Economics 101

A Christian Perspective on Innovation and Economic Growth

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As a Christian economist, I’m often asked to comment on the incredible pace of change regarding technology, innovation, and its impact on the economy – and how Christians should approach these issues. These questions always remind of the stories in Scripture where I’ve noticed innovation, and how that innovation differs from the kind we see today.

Innovation in the Bible

There are many places in the Bible where we get a glimpse into ancient economic life. In terms of technology, life in the garden was abundant yet simple.

As life progressed after the Fall, we get a glimpse in the Old and New Testaments of some of the tools and trades which shaped the conditions of daily life:

• Construction: In Genesis 6:14, Noah builds an ark out of gopher wood, requiring tools to fell the wood and construct a boat of that size.

• Metallurgy: There are several biblical references to refining silver (Proverbs 25:4, Zechariah 13:9, Isaiah 48:10). Refinement of precious metals also included some learned technological processes.

• Clothing: Genesis 37 records that Joseph wore a coat of many colors. The fabric was derived from animal hair and woven in some process, and then dyed in another process. There are many references to sandals, belts and other clothing items that had some process governing their manufacture.

• Shipping: James 3:4 mentions rudders that were used to steer boats. John 21:11 tells us that Simon Peter caught many fish using netting. Rudders and netting are just two of many “tools” used in the ancient world to be productive.

Have you ever read any of those texts and thought about how wondrous it is that even in ancient times they were innovating products like rudders? To achieve these accomplishments, people had to think of new ways to innovate and create more out of what they were given.

Even though we have an incomplete picture of daily life during biblical times, we know that each generation was born into new conditions which their parents and grandparents before them made possible. Some minuscule level of economic growth occurred, albeit very slowly. Change is inherent to the human condition. In a world of uncertainty it’s the one thing we know will happen.

Innovation Today

This change continues today. Each one of us is born into a unique set of circumstances. We know we are called to use our creativity and God-given purpose to leave the world a better place. Economists call this economic growth. As Christians we know this is tied to flourishing.

Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction” in his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy to help us understand the mechanics of economic growth. It’s the process of destroying the older, less efficient way of doing things and replacing them with more productive uses of our scarce resources. Economic growth occurring through the process of creative destruction helps us to better steward our resources, which have multiple and competing ends.

Do any of you remember the eight-track tape ? My parents are familiar with these, but I have never used one and probably never will unless I purchase one at an antique store for my display shelf. There is good reason for this. The technology that made the eight-track so wonderful forty years ago has been innovated upon such that we don’t have a need for it anymore.

The cultural mandate is clear that we are to take dominion over the earth and all that is in it. The implications of this for Christians are that:

• Change is inherent to the human condition, and we are each born into a unique set of circumstances with a unique set of resources at our disposal.

• Each person in every generation is called to take existing resources and create more.

Innovation looks different now than it did in the Old Testament, and different than every century after. But even now, in 2016, innovation will look different for the African woman living under oppressive circumstances than it will for a CEO in the West. That doesn’t diminish the creative capacity of either of them, nor does it lessen their call to innovate and create.

Creative destruction is the natural result of God’s economic principles of stewardship at work. By humans seeking to be better stewards of resources, less efficient ways of meeting needs are replaced with more efficient ones, resulting in a more productive distribution of resources and more flourishing .

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