The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is an ambitious book. Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist) claim to put forward a list of 78 traits which, if incorporated at a national level, will bring about a solution to poverty. The book is an economic and moral/biblical treatise aimed at stamping out poverty through the production of goods and the integration of morality into global economic practice. Here, I’ll analyze it from its two primary thrusts: economic and moral. Then, we’ll discuss some of the issues involved in a book of this scope.
It is worth noting up front that I have a BS in Social Studies and had numerous classes on economics and international economics at a college level. This doesn’t make me an expert, but I think it allows me to take a decently accurate look at economic theories.*
The first half of the book focuses on issues of economics on a national level. Specifically, they endorse the free market as a way to bring prosperity to all nations. Their argument is based upon historical observations about how nations have gotten out of poverty and become prosperous.
Thus, the authors argue that fair trade and open borders (with low or no tariffs and the like) will drive the market to balance itself out and also increase the overall prosperity of people from various nations. Moreover, it will provide a means by which lesser-developed countries can utilize their comparative advantages to produce things that other countries are willing to pay a higher price such that they do not need to produce them. Demand drives the market, and the freer a market, the more demand is able to do so. The reason it is beneficial to allow demand to drive the market is because it allows for people to genuinely respond to others wants and constantly produce newer, better goods in more efficient ways, thus increasing the wealth across the board.
I should note that, by necessity, this is merely the briefest overview of this section of the book. Those who read The Poverty of Nations are essentially getting a fully realized introduction to international economics. In fact, the economic portion of the book is quite strong in many ways (though some issues with the complexity are noted below).
Like the economics portion, this half of the book has much to commend it. Though basic, much of the instruction is vital and important to realize as necessary for economic success. For example, government curtailing of bribery is important for an economic system to become more successful. Another, more complex example would be the notion that tariffs decrease the productivity of international trade and artificially increase prices.
The problem with much of the focus on the moral background to the “Free Market” is that Grudem and Asmus seem to assume or assert more often than they provide evidence. It’s easy for someone like me from a relatively free market system who favors open markets to nod along to how a free market encourages integrity because of the repeated transactions between the same persons and the like, but then a statement like this is made:
When people are held responsible by the voluntary personal interactions of the free market, they are typically more responsible. (Kindle Loc. 3784)**
Statements like this are frequently made, but after reading along and perhaps agreeing largely, one is forced to wonder about things like: “Where is the empirical evidence to show that this is actually the case?”; “To whom or to what are people more responsible to?”; “How are we capable of making judgments like this across incredibly complex systems like the economic practice of states, regions, nations, and the world?” The particular statement made above offers no empirical support for its claim, nor do the authors explore the complexities of simply stating that “people… are typically more responsible” in a free market. This statement, and others like it, leave me scratching my head and asking for the evidence. Certainly it is possibly true or perhaps it is true, but why think it without anything more than an assertion?
Another difficulty with this section is that throughout, the specific examples given are taken to be the biblical approach to economics. Now, I think one could fairly say that the Bible condemns bribery, but what of more complex issues like whether it actually endorses a free market? One constant refrain in the book is the use of Genesis 1:28 (“fill the earth and subdue it”) to support various things, from use of natural resources (which are rather shockingly claimed to be essentially unlimited: “[I]t is highly unlikely that any resources will be used up in the foreseeable future… we keep discovering huge new reserves of resources and inventing more creative ways to access them” (6606-6617)–but of course where are the huge new reserves of forests? fresh water? etc.?) to drive people to invent and make new things (3405), to making products from the earth specifically (1169), to move beyond subsistence farming (4207), and more.
One is forced to wonder whether the verse actually means all these things or if, perhaps, the Bible is simply under-determined when it comes to economic policy. I do genuinely wonder whether the Bible is to be treated as an economics textbook, which it often seems to be in this book. Quotes like these are scattered throughout, often in seemingly random fashion in the economics portion. The question is whether this really may be seen as a systematic treatment of the Bible on economy, or whether it may perhaps instead be mining the text to try to support claims about economy which are not really found therein. Not that these are unbiblical points; merely that they perhaps are not the focus or intention of the texts.
The book seems to oversimplify on some aspects. It is common practice to use examples which allow an economist to shift just one aspect in order to demonstrate a theory.* That said, at times the examples used in The Poverty of Nations are often a bit too simplistic to believe. For example, at one point a thought experiment asks whether simply taking money from a group of wealthy elites would solve the existing issue of poverty. Although it seemed clear that simply attempting to redistribute wealth didn’t solve the problem, the proposed solution–the book’s solution–was to produce more goods. But it seems to me that if a number of elites were controlling the wealth in a country, just producing more goods would continue to line the pockets of those elite rather than specifically helping the poor.
Examples like this abound throughout the book, as simple solutions are offered to extremely complex issues. Economics is a wonderfully complex topic, but as the authors themselves note at the beginning, it is one which is hard to study due to the human factor in it. Despite the professed efforts to avoid such simplification (Kindle location 2115, for example), the book often does seem to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to solving economic problems.
That said, at other times the authors do a great job of speaking directly to the complexities of the issue. For example, their discussion of colonialism was marvelous and ably pointed out both the potential benefits and cons of those endeavors on our present world situation. It was a great way to survey a complex issue without trying to identify any one factor. Portions of the book like this make the places where it is simplistic stand out even more, however.
A final issue is that of audience: Asmus and Grudem claim the book is primarily written for leaders of impoverished nations, which–apart from coming off as a bit imperialistic–doesn’t actually seem to be the likely readership. The authors note others as possible audience, but I wonder whether we may end up with several people walking around with this as their only interaction with economic theory and assuming they are able to fix the world’s problems through this oft-simplified economics instruction.
The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is at times brilliant, but at others frustrating. It is well-worth a read for Christians interested in economics and attempting to strike at the core of poverty through effective legislation and whole-nation solutions. It does provide a very useful introduction to international economics, and gives some very good ways forward for those wishing to engage on this topic. However, readers should go in with some caution: the simplification at times means that readers should not take this as the final word on this topic, nor should they assume by reading the book they are suddenly equipped to run national-level economic programs.
Sunday Quote!- A biblical answer to economic woes?- I discuss a quote from a section of The Poverty of Nations and whether it is true that the Bible may contain specific economic practice.
Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).
*I was a Social Studies major in college and so took a number of economics classes. I am making no claim to be an expert, but rather educated laity in this area.
**All references are to kindle locations.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Secularism in International Politics
The quote this week is from Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, The Politics of Secularism in International Relations, a book which makes me reminisce upon The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavinaugh. The book is about how secularism comes into play with international relations, and how secularism is often turned into the wielding of power of the secularist over the religious other. Here’s a juicy quote explaining one of the products of secularism:
“[T]he objective of laicism is to create a neutral public space in which religious belief, practices, and institutions have lost their political significance… The mixing of religion and politics is regarded as irrational and dangerous. For modernization to take hold, religion must be separated from politics… Laicism adopts and expresses a pretense of neutrality… This makes it difficult for those who have been shaped by and draw upon this tradition [laicism] to see the limitations of their own conceptions of religion and politics.” -Elizabeth Hurd, “The Politics of Secularism in International Relations,” 5.
What do you think of the concept of laicism based upon this quote? Have you heard of it before? What are your thoughts on the possibility of the presumption of secularism in politics?
Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T. Cavanaugh- I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.
The U.S. election in 2012 is just around the corner. I think it is a monumentally important election for a number of issues. I have surveyed the ‘net for Christian perspectives on varied political issues and presented them for your browsing pleasure. We are all biased, we cannot deny that, so please don’t bother accusing me of being biased one way or the other. I’ll talk issues, I won’t debate whether or not I’m biased (I am, and so are you).
Natural Law and Christians in the Public Square- One of the most difficult questions for Christians in politics is “How do we interact in the Public Square?” David VanDrunen provides a way forward by viewing Natural Law as a way to interact in the public square with people who don’t share our beliefs. It is an extremely lucid article, and I highly recommend it.
A Mormon in the White House?- One area that many Christians have expressed concern about has been whether we can vote for a Mormon without violating our conscience. Nick Peters over at Deeper Waters has a fantastic article that approaches this from a unique angle. Here’s one choice quote:
What we have to ask [in regards to the President] is not “Who believes like me the most in religion?”, but “Who is more capable of doing the job?”
If there is one area we should be concerned about, it’s that Christians unfortunately are not producing the best candidates. Christians are shying away from politics when we shouldn’t. There are several brilliant Christian minds that could make a difference in the world if we will allow them to do so.
Are Reproductive Rights Civil Rights?- Another area of major importance in the election concerns reproductive rights. Paul Rezkalla discusses this hot issue from a unique perspective: whether it involves civil rights. I have written a great deal about abortion specifically on my pro-life page.
California: Obamacare exchanges will raise health insurance premiums up to 25%- Obamacare is supposed to make life easier on those without health insurance, and even on those with health insurance. Does it actually do that? This case study in California suggests otherwise. Wintery Knight’s site is awesome in general, so I would recommend you browse it.
Should we vote for 3rd party candidates?- A pragmatic argument for voting with the major parties in order to bring about the most possible good. There is an alternative view on why we cannot compromise offered below, the post with a title starting “Abolitionist’s Voting Guide.”
Abolitionist’s Voting Guide addendum, or more info on how we will note vote Romney- Abolish Human Abortion, a movement I wholeheartedly support, offers this post on why we cannot vote for compromise regarding the abortion issue. Equally important is their “Abolitionist’s Voting Guide” which argues against any type of compromise when it comes to one’s vote. I highly recommend reading this along with the post above on whether we should vote 3rd party. It will help give you a balanced perspective.
Your Vote in this Election- Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian urges Christians to vote and to use discernment in their voting decisions. Some great advice in a concise form here.
Freedom of Religion and the HHS Mandate- I write about HHS Mandate and the fact that it is not so much the issue of contraception or abortion that is at stake; rather it is religious freedom that is under attack.
Modern Secularism and its Disdain for Conscience- Are Christians imposing their religion on others? Can we vote for what we believe? A number of tough topics are tackled in this great post.
A Pre-Election Post: Abortion and the Right of Conscience- Matt shares some insight into the right of conscience in the medical field. He explores how the topic relates to the coming election.
For the Roman Catholics out there (and those interested, like me!), check out Disciple’s post on the Vote which features a number of Catholic resources for voting discernment.
Why don’t we read the Bible?- An exhortation to reading the Bible. We need to set aside the time for real Bible study. Why don’t we?
Who is Paul Ryan? What are his political views and motivations?- Frequent readers will know that I very, very rarely discuss politics. However, I can’t help but be excited about Mitt Romney’s nomination of Paul Ryan for his running mate. Why? Well Paul Ryan’s track record as far as pro-life politics are concerned is nearly spotless. His fiscal policy also seems spot-on to me. I highly recommend checking this post out to those of my readers interested in U.S. Politics.
“What Books Are a Good Investment for Scholars?”- Doug Geivett outlines which types of books will make good investments for scholars.
Debating Tips for Atheists- Want to have genuine discussion with Christians, atheists? Here are some tips.
The Correct View of Creation?- A survey of views on creation (old, young earth) along with some discussion over how to determine which is correct.
Ehrman’s Problem 16: Cosmic Issues He Doesn’t Understand- Bart Ehrman has a lot of problems. One is that he completely misunderstands the book of Job and the cosmic issues therein.
I don’t often weigh in on the political sphere. However, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding over why many Christians are opposed to the HHS Mandate. It is important, first, to know what the HHS mandate is. It is just as important to know why people are opposing it. Even if you oppose its opposition, it is important to know the other side’s reasoning. I’ll keep this as brief as I can.
What is the HHS Mandate?
Simply put, the HHS mandate is a proposed regulation to force Roman Catholic and other organizations to provide services (like paying for abortions or contraceptives) for their employees. In other words, it forces them to pay for services to which they are religiously opposed.
What’s NOT the issue?
The issue here is not whether abortion is right or wrong. The issue is not whether contraception is right or wrong. The issue is not whether any individual ethical decision is right or wrong. One doesn’t need to agree with others on these issues to realize what the actual issue is.
What is the Issue?
The issue with the HHS mandate is that it destroys religious liberty by forcing organizations to pay for services to which they are ethically opposed. Think of it this way: You’re part of a religion which is opposed to doing various drugs. Should it be legal to force you to pay for marijuana for your employees if they desire it?
To explain it even more simply: I am not a Mormon, and I like caffeine well enough. Mormons are opposed to drinking caffeine. I would not try to force them to pay for coca-cola for their employees because this would be a violation of their conscience and religious liberty.
Here’s the key: even though I don’t necessarily agree with the ethical principle, I do agree with allowing for religious liberty and not forcing others to pay for services to which they are opposed religiously.
Analogy: one key battle was the fight over whether certain Native Americans would be allowed to utilize peyote (a drug from a cactus) as part of their religious ceremonies. Though I personally would be against using drugs, I would not oppose the use of such a substance in another’s religious ceremony. Why? Because it would violate their religious liberty.
So what’s the big deal?
Simply put: if the HHS mandate passes, it is the U.S. Government telling certain religious practitioners that although they are religiously opposed to certain services, they will be required to pay for them as a religious organization.
In other words, it is a gross violation of religious liberty. Whether you are Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Muslim, or of any other persuasion, you should be against this mandate. One can’t help but think that if we allow such a violation of liberty in this area, it only sets up for violations of liberties in other arenas.
Recently, Austine Cline, of the about.com breed of atheists, has offered this critique of my position on Christian voting/acts in government. My own post on the topic can be found here. I would like to clear up a few things about the position I hold. These clarifications will be found in numbered italics throughout the post below.
1) I accept the authority and respect the secular government.
Cline started his caricature of my position immediately with his title. The title of his entry is “J.W. Wartick: Christians Should Reject Secular Government.”
Let me make this clear. That is a position I deny, and in fact oppose. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:5-7 that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Being a Christian who views the Bible as a source of authority, I agree wholeheartedly.
2) My previous post on the government was intended as a wake-up call to Christians who are lax when voting on moral issues.
One who reads my previous post on this topic should be able to discern that I was not advocating a theocracy, but rather a theo-centric approach to voting. I was arguing that Christians should vote their beliefs, not what they think is most “neutral.” Cline took that and ran with it, and, whether intentionally or not, used his post to try to portray me as some kind of fanatic advocating the overthrow of government in favor of a theocracy. Again, such a position may exist somewhere, but it is not the position I hold.
3) The authority of government comes from God.
Again, Paul makes this clear in Romans 13:1 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Obviously, this won’t be convincing to the atheist. But this is intended to rebut a critique from Cline, who wrote, “[Wartick's argument] presumes that the government has any authority to prevent ‘unrepentant sin’ and ‘unbelief’ in the first place.”
Clearly, if the government gets its authority from God, then it would have the authority to do this. Cline is an atheist, so he rejects such a structure of authority. However, being a Christian, I don’t see any reason to reject it. Yet the focus of Cline’s critique was based upon this premise (in fact, he restates it later “On what basis does Wartick think he has the right to enlist the government to help him prevent other Christians from doing things which he thinks is sinful but they don’t?” and then again in regards to other religions).
My answer to these questions is simple: the government gets its authority from God, so it does have the authority to do these things. Cline presented no argument to the contrary, nor did he offer a positive argument for secular government, other than a brief note that Christians established it to begin with so they would stop killing each other (according to Cline). So Cline’s counter-argument merely begs the question by assuming a secular authority structure. If there were no God or if the authority of the government were not from God, then he would have a valid critique. But criticizing my argument in this manner does not serve to do anything but beg the question against the Christian theist, particularly because my original post was written to fellow Christians (hence the closing line, “Christians, why are you politically atheists?”).
4) Cline misrepresented my argument.
As I’ve already hinted at, Cline cherry-picked portions of my post, and then made a title which seems to aim more towards sensationalism than any kind of respectful debate. I never argued Christians should reject secular government; I did argue that Christians should not be atheists themselves when it comes to politics. This kind of fear-mongering about Christians in politics doesn’t serve anyone but those who are already fanatics themselves–to the other extreme.
Of note: Atheist Austin Cline has recently linked to my post with his own. He caricatures my argument as saying “Christians should reject secular government.” In fact, I explicitly deny this in my post, as anyone who reads it could see.
I take issue with 3 parts of Cline’s critique. First, he attacks my view that the government can have authority to restrict unrepentant sin. Yet the authority for that restriction is based upon my assumption granted for the sake of this post; that the government gets its authority from God (Romans 13:1). Cline, being an atheist, obviously will reject that basis for authority. He did not outline his own position on the authority of government, so I cannot comment upon it, but it begs the question to assume that government should be secular, and then use that to critique a theo-centric government I explicate below. Second, he caricatures my argument as being a theocracy, which I deny explicitly, see below. Finally, he frames his post in a way that is clearly meant to induce panic, by calling it “J.W. Wartick: Christians should reject secular government.” There is nowhere that I have advocated that extreme position. In fact, that is also something I deny explicitly, agreeing with the apostle Paul in Romans, who said “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:5-7).
Recently, I was discussing the death of Osama bin Laden and the topic came up about whether he deserved to die, what role it played, and the like. Interestingly, the conversation opened up a discussion I’ve been contemplating. Namely, Why are so many Christians politically atheists?
Consider the death penalty. It was agreed upon that people can deserve the death penalty. Bin Laden, for example, was said to deserve such a penalty, along with serial killers and many murderers. But then the discussion turned to whether the government should deal out such punishment.
The friend offered following principle as normative for Christians:
1) If (some position such as the death penalty) cannot be justified by purely secular means, then it should not be forced onto others.
My immediate and somewhat snarky rejoinder to this argument was/is “Why?”
Why should I be a Christian in every aspect of my life, but when it comes to politics, be secular? Several answers are possible. For example, it could be asserted that “We (Christians) should not force our views onto others.” I think this is a fairly good response. But whence the principle? Perhaps it comes from the idea of living a Christlike life. But I don’t see anything in the example of Christ which said we had to conform to secularism or take religion out of politics. It would take an interesting argument to say that Christ advocated secularism in the realm of politics.
Or take Paul, for example, who states clearly that the government is God’s servant and doesn’t carry the sword “for nothing” (Romans 13:4). Not only that, but the reason the government carries the sword is in case “you do wrong.”
And what, exactly, is wrong? I think it would have to be obvious that, for a Christian, that which is wrong is defined by that which goes against God’s nature and/or commands. But then it seems as though Paul is charging the government to follow that same standard, not some supposedly neutral standard. I’ve argued elsewhere against the plausibility of atheism as a neutral ground. I think it should be clear that atheism is not neutral in regards to religion; rather, it is against religion.
Therefore, it seems strange to me that secularism is chosen as the grounds for determining politics. Why should I, a theist, choose to be atheistic in my politics? I suppose the accusation could then fly that I advocate a theocracy. But what exactly is a theocracy? It’s a political system in which God rules and the laws are divine commands. I never argued that’s what I would like the United States to turn into. My view is simply that Christians should cast their votes for those positions which are favored by Biblical teaching and against those which are condemned. I don’t see any reason to divorce that which I hold most dear (Christian theism) as something from which I must be divorced when it comes to the ballot box.
Consider the following argument, which is admittedly somewhat consequentialist:
A) A life of unrepentant sin often leads to unbelief. (w=>y)
B) Unbelief is the only sin which condemns people to hell. (If y, then z)
C) Advocating some policy, x, permits or encourages lives of unrepentant sin. (x=>w)
D) Therefore, advocating x by extension opens the way for more unbelief and condemnation to hell. (1-3)
E) Therefore, Christians should not advocate x.
So I’m advocating a theo-centric view of politics, not a theocracy. On this view, one’s theism takes center stage. Sincere belief in everlasting life and death leads Christians to take steps within the law to prohibit behaviors which would lead to lives of unrepentant sin.
How would this cash out? Would we have to be prohibitionists or go around making lying illegal? I think that the answer to this second question is pretty clear. Within Scripture there is no prohibition of drinking alcohol (quite the opposite, in some cases). Rather, drunkenness is prohibited and/or discouraged. With the damage alcoholism has done to our society, I doubt that laws which took measures to prevent drunkenness would be a bad thing. I think the laws which would go into effect based upon the argument above would look mostly like what we have now. Now take the case of lying. While lying is clearly discouraged in the Bible, I don’t see any precedent therein for making it illegal in a broad sense. To be perfectly clear, lying already is illegal in some senses: take perjury, for example, or slander. I think these are derivative of a Christian worldview anyway, and laws against libel, slander, and perjury seem to fulfill the requirements of the above argument.
Reflecting on the ideas about bin Laden, above, it would appear there is another principle as well: that of honoring the image of God in man. Osama bin Laden did not honor that image, and for the blood he spilled, his blood was forfeit. Therefore, in addition to E), I would suggest:
2) The intrinsic value of humans (which only makes sense on theism anyway) is such that we should vote for issues which place honor of this value first.
To nuance it for Christians,
2′) The image of God in humans should be respected, and Christians should vote for issues which respect this image.
Finally, a note on Biblical ethics. It is extremely important for Christians to realize the distinctions between Law and Gospel and practice correct exegesis when it comes to these issues. I favor a Lutheran view with some theonomic tilt, but it is important to note that almost no Biblical scholars believe the Levitical and most of the other laws within the Old Testament are applicable today in any literal sense. But the question for this post is not which laws apply and which do not; rather it is a challenge to my fellow Christians.
So my question remains: Christians, why are you politically atheists?
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.