Theologian Wayne Grudem has teamed up with economist Barry Asmus to write a book on poverty entitled The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution. On this edition of Radio Free Acton, we explore the fundamentals of growth and human flourishing, and how Christians should understand economics and aid. You can listen via the audio player below.
Recently, Rev. Robert Sirico spoke in Chicago. He was asked a question regarding income inequality. His answer was that he didn’t care how much money Bill Gates had, nor did it matter to him the difference between Gates’ income and say, Warren Buffet’s. Nor did he care about the difference between how much wealth Gates has and his own personal income. No, Sirico said, what he cared about were the poor: those people so disconnected from the global marketplace that they were not able to live above subsistence level. How do we help them?
One popular answer right now is to “share the wealth.” Those with a lot of money should give a big chunk of it to the poor. Then everyone will be “even.” That seems reasonable, right?
Not so fast, says Rev. Dwight Longenecker, writing at his Patheos blog, Standing On My Head.
“No, those who labor and are heavy-laden do not all look the way Rembrandt drew them in his ‘Hundred Guilder’ picture—poverty-stricken, miserable, sick, leprous, ragged, with worn, furrowed faces. They are also found concealed behind happy-looking, youthful faces and brilliantly successful lives. There are people who feel utterly forsaken in the midst of high society, to whom everything in their lives seems stale and empty to the point of nausea, because they can sense that underneath it all, their souls are decaying and rotting away. There is no loneliness like that of the fortunate.”
“Being Godly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be wealthy. God makes no such guarantees in the Bible, so goodbye, prosperity gospel…[But] God clearly is not opposed to wealth in a kind of blanket way. He’s not even opposed, necessarily, to tremendous wealth, gobstopping amounts of money.” –Owen Strachan
In a lecture for The Commonweal Project at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Owen Strachan tackles the tough subject of whether it’s morally wrong for Christians to make lots of money. His answer: “No. But it could be.”
Although the unprecedented prosperity of the last century has been accompanied by unprecedented amounts of guilt and self-loathing, Strachan argues that “the focus of a true Biblical theology of wealth would be on how money is a gift from God.” Surely we need to be wary of the unique temptations that come with wealth, but when dedicated to, consecrated by, and stewarded in attentive obedience to God and the Holy Spirit, “it can be nothing less than an engine, a mighty engine, for spiritual good,” Strachan argues. (more…)
“The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.”
The stat was quoted last month in a report by the development organization Oxfam, but similar claims have become common. You’ve probably seen this statistic—or one like it—before in articles about economic inequality and assumed they must be somewhat true.
But they aren’t. In reality, they are completely meaningless.
One of the problems is that the comparisons are based on net worth (assets minus liabilities). If you aggregate all the people who have a negative net worth into one category and call them the “bottom half” then you come up with some peculiar conclusions. As Felix Salmon says, “My niece, who just got her first 50 cents in pocket money, has more money than the poorest 2 billion people in the world combined.”
Teaching our children about the value and virtues of hard work and sound stewardship is an important part of parenting, and in a privileged age where opportunity and prosperity sometimes come rather easily, such lessons can be hard to come by.
In an effort to instill such virtues in my own young children, I’ve taken to a variety of methods, from stories to chores to games, and so on. But one such avenue that’s proven particularly effective has been taking in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, a remarkably artistic set of 75 animated shorts produced from 1929 to 1939.
Spun from a mix of myths, fables, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and original stories, the cartoons evolved from simple, musical cartoons to cohesive tales that offer ethical lessons. Although the whole series is well worth taking in, I’ve provided highlights of 8 particular cartoons that have struck me as quite powerful. Each offers a splendid mix of humor and artistry that you’d be hard pressed to find in today’s cartoons, but they also offer healthy prods to the imagination when it comes to how we approach work, wealth, and stewardship.
1. Beware of Short-Term Solutions — Three Little Pigs (1933)
Perhaps the most famous of the series, “Three Little Pigs” went on to win numerous awards and spur several off-shoot shorts. Unlike the traditional tale, it avoids the deaths of pigs 1 and 2, yet it still offers the same striking parallels to Jesus’ parable of the wise and the foolish builders. (more…)
Here in Grand Rapids, we are awaiting the beginning of ArtPrize (Sept. 24-Oct. 12.) For those of us who live or work in the city, we are seeing signs of it: posters hung in coffee shop windows, artists installing pieces, restaurants adding waitstaff, and venues getting spit-shined. It’s a big deal: in 2013, ArtPrize brought in 400,000+ visitors to this city, an estimated $22 million in net growth and hundreds of jobs. Not too shabby for an event that didn’t even exist a few short years ago.
The genesis of ArtPrize was the mind of Rick DeVos, a man focused on entrepreneurship and starting conversations. DeVos started ArtPrize not as a way to bring money to his hometown (“a happy accident“), but because:
…his forays into tech startups had made him love the democracy of the Internet and the possibilities afforded by crowdsourcing. Why not a contest with an open call for artists and an open vote? “I was always intrigued with the X-Prize model,” he said, referring to the $10 million prize offered for private-sector space flight. “This whole idea of putting a big prize out there and then putting as few rules around it as possible, not trying to dictate what the outcome should look like.” The idea expanded from there, and in 2009, five months after he first announced it, ArtPrize opened to the public.
On Tuesday, the Acton Institute welcomed Ron Blue to the Mark Murray Auditorium to deliver an address on the topic of “Perpetual Generosity.” In his lecture, Blue draws from his nearly 50 years in the financial services world, with 35 of those working almost exclusively with Christian couples, in order to lay out some basic principles and strategies for developing and wisely distributing wealth. Over this time, he has observed that those who are consistently generous over the long term exhibit three characteristics that have nothing to do with money: contentment, confidence, and the ability to communicate with each other, their children, and advisors if they use them.
Watch Blue’s full lecture below:
Over at his blog, Peter Boettke writes, “The idle rich are never really idle in a free market economy.”
Now while we might want to distinguish between the rich and their riches, could it be that even in their consumption, conspicuous or otherwise, the rich are contributing to a rising tide that lifts all boats? Wesley Gant makes that related case over at Values & Capitalism: “Is It Possible to Waste Money?”
Gant seems to conclude that it isn’t possible to “waste” wealth. “Humans do not consume resources; they create and exchange them,” he says.
One might argue, however, as John Mueller does, that humans create and exchange things, but that they also consume and distribute them. It’s a truncated and reductionist economism that doesn’t do justice to that fuller picture. A basic problem with this kind of view is that it cannot distinguish between types of consumption. Maybe we need “ethics” rather than “economics” proper to do so, but that just goes to show the limitations of the economic way of thinking.
On Gant’s account, it would seem that there is no such thing as bad stewardship. Now it may be that consumption of luxuries is not always bad, or that such consumption often does have some redeeming virtues. But is it the case that such reasoning can justify any exchange or consumption? (As long as it doesn’t involve the government, of course!)
Perhaps the guy who got the one talent and buried it in the ground should have just given the wealthy owner a basic lesson in such economics.
Speaking of Thomas Piketty, here’s a very helpful and revealing interview with Matthew Yglesias, “Thomas Piketty doesn’t hate capitalism: He just wants to fix it.” (HT: PEG)
A few highlights with some comment:
On the need for a historical perspective in economics:
Thomas Piketty: … It’s not only economists’ fault. Historians and sociologists are too often are leaving the study of economic issues to economists. Sometimes nobody does it.