At bottom, economics is about us – what we choose, what we value, what we represent in language and symbols, how we interact with each other in the market, and especially how we produce, exchange, and distribute goods, services, and risk. Understand these things, and you’re well on your way to knowing what you need to know about economics.
– Dr. Jay Richards, in Money, Greed, & God
“At bottom, economics is about us.” This concept makes approaching a complex topic like economics a little less intimidating, doesn’t it? Economics becomes less about confusing charts and graphs and more about how we wish to order our lives and build our society.
As we wrestle with tough questions regarding faith and economics, it’s helpful to have an understanding of basic economic facts.
To that end, today we’re offering some resources we think are helpful to the Christian just beginning to wade into the waters of economic thought. These books by no means represent the entire pantheon of what one could, or should, read regarding the subject. Rather, this list is a primer as you begin your exploration.
Why would we recommend Christians read one or more of these books? Because, as IFWE visiting scholar Dr. Jay Richards argues in Money, Greed, & God,
If we want to know the truth, if we want to order our economic and social lives justly, if we want to help people rather than merely feel like we’re helping people, we have to learn the economic terrain.
Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper once said that,
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not declare, ‘Mine!’
Economics isn’t exempt from Christ’s domain. As Jay writes, again, in Money, Greed, & God:
Economic truths are truths. But they don’t stand outside God’s dominion. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you can disregard economic facts.
The following books do more than lay out economic facts. They also describe the impact economics can have on our everyday lives.
Common Sense Economics, by James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee – Three top economists lay out basic principles of economics in clear, straightforward language.
Economics In Christian Perspective, by Victor V. Claar and Robin J. Klay – Drs. Claar and Klay cover economic theory and policy, while also uncovering how Christian principles and values relate to a flourishing, just economy.
Foundations of Economics: A Christian View, by Shawn Ritenour – Using the Christian doctrines of creation, humanity, and the Cultural Mandate, Dr. Ritenour explains basic economic principles and how a Christian ethic can apply these principles when tackling problems like poverty and economic development.
The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek – A fascinating look into the impact economic policy can have on cultures and human flourishing. This book illustrates how economics bears an impact in the realms of politics and culture.
Basic Economics, by Thomas Sowell – Another primer for everyday people that explains the basics behind any type of economy.
The Law, by Frederic Bastiat – French economist Frederic Bastiat published this pamphlet in 1850, in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848. It explores ideas behind France’s then-socialist economy and how it restricted human freedom and flourishing.
Free to Choose, by Milton Friedman – In Free to Choose, Milton (who would have been 100 this week!) and Rose Friedman show us how the market economy is crucial to a free society and the only way to flourish and grow. Free individuals engaged in voluntary exchange serve everyone and raise living standards across the board. Values & Capitalism has a pretty thorough review of Free to Choose.
Are All Economists Basically Immoral? – This is a collection of essays by the late theologian and economist Paul Heyne. These essays explore basic economics and the ties between economics and theology.
Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt – As the book bills itself, it’s one of the shortest, surest ways to understand basic economics.
An Introduction to Economic Reasoning, by David Gordon – Dr. Gordon answers the question “Why care about economics?” while explaining basic economic theory.
What other books would you add to this list?
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
— Colossians 1:16-17
IFWE’s mission is to build a framework of faith, work, and economics for the purposes of living out whole-life stewardship. Sound economics is grounded in biblical truths, and helps each of us to be better stewards.
Many of our readers are new to economics, and we’re continually working to define this area of study and make it real and concrete for their everyday lives. Economics is the science of human action. Humans are intentional and purposeful. This is how God created us. In Genesis, he gave us the cultural mandate, with the purpose and intent of developing his creation. Our actions, while intentional, are not perfect or always well-calculated, but they are aimed at achieving specific ends. These ends are only known and valued by the individual doing the choosing.
If you are interested in learning more about economics but feel short on time, below are five of my favorite beginner articles. They are short, easy to read, and will help broaden your understanding of the importance of economic thinking as we apply it to Christian stewardship.
1. “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read
This timeless article is a superb introduction to the market process. Markets work as a coordinating mechanism that brings together millions of dispersed people to cooperate with one another. This market process encourages self-interested parties to serve each other and the common good by providing for the needs of the consumer.
This short essay is told from the point of view of a pencil. The seemingly simple pencil is deceptively complex and not one person in all of creation knows how to make one. IFWE produced a video, I Smartphone, which retells the story in a modern context through the point of view of cell phone.
2. “Where Do Prices Come From?” by Russ Roberts
Economist Russ Roberts provides a primer on how prices emerge and dispels common myths around them. Prices are formed from the interaction of both the seller and the buyer, and they help serve as signaling devices about the relative scarcity of resources.
We live in a world where scarcity is one of our biggest constraints. Prices help us economize on those scarce resources and bring together buyers and sellers so that vital goods and services can be produced.
3. “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” by Frederic Bastiat
Frederic Bastiat was a 19th century political economist and member of the French Assembly. Known for his winsome and witty writing, his essays have become timeless. This essay, also known as the Parable of the Broken Window, tells the important economic lesson of understanding opportunity cost and scarcity.
Sadly, the lesson of the parable has not been learned particularly in the public policy discussions we hear today. Bastiat’s parable is a powerful reminder for Christians that scarcity abounds and that we must understand the costs of the choices we make and the opportunities we forgo when we make certain choices.
4. “They Clapped: Can Price Gouging Laws Prohibit Scarcity?” by Michael Munger
Economist Michael Munger provides a powerful lesson in what happens when we don’t understand scarcity, incentives and the function of prices. The result is that we make decisions and act in ways that harm us and others.
We can’t pass laws that eliminate scarcity. Living in a fallen world means living in a world with limited and scarce resources. As such, we need incentives that entice people to serve one another. When prices are able to adjust to changing levels of scarcity, the market is effective at sending strong signals to buyers and sellers which make them better stewards of those scarce resources.
5. “The Road to Serfdom: Condensed Version as it Appeared in Reader’s Digest” by F. A. Hayek
The Road to Serfdom is one of the most compelling and profound books of the twentieth century. Hayek was vigilant in his intellectual battle against central-planning and socialism. Reader’s Digest ran a condensed version of the book in 1945. It has sold over 2 million copies and remains a best seller.
This book details the loss of freedom that occurs on the road to tyranny, and should serve as a warning signal to Christians about the imperative of fighting for freedom.
I hope these articles can provide an introduction into the economic way of thinking. Economics helps us to be better decision-makers. It is a tool that helps us understand costs in a robust manner, and helps us foresee potential unintended consequences. Economics gives us a view of the long-run, helping us make better choices today.
Employing the economic way of thinking helps us to better steward the scarce resources with which God has blessed us.
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