shape our economic system and our worship of abundance. Those values, mostly Christian, which should impinge on our economic system are human dignity inherent in every person; living in community with others, which requires relationships; creative participation in work; not a peg in a wheel; an understanding of scriptural dominion as a responsibility to use natural resources for the benefit of all the world’s people; honoring the Sabbath as a way of slowing down the acceleration of our wants; building community with fairness by including the old and poor with equal opportunities to the distribution of resources, and finally promoting peace and justice throughout society.

In a useful chapter on the role of government in a free enterprise system, Rempel notes that aside from creating rules by which the economic system must abide, a government of the people must also respond to failures in the market system. Externalities, as economists label them, include the costs not counted in transactions (pollution, for example), the promotion of competition (and monitoring of monopoly), adequate and truthful information about products, and a safety net for those unable to compete in the labor market. Though not mentioned by Rempel, governments are increasingly influenced by powerful special interest groups.

The last chapter (“Where Do We Go from Here”), was both disappointing and hopeful. Altering the course of an eighteen-wheel truck speeding along a highway, or perhaps more apt, an ocean liner, requires changing many, many variables and, in the twenty-first century as opposed to the eighteenth, consumers have little power. After a thorough discussion of our economic system and an alternative theoretical framework based on Christian values, one hopes for examples of how businesses have focused on building social capital and how implementing different values can change attitudes and behaviors. Yet the chapter was hopeful in reinforcing the need to change the driver of the eighteen-wheel truck from growth and progress to conservation or “Ecolpreneurship.” This new driver will contain all the characteristics of the entrepreneur except that of high rates of return on capital, and will instead focus on conserving and sustaining natural resources. Making this happen will be difficult, but Rempel suggests we have to start by recognizing that the well-being of people is the desired end product, not economic development itself.

The book sheds new light on a complex issue of Christian stewardship within a massive economic system that favors growth, large size, profits, and shaping consumer values. Readers will be rewarded for {219} engaging these ideas and focusing on how they can be implemented in business and consumption.

Don Isaac
Professor of Business and Economics
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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