Here is an article by Jay Richards for the American Enterprise Institute.
First, his introduction:
If you’re like me, when you think of wealth and poverty, you picture its material manifestations. To have wealth, we imagine, is to have money, stocks, real estate, or valuable commodities, which, in turn, gives us the means to achieve various material ends, such as food, clothing, cars, housing, and healthcare. Poverty, in contrast, is the lack of such goods, which, in turn, leads to a lack of food, shelter, basic medical care, and other such items. These mental associations can make it hard to discover the preconditions of wealth creation, many of which are immaterial, even spiritual, rather than material.
For most of human history, discovering the sources of wealth creation would have been devilishly hard, since most economies, such as there were, tended to be static. If a Mesopotamian farmer or Greek shepherd in the second century BC ever asked, “Where does wealth come from?” he would have assumed that wealth came from rain, common labor, good luck, or some combination of these. He probably also would have assumed that to get really wealthy, you need to plunder other people.
But we now have concrete examples of cultures that have created vast new wealth, moving the majority of their citizens from poverty to relative prosperity. And when we look at these cultures retroactively, we discover answers that, for most of us, are counterintuitive. I’ve argued elsewhere that we’re able to discern ten crucial features allowing such cultures to alleviate poverty and create wealth. The more of these a culture has or does, the more likely it is to be prosperous.
The Top Ten Ways to Alleviate Poverty
- Establish and maintain the rule of law.
- Focus the jurisdiction of government primarily on maintaining the rule of law, and limit its jurisdiction over the economy and the institutions of civil society.
- Implement a formal property system with consistent and accessible means for securing a clear title to property one owns.
- Encourage economic freedom.
- Encourage stable families and other important private institutions which mediate between the individual and the state.
- Encourage belief in the truth that the universe is purposeful and makes sense.
- Encourage the right cultural mores.
- Instill a proper understanding of the nature of wealth creation and poverty.
- Focus on cultivating your comparative advantage rather than protecting what used to be your comparative advantage.
- Work hard.
There is a striking correlation between societies that exhibit these traits, or some subset of them, and the large-scale wealth creation. But notice that only one of them describes a material good. All the others are intangible, immaterial, spiritual. You can’t find economic freedom or cultural mores on a map or put them in a safe. You can’t bottle diligence or weigh the ingredients for stable families and voluntary institutions on a scale. These goods involve beliefs, social conventions, institutions, commitments, virtues, and creativity. Having listed them in brief, now I want to hold each of the ten immaterial ingredients up to the light and consider how each helps a society move from poverty to prosperity.
If someone has a spiritual or moral sickness that is preventing them from working, then the solution is not to hand them someone else’s money. That’s not going to make them happy. They need to earn their own pay and be responsible for their own independence.
Family Research Council lecture
Here’s a lecture that Jay Richards did for the Family Research Council, on the topic of Christianity and Economics. It’s a very good lecture that discusses some basic economic principles and some common economics myths. You can also listen to the MP3 file, but it’s 60 megabytes.
UPDATE: Letitia also put up a post on Christianity and socialism today.