Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

If Flourishing Is Your Goal, Then Economic Freedom Matters

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Did you know that working is one way that we bear the image of God? We were indeed created for work (Gen. 1:26). Our efforts at work can bring delight to us and to the Lord and allow us to serve the common good and bring about flourishing in the world around us. In fact, creating value through our work is one way we can be good stewards of God’s creation.

But in order to work effectively and create value, we need the right environment. Only when there’s a setting where we understand how to cooperate and trade with one another within established guidelines can we serve one other effectively through our work. This sort of environment requires greater economic freedom.

What Is Economic Freedom?

Economic freedom is a measure of the ability of people from any race, gender, or faith to trade and use their gifts and skills to serve others. It is the best-known path to unleash the creativity of each individual.

Each year, economic freedom is measured empirically using an index. The authors of the Economic Freedom of the World Report (EFW) describe it this way:

Individuals have economic freedom when property they acquire without the use of force, fraud, or theft is protected from physical invasions by others and they are free to use, exchange, or give their property as long as their actions do not violate the identical rights of others….In an economically free society, the primary role of government is to protect individuals and their property from aggression by others. The EFW index is designed to measure the extent to which the institutions and policies of a nation are consistent with this protective function and the freedom of individuals to make their own economic decisions.

Economic freedom allows us to better practice the lesson of stewardship from the parable of the talents by multiplying the resources we are given.

It also gives us the best-tested chance to provide an opportunity society for all income levels, not just for the wealthy. In fact, if we are to live out our calling to care for the least of these, we should look more closely at economic freedom. If you care about life expectancy, child mortality, environmental performance, poverty reduction, civil rights, child labor and unemployment, you should care about economic freedom.

Economic freedom results in:

  • Higher life expectancy
  • Lower levels of child mortality
  • Better performing and cleaner environments
  • Higher incomes for the poor
  • Better protected civil liberties
  • Less child labor
  • Less unemployment
  • Higher per capita income

(Sources found here and here.)

There are many reasons Christians should be concerned with economic freedom—below are two chief reasons:

Reason #1: We Are Called to Work

We are created in the image of God and are created to work as one way of fulfilling his design for our lives. This applies to the mechanic as well as the missionary. God gifted each of us with unique skills and a unique purpose.

Snowflakes provide a helpful analogy. When we look out the window during a snowstorm, we see white dots peppering the sky rather than the intricacy of the individual snowflakes. Yet if we put those snowflakes under a microscope, we see that each one is unique. If one watches a televised football game and sees the fans in the seats from a distance, they all look very similar; however, up close, each one of them is different.

Such uniqueness is part of God’s design. It allows us to come together in cooperation with each other. If we were all the same, we would have less incentive to cooperate and would also be able to do little, if anything, to help one another or to make life better. Economic freedom provides opportunities for people to unleash their gifts through work and thereby serve the world.

Reason #2: We Are Called to Serve the Poor

We are told in scripture that the righteous care about justice for the poor (Is. 1:17). Christians believe that poverty is an affront to human dignity. Justice means enabling the poor to elevate their dignity by helping them escape the trappings of poverty. There is no better way of organizing a society to lift people out of poverty than global markets that are supported by economic freedom.

According to a Brookings report, nearly half a billion people escaped living at or below the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Never in history have so many found liberation from poverty in such a short time. The report goes on to say that the change is driven by the highest levels of sustained economic growth ever recorded in the developing world.

The principles of economic freedom provide a blueprint for human flourishing.

Markets, then, exist within a setting of economic freedom. They consist not of a physical place, but as a tool for us to coordinate and cooperate with one another. They bring people together to trade their time and talents in the service of others. For example, greater flourishing fostered by economic freedom ensures that poor women can open businesses without being overburdened by regulations and other barriers that would keep them in poverty.

Most people in the developing world do not live in an institutional environment that supports earning an income through serving others. Many nations are plagued by corrupt governments and abject poverty. In these countries, people are forced to focus on mere survival because the average citizen lives on less than $1.90 per day.

The African woman who walks four miles to get dirty water for her family and then carries it back four miles with children in tow, just to repeat the process tomorrow, needs an opportunity to earn an income through serving others. She, too, was born uniquely in the image of God and needs a chance to offer her skills to the world. (Check out this video, “Why Economics Matters,” to explore this idea further.)

But some object to the idea of markets as a means to lift people out of poverty, being concerned that markets only consist of winners and losers. Not true. Christians should understand that material wealth earned through market competition is not a zero-sum game, meaning, if I win it’s not because you lose. Rather, wealth creation requires that both parties in a transaction benefit, persuading each party to serve the other.

Though economic freedom is not an end in and of itself, it reflects certain biblical truths and provides a framework for helping Christians and others to understand how to promote higher levels of flourishing in a fallen world through their work.

Editor’s note: Learn more about the call to flourish and how economic freedom can help lift people out of poverty in Be Fruitful and Multiply: How Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.

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