Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, July 20, 2007
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Bringing to your attention two recent publications by Journal of Markets & Morality contributors:

The first is Less Than Two Dollars a Day: A Christian View of World Poverty aand the Free Market, by Kent Van Til, published by Eerdmans.

The second is Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy, and Life Choices, by Victor Claar and Robin Klay, published by InterVarsity.

Based on a quick perusal, I guess that the latter entry is a little more sanguine about the achievements and potential of free markets with respect to Christian social obligations. Regardless, both books take seriously both economics and theology, a rare but necessary prerequisite for helpful analysis in this area.

All three authors, by the way, teach at Hope College.


  • Victor

    Thanks for passing this along. I do note, though, that the link for the Claar/Klay book is here:
    < http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=2597>

  • Link is fixed. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Nathan Klay

    This is in reply to Kevin Shmiesing’s “New Books Update” regarding:

    Kent Van Til’s “Less Than Two Dollars a Day: A Christian View of World Poverty and the Free Market”

    and

    Claar and Klay’s “Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy, and Life Choices”

    It is important to point out that the two books are radically different. The primary concern I have is that Kent Van Til does not seem qualified to be writing books that purport to fairly explain economic theory on poverty. His concern is Christian ethics and building a Christian distributive justice theology into a world free-market economy.

    What he may fail to understand is that markets are not ethical “machines”… they’re just markets.

    There is no way to “design” a “better” economy, because the power and essence of a free-market economy comes from its being a decentralized network of exchanges that are not planned. It is an emergent system with self-organizing properties.

    He proposes an economic system that guarantees equality of “both burdens and benefits” to participants in markets.

    I recommend that anyone interested in reading Van Til’s book have some coursework in theology AND at least one course in economics. This will be enough to realize the impossibility of Van Til’s suggestions.

    Theology may have some things to say about the way economics works, but one must begin rooted in economic theory if one is to participate in economic theory.

    Economists Claar and Klay wrote a book about economics. Being devout Christians, they decided that they would make as much reference as possible to theological/biblical connections. But they do not claim to be theologians. They do not propose an economic theory to improve theological ethics.

    The Christian content of their book comes from their being Christians. They do not purport to offer a new theology of distributive justice or a new ethical philosophy, because they are neither theologians nor philosophers.

    Kent Van Til is a professor of religion teaching courses in ethics and biblical studies. He has a B.A. from Calvin College and a Ph.D. from Marquette University. I have found no indication that he has a degree in economics, or that he has received any special training in the subject.

    Van Til’s main sources for his proposed economic system are Abraham Kuyper and Michael Walzer.

    Abraham Kuyper was a Dutch politician, journalist, statesman, and theologian (not an economist) who died in 1920. Modern macroeconomics didn’t even get started until Keynes’ (an economist) 1936 book “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.”

    Michael Walzer is a political theorist and writer on society, politics, and ethics. He has a Ph.D. in Government. I’m not sure what that means, but my guess is that we would call it “Political Science” today. Unfortunately, political scientists are hardly economists.

    Victor Claar has a Ph.D. in ECONOMICS from West Virginia University and Robin Klay has a Ph.D. in ECONOMICS from Princeton.

    Robin has lived, as much as Van Til, in the third world, including Latin America. She wrote her dissertation on migrant farm labor. She assisted César Chávez during his efforts to secure rights for Mexican farm laborers. She lived for three years in Cameroon. She has dedicated much of her life (and this is putting it mildly) to helping the poor of the third world and of her own town.

    Claar and Klay rely on standard economic theory because that is what too many Christians know absolutely nothing about.

    Christians have a Bible in their home to learn about God. If Christians want to learn about economics, maybe they should start by getting a book about economics.

    –Nathan Klay