Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

The Human Impact of Economic Freedom

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Tell me how I can encourage my people to flourish in Zimbabwe under a devastating economy, where jobs are being lost daily and the nation is virtually grinding to a halt with unemployment at 90% plus??

– Reverend Kevin Thomson

Reverend Thomson asked this question in response to last week’s post on the relationship between freedom and flourishing. Another reader from Zimbabwe responded with an insightful answer:

… let us support, acknowledge, encourage, nurture and network the marketplace gifts we have in our churches. People can barter goods and services – even those without money can trade [because] they have some skill or good someone else wants – and start doing business among each other. Let us encourage business to circulate amongst each other…

In addition to reminding us that everyone possesses God-given gifts and skills they can use to serve others (“even those without money can trade…”), this reader asks for something that is central to achieving and measuring the amount of flourishing in any given society: economic freedom, or the ability to freely “nurture and network marketplace gifts,” and “encourage business to circulate amongst each other.”

Economic Freedom and Flourishing

There are many reasons why Christians would find it helpful to understand economic freedom as they work to promote greater flourishing for everyone by making advances in those freedoms. As Dr. Bradley and I noted earlier, an understanding of economic freedom is essential to practicing good stewardship.

For Christians, economic freedom is not an end in and of itself. It is a means to to the end of bringing about shalom. Economic freedom is powerfully coordinated with many things Christians need to create and spread flourishing. In addition, it is negatively correlated with things that do not improve human well-being.

Before diving into what economic freedom is, however, an examination of its results will prove helpful. The results we will highlight include:

  • Life expectancy
  • Infant mortality
  • Quality of healthcare
  • Abject poverty rates in the developing world
  • Corruption levels
  • Environmental performance
  • Civil liberties

These characteristics serve as benchmarks of current levels of flourishing, how societies compare with each other, and what people can do to help those who are suffering. These results are just a sampling, but they represent some important aspects of flourishing today.

Life Expectancy

Economic freedom is correlated with living longer, healthier lives. This is one of the most obvious distinctions between the developed and the developing world. The life expectancy gap between the most free and the least free countries is eighteen years. This means that many people in free countries get to experience the happiness of seeing and getting to know their great-grandchildren, while many people in less free countries will not live long enough to experience that same joy.

Prior to the explosion of economic growth fostered by greater economic freedom and robust markets in the Western world, life expectancy in the United States was much lower than it is now. Economic freedom makes this – and the continual advances that increase lifespan – possible.

Figure 1: Economic Freedom and Life Expectancy at Birth, 2010

Infant Mortality

In Genesis 22:17, God says to Abraham, “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.” The notion of flourishing appears in this promise to Abraham. It is not a static notion, but one God desires for every generation.

The rate of infant mortality in the least free countries is almost seven times that of the most free. Other outcomes, such as maternal mortality and the percentage of children who live past the age of five, have the exact same relationship with economic freedom.

This indicates that high levels of economic freedom have important consequences for women, the family, and for young children. Building strong families and having children is fundamental to the creation mandate and to stewardship. Economic freedom has a powerful impact on protecting and preserving the life of the most vulnerable.

Economic Freedom and Infant Mortality, 2010
Figure 2: Economic Freedom and Infant Mortality, 2010

Next week we’ll examine the other results of economic freedom and what they mean for human flourishing.

This series is adapted from IFWE’s white paper, “Economic Freedom and the Path to Flourishing.” Read the paper in full. Dr. Anne Bradley serves as co-author. 

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