Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Don’t Just Care – Think: Myths Christians Believe About Wealth and Poverty

Jay W. Richards (Ph.D. in philosophy and theology from Princeton) is an impressive scholar. He has authored two highly regarded books: The Untamed God (applying modal logic to the divine attributes) and The Privileged Planet (on intelligent design, co-authored with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez). He currently serve as Research Fellow at the Acton Institute and Director of Acton Media.

I was delighted to learn recently that HarperOne will publish his next book in 2009: Money, Guilt and God: A Christian Case for Capitalism.

At the recent Acton University 2008 Dr. Richards gave a lectured entitled, Don’t Just Care – Think: Myths Christians Believe About Wealth and Poverty, based on his forthcoming book. Dr. Richards granted permission for me to reprint here his outline/handout:
For Christians, compassion for the poor is a non-negotiable. Compassion alone, however, doesn’t help the poor. In fact, many ideas that Christian leaders advocate really exacerbate the very problems they were intended to solve. So how do we insure that we not only mean well, but also do good? We have to learn to think economically about wealth and poverty.

Don’t worry. At its base, economics isn’t supply/demand charts and complicated math. Rather, the “art of economics,” as Henry Hazlitt puts it, “consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

One way to do this is to learn to recognize eight simple myths that many well meaning Christians believe when they think about wealth and poverty.
  1. The nirvana myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
  2. The zero-sum game myth (believing that wealth gained in one place always means that wealth was lost someplace else)
  3. The materialist myth (believing that intellect cannot create new wealth)
  4. The greed myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
  5. The usury myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitive)
  6. The piety myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
  7. The artsy myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
  8. The freeze frame myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming population trends will continue indefinitely or treating “rich” and “poor” as static
  9. categories)
Each of these mistakes is easy to expose in the abstract, but easy to forget in practice. Remember them, however, and you’ll be immunized against a lot of economic falderal, even if you never take a course on economics, and you’ll begin to appreciate the value of a free market economy for creating wealth. Finally, and most importantly, you’ll be much more likely to advocate policies that not only have good purposes, but also good results.
Consider listening to the lecture and getting the book when it comes out!