Neoliberalism and Reclaiming a Theology of Economy

By Veerkamp, Ton | International Review of Mission, July-October 2008 | Go to article overview

Neoliberalism and Reclaiming a Theology of Economy

Veerkamp, Ton, International Review of Mission


The article clarifies the notion of neoliberalism and traces it back to the origins of liberalism in the civil revolutions of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. New in neoliberalism are not its economic doctrines and underlying philosophy, via utilitarianism but the global social situation. The bourgeoisie has lost its counterforce and its doctrines no longer have to compete for recognition: they represent a creed, a new gospel. The article unveils the free-market doctrine of neoliberalism as an ideology. The theological part of the article begins from the first commandment as the guideline and quintessence of all theology. Crucial for the socio-economic implications of the Ten Commandments is, "Do not covet". The Torah and the prophets can be summarized in two interdictions: one relates to slavery and the other to accumulation. Holy scripture excludes the private ownership of the means of production and the accumulation of socio-economic power. It is clear that the accumulation of economic power is leading in our time to the exclusion of increasing numbers of human beings, i.e., to a new slavery. Therefore, a theology of economy must contradict the creeds and practice of neoliberalism.


The subject of this article refers to two things: neoliberalism and the theology of economy. First of all, we have to clarify what neoliberalism is. We will go into the history of this concept and describe its function in the ideological and theological struggles of our time. Secondly, we should have some notion of what is meant by the expression "the theology of economy". The proper object of theology (theos and logos) is the word of God. Theological statements can only be based on the holy scriptures. The societies of biblical times are completely different from our society and we may doubt whether the holy scriptures have anything to say about our economy. This means that our enterprise will be threefold: clarifying the notion of neoliberalism; examining the scriptures; asking whether the scriptures have any relevance for the economic problems of our societies.

Neoliberalism or "What is really 'neo' (new) in the ideology of liberalism?"

There is a remarkable difference between the American and European notions of liberalism. In the USA, liberalism is a doctrine mainly of civil liberties. Its roots lie in the Enlightenment of the 18th century. In the U.S., liberals are to be found in the centre or slightly left of it; in ethics (abortion, sexual orientations, gender issues, etc.), they are more tolerant than are those called conservatives. Neoconservatives (neocons) are not neoliberals; they usually represent neoliberal positions in economics but in matters of ethics, social life and religion they tend to take a rigorous and fundamentalist stand. On the European continent, liberalism is primarily an economic doctrine. European liberals wish for an economy as free as possible, a market as deregulated as possible, a labour force that consists of individuals who are hired and fired according to the laws of supply and demand and a tax rate as low as possible and without any redistribution effect. The economy of European countries after the second world war, however, was highly regulated and characterized by two things. Firstly, strong trade unions represented the collective power of workers in particular branches of industry and this increased the bargaining power of each branch. Secondly, a high tax rate with redistribution effects resulted in increased equality of income and strictly regulated financial markets. After the periods of so-called Reaganomics, and especially after the Clinton presidential administration in the U.S., we had a situation that Europeans call neoliberal: less regulation, especially on the labour market, almost no regulation on the international finance and capital markets, lower taxes and increasing differences between low and high incomes. …

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