Category: Economics

eye“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” –Proverbs 3:13-14

In Episode 5 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Evan Koons asks about the purpose of knowledge, wondering whether it’s simply a means to greater levels of self-fulfillment, or if there’s something more. “Is knowledge just a tool that we use to leverage to get more stuff?” he asks.

On the contrary, as he goes on to learn, “knowledge is a gift, and like all gifts in God’s oikonomia, it points us outside of ourselves.” As we participate in the Economy of Wisdom — whether through education, research, or innovation — we have a remarkable opportunity to love greater and serve better, further uncovering the mysteries and abundance of God, and sharing the wonder of his glory with the world around us.

Economists continue to affirm the creative power of human collaboration in generating new ideas, innovations, and discoveries that on the whole have improved our quality life and created enormous opportunities. Why, then, do Christians so often forget the breadth and depth, the aim and end of this core feature? For indeed, when paired with the whole-life transformation found in the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, which includes the renewing of our minds, such collaboration takes a whole new shape. Christians have unique call and contribution to this area, so if we hope to spread life and abundance to those in need across all areas of society, materially, socially, spiritually, and otherwise, having a rightly aligned perspective on the basic purpose of knowledge is essential. (more…)

scholarshipOver at The Gospel Coalition, Hunter Baker reviews Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship, a compilation of two convocation addresses given to Vrije Universiteit (Free University). He offers a helpful glimpse into Kuyper’s views on Christian scholarship, as well as how today’s colleges and universities might benefit from heeding his counsel.

Recommending the book to both students and university leaders, Baker believes Kuyper’s insights are well worth revisiting, particularly amid today’s “tremendous upheaval in higher education”:

All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers. The change is not the fault of the students so much as it is a consequence of the extraordinary rise in tuition prices during the past quarter century. Instead of seeing education as a good that enriches lives and provides learners with tools and habits useful to making a career, we’ve embarked on a course in which students all but demand to know which career and exactly how much money….

…Kuyper has much to say to both students and institutions in these century-old addresses. He would resist the transformation of the university into something more like a business. In light of his idea of sphere sovereignty, I think he’d say a school is a different kind of endeavor than a profit-making business—and I think he’d be right. Universities (including Christian ones, especially Christian ones) must find a way to reduce the market-driven nature of their activities…At the same time, students must place more emphasis on developing scholarly (in the best sense of the word) habits and less on simply progressing toward a credential.


entrepreneur-on-truck“Every single person on the face of the planet is created in God’s image. Everybody has the same heavenly Father. Everybody has capacity, talent, and ability. Everybody has responsibility. Everybody has stewardship responsibility. I don’t care what dirt hovel you’re living in, in Brazil or Mexico City or Manila. You have a responsibility to be a steward of the resources under your control because you have a heavenly Father who has put great things inside of you and that’s waiting to be called out and developed and extracted.” –Rudy Carrasco in PovertyCure

God has called each of us to whole-life transformation and redemptive stewardship, no matter who we are and where we are in life. This relies on a basic understanding of human dignity and a fundamental belief in our identity as co-creators with God the Father. Far too often, we distort or confuse this framework in small and subtle ways, often unknowingly and with well intentions.

Out of a concern for these types of subtle distortions, HOPE International, a Christian network of microfinance organizations, recently altered its mission statement, removing “the poor” and replacing it with “families.” Their mission is now “to invest in the dreams of the poor families in the world’s underserved communities as we proclaim and live the gospel.” (more…)

gift-of-magi-ohenry-della-jimAmid the wide array of quaint and compelling Christmas tales, O. Henry’s classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” continues to stand out as a uniquely captivating portrait of the power of sacrificial exchange.

On the day before Christmas, Della longs to buy a present for her husband, Jim, restlessly counting and recounting her measly $1.87 before eventually surrendering to her poverty and bursting into tears. “Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim,” the narrator laments. “Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.”

Wishing to buy him a new fob chain for his gold watch — his most valuable and treasured possession — Della decides to sell her beautiful brunette hair — her most valuable and treasured possession. “Rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters,” Della’s hair was so long “it made itself almost a garment for her.” And yet, shedding but a “tear or two,” she goes through with it, trading her lovely hair to secure the $20 needed to buy a present for Jim. (more…)

Good Seed, Good Soil, Abundant HarvestThe faith-work movement has risen in prominence across evangelicalism, with more and more pastors and congregations grabbing hold of the depth and breadth of Christian vocation and expanding their ministry focuses in turn.

In an article at Missio Alliance, Charlie Self offers a helpful snapshot this trend, explaining where we’ve come from and why this shift in arc and emphasis is a welcome development for the church. To demonstrate its power and promise, Self begins with the story of Scotty, a mechanic and member of Self’s church, who after 40 years in the business finally came to understand the fuller meaning and purpose of his work.

“Pastor Charlie, I just realized I am as much a minister as you are!” Scotty told him one day. “I meet people in crisis, have as much knowledge as some doctors, solve problems quickly and continually update my information and technology…not to mention keep up with all the regulations and taxes. People share their lives with me. What an awesome responsibility.” In addition to providing these basic services, Scotty lives a life of active generosity and evangelism, constantly reaching out and connecting the day-to-day material to the day-to-day spiritual in other people’s lives. “Scotty is helping an entire community flourish and he is part of God’s reign, bringing hope and justice for many,” he writes. (more…)

o-man-taller-facebookFor most of my life I was, at 5-foot-10, of exactly average height. But in the span of one day in 1989 I became freakishly tall.

While I hadn’t grown an inch upward, I had moved 6,000 miles eastward to Okinawa, Japan. Since the average height of native Okinawans was only 5-foot-2, I towered over most every native islander by 8 inches. It was the equivalent of being 6-foot-6 in the United States.

Unfortunately, when I would leave the towns of Okinawa and step back onto the military base I instantly shrunk back to average height. My height advantage only lasted as long as I got to choose my point of reference.

Where did the truth lie? Was I truly tall or only of average height? The answer was completely dependent on my point of reference. Height, after all, is just a statistical artifact.

While this example may seem silly and rather obvious, it highlights how we our choice of what is a relevant standard of comparison can shape our thinking on important matters of economic policy. Take, for instance, the issue of poverty and income inequality. As Robert Higgs explains,

black-friday1For many, Black Friday epitomizes everything nasty American hyper-consumerism. Stores everywhere are plagued with overly aggressive shoppers, each stuffed to the brim with carb-laden Thanksgiving chow and yet ever-more hungry for the next delicious deal.

It’s all rather disgusting, no?

Quite the contrary, argues Chris Horst over at OnFaith. “Black Friday may have its warts, but let’s not forget the reason for the Black Friday season,” he writes. “The DNA of Black Friday is generosity.”

Wielding a fine mix of basic economics, Christian history, and some good old nostalgia, Horst encourages us to not get caught up in anti-consumerist dismay and instead kick off the holiday season with charity and cheer:

Black Friday commences the Christmas season. This year, Sunday commemorates the official start of the Advent season, but for most Americans, Black Friday initiates the nostalgia and cheer we love most about December. It orients our imaginations toward others and away from ourselves…It’s when Americans turn their attention away from turkey and football and toward buying gifts for one another. We move from Thanksgiving to generosity, shifting from gratefulness for what we have to open-handedness toward those around us…

…Even more, this event is good news for more than just festive shoppers. Black Friday is a big deal for our economy and, consequently, a big deal for all of us…The $600 billion we spend on FitBits, Patagonia ski jackets, and hand-thrown pottery doesn’t just evaporate when we spend it. Those purchases create and sustain livelihoods in garage workshops in our neighborhoods and in warehouses across the globe. They help hobbyists turn their handiwork into employment and give many around the world a shot at a decent job.

This Black Friday, suppress your inner Grinch when you’re tempted to share the story of yet another crazy person fighting over a scarce number of flat screen TVs. Embrace the redemptive side of Black Friday, one that celebrates this season of family and generosity and one that propels our economy forward.


Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, November 25, 2014

o-UNEMPLOYMENT-HEALTH-facebookFor many people the holiday season is their favorite time of the year. But for the 9 million Americans who are currently unemployed, this can be an especially difficult time. The feeling of hopelessness and despair that can come with looking for work often increase with the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Lauren L. Moy was recently unemployed during Thanksgiving and recalls the feelings of awkwardness when meeting with friends and relatives over the holidays. Moy offers recommendations for how to deal with unemployment at this time of year and why Christians have reason for hope:

2014-Thanksgiving-GraphicWhile it may not seem like it when you’re at the supermarket checkout, Americans benefit tremendously from relatively low food prices.

Consider the typical Thanksgiving feast. According to an informal price survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving meal for ten people is $49.41—less than $5 per person.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient not only to serve a family of ten, but to have leftovers.

That same meal a century ago would have been much more expensive. According to Business Insider, when adjusted for inflation the same meal for ten would have cost $167.77. One reason is that turkeys are considerably cheaper. A 16-pounder in 1911 prices would cost roughly $110 today (the AFBF says the average turkey today costs $21.65).

So when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, be sure to include prayer of thank that you don’t have to spend as much of our income on food as your ancestors.

071016_schoen_middleClass_hmed5p.grid-6x2In the latest edition of his monthly newsletter, Economic Prospect, John Teevan offers three keys to cultivating a flourishing middle class, as excerpted below:

  1. Income and Jobs: America looks at jobs and incomes alone and can only explain fading middle class by blaming rich people. We can do better than just focus on money. Isn’t life more than your job and what it will buy? …
  2. Marriage and Family. The middle class would swell and poverty would be decimated if all people were married. The endless single-parent homes are poor almost by definition. It’s practically a rule that you can’t be middle class if you have a child and are not married. Marriage makes it possible to attain other middle class values such as upward mobility, a house…filled with “nice” things, along with pleasant home life, free time, and feeling successful. Whether you ask CNBC’s Larry Kudlow or Rainbow Coalition’s Jesse Jackson they agree: the one thing that would help individuals and the nation with respect to poverty is for most people to get married. Kudlow recently said that, “…marriage gives people a reason to work, a home one hopes is stable, and children for whom two parents feel responsible” (Nov 11,2014 T-U).
  3. Values and Morals. Middle class morals and values may seem like a quaint topic, but you can’t have a middle class without them. At one time the middle class was divided between blue and white collar jobs. What’s crucial is that (a) both collars valued work for income and also as proof of competence and responsibility. (b) The middle class values education. Literacy was essential in 1900, by 1950 it was a high school degree, and now you need at least an Associate’s Degree to have the education needed for joining the middle class. (c) A sense of civic responsibility is another middle class value so that parents are involved in their children’s schooling, local government, church, and other not-for-profits. Shouting NIMBY at a zoning meeting does not count. (d) Decency. Decency didn’t mean that there was no bad behavior but that bad behavior was not considered the norm; decency was the norm, but no longer. You can have an income of $25,000 or 85,000, but without these values you are not middle class. Why do middle class people tend to be decent, moral, educated and civic? Because it makes a real difference to them and their families.

Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Echoing some of the key themes of his latest book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, Teevan proceeds to critique the modern tendency to focus only on #1 (income and jobs) to the detriment of family and values/morals.

As Teevan explains, “a robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home”:

We can’t have a middle class just by juicing incomes; it takes middle class values as lived out in families as well. Is this obsolete thinking? The alternative is to wonder if the middle class itself is obsolete. And what if it is? Then the world will be divided into well-educated high income people and all others who do basic service, construction, transportation, retail and manufacturing. One drawback of our high focus on business and economics is that it is accompanied by the idea that ethics and family are secondary or even optional. A robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home.

For more of Teevan’s views on inequality and justice, see his book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, which is now available from Christian’s Library Press, an imprint of the Acton Institute.

The above excerpt is from Teevan’s monthly email, Economic Prospect, which you can subscribe to by sending him a request.