Most Christians are familiar with the scene in the Garden of Eden. Inherent to the Christian story is that “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it,” meaning that before man and woman sinned, and before humanity was expelled from the garden, man was employed in his vocation.
In his fascinating collection of essays, “Are Economists Basically Immoral? And Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion,” Christian economist Paul Heyne writes about another interesting man, Francis Wayland, whom Heyne calls “the most influential member of the school of clerical laissez-faire.” This was certainly enough of a compliment to grab the interest of this free-market Christian. In his book, “The Elements of Political Economy,” Wayland discusses employment in this way:
In order to arrive at the truth with the greater certainty, it will be proper to consider the circumstances under which man is placed, with reference to the universe around him, so far as this subject is considered. (Chapter 3, Section 1)
Old English for “let’s look at the facts.” Heyne summarizes the remainder of this section as the following:
- God has created man with faculties adapted to physical and intellectual labour.
- God has made labour necessary to the attainment of the means of happiness.
- We are so constituted that physical and intellectual labour are essential to health.
- Labour is pleasant, or at least less painful than idleness. People crave challenges on which to exercise their faculties.
- God has attached special penalties to idleness, such as ignorance, poverty, cold, hunger, and nakedness.
- God has assigned rich and abundant rewards to industry.
In short: Employment is inherently human.
Recently reading the conversation in the Garden of Eden again, I noticed another economic principle that pre-dates the fall:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17
Laissez-faire economists are very familiar with the term F. A. Hayek coined: “the knowledge problem:”
It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge, which is not given to anyone in its totality. (emphasis mine)
In the Garden of Eden, we see that man is created with imperfect knowledge. Even the forbidden fruit did not make man omniscient; instead, it made him knowledgeable of both good and evil. It is fundamental to the Christian faith, just as it is to laissez-faire economics, that knowledge is “not given to anyone in its totality.”
I believe in free-market economics because of my ever-developing understanding of human nature. It is key for a Christian understanding of economics to understand that the need for employment and the knowledge problem are inherent within human nature, not the products of sin.