Saturday, September 1, 2007

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 9: Economics

What Produces a Sound Economy?

We shall begin by looking at some biblical assumptions concerning economics. The first two are that man is inherently sinful and that justice and the protection of property are important; these were discussed in previous lessons in this series.

Private property ownership is a biblical right, and proper stewardship of that property is our duty. There are a number of Bible passages which speak to this topic. Exodus 20:15 may be the most important: "Thou shalt not steal." This command gives an implicit recognition of private property, and, furthermore, Exodus 22 speaks at length about restitution of property after it has been stolen. In Proverbs 31, the woman described makes many economic decisions which, again, imply that her property is hers to steward and use. Isaiah 65:21-22 and Jeremiah 32:43-44 contain prophecies which mention that people will have their own individual lands and property in God's Millennial Kingdom. Luke 12:13-31 speaks both about property and sin—but the sins described are selfishness and greed, not ownership. Likewise, in Acts 5:1-4, where Ananias sells a property, gives part of the money to the church, and lies about it, he is not punished or even criticized for his economic decision—he was punished for lying.

There are a variety of other passages in the Bible which indicate that private ownership of property was the normal situation of God's people, and will be normal in His kingdom (Deut. 8; Ruth 2; Micah 4:1-4; Isa. 65:21-22).

Work is a duty commanded by God, beginning with Adam and Eve. Adam was given work to do (Gen. 1:28), he did it (2:15), and was further commanded that he would have to work after he sinned (3:19). Other well-known passages on this topic include Eph. 4:28 and 2 Thess. 3:10. Work may bring wealth—and that's OK, according to Prov. 10:4 and other passages. But wealth is to be the servant to God's will and the needs of others (Matt. 25:14-30; James 2:14-16); it is not for our own selfish consumption. Last of all, God is ultimately the Owner of all property (Ps. 24:1-2).

It is also important to define and describe free enterprise. It certainly involves private property ownership. It also involves individual responsibilities (often called "stewardship" in Scripture), and allows for the individual's initiative and creativity to be used at the individual's discretion. It is, at its very essence, the opposite of the essence of socialism. Here are some differences between the two:
  • Individual freedom to make economic decisions (free market) vs. Centralized control
  • Private property vs. Collective or governmental ownership
  • Requires less government to implement vs. Requires more government to implement
  • Incentives to have a work ethic vs. Disincentives to work
  • Individual responsibility vs. Lack of individual responsibility
  • Competition vs. Lack of competition
  • The worth of the individual vs. The worth of the state/community
  • Wealthy generate more wealth vs. Wealthy hide and hoard their wealth
The lessons of history also tells us that free enterprise is much more amenable to the production of wealth, and is more helpful to the poor, than socialism in any of its forms.
"One dominant feature of capitalism is economic freedom, the right of people to exchange things voluntarily, free from force, fraud, and theft. Capitalism is more than this, of course, but its concern with free [and peaceful] exchange [of goods and services] is obvious. Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to replace the freedom of the market with a group of central planners who exercise control over essential market functions." Ronald Nash, Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism, p. 63
It is now a simple matter to see how free enterprise is in harmony with biblical teachings. Only the private ownership of property allows using our property to serve others, as the Bible frequently commands. In a biblical system, ownership of private property causes people to focus on the need to work and serve others, rather than accumulate possessions for themselves (the fact that many people do the opposite in no way diminishes the biblical teachings on the subject). Stewardship of property, also a frequent command in Scripture, is much easier when the property is privately owned.

The Bible also teaches us that poverty is sometimes the result of laziness (Prov. 6:6-11, 10:4, 13:4, 24:30-34), although God may allow our possessions to be taken away in order to further our spiritual growth, or for other reasons in His providential plan.

Neither the rich nor the poor is to be preferred in matters of justice (Lev. 19:15; notice the quote below, too). As David Noebel says in Thinking Like a Christian, "Justice requires equality before the law, not equality of incomes or abilities." (p. 140)
[After quoting Lev. 19:15] "God is not 'on the side of the poor,' despite protests to the contrary. Any law, therefore, that gives an advantage in the economic sphere to anyone, rich or poor, violates Biblical justice." E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity, p. 52.
There will always be poor people in society (Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). Although not everyone has equal skills or comparable social contacts, everyone should be granted the opportunity to do something legitimate in the marketplace.

Let us also remember that no economic system ever can or ever will save mankind. Our salvation is by grace through faith, and our Saviour's gift is available to all.

Let us conclude with some final reasons why Free Enterprise is most compatible with a Christian worldview. We should also remember the truism that those who own property are more likely to take care of it than those who do not own the property. Free enterprise and private property ownership give people the freedom to obey God where their property and money are concerned, especially in the area of stewardship. Capitalist competition encourages cooperation with, and "service" to, others; for example, a business must be a "servant" to its customers, or else those customers will go elsewhere. Individuals have the freedom to choose how they can be successful in a free market; therefore, they can employ their God-given abilities and talents in productive ways. They can also gain property with which to serve God and others.

A final quote from Frederick Engels, friend of Karl Marx and champion of communism:
"If some few passages in the Bible may be favourable to Communism, the general spirit of its doctrines is, nevertheless, totally opposed to it."

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