Few things are as potentially divisive as economics. Whether as theory or practice, whole wars have been fought, elections won or lost, churches incorporated, and leaders assassinated in its name. Thinkers propose it as the only thing holding society together, the answer to all our problems, or the greatest evil oppressing helpless people all over the world.
Really, it's just the study of scarcity. Or, if you want a more elaborate explanation, it's the study of supply, demand, and the distribution of goods and services. Or, if you're looking for a head-scratcher, it's the art of elucidating short- and long-term effects of policies on every affected group.
Studying economics might not answer all your questions about it, but it will help you understand a little better why people act the way they do, and why every economy in the world seems on the brink of disaster right now. (Hint: it's not Reagonomics.) The exchange of money or goods for commodities and luxuries is one of the primary foundations of mankind as a social and political being, and that is precisely the domain of economics. Part science, part art, it's also an undeniable window into the nature of human appetite and desire.
There are all kinds of ideas about how that appetite can or should be regulated. Communists assume mankind is an animal unable to control himself so "benevolent" governments must step in (following violent revolution) to make sure no one attains more than his due. Socialism extends heavy government regulations to keep inequity in check. Free market capitalists see built-in controls that will maintain realistic prices and help the largest number of people more effectively.
Americans tend to fall into the last camp, largely by default since that's basically the economic system under which we operate. There are more government controls than are ideal for a free market in place, but for the most part citizens are allowed to buy, sell, trade and produce without the government stepping in and putting a stop to prosperity (as long as taxes get paid).
These books comprise both introductions to the study of economics, and commentaries on its use, misuse, and the proper Christian attitude toward it. One of our favorites is Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, an immensely readable introduction for laymen in which the one lesson is expounded through a series of lucid chapter essays.
Bear in mind that there is plenty more out there, and the books here represent a tiny fraction of a fraction of the views, theories and authors available. For instance, Milton Friedman basically invented American economics, and we carry none of his books, most of which are worth reading. While we tend to prefer guys like F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises (who taught Hazlitt), there's something to be said for investigating John Maynard Keynes and Robert Heilbroner. And that's just the tip of a very large hulking iceberg.
Sproul, Jr.'s Biblical Economics is more a stewardship manual than an econ text, and Vic Lockman's Biblical Economics in Comics also starts there, but moves on to more broad definitions and theory (great as a warm-up for kids, or a first look for clueless adults). Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics is a thorough prelude to serious economics study that nevertheless works its way from the ground up. The Uncle Eric books aren't all strictly economics texts, and none are overviews, but they will help impart a sense of various important aspects of the capitalist system, including money, inflation and business economics.
As Christians, our foremost goal in studying economics is to understand the appropriate biblical attitudes and practices we should pursue in relation to it. Gary North's provocative Honest Money is an honest attempt to show where the idea of "money" came from, who controls it, and why we shouldn't automatically associate it with government control. That doesn't mean we throw out whatever secular writers have to say—we carry some of their books, too.
We've tried to keep books about economics separate from books about personal finance. Balancing a checkbook and studying the philosophic basis for free enterprise aren't the same thing. As stewardship issues both should be investigated and evaluated, but for the sake of easy browsing we've put personal finance books elsewhere.
Once more: Christians need to understand economic principles so they can compare them to those found in Scripture and respond appropriately. One of our jobs as kingdom-advancing saints is to infiltrate culture and society on every level and turn it to account, to hold up God's standard and determine if the two are reconciled. Economics is just one of those societal levels, and these books are designed to help shed light on the issue from all sides.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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