Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise

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He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Luke 10:27

I’m often asked why Christians should care about economics. In reply, I refer to Abraham Kuyper’s famous quote from his Sphere Sovereignty essay, given at the inauguration of the Free University in Amsterdam in 1880:

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’

This holds for economics as well. Economic truths are truths. They don’t stand outside God’s dominion.

When we take the time to learn basic economic facts, we are exploring an area of God’s dominion that he has given us to cultivate. When we engage with economic truths, we practice loving the Lord with all our mind. We have a heart for God, but do we have a mind for him as well? Economics is a tool we can use to obey commands like that given in Luke 10:27.

Thinking as a Christian about economics doesn’t mean we just paste some Bible verses on our economic views so that they sound biblical. It means taking the core truths of the faith and using them to cast new light on unexplored territory.

And there is a lot of unexplored territory when it comes to economics.

There is a lot to explore regarding free market economics, specifically. Yet many of us worry about capitalism, or the free market system, or free enterprise, however you describe it.

Some of the problems result from the words themselves, which can conjure up images of greedy money-changers.

Some of our qualms stem from our everyday experience of greedy bosses and the rampant consumerism we see around us, or from our frustration that poverty continues to exist even in the United States.

Some of our concern comes from fraud in companies like Enron. And some comes from the biases of media and academics, who more often than not, are still hostile to free market ideas.

When I use words like free enterprise or the free market, I am referring to:

An economic system with rule of law, secure rights of private property and contracts, in which individuals and businesses are largely free to buy, sell, and trade goods and services with each other without coercion, and in which the prices of goods and services are largely shaped by the underlying supply and demand, rather than political fiat.

Terminological twitches aside, most of the problems people have with free enterprise derive from believing eight myths about the system. These intellectual impediments prevent us from the seeing the virtues of the free economy.

You may be asking the following questions. Many Christians are starting to ask them:

1. Can’t we build a just society?

2. What does God require of us as Christians?

3. Doesn’t capitalism foster unfair competition?

4. If I become rich, won’t someone else become poor?

5. Isn’t capitalism based on greed?

6. Has Christianity ever really embraced capitalism?

7. Doesn’t capitalism lead to an ugly consumerist culture?

8. Do we take more than our fair share? That is, isn’t our modern lifestyle causing us to use up all the natural resources?

These are all good questions. To get the right answers, though, you have to avoid the eight myths about the free enterprise system. These myths are impediments preventing us from seeing the virtues of a free economy:

1. The Nirvana Myth

2. The Piety Myth

3. The Zero-Sum Game Myth

4. The Materialist Myth

5. The Greed Myth

6. The Usury Myth

7. The Artsy Myth

8. The Freeze Frame Myth

In the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring these myths in-depth from a biblical and economic perspective. Until then, I encourage you to consider why economics should be important to Christians. Also think about what your qualms with the free market might be, or why you might be predisposed to ignore economics.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on either of these questions.

This post is adapted from the book Money, Greed, and God

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