Each Thanksgiving brings with it another opportunity to pause, meditate, and express our gratitude for the great blessings in life. As one who recently welcomed a new baby boy to my family, it seems particularly evident this season that the greatest blessings are not, after all, material.
Yet material need is a persistent obstacle, the dynamics of which wield significant influence over the entirety of our lives, from the formative effects of our daily work to the time, energy, and resources we pour out out in the service of others. Thus, it should be no surprise that Thanksgiving is often accompanied with reflections on the material: how we’ve been blessed with food in our bellies, shelter from the cold, a means to provide, and so on.
In the spirit of such reflections, Reason.tv released a nice, albeit excessively cheeky, video aimed at prodding our gratitude beyond the bread on the table and toward one of the systemic features that helps bring it from the field to the baker to the boca: property rights.
Examining an oft-repeated story about the Pilgrims’ transition from socialistic redistribution to free and diversified exchange, the video emphasizes the role that private property continues to play in turning service into surplus. (warning: moderate language)
The narrator concludes by encouraging us to “give thanks to the true patron of this holiday feast: property rights,” and here, I believe, a quibble and qualification is in order.
Though the role of property rights and free exchange in cultivating prosperity is vastly under-appreciated, in elevating such a feature, we should be careful to orient our thanks first and foremost to the Creator of all good things. Whatever property we manage, maintain, and multiply is his alone, and our activities ought to be oriented as such. Let us not forget; the true power and potential of property rights is in its freeing and empowering individuals to listen, obey, and respond more attentively to the call of Christ and the voice of the Holy Spirit.
As Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef explain in Faithful in All God’s House:
God makes man steward of his world. Who is man, asks the psalmist? He answers: “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet” (Ps. 8:5–6).
God makes man the master of his temporal household. Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer. For three score years and ten, more or less as the case may be, each of us is steward over those talents and those pounds allotted us by divine providence….As each has managed his stewardship, so will he be judged: “Well done, my good servant!” or, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:17, 27). The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will. The steward who does not obey the Master’s law rejects the Master’s authority and serves another. Our stewardship is the test: Do we mean to serve God or mammon, the Lord or the Devil?
Stewardship is, we repeat, key to the Christian life—and death, and judgment.
Property rights may be a patron of plenty of prosperity, but insofar as the Christian receives such blessings, the true patron — a lackluster term for the Supreme Investor — is he who entrusts us with these gifts in the first place.
So while this video helpfully prods us to look beyond the mutton and to the mechanism, allow me to prod us further to praise, thank, and stand in awe of the source of it all. Let us give thanks for economic freedom, certainly, but let us do so because it gives us an increased opportunity to strive and steward in the service of the Holy One.
Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded provides an introduction to what has been called "the economic way of thinking." This involves explaining some of the critical concepts and foundational assumptions employed in economics.