Skip to main content

HUNT VALLEY, Md. (MainStreet) -- Wednesday, July 28, while every news headline was screaming about the debt ceiling, I had the privilege of hosting a radio interview -- scheduled for many weeks -- with Stephan Bauman, the newly appointed President and CEO of World Relief, an international aid organization based in Baltimore. We shared a nervous chuckle before the show, recognizing that while thousands of people were tuning in to a weekly financial talk show in the middle of the hysteria surrounding the debt ceiling and plummeting markets, we were going to jump headlong into a discussion about focusing less on ourselves and more on serving others. Kiddingly, I asked him, "So how am I going to segue into this?"

Of course, my task was made easier by the fact Bauman wasn't born into the nonprofit realm. Professionally, he was trained as a CPA and enjoyed a successful career as a consultant before an epiphany that derailed his work and life as he knew it. One of the themes we landed on multiple times was the seemingly irreconcilable nature of the capitalistic world of profit-driven business and the service-oriented nature of the nonprofit, but since Bauman had bridged that gap so successfully, he made a compelling case for their healthy marriage.

Stephan Bauman, newly appointed president and CEO of World Relief, is an example of a capitalist who has stepped into the nonprofit realm.

And that got me thinking about the societal implications of free-market capitalism and the service of the underserved ...

Are you a capitalist? So am I. Do you enjoy the bounty of capitalism? Then we must also recognize the responsibility that comes with it.

Capitalism is defined specifically as "An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market." But it is defined more broadly as "a social system based on the principle of individual rights."

A social system, eh?

Anti-capitalists have a tendency to demonize capitalism as an economic system that benefits only big business and the rich, with no regard for the potentially negative social or environmental impact. And let's be honest: Loud-and-proud capitalists do have a tendency to come across as privileged, condescending, profit-centric and even seemingly without care for the environment or the poor.

Ignoring any of the arguments for or against, capitalism -- while not always pretty -- works. (Of course, it will be interesting to see how well it works when years of unnatural suppression of interest rates, monster bailouts and quantitative easing eventually settle into our economy ... but that's the subject of another post.)

The purest capitalists, the most laissez-faire, would point to the size of government in a capitalistic system as an additional litmus test for its ultimate success. The smaller the better. Very few would argue that government does not do the best, most efficient job, for example, of taking care of the poor in America's cities. In the poorest neighborhoods in my home city, Baltimore, and elsewhere around the country, the rate of fatherless households is over 80%. Any idea why? Before Welfare reform, a needy household would be passed over for benefits if there was a working male in the home. I recall that nearly 70% of juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes. In other words, government's attempts at social justice actually created much of the problem.

So if government should be smaller and governments should not be trusted to run institutionalized welfare programs, who then is responsible in the purest form of capitalism for caring for widows, orphans and the destitute?

George Gilder, co-founder of the Discovery Institute, answers this question best: "I think that successful and prosperous capitalism depends on altruism, on understanding the needs of others and on serving others. Servant leadership is the prime obligation and theme of successful enterprise. It begins by saving. What is saving? It is forgoing your own consumption in order to give your wealth to others to be used by others. Because this transfer of wealth only succeeds if the others who received it also serve others, capitalism results in ever-expanding circles of altruistic orientation toward the needs of other people. Unless capitalism functions within this moral order, it cannot prevail or prosper."

So the more government shrinks -- and it should -- we have more opportunity to prosper and we take on the added responsibility of caring for those in need. Further, it requires that we care for our poor and needy, our environment, our arts, our historical monuments -- not as uneducated philanthropists, but as involved participants who recognize that the satisfaction derived from serving is greater even than the blessing of prosperity.


>>Seamless Life Blends Roles Before Retirement

>>Bad Advice for Younger Generations

Tim Maurer, CFP, is vice president of

Financial Consulate

, based in Hunt Valley, Md., and a member of NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. He can also be found at


This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.