Quaker Universalist Voice

Speaking truth in the global public square…

A Quaker Response for a New Capitalism

A Book Review of Kathryn Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (2018)

In Kathryn Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (2018), the author seems angry at the new dimensions of finance capitalism, but wants no part of conflict or remediation.  The author advocates for personal and group separation from this new financial capitalism and the creation of parallel, but beneficial, institutions.  It is naïve in tone, but fundamentally sound in the analysis. The author makes an important point that capitalism itself has evolved in incremental, human-harmful ways.

For the author, the goal of the new, dominant financial capitalism is to maximize profit and minimize risk in financial markets and that this new finance capitalism has produced the dominance of a new capitalist personality type.  It is perhaps not a new genetic model for humans, but it is close.  The new personality type focuses attention and effort in maximizing the productive use of people and materials. 

As to the consequences of the financial capitalism, the author theologically deplores the lack of interest in, and encouragement of, the whole person. Time consciousness has changed in which the past experience constrains present and future conduct in a nearly exclusive focus on the present and quarterly financial market results.  It sets new standards of profitability.  The future becomes more of the same in the present.  This new personality type increases the pressure on peers and subordinates in an unhealthy social relationship within the corporation model.

The author advocates specific actions to avoid participation in the financial capitalist system through government regulation to reduce the incentive for profitability, a living minimum wage, and debt forgiveness mechanisms. The author praises the efforts of religious communities to be locations for new institutional mechanisms for pooling financial resources (similar to banks) to supply capital loans for human needs and economic experimentation. (Current examples of such efforts include Friends Fiduciary (friendsfiduciary.org)  by Quakers, Everence (everence.com) ) by Mennonites, and Islamic alternatives to usury (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_banking_and_finance) and others.) The author likes worker-owned businesses and worker-managed businesses to enhance community development.  These solutions will help to resist the distorting effects of financial capitalism.

To accomplish this transformative step, the author argues that individuals of faith and religious communities must take their religious commitments seriously as well as watching critically the wider culture of financial capitalism around them.  

This book is an absorbing and sobering story about the world around us and the swamp we are standing in.  It may not provide the solution, but it speaks to a universal human need.


The author makes no reference to Quakers or their experience with the Industrial Revolution, their contributions to new business models, and their business personality types.  The historical 20th century shift of Quaker vocations away from business to social service and education has diminished the Quaker resources and expertise available for creatively addressing this new financial capitalism for our human future.


  • What can Quakers contribute to the mitigation and replacement of the institutions of financial capitalism?
  • How can Quaker testimonies be augmented to address the redeeming elements of financial capitalism and its transformation?


  • Kathryn Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (2018)
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