John Stapleford’s Bulls, Bears and Golden Calves is a broad look at the application of Christian ethics to economics. It is stuffed with information from statistics to economic theory to ethics.
Often, when I read about someone putting forward a “Christian” view of economics, I get worried because what happens all too frequently is that the “Christian” view is taken to be equivalent to some existing economic theory and then anyone who disagrees with that theory is seen as being sub-biblical. By contrast, Stapleford does a fantastic job of never giving into the temptation to endorse wholly any one system, noting the impact of human sin and the real injustices that are possible in any economic system. Thus, he successfully navigates a kind of balancing act between liberal and conservative economic views throughout the book.
That said, his often incisive criticism of various economic systems from different angles is sure to challenge almost any reader. In favor of pure free market economies? Stapleford notes that these are the best way to increase overall wealth in a system, but calls them out for often falling victim to greed or ignoring the poor. All in favor of socialist systems? Stapleford argues that these systems can trample the rights of the individual while also making it difficult to anticipate and plan for the needs of societies. No one is safe from the cogent analysis offered in this book.
After outlining numerous ethical theories and practices that Christians can apply to the public square and economics, the book proceeds with a number of practical chapters that apply these to specific situations, whether it is international economics, the environment, and more. The topics treated are extremely wide-ranging and the analysis offered continues to be challenging and insightful throughout. Just as an example, the chapter on gambling points out the failure of several arguments put forth to attempt to ethically justify the practice, while also pointing to numerous injustices in the system. This kind of detailed analysis is found throughout the book on every topic Stapleford touches.
That said, the main downside of the book just is its broadness. At times, readers may feel blown away by how much information is being fed to them. The sheer amount of data can feel a bit overwhelming. Also, because of the broadness of the book, some of the solutions offered feel over-simplified and may leave readers wishing for more analysis.
Overall, Bulls, Bears, and Golden Calves is a simply phenomenal read that will challenge all readers to live out a Christian life in the realm of economics.
+Eye-opening facts about numerous economic practices
+Excellent chapters on specific economic issues with applicable insights
+Bridges the seeming gap between liberal and conservative views in multiple places
+Consistently puts forth a Christian and holistic view of economics
-Sheer amount of data can be overwhelming
-Some solutions offered seem over-simplified
I would highly recommend Bulls, Bears and Golden Calves to readers interested in exploring how Christianity can inform economic decisions and systems.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated to provide any specific type of feedback or review nor was I required to give a positive review.
John Stapleford, Bulls, Bears and Golden Calves (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015) Third Edition.
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