At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

What Is Our Role In Human Flourishing?

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On this earthly journey we as Christians have the chance to bring hope into the lives of others through our work. We can lead others to better material conditions, such as:

  • Longer lifespans.
  • Less sickness and death from disease.
  • Less poverty and suffering.

When we live out our vocations through work, we are being salt and light in our culture. This gives us not only the opportunity to improve the material conditions mentioned above, but spiritual ones as well. We can share the hope of the gospel. Romans 8:24-25 tells us,

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 

The hope we can bring about will be brought in full when Christ returns. That’s why, when we talk about the Kingdom of God, we often use the phrase “now but not yet.” We act as agents of hope when we live out our vocations through work. But only Christ will fulfill and complete the hope for which we wait patiently.

When we act as agents of hope, when we work to improve the material and spiritual conditions of our world, we are offering a glimpse of the restoration Christ will complete when he returns.

How do we work to bring about flourishing while we await Christ’s return? Economics helps direct our actions to their most effective use. Economic theories, and public choice theory in particular, help us understand the roles and limitations of the  market, the state, and ourselves in promoting human flourishing.

What can the market do?

The market functions as a coordinating mechanism. It carefully allocates resources through prices, profits and loss, and property rights. In this way it does what no one person can do – it harnesses the knowledge of countless people dispersed across the globe.

For example, the wood we harvest from trees has multiple and competing uses: houses, buildings, furniture, paper products, and more. Through prices, profits, and losses, the market tells producers how to best allocate the wood to best meet the most pressing needs of consumers.

What can the state do?

The state has an important and effective role in preserving an environment where people can flourish by allowing individuals  to live, work, and exchange at the individual’s discretion. The state can preserve the rule of law and protect private property rights. It can also protect our rights to live, work, and worship as we choose. An effectively limited state can indeed contribute to flourishing by protecting both these rights and market functions.

What the state cannot do is create wealth. It cannot effectively allocate resources, like the wood in the example above, because no one person possess all the necessary knowledge to coordinate that allocation. The state can transfer wealth, but because it does not operate using the functions of prices, profits, and loss, it cannot create wealth for others.

What can we do?

Economic theories often come across as impractical and irrelevant to our daily lives. Economic theories are relevant to us, however. Understanding them helps us to know where to focus our energy in terms of applying our skills and gifts towards changing the world.

These theories also help us understand how our work matters and how it benefits others. In helping us gain a larger perspective on how society works, economics gives us great comfort in the fact that the work God has called us to do is significant and important.

Have you ever felt that your job as a store clerk or computer technician isn’t important? The insights into markets and politics that public choice theory and other economic principles provide help us understand that these jobs are quite important. They are signs of flourishing that you are a part of bringing about.

Only in a world of significant economic growth can we even have jobs like computer technicians and store clerks. These jobs are not possible in most developing countries.

The flourishing your job contributes to enables you to create opportunities for others to flourish through their work. Markets beget more and more opportunities for ordinary people like you and me to use our creativity to help others flourish.

Understanding how and why this comes about is why we focus our energies on better understanding economics. As we grow in our knowledge of the relationship between faith and economic principles, we can better grasp how to work for the flourishing of those around us.

What roles do you think the market, the state, and we as human beings play in promoting flourishing? Leave your comments here

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