Economics 101

What Should the Role of the United States Be in the World?

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Editor’s note: Dr. Anne Bradley was recently featured in an interview with Praxis Circle. Below are a few highlights of that conversation centered around business and economics from a Christian perspective. You can watch the interview in full here.

What can Christians learn from the growth of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America?

I think what we can learn is that reform is always possible. There’s no hopelessness. You can take an economy like China that for a long time was very poor, run by Communists, and hadn’t experienced an industrial revolution. Then, what happened in 1978? Little reforms. Not “welcome Capitalism,” but little land reforms, little mobility reforms. That’s just blossoming! Now, there’s a lot of work to do, but I think it’s a very encouraging thing to see. 

If you look at China and India alone, by the way, and you’re looking at the global poverty numbers, China alone accounts for 800 million people escaping poverty since 1978. So if you look at all of the data, China and India are doing a lot of the work. It’s profound! Together they have 2.6 billion people—that’s a lot of people who can escape poverty when we get things right. I would say that it’s possible and it doesn’t take as long as it used to. This reform happens much quicker than it did before.

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

What is America’s role in the world?

My answer to this question is probably a lot different from other people’s answers. I think our role is to trade with people. I think our role is to open our borders to goods and services from anywhere that it’s effective to get them because that makes not only us better off, but it makes everybody else better off.

To me, this is so clearly a biblical principle. We’re called to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the forgotten. How do we help the people in China who still live in poverty? How do we help the people who live in Ghana? How do we help the people who live in Venezuela? We find ways to trade with them. 

Globally, people look to the United States government for what to do. So if we can be a leader in opening up our policies of trade and exchange, other people will follow. I have to say, the news here has generally been good over the last forty years, lots of trade barriers have been reduced.

Maybe I can also answer the question by saying what I don’t think. I do not think that the US should take on a kind of imperialistic, “we need to intervene everywhere and make the world safe for democracy” Wilsonian sense. We’ve tried to do that before, it’s very expensive, and I think it doesn’t work.

If we want other places to have democratic freedoms, then they need to have free trade freedoms first. Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek wrote a lot about this: the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom. And the idea is that economic freedom is necessary for us to get political freedom and political reform. 

So what can the US do? Trade. Promote economic freedom. 

It’s that easy—it’s also that hard.

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

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