How engaged should Christians be in the realms of cultural and social issues, of poverty and oppression? Could good intentions produce negative results and ultimately harm someone’s good?
The United States expanded their social policies in 1965 in an effort to help the down trodden of society and the result had a further reaching impact that initially thought a far worse result. Many Christians are engaged in social welfare programs and it is important to understand the economic impacts of their choices. The Roman Catholic Church, known for their charity work, had a group of Bishops in the 1980s do an analysis of the American economy, only to find out that the Bishops didn’t even have a collegiate freshman level of economic understanding. And it is not just the Roman Catholics aiming more towards the economic left: it is Protestants as well. These individuals are being called “liberation theologians” and they promote a mixing of Marxism and Christianity. What people in this camp also claim is that socialism is the only acceptable Biblical economic system. To the poor person’s demise, the good intentioned programs have harmed the poor instead of helping them and there is twenty years of research to back it up.
“The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” -Winston Churchill
We have heard it said that good orthodoxy produces good orthopraxy. There is a tension between what it means to truly help the poor versus putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Does the Bible give us an economic system to follow, or is there just good and bad economics? As Dr. Ronald Nash has stated, “Economic ideas have consequences” and we as Christian need to know what economics truly is so we can have a proper understanding of our role in broken society.
Like most, I thought that the study of economics simply had to with money. Dr. Nash says that economics studies the decisions we humans make in regards to limited resources. An example is time: We do not have all the time in the world, therefore, we prioritize our desires and money based on the limited resource of time. Imagine you get off work from a long day mixed with a long week and you don’t feel like cooking food. You would rather go out and buy a pizza and wings for $15 and pay $4 for the delivery charge then putting the time and effort into making something because you prioritized your time and energy as higher than the value of money. The lack of resources and choice is the heart of economics.
Under the umbrella of economics is microeconomics and macroeconomics: Micro looks at the individual parts of an economy and macro examines the larger part of the economic whole with humans being the basic element. The analysis of economics comes with Positive Economics and Normative Economics, where, Positive analyzes what is the case and Normative analyzes what ought to be the case. There are those who say that Normative economists should not make judgments on what ought to be the case because then they would fall into the realm of being a moralist. Most Christians will fall into the category of a Normative economist due to their making judgments on how a decision will affect those involved.
It is important that we view life in an economical sense, e.g., Time is a limited resource and what we do with our time will have long term effects. In regards to social economics, the importance of incentives should be close to the forefront of mainstream thinking. Knowing how people think and work are essential to economic based systems, for, if we know that by nature people are lazy, and we give them incentive to not work and yet still get money (i.e. welfare) and then penalize them for doing good (i.e. get married and money goes away), the incentive is for them to not get married and live off the welfare system.
What socialists don’t understand is that everything has a price tag attached to it. Remembering that economics is defined as what we do with our limited resources, we have choices to make in regards to those limited resources. What determines people’s choices in situation is based on the value that they place on that resource. A problem we face with being humans is the fact that we change our value scale depending on our life circumstance. In light of economic choices, it is imperative that we look at the long range consequence of those economic decisions, for, this is what differentiates between good and bad economics. A newer buzz word/phrase that has been around in the past few decades is, “Christian Economics” and it mainly has to do with how Christians should help the poor. Unfortunately, studies have shown that these types of programs have, in the long run, had worse consequences for the poor people than initially intended. The short term effect could be a positive reprieve on the hardships of life, but the long term effects could be that these people end up being dependent on the system and to never want to get off.
As Christians, we are called to help the poor. Sadly, most social welfare programs harm the poor, not help. We are also called to be wise and to be good stewards. The choices we make in life ranging from how we spend our time, to buying vehicles, and whether or not to invest our money all have to do with economics. We must constantly be thinking of the long term effects and to not be satisfied with mediocre.1