THOUGHTS ON ECONOMICS

A STUDY BY
GARY RAY BRANSCOME


   
    Since the truth of God's Word transcends all human ideology, when we view economics from a Biblical perspective, it does not come down to communism verses capitalism or even a matter of supply and demand, instead it is a matter of human action. And human action, defined as "purposeful behavior aimed at bringing about a more desirable state of affairs," will inevitably involve moral choices (see "Human Action" by Ludwig Von Mises). It is in regard to these moral choices that the Bible relates to the field of economics. Therefore, while the Bible does not deal directly with economic theory, it does provide certain basic principles, and a moral foundation that is basic to all legitimate economic activity.

THE RIGHT TO PROPERTY


    By driving Adam out of the Garden of Eden, and telling him that in the future he would have to work for a living, God, in effect, gave Adam and his descendants the fruit of their labor to live by (Genesis 3:17-19). Moreover, since the very concept of working for a living assumes the right of the worker to keep the fruit of his labor, that God-given right is basic to a sound economy (Exodus 20:15).

    In order to understand how vital the right to property is to the economy, try to picture life in a country where thieves have a free hand and theft is never punished. In such an environment, one business after another would be bankrupted due to theft. In order to survive some businesses would begin to cheat the hired help, and hold back wages whenever possible (Leviticus 19:13). Other business would take advantage of the poverty and unemployment resulting from theft, to offer the lowest possible wage (Malachi 3:5). At the same time, few people would chose to go into business, or even try to get ahead, because any evidence of prosperity would only attract the attention of thieves. In such a state of affairs, the entire nation would soon be reduced to poverty.

    Going one step further, try to visualize life in a nation where theft by individuals is condemned and punished, but where rulers use the law to rob the people. If a man is wealthy he might be falsely accused of a crime and his property confiscated. If he builds a successful business it might be "nationalized." No matter how hard he works he is only allowed to keep enough of his wages to provide him with the basic necessities (from each according to his ability, to each according to his need). If he tries to start a business he is required to pay stiff fees. If he gives someone a job his taxes go up. If he lays someone off he pays an unemployment tax. If he purchases equipment he pays tax on it. If he buys raw materials he pays tax on them. If he forms those raw materials into products he pays more tax. If he sells those products he is taxed again. If he improves his place of business taxes go up. If he makes a profit he pays a stiff capital gains tax. And if he dies his heirs must pay an inheritance tax. In short the harder a man works the more he has taken away from him. Isn't it clear that such oppression will drain the economy and reduce the standard of living just as surely as open theft?

    At this point someone is sure to point out that the Bible tells us to pay our taxes. However, the Bible also tells us to turn the other cheek, yet that fact does not make it right for people to go around slapping us in the face. If rulers provide us a service by protecting our life, liberty and property then they must be paid for that service. In fact taxes are simply the bill for that service. Nevertheless, the Bible also makes it plain that rulers are not to over charge us for their services. Nor are they to abuse the power to tax, either to make themselves rich or to appear as benefactors at our expense. [Luke 22:25,26, Matthew 17:24-27, Exodus 20:15, Leviticus 19:11, 1 Timothy 1:1,2, Romans 13:1-6.]

THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND LIBERTY


    Our right to life and liberty is as important to a sound economy as our right to property. In fact, since life and liberty are something we possess, in a certain sense they could be regarded as our property. At any rate, by condemning murder and manstealing God has given us the right to life and liberty (Exodus 21:16, 1 Timothy 1:10). Moreover, even though the Law of Moses did not forbid slavery in every circumstance, it was strictly limited and believers were to be restored to liberty after a period of indenture (Exodus 21:2, Leviticus 25:10).
    
    In order to understand how our right to life and liberty relates to the economy, try to visualize a nation where life and liberty are not protected. Since everyone would live in constant fear of being killed or enslaved, each person would become a law unto himself. Because the future would be uncertain, people would live for the present. At the same time, no one would pay good wages because slaves could he made to work for nothing. As a result, honest work would be soon despised as the role of slaves, while idleness and self-indulgence would be exalted as the highest good.

    Therefore, in order for the economy of any nation to prosper, the law must protect the life, liberty, and property of all citizens, and the people, in turn, must respect the law (Proverbs 14:34, Ecclesiastes 8:11). At the same time, a division of power is needed so that rulers who abuse their office can be brought to justice (Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:14, Philippians 2:10). Beyond that, the government should not interfere in the lives of the people, but should leave them alone, allowing them the freedom to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1 Timothy 1:9, 1 Timothy 2:2).

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS


    A system of government that respects and secures our God-given right to life, liberty and property will not automatically produce prosperity. Instead, it will provide people with an opportunity to improve their lot in life, coupled with the security they need to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Moreover, while people from different cultural backgrounds may use that opportunity differently, a Christian should view such opportunity as an opportunity to serve (Philippians 2:5-7).

    As Christians we should never view business as simply a way of getting someone else's money, nor should we view profit as something to be gotten by charging more for a product than it is worth (Exodus 20:17, Amos 8:5). If God has given us a job, He has given us a way of serving others, and honesty requires us to give equal value for value received. For example: If God has called you to be a banker then He has called you to help others financially. If He has called you to be a baker, He has called you to serve others by preparing food for them. If you are a carpenter, you serve others by helping them build and repair things. If you are a plumber, you serve by fixing pipes. If you are a storekeeper, you serve by making goods available (1 Corinthians 10:31). Moreover, if someone decides to pay for your service they should not do so because they were tricked or had no choice, but because it is to their advantage to earn the money needed to hire you, rather than doing the work themselves. Therefore, from the Christian perspective everyone profits from a business transaction, and that honest and honorable approach to enterprise is fundamental to our economy.

    The importance of this Christian approach can be seen more clearly when it is contrasted with the approach taken in most of the world until just a few years ago. Instead of viewing wealth as the increase, which comes with God's blessing (such as the increase of Abraham's flocks), the non-Christian world tended to equate wealth with money. Moreover, since the amount of money is fixed it was usually assumed that gain must come at the expense of someone else. Therefore, in order to make a gain the aim was not to give value for value received, but to give less than what is received in order to profit at someone else's expense. That is essentially why the orient was long equated with shoddy merchandise, a reputation which it has only recently overcome by emulating western values.

CONCLUSION


    Such economic values as pride in workmanship, the importance of a good reputation, honesty in advertising, and guaranteed customer satisfaction are rooted in God's Word. The blessing those values have bestowed upon our society illustrates the wisdom behind them. However, greed all too often blinds people to what is best for them in the long run. A storeowner may jack up prices just because he has little competition, yet alienate his customers, so they are glad to give their business to someone else. A Company may offer shoddy merchandise, with little thought to the importance of building a reputation for quality, yet lose repeat sales along with customer confidence. In regard to such short sightedness, Francios Chateaubriant had this to say:
 
"There are two consequences in history: one immediate and instantaneously recognized; the other distant and unperceived at first. These consequences often contradict each other; the former come from our short run wisdom, the latter from long-run wisdom. The providential event appears after the human event. Behind men rises God. Deny as much as you wish the supreme wisdom, do not believe in its action, dispute over words, call what the common man calls providence "the force of circumstances" or "reason" but look at the end of an accomplished fact and you will see that it has always produced the opposite of what was expected when it has not been founded from the first on morality and justice." (quoted from "What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen" by Fredric Bastiat)
    
For further reading I recommend:
"The Law" by Fredric Bastiat
"What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen" by Fredric Bastiat
"The Wild Wheel" by Garet Garrett
“Dividing The Wealth” by Howard E. Kershner
"Economics In One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt
"Basic Economics" by Clarence B. Carson
"Human Action" by Ludwig Von Mises