Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

The Rich, the Poor, and the Significance of Wealth Creation

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Understanding the role of wealth creation brings new significance to our daily lives because we are all wealth creators, rich or poor. But how is this true? How should Christians understand wealth and poverty as it relates to our faith?

Here are a few points I’ve found helpful as I wrestle with this question.

1. Love of wealth is evil. Wealth creation is not.

There is a difference between the love of wealth and wealth creation. The love of wealth is idolatry, it’s greed – the Bible is very clear in condemning this vice. But that doesn’t mean that people are evil because they create and possess wealth. Dr. Glenn Sunshine explains this further in his series on wealth & poverty:

Although Scripture has some very harsh things to say about the wealthy, this does not mean that all of them are evil or under divine judgment. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job were rich and yet were also approved by God. Just as poverty doesn’t guarantee virtue, wealth does not guarantee vice…the wealthy are not necessarily corrupt.

According to Anne Bradley, IFWE’s vice president of economic initiatives, wealth can be defined as any value added to society. It is created when a farmer creates a more efficient and sustainable growing method, or when a student starts an academic club on campus, or when a mother teaches her daughter how to bake. These are not evil activities.

Because we all possess unique God-given gifts, we all have the potential to create wealth in society.

2. Physical poverty is not spiritual poverty.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible referencing the poor is Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Does this mean the materially poor are more virtuous than the wealthy? Not exactly.

Sunshine also argues that poverty is not a guarantee of virtue or righteousness because the Bible is realistic about the causes of poverty: some people can become poor through no fault of their own, or they can make foolish decisions. In this verse, Jesus is referring to spiritual poverty, not physical poverty. Sunshine says,

 The issue isn’t poverty per se, but rather the attitude of humility and reliance on God that it can produce in us. This is why Matthew’s version of the beatitude isn’t just “Blessed are the poor,” but “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

This is not to say that physical poverty is unimportant. Though the Bible often talks about spiritual poverty, many cases refer to physical poverty, too: those who are naked, hungry, and homeless.

And scripture is very clear that we aren’t to stand idly by and not help the poor. The wealthy are condemned throughout the Bible for ignoring the destitute. We are all called to act – the question is how do we act towards the poor?

3. The pie is not fixed.

Since the Bible does not prescribe a specific system or policy for how we are to best help the poor, it is helpful to draw from economic knowledge and apply it to biblical principles to properly understand wealth and poverty.

One important principle economics teaches us is that wealth is not a fixed pie. Some view commerce as a zero-sum game: if I win, you lose. Dr. Anne Bradley explains the problem with the fixed pie fallacy in a previous post:

 Many people view the economy as a pie.  If I take a piece of pumpkin pie, that piece is gone forever. So what is left must be rationed out to everyone else. The economy, however, is dynamic and always changing; it’s not ‘one-size’. It grows because when we trade we both benefit. It’s not a “taking-game”, it’s a “serving-game.” And the economy is wealth-creating. I only benefit if I create something that serves others. If they don’t want it, they choose not to purchase it and thus I must redirect my creativity and resources.

The zero-sum assumption misses the fact that entrepreneurs can grow the pie of wealth through their ideas and resources. If we demonize wealth and misunderstand economics, we run the risk of actually increasing poverty. Father Robert Sirico makes this argument in his book Defending the Free Market: A Moral Case for a Free Economy:

We cannot let the fear of our own moral failings in the face of material abundance lead us to embrace views and policies that will cut off millions of our brothers and sisters from climbing out of destitution. We cannot let our own mishandling of wealth condemn others to poverty.

Debunking the fixed pie fallacy has huge implications for poverty relief methods. If the pie isn’t fixed and we all have the ability to create wealth, enterprise serves as an imperative tool in addressing long-term relief.

Finally, we are all, rich or poor, equally significant in the eyes of God. We are created with equal dignity and unique gifts. When we reach out to the least of these, we look at them with the same dignity that Christ sees in them. We are called to help the poor in a way that unleashes their gifts and greatest potential.

What are your thoughts on wealth and poverty? Is wealth creation evil? Is wealth creation a fixed pie? Leave your comments here

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