If you know the Ten Commandments, then you already understand the fundamentals of Christian economics…
The heart of Christian economics, which sums up the entire field of Christian Economics, is the 8th Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
The 8th Commandment is Christian economics in one lesson.
The modern world has revised the 8th Commandment to say this: Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.
In reply, you should emphasize the Biblical intent: Thou shalt not steal, not even by majority vote.
All the economic problems that plague the world exist because of violations of the 8th Commandment. The boom-bust cycle that causes economic recessions is, at the heart, a violation of property rights. The central bank inflates the money supply, which is a form of theft. This creates the economic instability with which we are plagued.
God’s world is covenantal. History is covenantal. This means ethical infractions lead to negative consequences in reality. Economies which systematically violate God’s laws and commandments will suffer negative consequences.
CORRECTLY IDENTIFYING THEFT
Dr. Gary North wrote a book titled Christian Economics in One Lesson. It offers a very good and easy-to-read explanation of Christian economics. In the first chapter, he said this: “I start the book with this definition: the good economist understands the implications of ownership, and therefore he can identify theft.”
His point is that academic economists, those who graduate from Ivy League universities with a Ph.D. and who have the attention of the politicians and thus influence their policies, are unnecessarily complex in their explanations. This makes it hard for the common person to understand even the basics of economics. This works to the good of those special interest groups who wish to use the power of government coercion to convince voters to vote for a policy that benefits the special interest and penalizes the voting consumers.
The central economic question that every citizen should ask regarding civil government is this one: “Is the official who wears a badge and a gun truly acting in the name of the entire society, or is he acting on behalf of a special interest group?” If this book helps you answer this question accurately, then it is a successful book.
This is a book about badges and guns. This is also a book about ethics. This is a book about limiting the authority of people with badges and guns. This is the issue of state coercion. This book deals with the issue of state coercion and a social order based on the possibility of increased productivity. Above all, this is the issue of injustice.
THE BROKEN WINDOW FALLACY
North elaborated on Henry Hazlitt’s book, Economics in One Lesson. In that book, Hazlitt resurrected the broken window fallacy to show the difference between good and bad economics.
If someone throws a rock through a storeowner’s window, modern Keynesian economists will say this is good for the overall economy. That’s because it forces the storeowner to spend money to repair his window. This money he spends stimulates the economy, they claim. While he was saving it, they say, it wasn’t helping the economy.
But Hazlitt pointed out the problem. The storeowner was saving up his money for a special reason. Maybe he wanted to invest in a big piece of machinery that would help him make his products faster, which means he could sell them cheaper to his customers.
Also, while his money was in savings, it was really with a bank. The bankers were borrowing his money to use as investment loans for other business men. They were paying him some interest as a payment for letting them loan his money.
But now, the storeowner has to pull his money out of the bank. This means it will no longer fund a business loan. It has to be spent on repairs. This means it will not be spent on labor-saving equipment. The consumers suffer because they have to pay higher prices than they would have.
These are the unseen consequences of the broken window. Bad economists ignore them.
Bad economists are those who do not look beyond the short-term. They don’t consider the long run or the effects of a particular policy on other groups.
But it’s not just about economic logic and value analysis. It’s about appealing to a particularly destructive sinful desire: envy. In Christian economics, ethics are at the heart of every policy and action: Does a particular action violate God’s commandments, especially regarding property rights?
Humanist economics pretends ethics don’t count. Economists pretend that policy actions are ethically neutral. But this isn’t true. The existence of the welfare state is based on envy. It is implemented by a systematic violation of property rights: stealing through majority vote.
I take the broken window fallacy very seriously. Specifically, it is about envy. It is not about jealousy. This is why it is limited in dealing with those aspects of modern politics which we think of as the welfare state or wealth redistribution. Here is why. Envy is defined as the impulse of an individual who seeks to destroy somebody else’s advantage, even though he is not benefited directly by the other person’s loss.
Jealousy is different from envy. Jealousy is based on the recognition that somebody else has an advantage, but if you can apply some degree of coercion, maybe you can force the other person to share some of his advantage with you. This is the impulse of wealth redistribution by legislation…When societies adopt policies of wealth redistribution by the state, which do not increase wealth, but which make things more difficult for people who are wealthy, these policies are based on envy, not jealousy.
To think correctly about economics means to think ethically about property rights.
We recognize that school bullies are unethical. When a school bully beats down a kid to take his lunch money, the bully is intending to spend that money on something he wants. The victimized kid loses his property. He loses his ability to buy lunch. He will go hungry this day.
Everyone understands the ethics of this scenario.
But their judgement gets cloudy when it is applied to politics. For over a hundred years, parents have voted in favor of public schools. The funding for public schools comes from local property taxes. But not every adult who owns a house and pays property tax has children. Not every family who pays property taxes sends their children into public schools (they may homeschool or send their kids to private school). But they are not exempted from funding the public school system.
Why should those people pay for services they don’t use?
The local citizens are like the bully. Except instead of punching the kid directly, they send government officials on their behalf to shake down the kids with lunch money. They shake down a lot of kids. They take a lot of lunch money. They will then use the large amount of stolen lunch money to pay for their children’s education.
The parents who send their kids into the public school system have stolen from their neighbors by majority vote. This forces people who don’t use the public school system to pay for the education of those who do. This is a violation of property rights. This penalizes those families who wish to homeschool or send their children to private school. They have to pay twice: once to help educate everyone else’s children, and again to educate their own.
This is perverse. It is a violation of the Ten Commandments.
Can you recognize this? If you can, then you are ahead of a significant majority of the Christian population.
The entire book, Christian Economics in One Lesson, is available online for free. You can access it here. If you wish to buy a hard copy, it is available online from American Vision.