Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Freedom and Flourishing

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This week, most Americans will take time off to celebrate the Fourth of July. These celebrations will include pool time, beach time, hotdogs, fireworks, and other merriment. Independence Day is worthy of celebration as a day that institutionalizes the biblical principles of individual freedom and limited government.

On July 2, 1776, during the American Revolution, the thirteen colonies legally separated from Great Britain when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence. After that, the Congress took to drafting the Declaration of Independence, which was revised and approved on July 4, 1776.

In anticipation of the Declaration’s approval by Congress, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he said:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Adams believed that such celebration was appropriate, given the hard-fought American Revolution, which was an effort to free the colonists from tyranny. Liberation from the British Empire set forth a trajectory of self-government, often referred to as “the American experiment.”

Americans, in rejecting the aristocracies of Europe and the belief in the divine right of kings, set forth a social, political, and economic experiment that has resulted in unprecedented opportunity. This chain of events has created a society of opportunity where individuals are encouraged, through markets, to use their creativity and gifts to exchange, trade, and create flourishing for themselves and others.

It is because of our fallen nature that we need limited government and free markets, as they provide incentives for us to transform our potentially destructive or self-centered tendencies into productive behavior that benefits ourselves and others.

They help us focus on the common good in a way that autocracy and dictatorships cannot. In spite of our sinful nature, we are also born with a spirit of creativity and purpose. We awake each morning and have something significant and unique to offer the world. The more limited our government and the more free our society, the better we are able to offer our gifts to others and to serve the common good.  This is because we have the liberty and incentive to pursue our own interests under a free society.

Independence Day is a celebration of previous efforts to establish a political system that allows individuals to thrive. Interestingly, we take the day off from work to celebrate the past. Yet it is through the work we do each day that we are contributing to the common good and to the prosperity of others.

As you celebrate Independence Day with a reprieve from work, take time to pause and realize that your work is a gift from God. It is a way that you can create and build and serve others.  We are truly blessed to live in a free society in which we can contribute to flourishing simply by doing our jobs.

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  • Peter TeWinkle

    There is no reason that the opposite conclusion isn’t just a plausible. That is, because of our fallen nature that we need a less limited government and more regulated market. The reality is that because of our fallen nature, every form of government and market is susceptible to abuse. If we continue to argue about form and means we will never see the function and ends we commonly desire.

    • Anne Bradley

      Thanks for your
      comment. What you are suggesting sounds more intuitive, I agree. We
      are fallen, markets and governments are made up of fallen people, so we need
      more regulations to make them better.

      But I would suggest that economics
      helps us understand that it is in spite of our fallenness that markets work so
      well to serve the common good. There is no person, whether they be a CEO,
      president or bureaucrat who is “good” enough to regulate other fallen

      Each of us wake up every day and pursue our self-interest. This is how God created us. Markets help us more often than not to move
      outside of our selfish or greedy desires that we may have, and create incentives
      for us to serve others. It is through prices and the profit and loss
      mechanisms that we are encouraged to use our God-given creativity to innovate
      and contribute to overall flourishing.

      As you so rightly point
      out, government is subject to abuse by the very people that occupy it’s
      offices, and we must constrain the hands of the state to enable us to do just what
      God has created us to do. There is no example in human history of a
      large-bureaucratic government which imposed large degrees of regulation
      contributing to long-standing flourishing and prosperity. And that’s
      because it is populated by fallen sinners.

      Markets are the mechanism that
      encourage productivity. They force us to think outside of narrow short-term
      interests toward the long term interests of others.

  • Peter TeWinkle

    How do you reconcile “Each of us wake up everyday and pursue our self-interest. This is how God created us.” with the Bible’s words “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”?

    And what, for you, is the line between self-interest and selfishness?

    I fail to see how markets “force” (by the way, isn’t that coercive?) us to look beyond our own interests to the interests of others when the market allow for profits to be made in anyway that is profitable (e.g. pornography, cigarettes, etc.). I would hesitate to say that God created us for that. In fact, I think the Bible is clear that God is trying to save us from self-interest/selfishness so that we can love/lay down our lives for one another.

    My point is to say that markets are not going to save us. Fallen people do fallen things. I do think saved people can use markets for the common good. But I also think saved people could just as easily use a form of government for the common good.

    I’m tried of people arguing about the right way to do things (i.e. markets vs. gov’t) because nothing gets done.

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