Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Fighting Back Against Disease, Poverty, and Corruption

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Sickness. Disease. Extreme poverty. Corruption. These are all marks of a fallen world.

Yet the grand story of the gospel tells us there is hope. The chapters of Redemption and Restoration follow that of the Fall. As Christians, our place within that story is to point to the way things could be. Christ will bring restoration in full when he returns, and he has called us each to a special purpose as we bring the reign of God to bear on our spheres of influence.

We anxiously await restoration, but we aren’t supposed to just wait in the bus stop for Christ’s return. We’ve been given gifts, skills, talents, and resources we can use to give a glimpse of the flourishing God desires for his creation. Today’s post details how  economic freedom is the surest way for humanity to fight back against disease, poverty, and corruption.

Quality of Healthcare

The quality of healthcare is a critical reason for the increased life expectancy and improved health for mothers and their children in the economically free world. This, along with many other outcomes, is undoubtedly associated with shalom and flourishing.

We live at a time when technological progress has never been faster. One of the important ways this plays out is through medical technology and medical advances. The chart below indicates that it is difficult for these advances to reach people in countries with low levels of freedom. Economic freedom is important for much more than everyday commerce. It helps create an environment in which people are able to use their gifts to improve the lives of the sick and the infirm. This is much harder to do in the least free countries.

It is often said that flourishing is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Many members of free societies have seen or experienced the ways in in which advances in healthcare bring about flourishing in their own lives. Many accidents or ailments that were once fatal are now treatable and are hardly a cause for concern. The ways in which this impacts our lives can be large or small, but they are always meaningful.

Economic Freedom and the Quality of Healthcare, 2009

Abject Poverty Rates in the Developing World

Evidence of the absence of flourishing is the poverty that many in the developing world face every day. There are many who still survive on $1.25 a day or less. The World Bank defines this as extreme poverty. Those who live at or below this income level cannot get enough food to live healthy, productive lives.

This poverty is very different than the poverty known in wealthy countries. This is why the wealthiest countries of the world are not included in the figure below. Poverty in the developing world is so severe it should not be compared to the poverty experienced by those in the free world.

The good news is that this type of poverty has been declining since 1980. In fact, from 1990 to the present, the extreme poverty rate has been reduced by half.

The figure below helps explain how this happened. Developing countries with the most economic freedom had much lower rates of extreme poverty than those that are the least free. Moreover, economic freedom is strongly correlated with freeing millions from abject poverty and increasing their standards of living.

Research in this area finds that the market principles behind economic freedom are responsible for the most rapid decline in global poverty the world has ever known. Related research indicates that countries with the largest increases in economic freedom also had the largest reductions in poverty.

Economic Freedom and $1.25 per day Poverty Rate in the Developing World, 2005.
Economic Freedom and $1.25 per day Poverty Rate in the Developing World, 2005.

Corruption Levels

After an encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus, the tax collector we meet in Luke 9:1-10, repented of his corrupt ways. Unfortunately, many in positions of authority in the developing world have not had a similar encounter with Jesus.

Corruption, in all its forms, is a major roadblock to flourishing. Interactions in a flourishing society embody honesty, integrity, and justice. This is not the case in countries with rampant corruption.

As the figure below illustrates, countries with more economic freedom have much less corruption than those that are less free. Corruption at the state level tends to pervade all of society and its interworkings, making it difficult for people to use their gifts to serve others.

High levels of corruption are associated with bribes, blackmail, favoritism, and corrupt regulations. Corruption tends to benefit those in power, excluding the lower-income classes from being productive and caring for their families.

Corruption Levels
Economic Freedom and Corruption, 2010

The outcomes of economic freedom, shown above, are connected to a country’s level of flourishing. This flourishing is manifested in the overall opportunities of citizens to live according to God’s calling.

This post is adapted from IFWE’s white paper, “Economic Freedom and the Path to Flourishing.” Dr. Anne Bradly co-authored this paper with Dr. Connors. 

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