Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
My colleague Art Lindsley has discussed the importance of connecting intellect with faith. The Biblical basis for this rests in Jesus’ command to love God with all our minds, a command that concerns our intellect.
If Christ’s dominion extends over the whole of creation, why is economics often treated as if it is exempt from His reign? If all truths are God’s truth, why do we act as if our intellect is exempt from discerning truth in the discipline of economics?
Understanding Economic Truths
Religious believers and others concerned with moral questions involving society simply must have some rudimentary understanding of economics.
I’m not talking about math-heavy economics, nor the stuff one learns and forgets in a basic Macro- or Microeconomics course. I’m not talking about the ideological and political assumptions that various economists make.
I’m talking about that collection of basic analyses, clarifications, arguments, ways of reasoning, and discoveries we’ve made about the economic realm in the last few hundred years.
We might call them the core descriptive truths of economics. These would include those things that many economists across the political spectrum would agree on, such as:
- Incentives matter.
- The intended purpose of a policy or an action, and the consequence of the action, are two different things.
- There is a well-understood relationship between the price of a good or service, and its supply and demand.
- Well-developed property and titling laws promote economic growth.
- There is a high correlation between a society’s economic freedom and its economic growth over time.
- Strong central economic planning tends to cause severe economic distortions such as shortages and over-production.
There are dozens of these truths. Notice that none require any hard math. Some of these can be understood simply by reflecting carefully on the matter. Many can be and have been confirmed empirically.
Economics truths are descriptive truths. They tell us what a certain segment of reality is like: economic truths explain how humans organize themselves and exchange various scarce goods and services.
Ethics & Economics
What makes economics peculiar from other disciplines is that most people feel perfectly capable of making judgments on economic matters without knowing anything about them.
Mature adults normally hesitate to issue pronouncements on most subjects of which they are ignorant. Few adults who have completely forgotten the periodic table of the elements, for instance, would venture to say with any confidence what would happen if they were to mix mercury and beryllium.
Not so with economics.
People offer opinions on economics with little awareness that there is anything they might need to learn beforehand. I’m convinced that part of the reason for this is that many people think economics is intuitively obvious and is more or less the same as ethics.
These assumptions are both wrong. While one can learn to “think economically,” most of us first have to learn certain counterintuitive truths of economics. We also have to overcome certain “myths” that we tend to pick up from the surrounding culture.
The confusion of economics with ethics is subtle. Economics helps explain the way reality is. However, economics won’t tell you whether a person or a business or a government ought to do something. That’s the job of ethics.
As Christians, we’re obligated to bring our faith to bear on Biblical commands. Economics is a tool we can use to faithfully carry out these imperatives. We need a rudimentary understanding of economics if we want to faithfully and effectively care for the poor or be good stewards of creation, for example.
Otherwise, our moral convictions are very likely to lead us to support policies that either backfire or actually harm those we hope to help.
To think clearly and act prudentially in the economic realm, we must learn to integrate economics with faith and ethics. That’s easier said than done, of course, but the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics is committed to this endeavor.
This post is adapted from an article originally published on IndivisibleReview.com.
What do you think? Why should you care about integrating faith & economics?