Tag Archives: Economics

Book Review: The Poverty of the Nations

First sentence confession and disclaimer all in one; I chose to order and review this book from Crossway’s Beyond the Page blog reviewers section expecting to disagree with it. I was fairly sure that I would find myself uncomfortable with some of the conclusions of the authors but because I value listening to voices other than my own or those in my camp I resolved to challenge myself with what appeared to be some thoughtful arguments on Christianity and the value of Free Market Capitalism.

How wrong can one man be? I downloaded this book months back and despite being an avid reader I plodded through this book a few pages at a time finding any reason to read anything else but this. If I had not agreed to write this review in exchange for getting a free copy of this book I am confident I would have recycled this book months ago. Honestly I have plenty of stuff on my book shelves I don’t agree with but which pushes my thinking, challenges my assumptions and helps me organise and develop my own thinking better. But this is poorly written, filled with mad tilts at straw men and stingy representations of opposing arguments.  It almost reads like a propaganda document for the free market system rather than a well thought out and reasoned piece of writing by two well-respected professors in their fields.

I grew up in and completed ¾ of my schooling under the apartheid schooling system. As a result I am well versed in this kind of one-sided, parochial presentation of the virtues of a particular system, whilst never allowing the recipients to examine the full range of data for themselves. If you read this book with no prior thought to economics or economic systems (and I am no economist) you can only conclude that anyone who does not support the free market/ capitalistic system is a complete idiot. There is little generosity to the opinions of others; lampooning and presenting the worst or weakest side of opposing systems are common in this book. There is no concern to honestly examine the strengths of for instance democratic socialism or the very obvious weaknesses in the free market system that a growing number of reputable voices are raising. At times it felt like the book was caught in the Cold War or the Middle Ages, arguing against Soviet style communism or feudalism. Which are useful as examples but are hardly the economic questions that the majority of the books audience are wrestling with. Furthermore the almost canonisation of the Industrial Revolution and the economic growth of the Far East without so much as a footnote to the hugely destructive social issues and dehumanization arising from the triumph of greater economic growth left me cold.

Four final thoughts before this descends into the level of a rant…too late you say?

1. The book’s claim to be a Christian book is only borne up at times by an horrific use of out of context verses. A blatant desire to conflate the free market system with biblical economics is deeply disturbing. Even if you do not think the free market/capitalist system does not go against the Bible it is still a rather large leap of justificational logic to imply that it is a biblical system. The “economic system” we see in the Bible is far more nuanced than any one system, and if anything has a preferential option for the poor and the marginalized rather than the increased creation of wealth for the already wealthy.

2. On that point just recently, I heard Professor Piet Naude from the University of Stellenbosch Business School suggest that we have to examine the assumption that “all the boats in the harbour” rise with the creation of wealth. The free market he said has been excellent at creating wealth but very weak in distributing it. This is not an usual insight but a widely acknowledged, contemporary challenge to the free market system. Yet Grudem and Asmus all but ignore it and write instead as if the free market is the saviour of the poor. History simply does not bear that up, even in the United States. I cannot believe the authors are unaware of this. Is their commitment to free market capitalism so deeply entrenched that they are able to simply waive this aside as a petty criticism not worth engaging in?

3. The pro-American bias of this book is hugely off-putting. God Bless America we have the worlds best economic system if only the poor Africans would listen to us. They might not have said this, but I heard it loud and clear. If I was reading a hard copy of the book rather than my kindle I would have been sorely curious to have tested the aerodynamics of this patriotic drivel at times.

4. No matter what the merits and advantages of a free market system are, and I am convinced there are many, this book sadly merely demonstrates for me the problem of allowing privileged westerners with unchallenging assumptions to write books. I have greatly benefited from many of Crossways resources but this is not one. It is poorly argued, parochial and almost without merit. The few thought-provoking moments that I did encounter in the book were so overpowered by the negatives that at 400 pages it just was not worth it.

I gave it one star on Amazon simply because there was no category for “makes excellent recycling.”

Stop Spiritualizing the Bible when it comes to Social Justice

Christopher Wright on the evangelical tendency to spiritualize the Bible when it comes social justice and economic exploitation.

“This spiritualizing way of interpreting the Bible, and the missiological implications that go with it, requires us to imagine that century after century, the God of the Bible was passionately concerned about social issues – political arrogance and abuse, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, the evils of brutality and bloodshed. So passionate indeed, that the laws he gave and the prophets he sent give more space to these matters than any other issue except idolatry, while the psalmists cry out in protest to the God they know cares deeply about such things. Somewhere, however between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. Such matters no longer claim God’s attention or spark his anger.”

The Mission of God p280

Gospel Economics

In Acts 19, the gospel has such a profound effect on the city of Ephesus that the economy of the city was affected…

 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.  There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”  When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

As I meditated on this passage this morning, it got me wondering what this might (should?) look like in my city?

I confess these are random ravings of a non-expert.  I would welcome those of you who have economic and sociological insight to weigh in here.  But I do, however, upfront confess I find keeping a small household budget on track an extremely challenging business and so please be gentle with my ignorance… But before you shoot down my ignorance – please consider not my weak attempts at working out the implications – but what might it mean to follow Jesus in this issues today?  And perhaps more significantly why do we so seldom invoke any Ephesus-type reactions today?  Is it simply different times and contexts or could it be that our lifestyles and aspirations are so similar to the rest of the world that there is nothing to get worked up about?

Enough rambling – what might it look like for Christians to engage in counter-cultural kingdom economics in the relatively simple everyday choices we make?

Given that the predominant religion in our city is rampant consumerism, which would definitely have economic implications if we stopped worshipping at this temple, we must make a concerted decision that we will no longer bow down to the idol of consumerism.
We will question the need to produce and buy more and more.
We practice sharing of goods and resources with one another as a family (do we all really need to own a lawnmower or a vacuum or a car?) wherever we can.
We practice sharing of our goods and resources with the poor and marginalised – give away whatever you are not using.  Best if you can give away in relationship!
We will start asking questions about where our goods come from in terms of just working conditions, carbon footprint and what it is doing to local economy.
We will practice hospitality in our homes – not only to those who are like us, but to those who are very much not like us (Luke 14:12-14)
We will invite strangers in to share our homes – long-term or short-term as you are able to.
We will distribute (or sell) our goods among ourselves as anyone has need  (Acts 2:42-47)
We will stop spending exorbitant amounts of money on brand clothing, entertainment, and more and more (usually expensive) stuff.

We will question what is it we actually need as opposed to what we would like.  It it sufficient to have an older TV or do we need the latest model, plasma screen beauty?  Our consumer choices very much reveal where our heart is.
We will become wary to pay large amounts of money simply because a product bears a name label – consider hand-me downs, thrift shops, factory shops, make your own – if you have time or skills
We will start considering renewal resources such as urban farming, up-cycling and re-cycling.
We pass on old clothes, books and resources to charities, friends or those we know in need. We will stop hoarding!

We will aim to buy local because not only will it benefit our local community and possibly reduce our carbon footprint but in so doing we resist the urge to make expense the bottom line.  We may be able to get it cheaper but are we richer for knowing our shopkeepers, supporting them, loving our neighbours, encouraging local people to love and care for each other.  As a gospel community is it of greater value to be able to demonstrate the gospel of grace to our local shopkeepers as we get to know, support and bless them, or is it of greater value to shop at the big, nameless corporations where the price is cheaper? Perhaps we need to stop allowing the bottom line to be economically motivated?

We will value simplicity and simple living without become ascetics.

We will practice contentment (Philippians 4:10-13) as a sign of faith in our God who knows and provides for all our needs.

We will practice a deep enjoyment of what we have already been given from the hand of our Heavenly Father, rather than a longing after what we do not have.

We will slow down from the rat race of working and buying and fixing up and take a walk, share a meal, sit in the park… rest.

A final thought from: “There is a sense in which instead of a thousand dilemmas about how we should use our money, we have to make one fundamental choice: do we live for God or for money?  It is because we waver about this decision that we replicate it day by day.” Gospel Living (Unit 9: Living Now: Possession); Porterbrook Training Network