Economics 101

Why We Shouldn’t Salvage Marx

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We shouldn’t salvage Marx.

This statement may sound like good, old-fashioned common sense.

His ideas, adopted by some of the most vicious central planners in history, have led to untold devastation and destruction of human life and flourishing.

As Christians, this should concern us because we are called to care about flourishing and creating the conditions for human life to flourish on this earth.

The Anti-Flourishing Theorist

I had the pleasure of attending a roundtable discussion last Thursday night at the American Enterprise Institute. The roundtable discussed economic liberty and human flourishing.

Economist Deirdre McCloskey was one of the panelists. I was excited to hear what she had to say, as I always am. She is one of the most profound economic historians of our time. She also used to be a Marxist, making her thoughts on Marx all the more compelling.

McCloskey spoke about what we can learn from Marx concerning economic liberty and its relationship to flourishing.

Her answer: there is nothing to be saved from Marx.

Not only is there nothing to be redeemed from Marx, she said, but all efforts to implement Marxism (think of Stalin and Mao) have resulted in the opposite of human flourishing. McCloskey calls Marx an anti-flourishing theorist.

Perhaps It’s Cliché, but Ideas Have Consequences

I dragged my entire class of undergraduates to this talk in the pouring rain on a Thursday night to hear something that might seem to you like well-understood history because, as McCloskey reminded the audience, “Ideas have consequences.”

Ideas matter. They matter for our lives, our decisions, and what we think the future can and should look like.

Marx’s ideas have had devastating consequences on ordinary people. Many were starved to death or executed in gulags. Ideas matter.

We shouldn’t develop our vision of what the world should look like without assessing the appropriate means to achieve that vision. This is what Marx and his followers failed to do, and it’s why McCloskey recommends we walk away from Marx. For good.

Ideas + Faith

Evangelicals understand that ideas have consequences. Ideas, along with faith, have driven many of our actions in the public square.

Christians have fought for the lives of the unborn loudly and with some effect because we believe ideas concerning the value of human life, and rejecting that value harms human beings who cannot fight for themselves.

We need to apply this same zeal and persistence to the fight for lives already born. We must stand against political and economic systems that destroy God’s image bearers.

Advocating for Freedom on All Fronts

It’s easy to fight against corrupt dictators because their sins are so transparent and repugnant. Yet we must fight for economic, political, and religious freedom in systems where sins are not so egregious. Lives still hang in the balance.

This is why we should toss Marx and his followers and question ourselves anytime we think about limiting the ability of others to make decisions about the stewardship of their lives.

God calls us to good stewardship. We are to use our creativity to cultivate his creation, and we each do this uniquely through our callings. When we are free to cultivate well and offer our gifts to others through voluntary trade, we have the privilege of serving many people.

The Right Means for Flourishing

Pursuing greater biblical flourishing requires having the right means at our disposal:

  • Fostering good stewardship over all life’s choices.
  • Encouraging value-creation and the service of strangers through voluntary trade.
  • Not limiting the choices of others to steward their lives.
  • Fostering sound economic thinking enabling us to live in a society where we all serve each other, believer and non-believer alike.

Marx sounds like he desired a society where we could flourish. Sadly, his system of thought and its followers have decreased, not increased, human flourishing.

As McCloskey noted in her talk, we need an ethical base for flourishing. It’s not some sterile concept conceived in a vacuum and deployed on society.

To say we want freedom is a great start, but plotting out the best means to achieve it is hard work. We must change the hearts and minds of as many people as we can. Freedom is the best means for fulfilling our God-given job description to unleash our creativity on his creation and make more of it than we were given.

To do this, we must start with the right ideas.

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