Economics 101 & Public Square

Are We Flourishing?

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What is “flourishing” and how do we achieve it?

Christians can agree that we are called to bring about flourishing. As Jay Richards recently wrote, the Bible calls Christians to work for the good of the world:

Everything from the Cultural Mandate to the Great Commission calls us to live out our faith for the good of the world.

To work towards flourishing, we need a solid definition of what it means.

Defining Flourishing

I offered a brief working definition in a recent post:

  • Flourishing occurs when we fulfill our original job description, the cultural mandate God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis.
  • Flourishing is what we bring about when we use our gifts and talents to serve others by taking dominion over natural and human resources (time, talent, money, and more). 
  • Flourishing gives us a glimpse of the new heavens and the new earth God will bring in full when Christ returns. 
  • It is characterized by well-being, prosperity, thriving, and abundance. 

We in the western world have been very successful in bringing about greater levels of flourishing. Looking at it visually often drives home the impact. The Atlantic Monthly recently published a great series of graphs detailing the economic history of the world. You can see them here.

Are We Flourishing?

Despite all the flourishing we’ve obtained, we cannot escape our sinful nature. We need a sound economic and political environment that harnesses human behavior for productive, creative uses in service to others. Yet there is evidence that we in the West are losing our ability to increase flourishing for ourselves and others:

  • Dependence on government continues to increase. The United States has one of the highest standards of living in the world, yet forty-nine percent of Americans live in a household that receives a government benefit.
  • Government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (the monetary value of all goods and services produced within a country) has increased from seven percent in 1900 to forty percent today. The result is unsustainable debt.
Obstacles to Flourishing

These points are entirely related. They bring to light three economic realities we as Christians cannot ignore if we are to turn this situation around and get back on the road to flourishing.

1. Governments cannot create wealth. 

Governments are not companies producing goods or services. They can only transfer or destroy wealth. As we ask government to do more and more, it must take wealth from one group in order to do what we ask of it. This involves trade-offs, many of which harm overall creativity and prosperity for all income groups.

2. Incentives matter.

Governments are run by human beings who respond to incentives. If we make it worth their while to grow the size of government and become inefficient, they most likely will.

Dependency on government benefits crosses all income groups. We often hear about “welfare dependency” and think it only applies to the poor. In fact, the increase in government spending and unnaturally high rates of income inequality are inextricably related to the fact that the rich and powerful use the government to get richer.

3. Markets are tough disciplinarians. 

If you open an business and can’t produce the right product, at the right time, and for the right price, people will not patronize your business. That’s a tough, competitive environment.

Given this tough, competitive market environment, it’s easy to imagine why business would seek protection and favor from the state – in other words, engage in cronyism. It might not seem like a big deal for a company to lobby for regulations that raise the barrier of entry into their market or gain subsidies that protect from competition. Markets won’t give you these things, but governments can be incentivized to do so. 

Flourishing Through Service & Sound Economics

These realities illustrate how, through the political process, we pick winners and losers. Markets, on the other hand, don’t discriminate based on how much money you give through lobbying. Earning a profit and generating personal wealth requires creating value for others. Markets don’t foster theft, they foster service.

This is why it matters for Christians to understand and apply sound economics to all areas of life. It enables us to see and rise up against the tide of political favors that harm the poor and inhibit our ability to wake up each day and use our God-given talents and skills to serve others.

In the coming weeks we’ll explore more of these three economic realities.

What do you think? Why is it important for Christians to understand sound economics? 

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