It's crazy to what extent money drives history. Man is born with appetite, and spends much of his life consuming....or at least trying to improve his circumstances. The United States Founders held the inalienable rights of man to be life, liberty and property, which casts a different light on "the pursuit of happiness" than that phrase typically conjures.
As Christians, we believe personal property to be a biblically defensible idea, that God entrusts each of us with material wealth as He sees fit, and calls on us to steward it wisely. But, as Christians, we must remember that the things we have belong to God, and understand that our wealth is useless unless we use it to expand and sustain His kingdom.
Broadly speaking, economics is the study of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. More broadly still, as Henry Hazlitt would have it, economics is the art of projecting the immediate and long-term effects of any policy for all the groups involved. For him, economic policy too often "helps" one group at the expense of one or several other groups.
Either of these definitions (or the more succinct "economics is the study of scarcity") demonstrate that the study of economics is many ways no more than the study of choices. Individuals and societies look to satisfy their wants and needs, and this satisfaction requires choices, sometimes to do without one thing in order to have another.
Attempts to take these choices out of the hands of the people abound. Marxist communism is the most extreme in recent memory (especially as exemplified by Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin); its professed aim of eradicating class distinctions and inequity is belied by the yawning gap between the impoverished and enslaved citizens and their overlords.
The word economics derives from two Greek words meaning "household" (oikos) and "law" (nomos). Economics at root, then, is household management (or management of the state when applied more broadly). It begins with individuals and private concerns (microeconomics) and filters up to governments and regulatory agencies (macroeconomics).
That is, when it's done right. Too often we expect the government to manage the economy for us at every level, and too often the government jumps at the chance to do so. Hazlitt's concern that governments (and those under them) reverse the order and attribute to governments power they don't inherently possess, when unheeded leads to the misallocation of funds and supposed "rescue" measures that are really shorthand for an encroachment on liberty in which governments rather than individuals are responsible for the stewardship of private property.
We see this often enough in the United States, especially in times of economic distress. People worry that without interventionist government measures the whole system will come crashing down, not understanding that the very idea of a free market brings with it built-in controls to help stabilize supply, demand and cost in uncertain times.
This doesn't mean free market capitalism is the answer to all our problems as a nation or as individuals. Even Dr. Gary North (a rabid defender of unregulated markets) points to spiritual renewal as the only answer to the oppression, moral anarchy, and economic instability that afflicts every nation under the sun that turns their back on God.
He also illustrates, however, how such reformation can lead to a more mature understanding of the way economic systems work and how they should be run and allowed to fluorish. Government intervention is usually invited primarily by those who don't "get" Hazlitt's definition of economics, or by the greedy.
Often those unable to manage their own wealth wisely hope to be given more by those who can. Government redistribution is predicated on this--group X doesn't have enough (usually through mismanagement), so we'll take from group Y (who has plenty) and level the field. Too seldom does anyone ask why group Y should be punished for the sins of group X.
At the same time, it's imperative that we remember those in need. Maybe the government shouldn't force us to help the hungry, cold, and unsheltered, but as Christians we should willingly do so on our own. Who is your neighbor? Look around. Members of Christ's Body must go one step further, though--our brothers and sisters are any professing our Lord until His return, and many of them (most of them, even) are far worse off materially than we are. We shouldn't be compelled to help them, we should want to help them.
The Christian as economist ultimately has only one duty: to ensure the policies and theories he embraces are consistent with the Bible and a godly understanding of the world. We can't isolate economics from other studies, and certainly not from our theology. Whether you're a Keynesian, a Christian socialist, an adherent of the Austrian School, or a Friedmanite is fundamentally immaterial compared to your dedication to thinking about economics as a follower of Jesus Christ.
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.
Did you find this review helpful?