Global meltdown, economic woes, and evolution
Published: 3 October 2008 (GMT+10)
With current talk of possible ‘meltdown’ in the world economy, trillion-dollar bailouts and the like, I was reminded of a newsletter article I wrote some 18 years ago.1 This was at a time when a major Australian newspaper had issued a dramatic call for ‘the churches to “preach” ethics and morals to the embattled Australian business community”. Why? Because they clearly saw the link between declining morality and the then-deteriorating economic health of our country.
Australia had been sinking into banana-republic-type foreign debt, then undergoing ‘the recession we had to have’.2 High-flying entrepreneurs who were public heroes in the 80s had been increasingly revealed as at best, irresponsible paper shufflers creating artificial debt bubbles, and at worst, corporate criminals whose schemes were done through loop-holes on the very edge of the law. They had severely damaged this country to the tune of many billions of dollars, for which all Australians were going to have to pay.
Similar things were happening in other parts of the western world. Looking at today’s world headlines, particularly in the USA, brings much of this to mind. Many of the ‘fixes’ put in place back then have likely helped create the conditions of today’s looming problems.
I wrote back then (and it seems as relevant as ever):
The idea that morality, specifically Christian morality, is foundational to business and economics may sound strange, even to many Christians. Yet it doesn’t sound at all strange to some in the world of business, who are literally crying out for moral leadership. (Hence the call for the churches to preach morals to business.)
Evolution, law and morality
The article went on to say:
A society that has no absolute standards of morality, having turned its back on the Bible, will inevitably reap the consequences. What is the point of appealing to the churches to preach morality at businessmen, when vast numbers of church leaders have, thanks to the need to compromise with the so-called ‘truth’ of evolution, lost belief in the idea that the Bible is God’s inerrant, unchanging and absolute revelation to mankind?
‘What will they preach on—the Ten Commandments? Right in the middle of the Ten Commandments, we are told of God’s six-day creation (Exodus 20:11), yet society (aided by many church leaders) has discarded this as a myth. So why should not the Commandments themselves be largely myth, just one stage of man’s ‘cultural evolution’? All preaching to appeal to the emotions can’t disguise the fact that if we can’t rely on revealed absolutes anymore, there can’t be any standards apart from ‘every man for himself’. This is the ‘law of nature’, the ‘rule of the jungle’, the ‘survival of the fittest’—evolutionary ethics.
One of the false beliefs of our time is that from such ethics, when eventually the ‘strongest’ emerges; it will be good for the health of the whole country. But is this what we are seeing today? In only a few years the United States has gone from being the world’s richest and biggest (strongest) lender to being the world’s most heavily indebted borrower.
Criticism of the so-called ‘robber barons’ may well have been overdone.3 It is likely, however, that the legacy of the Darwinian ‘jungle warfare’ mentality has played its part in affecting the general ethos of business. It doesn’t take much in a culture to subtly shift focus away from the notion of mutual agreements in which both parties benefit, and more towards the idea that mercilessly crushing one’s weaker rival is healthy and natural in the light of evolution.
The media makes much of greed in the present crisis. This is hard to deny, but is it solely corporate greed? Isn’t an individual who gets into irresponsible levels of debt in search of that larger, fancier house or car guilty of the same?
Are more laws the answer?
Before rushing in to blame lack of government regulations on corporate high-flyers for the extent of the current problem, it may not be quite that simple. Previous US administrations of the opposite political colour created lending institutions with quaint names that were in effect government-supported, encouraging riskier lending practices by these organisations in several ways. Those same ‘regulation-happy’ politicians, aided by demagogues, also pressured other lenders to go against their free-market instincts by giving people with bad credit histories loans in the name of fairness for disadvantaged groups.
The book Vision of the Anointed (1995) by the respected economist Thomas Sowell documents how faulty statistics were used to justify this pressure. A major one was the accusation of ‘redlining’ or discriminating against minorities like African-Americans. But Sowell, who is himself African-American, points out major flaws:
- If the banks are as greedy as they are accused of being, then all they care about is the colour of the money, not the colour of the lender.
- Exactly the same stats that ‘proved’ discrimination against blacks in favour of whites also ‘proved’ discrimination against whites in favour of Asians, a reductio ad absurdum of the ‘redlining’ argument.
- The default rate on loans was about the same in whites and blacks, suggesting that the banks’ lending criteria were rational, taking many things into account that affected ability to pay.
The 1990 article stated of the then economic situation (and not much has changed):
‘Ironically, all this has happened in an age in which business has been nearly throttled to death by an ever-increasing tangle of red tape, laws and regulations. An army of unproductive bureaucrats is needed to administer the rules and business spends more and more on hiring professionals to act as guides through the complex maze.’
Why is this? In large part, I submit, because the more that personal ethics have declined, the more rules have become necessary. As I wrote then, ‘Such an over-regulated society is just one of the results of the de-Christianization of society.’ Indeed, the apologist and essayist G.K. Chesterton astutely noted long before (1905):
‘When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.’4
More than one reader will recall in times past where business, in some parts of one’s country more than others, functioned smoothly ‘with a handshake’, on the basis of trust. No longer. Now complex contracts have to be drawn up, enriching armies of lawyers and accountants.5
That was also the era when even most unbelievers in western culture sent their children to get some sort of Christian instruction. Not any more. They had a sense of respect for the Bible that made it so much easier for visiting evangelists to come and reap a huge harvest with, ‘The Bible says … ’. Not any more. Why bother if the Bible has been proven wrong by science, as is pounded into us day and night from all directions? (See also Jesus teaching the big picture from Genesis).
In his classic book Migration and Culture (1996), Sowell gives the example of how the (predominantly non-Christian) overseas Chinese prospered in certain countries in earlier times—in part because their word in business could be trusted more so than that of the indigenous groups. God’s principles don’t just work for Christians!6
Searching for the left-right balance
The Bible clearly endorses the notion of private property, or else ‘Thou shalt not steal’ becomes meaningless. The same for the right to trade, buy and sell freely. But because mankind is fallen, the caveat is that markets need to be non-fraudulent (Leviticus 19:36). The ever-present likelihood of wrongdoing means that government has a role in the marketplace, not in meddling but in restraining evil, specifically fraud and coercion (Romans 13). But rather than bogging down in the details of a complicated issue I don’t pretend to fully understand,7 let’s pull back and look at the bigger picture.
Reason for prosperity
As I wrote in 1990, there are foundational reasons as to why Western free-market economies were so successful in the first place. One of these is the influence of the Puritans. These were a major influence on the English middle class. The US was founded on the backbone of these often unfairly maligned believers. Most of us have heard of the Puritan ‘work ethic’, but in fact these Christians consciously and consistently strove to apply their faith to all of life. They taught that business was more than just survival and making money—it was a way of doing good, of serving one’s neighbour primarily, in which money was a by-product.
Leavening the dough
This attitude permeated society, so that even non-Christians adopted much of it to their benefit (as is admitted by non-Christian writers). Such is the biblical pattern; in Matthew 13:33 Jesus gives the parable of the leaven (yeast) which affects the whole dough. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (4th ed.) describes leaven as a figure of a ‘spreading and transforming influence’, and it even gives the scriptural reference.
The earlier article quoted a Christian economics newsletter as saying:
‘Nothing else explains the overwhelming economic growth of the past two centuries but an application of the biblical principle of debt avoidance, thrift, and diligent labour in one’s calling to serve our fellow man’.8
I submit that the converse is also true: the drastic decline of the economic dominance of the west has a great deal to do with the erosion of all these biblical principles, as ‘evolutionary consciousness’ has surged forward to the detriment of belief in (and respect for) Scripture.
In this time, all biblical standards relevant to the economy have suffered, even among Christians. Hard work and thrift (let alone selfless service) have long been seen as old-fashioned and somehow foolish. Whereas greed, high expectations, and too-ready reliance on debt have long been ‘in’, although the Bible warns that ‘the borrower is servant to the lender’ (Proverbs 22:7).
Restoring the foundations of biblical Christianity, beginning in the churches (which helps them to ‘leaven’ our country), is a vital ministry with far-reaching consequences, both spiritual and practical. Whether economic stormclouds continue to rumble, or dissipate (for a while at least) we pray that many will share our vision for a mighty expansion in creation outreach in the years ahead. The way we do this is by going to ‘where the people are’—church after church, town after town. By reaching believers in churches, this arms and equips them with powerful and lifechanging ammunition, like the Creation magazine (free of paid advertising) which now has subscribers in over 100 countries.
If your church has not yet had a CMI ministry event, why not contact us today?
- Evolution and the economy, Prayer News (newsletter of the Australian ministry now called Creation Ministries International), October 1990. Return to text.
- This infamous (in Australia) comment was from the Prime Minister at the time. Return to text.
- See John Stossel, Is Wal-Mart a problem? Return to text.
- G.K. Chesterton, cited in Daily News, 29 July 2005. Return to text.
- Taxation laws get increasingly complicated, too, first because politicians misuse them to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Then because these lawyers and accountants are commonly engaged to find as many loopholes as possible, that then have to be plugged by a growing army of bureaucrats. It is as if there is a perpetual ‘arms race’ between revenue services and their professional ‘opponents’. Return to text.
- They certainly work for Christians who actually apply them. Sowell notes also that the Germans, which had a strong Lutheran heritage, also prospered in many lands, where there was the common epithet, ‘As honest as a German.’ Return to text.
- See for example Andrew Kulikovsky, A Biblical View of Economics and Industrial Relations, <A Biblical View of Economics and Industrial Relations>, July 2007. Return to text.
- Christian Economics, Engadine, NSW, February 1990. Return to text.