Don’t miss our recent conversations with notable authors, professors and leaders regarding faith, economics, vocation, poverty and more. Please let us know if you’d like to see other individuals featured in the series.
In “Money, Greed, and God,” you address myths that many Christians believe about economics. What is the primary myth that young Christians buy into? How do you respond to those believing that myth?
These days the zero-sum game myth is probably the most common, especially with Occupy Wall Street and the recession. A lot of people—including a lot of young Christians—notice inequality. You look around and see some people on Wall Street who are really rich and other people who are not doing so well. We see that inequality, and we assume that if it exists it is causally related, as if one person’s wealth causes another person’s poverty.
What are the foundational truths from Scripture that shape the way that HOPE International conducts its work across the globe?
It is nearly impossible to read Scripture and miss the clear command to care for the poor. We know that “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17).
But there is less clarity about how to best care for the poor. At HOPE, we believe the way to have the greatest and long-term impact is through the gift of work.
How have the fundamental propositions of Christian ethics, such as “love your neighbor” and “care for the poor,” impacted your work as an economist?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how the fact that people respond to incentives and the fact that there are no free lunches should direct our compassion. As I tell my students time and again, good intentions aren’t enough. In fact, a lot of policies that have been enacted in the name of “helping the poor” actually make them worse off, on net. Rent controls and minimum wages, for example, leave the poor with fewer gains from trade as a result of the fact that they create shortages (in the case of rent control), they create unemployment (in the case of the minimum wage) and they divert poor people’s time, energy and attention away from production and toward costly searches for scarce apartments or scarce employment opportunities.
You distinguish between a primary calling and a secondary calling. Can you explain these terms? Do you think each person needs to look for the one, specific job they are called to do?
Our primary calling is “to be” and our secondary calling is “to do.” Os Guinness says in his book “The Call,” our primary calling is to be a disciple of Christ. Our secondary calling, “to do,” involves four areas of our life: family, church, community and vocation. Your calling is not your job; it’s a bigger picture of what God has called you to do based on the talents and skills He has given you. Your job can change over time, but your calling remains constant because it’s who God has created you to be.
What are your thoughts on the tension that many of today’s Christian students feel exists between non-profit and for-profit work?
Let’s face it: there are different psychosocial dynamics between for-profit and non-profit work. But biblically speaking, there are to be no differences between the two. Commitment to best practices, godly character, and virtue apply to all work. Everything in our labor unto God—from accounting practices to interpersonal virtue—deserves the same kind of excellence and devotion. Excellence and integrity are essential, regardless of the field.