Over two hundred years ago, Adam Smith wrote his most famous work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This book was written in 1776, on the eve of the most explosive growth and capital accumulation human history has ever known. Prior to this, most of human experience was a struggle to survive, characterized by early death, disease, corruption, and oppression.
Smith set out to understand how and why nations accumulate wealth. This question remains today. Why do sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Latin America, and countries in South Asia remain poor when the developed world thrives? Why is poverty so persistent, even in the developed world?
For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty is the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics’ new thirteen-chapter edited volume, and it seeks to answer these questions. Written by the most prominent economists and theologians, it is an effort to provide an alternative perspective on how to address the problem of poverty from a biblical and economic point of view. It is scheduled to be released in early 2014.
What’s the Best Long-Term Solution to Poverty?
Economics can serve as a tool to show us how to better steward the earth’s scarce resources, relieve poverty, and bring about flourishing. The best long-term solution to poverty is providing opportunities through markets to provide for themselves and serve others. According to author John Schneider, twenty-five countries in the last twenty years have virtually eliminated poverty within their borders in this fashion.
The Bible calls us to care about the poor and to bring Christ’s love along with our own. Local churches and nonprofits are better positioned to adapt aid to the specific needs of the people in their community, because they are closer to those that they are trying to help. They have the required knowledge. They are nimble. This enables them to help each person with their specific, unique needs.
A central reason for helping the poor is that they are made in the image of God. We should desire that each person not only survive, but thrive and flourish in every area. This means:
- Providing food for the starving.
- Creating opportunities for education.
- Developing gifts and talents.
- Equipping people with the resources to start small businesses, which will enable them to provide for their family and eventually create jobs for others.
Christians are in a unique position to help make these things happen. Yet in the United States, a country with one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, the trend is toward an increasing dependence on federal and state aid. This is creating dependencies and enslaving the poor to a life of food stamps, welfare checks, and no hope for personal fulfillment. The poorest among us are trapped in a lifelong cycle of despair because we are not embracing the biblical narrative of work and its value for personal fulfillment, honoring Christ, and creating value through service to others.
Finding A Balance
In situations of desperate need, we must provide the poor with aid. We must make sure that people don’t starve today. We also must make sure they live in an opportunity society where they can contribute to the common good. There may be a place for government to provide a safety net so that people might not starve or health needs go unaddressed.
The biblical and economic questions to be asked are: “How much should and can the Church do?” “How much is the government able to do?” and “What can markets do?” There is a role for government, the Church, nonprofit organizations, and markets in bringing about flourishing. The question is, “In what proportion?”
In an effort to answer this question, we will showcase highlights of the book. We will publish excerpts once a week, beginning tomorrow. These excerpts will:
- Address the biblical call to care for the poor, examine biblical passages on poverty, and look at wrong deductions or false understandings held by some.
- Explain the economics of caring for the poor and the political economy of addressing poverty.
- Provide a historical perspective on how the Church has addressed poverty and how markets can be a significant part of the solution.
- Illustrate how to best care for the poor using biblical and economic mandates. We will look at particular problems such as income inequality, the morality of markets, the use of the welfare state, and a call to move beyond charity.
Our desire is that you might be moved to think deeply about the problem of poverty through a biblical lens. We hope that reading this book leads you to pray about how you respond to this concern. Each person has a different calling. Some may be called to work full-time addressing these issues. Others may be motivated to give money and resources. Still others may be moved to set up businesses that employ people in need. What will your response be?