A great episode of the Unbelievable podcast. This is a great debate. I really enjoyed it. All three speakers were excellent putting forward their points. It’s nice to hear an American voice, a British voice and an Australian voice debating an important issue. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Wayne Grudem is a theologian known for his conservative approach to both doctrine and economics. His new book “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution” (co-authored with economist Barry Asmus) makes the case that pouring aid into developing countries is a failed strategy. Grudem debates whether the Bible supports free market, capitalist economics with Australian economist and theologian Richard Glover who wrote a critique of the book for the Australian Bible Society.
- The Bible speaks to all of life, including economics, stewardship, government
- The study of economics helps us to understand how to take care of the poor
- My job is to apply the teachings of the Bible to all of life
- What’s your thesis in the book?
- A good system is one where the poor have the opportunity to earn and save from their labor
- Book is a response to a Kenyan couple Grudem met at a London conference on business and Christianity
- Book is not concerned with how individuals and groups can do charity to help the poor
- Our church already does that and we support individuals and groups doing charity
- The book is concerned with how should nations be transformed in order to grow economically
- What should the laws, policies and cultural beliefs of a nation be in order for it to not be poor?
- The book lists factors that have moved nations from poverty to prosperity in different times and places
- The thesis of the book is this: government should set their people free to be able to produce more
- We advocate freedom in economics: freedom to work, freedom to save, freedom to start businesses
- We believe that this free enterprise view is consistent with the Bible in a number of places
- E.g. – private property is good for prosperity (thou shall not steal) but forbidden by communism
- What about the church sharing in communities in Acts 2 and Acts 4?
- That is not redistribution of wealth among individuals and businesses by a secular government
- Those passages showed that there was voluntary sharing among Christians, which is not communism
- What’s wrong with Grudem’s book?
- The book emphasizes the Bible and the goal is to help the poor in poor countries
- Criticism 1: the book doesn’t engage with non-free-market perspectives on economics
- Criticism 2: the book doesn’t survey all that the Bible says about economics
- For 1) what is one of the views that is not considered?
- Jeffrey Sachs says that nations need a leg up before they can grow economically
- Ha-Joon Chang says that free enterprise was not how the wealthy nations became wealthy
- We do engage with other points of view, especially Jeffrey Sachs in the book
- The trouble with leftist views on economic development is that it does not work in practice
- NO COUNTRY has even been lifted out of poverty by foreign aid
- He says we don’t cite enough from the wisdom literature: we have 64 citations in the index
- He says we don’t cite enough from the gospels: we have 42 citations in the index
- He says we don’t cite enough from the epistles: we cite 22 of 27 epistles in the index
- Some economists won’t criticize cultural and moral values that hurt prosperity
- As Christians, we think that moral and cultural values are part of the problem that needs solving
- What about foreign aid?
- Foreign aid doesn’t help: a lot of the money goes into government and rulers can be corrupt
- Instead of encouraging people to start businesses, it tells people to go into government to get aid money
- Economists (lists 3) are saying that foreign aid entrenches corrupt government in power, does no good
- If it’s not working, should we keep doing it?
- When there is an immediate need, we should do it, even if it is not a long-term solution: we need both
- Should we stop foreign aid completely?
- Voluntary charitable giving from individuals and churches to help poor countries is good
- Me and my co-author are both active on our church board that helps poor countries with urgent needs
- Food and doctors are urgent needs, and we should help, but it doesn’t lift countries out of poverty
- We need a long-term solution that helps poor countries produce their own food and doctors
- We are criticizing 1) government to government aid and 2) IMF/World bank to government aid
- We have had pushback because 500,000 people make a living from this foreign aid industry
- No country has ever been lifted out of poverty into sustainable prosperity
- That’s the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing that has never worked
- Does the Bible support free enterprise as a way of creating sustainable prosperity?
- When I said the Bible was absent from his book, absent was a bad choice of words
- But the hundreds of references he listed were not dealth with *in depth*
- In the Scriptures, God is the one who provides (e.g. – in Ephesians, Sermon on the Mount)
- The Bible is less focused on his people making money, and more focus on sharing basics, like food
- Secular governments should just take it from people who have food and give it to hungry people
- In 2 Cor 8-9, Paul talks about voluntary sharing so everyone will be equal
- Does 2 Cor 8-9 undermine the free enterprise system you champion in the book?
- The sharing in the Bible solves cases of urgent need, it does not lift countries from poverty to sustainable prosperity
- Some older translations say “equality” in 2 Cor 8:13-14, but newer translations (e.g. – ESV) say “fairness”
- The Greek word is translated as “fairly” the only other place it appears in the NT (Col 4:1), in every translation
- God uses the means of human work and productivity to provide (daily bread is baked, doesn’t just fall from Heaven)
- In general, there’s no provision in Scripture for a person to be dependent on donations for their entire lives
- God promises Israel fields and mountains to tend and mine, but prosperity is from work, not depending on others
- Does the Bible support this focus on work?
- Working is highly praised in Scripture, (lists Bible passages that favor work over dependency)
- Countries that were exposed to this notion of work and productivity have been more prosperous
- Jeffrey Sachs and other development economists don’t say you can be prosperous through dependence
- They say that it is a necessary part of leading to nations out of poverty into poverty
- It’s never worked. What nation has become prosperous through foreign aid?
- There are lots of nations, especially in Africa, where foreign aid has helped lift them out of poverty
- Name one country in Africa where foreign aud has lifted them out of poverty into sustainable prosperity
- I can’t think of one right now.
- Our book contains a map of Africa and we looked at every nation’s per capita income
- No nation has been able to rise out of poverty through dependence on foreign aid
- The only close one is Botswana, but they have abundant freedoms, Christian morals, less corrupt government
- So Botswana is the best case and they became prosperous through becoming productive, not foreign aid
- Is he right to say that charity is a short-term solution, but that it’s not good long-term for prosperity?
- Yes, and work is a very important focus in the Scriptures as he says.
- But since the Fall work has been much harder, and may not have the outcomes that we would like
- I also believe in emergency aid for when catastrophies happen, like floods and famines
- But dependence on foreign aid enriches corrupt rulers and does not create the productivity that leads to sustained prosperity
- Can foreign aid be used to give poor nations a leg up on becoming prosperous?
- Dambisa Moyo, Oxford-educated economist from Zambia, says stop the aid, it’s doing more harm than good
- Jeffrey Sachs’ view is that foreign aid hasn’t worked yet, but just keep trying a bit more
- What works: limited government, rule of law, fair courts, documented property rights, low taxes, stable currency
- People are creative and want to work, we just have to get government out of the way and let people work, earn and save
- Is this free enterprise system supported by the Bible?
- The wealthy nations of the world did not become wealthy through productive work and free enterprise policies
- Ha-Joon Chang: free enterprise policies have never brought a country from poverty to wealth
- E.g. – wealth is created through tariffs (not by innovating and by economic freedom?)
- I’ve read Ha-Joon Chang’s book, and his examples are very selective and limited
- Index of Economic Freedom: the freest countries are the most prosperous, the least free countries are the most poor
- When you look at macro data, instead of very selective examples, the free enterprise system is best for prosperity
- The book doesn’t do enough to engage with leftist economists (he doesn’t say which ones)
- Just because nations who are free are rich, doesn’t mean freedom causes productivity
- There are parts of the Bible that doesn’t support the free enterprise system (he names none)
- The Bible is focused on work not dependency, and charity not government redistribution
- The best way to help the poor in other countries is by encouraging work and productivity
4 thoughts on “Wayne Grudem debates Richard Glover on the Bible, poverty and foreign aid”
The only slightly different ideas on the Bible economically I can think of which we don’t do in the americas. Is the idea of a year of jubilee.
After about seventy years turning land from pure ownership back to an idea of long term rental as means of keeping too long of massive generational wealth. But this was a uniqueiley Israel solution most likely to make sure none of the twelve tribes would lose all of their land forever if a period of descendents sold off all their land.
Other than that the idea of being able to barter as way to trade is good for an economy and our governments are trying to make people almost seem criminal for doing that because it cuts off income and state taxes.
To me in the secondary issue that is the problem with big government if you get some debt. Assume you have a large business and then a government comes along and decides to try and shut down your industry because it is a it oil, something we understand well in Canada with our eastern government. People and companies start to go bankrupt due to suddenly having a prosperous industry wiped out because it makes bureaucrats that live far away feel good, and it isn’t the lives or family affected.
Lack of compassion by leaders always undermines an economy. Under any economic system I think government would learn to function better if their own income and pension was tied to an average of what their citizens got.
Suddenly if they made any decision that impacted citizens they may start to care if they saw how it impacted them
The debate is very good and does show how just because it would feel good to help everyone we can’t feed the world at some point they must help their own country or else ask us to come in and help them make changes.
Because the left and UN wants to make military intervention taboo against evil dictators we let the people suffer be cause it is better to let millions die slowly with no shots fired in our behalf than to crush a weak opponent, maybe make a few small unintentional mistakes and help to allow them to rebuild after
This is their page, their MP3 does not work. The Unbelievable site broke all of the links from their old shows, and they haven’t fixed them.
I love Wayne Grudem. I wrote him a personal letter when he was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School/College in Deerfield, Ill about his perspective on a theological issue our church was debating at the time. He wrote me back on official letterhead. It meant a lot to me that he took the time to write back via snail mail.
The summary of this debate reinforces in my mind that left-leaning policies are really about good intentions/feelings and not good results unless, of course, redistribution of wealth and acquisition of power is the real goal (btw governments aren’t exempt from the sins of covetousness and greed. God judges nations and not just individuals). I’ve noticed that when the Bible is cited by leftists/liberals, their ideology is simply shoehorned into the biblical text. A perfect example is using Acts 2 to justify Communism.
Common sense and math dictate that any long term solution to material poverty has to have innovation and work backing it up. Plus the fact that just receiving a handout is humiliating to many people (even non-Westerns). When people have to resort to long term begging no one is empowered
Right now my life group (Sunday school) is studying a book called “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I highly recommend it. The authors think along the same lines as Wayne Grudem.