Seven questions about economics and the economy with Barry Asmus
When studying in seminary or serving in a church, students and pastors often find little time for topics such as economics. And yet economics, as a reality, is all around. Towers editor Aaron Cline Hanbury asks Barry Asmus, speaker, writer and consultant on political and business issues and a senior economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Washington, D.C., about a Christian view of the economy, the current financial crisis and his new book The Poverty of Nations.
What is a Christian view of economics?
BA: Man is created in the image of God and therefore is also a creator, innovator and mover of history. Economic growth is spurred by the entrepreneur: builders, creators, dreamers, doers, inventors and innovators. They are the engine of the economic train — people who turn problems into opportunities by creating goods and services. The market (a conduit for entrepreneurs) then grabs these ideas and places them at the disposal of all mankind.
The free market thrives on voluntary exchange, competition, cooperation and collaboration. It is the conduit of communication and a transmitter of ideas while determining value. There is no system on earth that works as well as the market. Give entrepreneurs the economic freedom to buy and sell, to save and invest, to trade and exchange, to own and operate, and there are no limits. Economic freedom inevitably produces a perpetual motion machine of progress and growth.
Why does economics matter for those in the ministry?
BA: If you believe that life is better than death; that health is better than sickness; that education is better than illiteracy; and that prosperity is better than poverty — then you would want to encourage a system that produces such outcomes (a free market) and a culture which facilitates the Judeo-Christian ideas on rule of law, ownership, government and the economy.
Those in ministry have the wonderful privilege of saying, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6). God first. Christ above everything. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Mat 6:33).
What role, if any, should the church play in alleviating poverty?
BA: My book with Wayne Grudem, The Poverty of Nations, gives 79 factors that can help alleviate poverty. Remember that helping people to become helpless is not an act of kindness, that bottom-up aid, a helping hand of free enterprise and biblical teaching can lead to progress. Each church (and area) is different, with varying priorities, so we say choose, and do what you can through the Holy Spirit.
What is the relationship between moral virtue and the economy?
BA: Since we are all infected with sin and selfishness, moral virtue is a choice, God’s leading in our lives. Economies are whatever a group of people make them to be. If they choose the wrong system — slavery, subsistence farming or communism, for example — they are doomed economically and often morally as well. While the right system can point in a non-coercive and economic freedom direction. Moral outcomes can only emerge from moral decision makers. A person’s character is nothing more than the sum of his or her choices. You fine-tune your character every time you decide right from wrong and what you are going personally to do about it.
What solution does a Christian view of economics offer for the current fiscal crisis in America?
BA: Four words: less government, more growth.
If government would reduce spending to match taxation receipts and then reduce taxes and government regulations, the economy, through growth would begin to heal itself. Perhaps the most productive and prosperous decades were the 1980s and 1990s, when taxation rates for the modest earner were about 30 percent and the capital gains tax was about 20 percent. It doesn’t mean no government, but it does mean less and limited government. Hong Kong and Singapore are two excellent examples of many, indicating the growth producing aspects of a 15 percent flat tax. Incentives matter.
How should Christians, particularly seminarians, think about debt (such as student loans)?
BA: The sooner one learns that saving is preferable to debt and that spending must be lower than income earned, the better. Debt has been the woeful downfall of wanting everything now. It is never how much of my money I give to God, but rather, how much of God’s money I spend on myself? Debt has its place, but hopefully it’s a small one.
For those who want to learn more about economics, including its relationship to ministry, where (how) is a good place to start?
BA: David A Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews
Ronald H. Nash, The Closing of the American Heart
Nancy Pearcey, The Soul of Science
Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live?
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution.
This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of Towers.