Christianity is a very other-directed religion. It requires those of us who are Christians to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). We are even required to love our enemies and appeal to God on behalf of those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Throughout the Bible we are also told to show concern for others, especially the poor (e.g., Proverbs 21:13, 28:27).
Perhaps this is why so many Christians are drawn to the discipline of economics. At its best, economics is a very other-directed science.
Consider, for example, the way economically minded people tend to respond to the government shutdown. In 2013 economist Steve Landsburg made a comment that is still applicable today,
I’ve said this before and will say it again: Part of the reason I love economics is that economics is the compassionate science. It’s the discipline that requires us to think hard and to care about how policies affect everyone, not just the people who happen to be standing in front of us.
The response to the government shutdown has been as good an example of this as any. Nothing but a garguntuan failure of empathy can explain the chorus of voices insisting that the shutdown is a bad thing because government employees might lose their paychecks. It takes a mighty powerful set of moral blinders to care so much about the recipients of those checks and so little about the taxpayers who fund them.
The single biggest lesson that economists have to teach is that it’s important to care about everyone, not just about the people who happen to cross your path.
Economist Don Boudreaux concurs, adding:
Steve is correct: economics when done well is a crown-jewel of human compassion. It refuses to let the forgotten man be forgotten and the invisible victims remain invisible. Yet people who know no economics, or only faulty economics, mistakenly think economists to be, not compassionate, but cruel. These economically uninformed people have this mistaken opinion because they see only the individual standing before them, and so care only about that individual’s welfare. They do not see what the good economist sees: the multitudes of unseen people, spread across space and time, who are inevitably affected by whatever policies are done for or against the person standing well-lit and loudly in your face.