Tag Archives: Free Enterprise

Wayne Grudem debates Richard Glover on the Bible, poverty and foreign aid

Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!
Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!

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.

Details:

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 MP3 file is here.

Summary:

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • What’s your thesis in the book?

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • What about the church sharing in communities in Acts 2 and Acts 4?

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • What’s wrong with Grudem’s book?

Glover:

  • 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

Brierly:

  • For 1) what is one of the views that is not considered?

Glover:

  • 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

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • What about foreign aid?

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • If it’s not working, should we keep doing it?

Glover:

  • When there is an immediate need, we should do it, even if it is not a long-term solution: we need both

Brierley:

  • Should we stop foreign aid completely?

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • Does the Bible support free enterprise as a way of creating sustainable prosperity?

Glover:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • Does 2 Cor 8-9 undermine the free enterprise system you champion in the book?

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • Does the Bible support this focus on work?

Grudem:

  • 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

Glover:

  • 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

Grudem:

  • It’s never worked. What nation has become prosperous through foreign aid?

Glover:

  • There are lots of nations, especially in Africa, where foreign aid has helped lift them out of poverty

Grudem:

  • Name one country in Africa where foreign aud has lifted them out of poverty into sustainable prosperity

Glover:

  • I can’t think of one right now.

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • Is he right to say that charity is a short-term solution, but that it’s not good long-term for prosperity?

Glover:

  • 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

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • Can foreign aid be used to give poor nations a leg up on becoming prosperous?

Grudem:

  • 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

Brierley:

  • Is this free enterprise system supported by the Bible?

Glover:

  • 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?)

Grudem:

  • 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

Glover:

  • 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)

Grudem:

  • 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

The pilgrims experiment with communism before the second Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving
Less than half the original pilgrims made it to the the first Thanksgiving

Here’s an article from The Stream about the second Thanksgiving, by Dante Witt. I like this article because it tells us so much about the character of the United States of America. Why are we so conservative about economics?

She briefly retells the story of how the pilgrims were helped by Squanto, which I blogged about in a previous Thanksgiving Day post, then she talks about the troubles they had next.

Excerpt:

Although Squanto’s farming techniques worked better than their old ones, the pilgrims still could not produce enough food. Was it bad luck? Bad soil? No. The Mayflower pilgrims were part of a joint stock company which stipulated that the pilgrims would pool their resources, and receive a share of the profit.

The strategy turned out to be deeply misguided, working about as well as various communist economic schemes hundreds of years later. The sad state of the colony after two years of communism, wrote William Bradford, “may well evidence the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and the other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and the bringing of community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God” (p. 121).

So the pilgrims amended their contract so that each family was now responsible for its own provision. The difference was stark. Bradford explained:

This had good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so that more corn was planted than could have been by any other means the Governor could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

In fact, it’s estimated the colonists planted about six times the crops they would have planted otherwise.

That shows where Americans get their views of economics, but what about the praying and the gratitude?

More:

With new farming techniques and an amended government, the pilgrims did all they humanly could to ward off starvation. But they could not control the weather. A drought settled on the colony and threatened to kill the corn before the harvest. Recognizing with the Psalmist that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” the colonists turned to God. According to Bradford, they “set apart a solemn day of humiliation to seek the Lord by humble & fervent prayer, in this great distress.” What was the outcome?

And he was pleased to give them a gracious & speedy answer, both to their own & the Indians admiration, that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather & very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen, yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoicing, & blessing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance, as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith. Which did so apparently revive & quicken the decayed corn & other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold. (p. 131)

Seeing the speedy results of the Puritans’ prayers, an Indian named Hobanak said, “Now I see that the Englishman’s God is a good God, for he hath heard you, and sent you rain, and that without storms and tempests and thunder, which usually we have with our rain, which breaks down our corn, but yours stands whole and good still; surely your God is a good God.” (pp. 64-5)

Then William Bradford again proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to God, the forerunner of the American tradition of Thanksgiving.

So, this story explains why the United States has this character that values the free enterprise system, hard work, individual achievement, prayer, and gratitude. These are the values that make us American, that made us into such a great nation.

Who is better on health care? Republicans (Ted Cruz) or Democrats (Bernie Sanders)?

I noticed that the Democrats are trying to focus on health care in the 2018 mid-terms, so I thought I would re-post a debate on health care between Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. I think debates are always a good idea, because you have to listen to both sides. If you can’t watch the full debate, there’s a good article summarizing the main points further down.

Here is the full video:

It’s 90 minutes long. No commercials. This was basically a debate of similar substance to the William Lane Craig debates, where actual economic evidence was continuously produced in order to show who was telling the truth, and who was just trying to be popular by saying what people who are uneducated at economics want to hear. In short: there was a clear winner and loser in this debate, and it was clear all the way through, and was reinforced over and over every time evidence was produced. The person producing the evidence would turn his back on the camera, and return to his podium to get the evidence. That person won the debate by being grounded in reality.

Also, the questions were excellent, especially from the small business owners who were impacted by Obamacare. The moderators were biased towards Sanders, but not excessively.

For those who cannot watch, there is an article at the Daily Signal.

Full text:

In a prime-time debate on CNN this week, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, discussed “The Future of Obamacare” in America. Cruz, a leading critic of the law, used the moment to outline the law’s failures.

Here are four things Cruz said about Obamacare:

1) “Now, nobody thinks we’re done once Obamacare is repealed. Once Obamacare is repealed, we need commonsense reform that increases competition, that empowers patients, that gives you more choices, that puts you in charge of your health care, rather than empowering government bureaucrats to get in the way. And these have been commonsense ideas.”

2) “Indeed, I don’t know if the cameras can see this, but in 70 percent of the counties in America, on Obamacare exchanges, you have a choice of one or two health insurance plans, that’s it … It’s interesting. You look at this map, this also very much looks like the electoral map that elected Donald Trump. It’s really quite striking that the communities that have been hammered by this disaster of a law said enough already.”

During one of the more powerful moments in the debate, Cruz held up aHeritage Foundation chart showing viewers how many counties in the U.S. have access to only one or two insurers under Obamacare. Additionally, only 11 percent of counties have access to four or more insurance providers.

3) “Whenever you put government in charge of health care, what it means is they ration. They decide you get care and you don’t. I don’t think the government has any business telling you you’re not entitled to receive health care.”

The U.S. should not envy other health care systems, especially Canada and the United Kingdom, Cruz said. He referred to a governor from Canada who came to the U.S. specifically to have heart surgery.

4) “That’s why I think the answer is not more of Obamacare, more government control, more of what got us in this mess. Rather, the answer is empower you. Give you choices. Lower prices. Lower premiums. Lower deductibles. Empower you and put you back in charge of your health care.”

Obamacare is burdening Americans. The average deductible for a family on a bronze plan is $12,393, according to a HealthPocket analysis. According to aneHealth report, the average nationwide premium increase for individuals is 99 percent and 140 percent for families from 2013-2017.

I really recommend you watch this debate, because it these things were done on a weekly or monthly basis, then people would be able to think critically about what they are presented with from the mainstream media, Hollywood elites and liberal academics.

How much does the average American corporation make in profit?

How much profit does the average American corporation make?
How much profit does the average American corporation make?

A while back, there was a story about how Americans vastly overestimate how many people in the USA are homosexual. According to Gallup polls in 2011, Americans estimated that 25% of the people in America were homosexual. In 2015, it was 23%. The actual number is about 3%. So it’s very clear that Americans can have wildly inaccurate perceptions about reality. Why are Americans so wrong? I think it’s because they see a lot of gay people in high profile areas, particularly in the entertainment industry.

I thought about this failure to perceive reality when I saw a story about how much profit Americans think that corporations make. My guess was that the average corporation makes about 5-10% profit margin. I know this because I used to buy and sell stocks regularly and that’s one of the numbers I would look at. Most Americans own stocks, so I thought they most Americans would know the number as well. But it turns out that American perceptions of corporate profits are wildly off the mark.

Check out this article from the prestigious American Enterprise Institute:

When a random sample of American adults were asked the question “Just a rough guess, what percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average company makes after taxes?” for the Reason-Rupe poll in May 2013, the average response was 36%! That response was very close to historical results from the polling organization ORC International polls for a slightly different, but related question: What percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average manufacturer makes after taxes? Responses to that question in 9 different polls between 1971 and 1987 ranged from 28% to 37% and averaged 31.6%.

How do the public’s estimates of corporate profit margins compare to reality? Not surprisingly they are off by a huge margin. According to this NYU Stern database for more than 7,000 US companies (updated in January 2018) in many different industries, the average profit margin is 7.9% for all companies and 6.9% for more than 6,000 companies excluding financials (see chart above).

[…]“Big Oil” companies make a lot of profits, right? Well, that industry (Integrated Oil/Gas) had a below-average profit margin of 5.6% in the most recent period analyzed, and separately, the Production and Exploration Oil/Gas industry is losing money, reflected in a -6.6% profit margin. For the general retail sector, the average profit margin is only 2.3% and for the grocery and food retail industry, it’s even lower at only 1.6%. And evil Walmart only made a 2.1% profit margin in 2017 (first three quarters) which is less than the industry average for general retail, possibly because grocery sales now make up more than half of Walmart’s revenue and profit margins are lower on food than general retail.

Sometimes, the government makes MORE from the sale of goods or services than the company that does ALL the work:

Interestingly, Walmart’s profit margin of 2.1% is actually less than one-third of the 6.5% the average state/local government takes of each dollar of Walmart’s retail sales for sales taxes. Think about it – for every $100 in sales for Walmart, the state/local governments get an average of $6.50 in sales taxes (and as much as $10.12 in Louisiana and $9.45 in Tennessee, see data here), while Walmart gets only $2.10 in after-tax profits!

I think that Americans are getting their false anti-corporation views from listening to the mainstream media. The mainstream media is overwhelmingly leftist according to recent studies of their political donations. I think that the anti-corporate views of the average American comes from their uncritical consumption of mainstream media propaganda. They think they are getting objective news reporting, but what they’re really getting is socialist propaganda.

Here is a short little video that explains more about profit margins, and what would happen if a socialist like Bernie Sanders were put in charge of a corporation:

If you’d like to help with this problem of anti-business economic illiteracy, please watch the video and share it, or share the AEI article, which contains the video. America will be a better country when Americans have accurate, informed beliefs about important issues.

Jay Richards: why should Christians learn about economics?

Here’s a good basic introduction to the free enterprise system by Dr. Jay Richards:

In this lecture, Dr. Richards covers the following topics:

  • the piety myth – thinking that good intentions matter more than good results
  • the greed myth – thinking that capitalism is about greed instead of about innovation and serving others
  • the zero sum game myth – thinking that voluntary exchanges between buyers and sellers result in win-lose outcomes
  • the materialist myth – thinking that there is only a set amount of wealth to be divided by competition

It turns out that the best system for lifting the poor out of poverty – by work or charity – is the economic system that creates wealth through human ingenuity and hard work. That system is the free enterprise system.

Something to read?

If you can’t listen to the lecture and don’t want to buy the whole book “Money, Greed and God?” Then I have a series of posts on each chapter for you.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

If you do get the book, be sure and skip the chapter on usury. It’s just not as engaging as the others, in my opinion.