KUYPER’S EARLY CRITIQUE OF UNCHECKED CAPITALISM

in Philosophia Reformata
AutorIn: Harry Van Dyke
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It was in the days when European society was in the throes of expanding industrial capitalism that Abraham Kuyper formulated his basic ideas about the pitfalls of the free enterprise system and the need for a structural make-over of society. Already two decades before his mature address of 1891 on the social question, he urged the church to concern herself seriously with the plight of the working classes. In 1874 he railed against “fictitious trade” and mere “paper assets.” In an extensive commentary on his political party’s program (1878/79) he repeated his fundamental objection to the “fictitious expansion of capital”, calling for legislation to curb such excesses and to create a better balance in incomes between the different classes making up society. He argued for equity and justice rather than charity and philanthropy, and for wages and salaries proportional to effort, skill and education. Yet while the gap between rich and poor cried out to heaven, the first step toward solving the social question, according to the youthful Kuyper, was not to focus on the poor but to provide employment opportunities so that the able and willing working man could earn a living wage. He proposed raising import duties and protective tariffs, replacing taxes on necessaries with taxes on luxuries, abolishing government-run lotteries, and lifting the ban on organizing trade-unions. To achieve these reforms, it was essential that the lower classes be given greater representation in parliament and that selfish greed make way for neighbourly love and mutual solidarity.

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