Public Square & Theology 101

Freedom and Flourishing in Texas: One Immigrant’s Story

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Hinga Mbogo came to America from Kenya for an education; he wound up living the American dream.

After completing his education in Miami, Mbogo traveled to Dallas for a job interview. He didn’t get the job and didn’t have enough money to get back to Miami. But, as he walked around wondering what to do next, he saw something he had never seen in Miami: “Help wanted” signs posted in businesses all over town.

That’s when Mbogo first realized there was something special about Texas and in God’s purpose for bringing him there.

After several years of hard work, Mbogo started Hinga Auto Repair in 1985. Over a period of years, Mbogo worked hard to build his business and support his family. When I visited with him and his customers, it was evident that he and his 33-year-old automotive repair shop had blessed his family, employees, and community.

Mbogo is not alone in the success he has experienced in Texas. Many native and transplanted Texans have flourished because Texas often snubs the conventional wisdom that welfare, consumer protection laws, and mandated minimum wages are the only path to prosperity, especially for the poor and minorities.

Instead, Texas has followed a path toward lower taxes, less spending, and fewer regulations, i.e., economic freedom.

Economic Freedom and Poverty

One way to understand the benefits of Texas’s move toward economic freedom is to look at poverty rates using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM considers the cost of living in each of the fifty states. This means that someone living on $20,000 per year in San Francisco will be counted worse off than someone with the same income in Homerville, Georgia.

“Considering the states’ cost of living is a critical first step in understanding poverty” writes Chuck DeVore in Re-examining Poverty Rates: A First Step in Reforming Anti-Poverty Programs. “Neglecting a cost of living index hampers, if not precludes, a thorough examination of poverty and its connections to the economy and public policies such as taxes, spending, or anti-poverty programs.”

Using the SPM, DeVore found that among the largest 12 states, Texas was tied with Illinois with the fourth lowest poverty rate for whites, had the third lowest poverty rate for Hispanics of Mexican origin, and was tied with North Carolina with the lowest poverty rates for blacks. Overall, Texas trailed only Virginia for the lowest demographically-adjusted poverty rate.

Economic Freedom and Prosperity

Texas is not alone in demonstrating the connection between economic freedom and prosperity. Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Tennessee, North Carolina, Idaho, Nebraska, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Virginia, and Arizona all join Texas as states with below average per capita spending and above average economic freedom that have exhibited strong economic growth over the last decade.

Two academic studies further support this connection. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “states with greater economic freedom—defined as the protection of private property and private markets operating with minimal government interference—experienced greater rates of employment growth.”

On the other side of the coin, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that “growth in government stunts general economic growth. Regardless of how it is financed, an increase in government spending leads to slower economic growth.”

Economic Freedom and Liberty

From a biblical perspective, all this makes perfect sense. Christ is our King, ruling over all of creation while seated at the right hand of God. He told us from the beginning of his earthly ministry how his government would operate:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19)

Hugh Whelchel builds upon this foundation as he explains that the Old Testament concept of shalom,

signifies a number of things, including: salvation, wholeness, integrity, soundness, community, connectedness (to others and to God’s creation), righteousness, justice, and well-being. It is flourishing in every dimension, physical, psychological, and spiritual. Shalom denotes a right relationship with God, with others, and with God’s good creation. It is the way God intended things to be when he created the universe.

God is a God of peace, not oppression. Peace and prosperity are his design for all his creation. A government that oppresses its citizens, hindering their ability to pursue shalom through unnecessary taxation, heavy regulation, and a corrosive welfare state, is not helping its people prosper.

This is particularly important to remember because poverty, not abundance, is fallen man’s natural state. Government oppression will keep many in material poverty just as spiritual oppression keeps many in spiritual poverty.

Weeping and Shouting

Yet God is also a God of grace and abundance. He has promised that “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:6).

While this promise will be completely fulfilled only when God has come to live among us in the new heavens and new earth, it is not a promise that should be ignored in history. For many people will prosper through the work of their own hands in a society built on freedom. It is true the poor will still be with us, but they will be blessed by the wealth and private charity unleashed through freedom.

Just like our Magistrate in heaven, earthly magistrates are called to govern justly by upholding life, liberty, and truth, judging with mercy the good and the wicked, and providing for the common peace and safety. When all government—civil, ecclesiastical, familial, and personal—one day reflects the liberty available to all who believe in Christ, even the American Dream will become an afterthought in the widespread pursuit of shalom.

Editor’s note: Read more about biblical and economic answers to poverty in For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.

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Photo credit: Nathan Clark, U.S. Air Force

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