economic theory

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Book Review: “Bulls, Bears, and Golden Calves” by John Stapleford

bbgc-staplefordJohn 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.

The Good

+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

The Bad

-Sheer amount of data can be overwhelming
-Some solutions offered seem over-simplified

Conclusion

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. 

Source

John Stapleford, Bulls, Bears and Golden Calves (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015) Third Edition.

Links

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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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.

 

Book Review: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

pov-nat

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.*

Economics

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).

Biblical/Moral Issues

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.

Complexities

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.

Conclusion

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

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.

Source

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.

SDG.

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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.

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