Friday, July 31, 2009

Biblical Economics – Book Review

I have been reading R.C. Sproul Jr.’s book Biblical Economics and have found it a good read. Where I would disagree with R.C. Jr. is in his perspective on the industrial revolution. What I think is missing is a balanced look at the industrial revolution and the great harm it did to the family and other areas of life. Thus, the apparent lower cost derived from the revolution came with a great cost to the family. Even with this disagreement I think this book is still a good one to read. The following are observations on some of the chapters in this book:

The chapter on Stewardship is a good one because there are those that question private ownership as a biblical principle and R.C. Jr. shows how this is not so. Even the 8th Commandent, do not steal, and the 10th do not covet imply ownership. We need to see the universe as owned by God and thus we essentially live in a proprietorship and are to be good stewards of the Owner’s goods. We are not to simply care for His property but to care for it in a manner consistent with His word.

The next chapter is on Creation and we see that man tends, by his sinful nature, to lean towards either “radical materialism” or “radical spiritualism” with the church often swinging like a pendulum between both extremes. One needs to remember that how ones views these aspects of life will affect ones view of economics. God has made us to be both body and soul and thus we need to live by God’s decrees in both areas and not to neglect one for the other.

The following chapter on Prosperity deals with how we become prosperous and looks at four aspects: Production, Development of Tools, Surplus Capital and Profit. In the area of production it is shown that the value of a product is not dictated by the labor put into the object but by the value placed on it by the consumer. The example given is the square wheel in that a vehicle could be made with square wheels and much money and effort could be invested in building it but due to value to the consumer being nil the value of the product is not based on the cost of production. This is where the Federal Government usually steps in and tries to artificially create value. It is also here that the industrial revolution is credited for cheaper and more plentiful goods. What also should have been mentioned was that the industrial revolution and the mindset that it fostered has also given us a food industry that while making cheaper and more plentiful food is creating food of questionable nutritional value. Let alone the question of the harm to health that is created by the genetically engineered food.

Next is a chapter on Profit. It is interesting to see how much the government involves itself in dictating profit when in actuality it is the public that should be dictating value and not the government. The following is a very timely quote: “Government attempts to tamper with profits disturb the balance between supply and demand, creating surpluses, shortages and injustices, profiting no one save the Government,” sounds like today. This manipulation by the government is much like the unjust scales in Deut 25:13-16 & Lev 19:35-37.

The chapter about Money does a good job of explaining how we got money and how it works and the role the government plays in it value. Again we see that the government is stepping in where it should not and in the process it only creates wealth for itself.

Tied to the subject of money is Inflation. Too often we think of inflation as rising costs when in reality it is a result of the increase in the supply of money and again the government plays a detrimental part. At issue is that the government believes that consumption not production is the key to prosperity and thus this leads them to increase the money supply but in doing so create the inflation we see.

Debt results from consuming today what one assumes they will produce tomorrow. The problem is that tomorrow is not assured (James 4:13-14). While this book was written before the current economic debacle and the out of control spending by the government we see a perfect picture of debt. The government is spending today what they assume our children and their children will produce but that is simply irresponsible. The books judgment though is that not all debt is bad but it needs to be considered very carefully. An example would be spending to buy tools to increase production so that debt can be repaid. But the bottom line is that we need to consume only what we produce and that is a concept that seems to be bypassed by our government.

The chapter on Poverty and the one that follows on Equity were well done. The bible speaks to poverty existing and that there is not to be favoritism with regards to the poor or rich (Ex 23:3 & Lev 19:15). Thus the idea of a graduated income tax shows favoritism and is thus unbiblical. Biblically speaking poverty will be with us and it has various reasons & causes such as: Slothfulness, Calamity, Exploitation and Personal Sacrifice. As far as equity it is important to see that this speaks to justice, impartiality and fairness while equality deals with likeness, evenness and uniformity. Thus socialism seeks after equality while scripture looks to equity.

In the chapter on Government R.C. Jr. doesn’t simply deal with the governments affects on economics but also deals with the nature and purpose of government. He shares that Augustine argued that government is not so much a necessary evil as an institution made necessary by evil, how true that is. Another statement made that we are seeing so glaringly today is: “as government grows freedom diminishes”.

The last two chapters, Leviathan and Outlook, tie everything together. In doing this we see that while we are told daily that the government is the answer to our problem in actually it is quite the opposite. Sproul says: “ As long as the government is seen as the solution to all of our problems, the government will continue to be the source of many of our problems.” As a people we need to seek God and His word for the solutions to our troubles instead of turning to the government. We also need to understanding that when we take anything form the government we are actually taking from others that have paid taxes. The government does not make money but simply redistributes it it.

I would recommend reading this book so as to combat the humanistic worldview of economics that sadly often permeates the professing church.

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