Book Review: Biblical Economics – By R.C. Sproul Jr.

 

SproulJr Biblical Economics.pngletter-bBiblical Economics is, just as the title would lead you to believe, an explanation of just what Scripture puts forth as a guide for the economic process. The author notes that the Bible is not an economics textbook, yet the truths set forth therein still have some applicability to that realm of study. As the author states “Where ethics touches economics, the Bible is relevant.”

The first idea introduced is the Biblical mandate set forth in Genesis for the stewardship of the earth, that man is set as a steward, that work was originally not a negative thing, and that there is a precedent for such a thing as private property.

Sproul next gives rationale for caring about the workings of economics through a contrast between materialism and spiritualism, and the medium which Scripture offers between them. – warning against the philosophy of Marx on the one hand and of the Social Gospel on the other. Sproul then goes on to discuss prosperity and the conditions needed to create it, relying on the philosophies of Adam Smith and the Austrian school of Mises, and arguing against the system put forth by Keynes. He gives a discussion on the way in which money came about, of inflation and what it is, of debt, of poverty, of equity and it’s contrast with equality, of the government’s role in all of this, and finally concluding with what we might do about it.

The central tenant being put forth is one of economic liberalism, of capitalism, of small government in relation to economic matters, while offering a moral and practical argument against the seeds of socialism and the school of Keynes.

In light of our many problems today Sproul offers the beginning of a solution: to stop government growth by not using their services, especially for our own profit by not accepting government money, something which can only be accomplished through education of why this shouldn’t be done, along with a push for the government to be forced into keeping a balanced budget.

All in all Sproul offers a very good introduction to the basics structure and pitfalls of the economic system and gives some good advice about what we might do to help fix the system. Sproul thinks that this can be accomplished without revolution, but rather by pushing the government back into its constitutional position, where the government is not seen as the parent taking care of all the ills of society: “As long as the government is seen as the solution to all of our problems, the government will continue to be the source of many of our problems. We do not need to reinvent government, but to rethink government. We need to tam the monster, to coax it back into it’s constitutional cage. We need to rethink how we see government.” (p200)

On the downside, perhaps the biggest problem with Sproul Jr’s view is that he has an over-simplistic understanding of what capitalism is (understanding it as little more than private property and free trade) and he completely glosses over the more damaging aspects of capitalism. On the whole, it reads as if Sproul is trying to finagle capitalism back into Scripture, as if he is so predisposed to capitalism that he will cling to any justification for it that he can. He seems entirely too eagEer to force Scripture to give it’s stamp of approval to the capitalist system, and while he does manage to affirm some aspects of the capitalist system, these are just aspects of the system and not the system itself.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The biblical view of assigns value to the body and the soul, to evangelism and social concern, to the spiritual and the material. Redemption is for the whole man.”(p37)

-“Freedom is the key to profit, as only voluntary exchange enables mutual profit.”(p63)

-“There is a subtle but paramount distinction between equality and equity. Equality is likeness, evenness, and uniformity. Equity is justice, impartiality, and fairness. Socialism calls for equality; the Scriptures call for equity.”(p154)

-“Government can only give that which it first takes.”(p205)

Specific Criticisms

The main criticism is that Sproul Jr. is abit of an idealist when it comes to liberal economics. He says that the free wage earner is free to choose where he wants to work and live, and to quit if he wants, and later states that “Under capitalism, the rich get richer and the poor get richer.”(p166) This seems a highly idealized view. Sure, if system goes off without a hitch, then capitalism will work very well, the problem is exploitation. Sproul spends all of about a paragraph on exploitation, noting that it is one of the potential causes of poverty. Yet is is exploitation which is the greatest danger in capitalism, a fact which Sproul doesn’t spend much time at all pointing out. In an ideal world, unbridled capitalism would be perfect, the problem comes when sinful man enters the picture and seeks his own selfish ends. Perhaps Sproul desires that the government work to help stop this kind of exploitation, though he doesn’t make it readily apparent that this is the case.

There also seems to be abit of an inconsistency in his view of money in relation to gold and paper money. Sproul makes the point that money in and of itself has no real value, it is only valuable in terms of what you can get for it. Yet he later makes the comment that now that we’ve switched from a gold backed currency to a paper currency, that now our money is backed by nothing more than a government force. Yet, even on the gold standard, money is backed by nothing more than the force of government. Gold in and of itself has no value apart from what either the people or the government decide to attribute to it, neither does the paper dollar. In this sense, both gold and paper money are backed by nothing more than government force and a shared consensus of their value. Gold has the advantage only in that it is a limited resource, which stops the government from being able to print dollars ad infinitum, thereby making gold more stable.

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