Sunday, 25 May 2008

A Christian approach to economics

This is something I have become increasingly interested in. I do not have an extensive economic background but have read many articles over recent years. I have become increasingly capitalistic in my approach, though there are several issues that I have yet to resolve biblically.

I think a good economic policy can be formulated from the Bible but it needs to start from fundamental principles rather than taking a more pragmatic approach and learning from economies around the world. Not that there is anything wrong from learning from the events we see, the 20th century is pretty damning on communism as an economic solution (and any other solution it proposes), we do well to note it. The problem is that the preferred outcome of economic policies may not coincide with that of God. A reasonable goal of economics is maximising material prosperity for all citizens (though not necessarily equality of outcome) and maximising productivity while minimising labour. However God is more concerned with our response to Christ. And righteousness and justice are more important principles than profit. Of course an industry needs to make some profit (or break even) over time else it will fail; and people debate over the meaning of "justice" as it applies to economics.

I have not found a discussion of biblical economics that reviews all the relevant passages of Scripture and attempts a coherent and Christ honouring view. It may exist, I just don't know of any. I recently found this paper by an Australian Andrew Kulikovsky whom I am more familiar with as an author of creationist articles. It is titled "A Biblical View of Economics and
Industrial Relations" and it is very much worth a read (I have a slightly different take on some ideas).
Clearly some people are poor because they are oppressed by others (Isa 10:1-2, Zech 7:10), but the Evangelical Alliance and other Christian socialists tend to view poverty as almost entirely a result of oppression, either directly (in the case of workers being oppressed by their employers), or indirectly (in the case of systemic denial of equality). They rarely acknowledge that many people—especially those who live in wealthy western societies—have brought poverty upon themselves through laziness, foolishness, impulsiveness and the like.
This is insightful in that it shows that so called "poverty" in the West is inappropriately labelled and cannot be equated to poverty of third world countries, not just in terms of wealth comparisons but in the causative factors of the lack of wealth. Now self-induced poverty may be due to bad behaviours that have been learned, or due to lack of appropriate behaviour because it has not been taught, but even so, the solution is different. It is the deficit behaviour that needs to be remedied rather than the deficit income.

Another complaint against capitalism is that it leads to inequalities in wealth outcomes. Though there is a range of incomes in a capitalist society it is still likely that wealth is more evenly distributed compared to other systems. For example, although Bill Gates is exceedingly wealthy, his income as a percentage of global wealth (or even US wealth) is much lower than in times past: compare Rockefellar. Kulikovsky gives further insightful analysis to this complaint,
Yet a common objection to capitalism among socialists is that 10% of the population owns 90% percent [sic] of the wealth. But even if this claim is accurate, there would in fact be nothing wrong with such a situation provided that the 10% acquired their wealth through legal, just and fair means. In essence, the situation is indicative of the fact that some people have contributed more to production than others, because they introduced major improvements and innovations. Therefore, the 90% of the wealth that is not only owned but also created and earned by that 10% (or by their parents or grandparents), ends up serving the rest of the population that did not contribute as much to production. Furthermore, if the rest of the population (or the government) attempt to force a transfer of wealth from that 10% to the most disadvantaged—as the Evangelical Alliance proposes—they will ultimately destroy the creation of the wealth that serves the least disadvantaged and destroy any hope they have of escaping their disadvantaged state. This is because the Christian socialists in the Evangelical Alliance have no concept of the production of wealth and how it is accumulated, but instead begin with the myth of the ‘distribution fairy’: that there is a finite amount of wealth in the world and that it is meant to be evenly distributed among everyone. These views come not from the Bible but from Karl Marx, and would naturally lead to the implementation of coercive policies that legally sanction theft and lead to a world that is physically empty of the production and accumulation of wealth. Instead of evenly distributing wealth, such policies end up evenly distributing poverty! As Reisman put it, the “thieves” end up as “starving wretches.” The truth of the above principles in born out in the actual history of all those societies that have adopted communism and other forms of socialism, and Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, is a current example of the poverty and economic ruin that comes from such policies.
Viewing wealth and produce as fixed implies that if anyone gains then someone must lose. But if wealth can be created then offense at the wealthy who created their own wealth is just envy. If every man grows 10 bushels of wheat a year and one man devises a method to grow 100 without preventing others from growing theirs, where is the injustice in that? If someone becomes wealthy at the expense of the work of the poor and refuses to pay them what he agreed in order to become rich, that is an offense. If a man creates work for others and in the process creates significant wealth for them as he creates wealth for himself, that is a good thing, even if he becomes richer than all his workers.

All in all an interesting read.

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