Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Christian professor of economics discusses capitalism, socialism and the Bible

Here’s an interview with Dr. Shawn Ritenour, economics professor at Grove City College. The interview is conducted by Dr. Paul Kengor.

Excerpt:

Kengor: …it seems that the very foundation of economics, not to mention the American republic in some respects, is the right to private property. Do you agree? If so, is that Scriptural?

Ritenour: The foundation of economic activity and policy is private property. All action requires the use of property and all economic policy is about how people can legally use their property. To benefit from the division of labor, we must be able to exchange our products, which requires private property. Private property is definitely Scriptural. The Bible explicitly prohibits theft, fraud, moving property barriers, debasing money, violating labor contracts, as well as coveting. These prohibitions apply to both citizens and rulers. In my text, I apply this conclusion to issues such as confiscatory taxation, government subsidies, business regulation, and monetary inflation.

Kengor: I find it very telling that Karl Marx was first and foremost against private property, not to mention against God as well. In the “Communist Manifesto,” he wrote plainly: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.” And yet, there are some religious left Christians who claim that the Bible, especially in certain Old Testament passages, preaches a form of socialism and even communism. A student of mine had a teacher at a private Christian school in Ohio who instructed the class that as Christians they should be communists. Can you address this argument?

Ritenour: Communism can be condemned strictly on the basis of the Christian ethic of property (among other reasons). Nothing in Scripture either commands or implies that the means of production should be controlled by the state. There are passages in the early chapters of Acts that are often cited as promoting “Christian communism,” but, in fact, actually illustrate Christian sharing. The various Christians still owned their property, but were generous in sharing whenever they saw a need. When Peter rebukes Ananias in Acts 5, he explicitly says that both the property that Ananias and Sapphira sold and the monetary proceeds from selling it were theirs to do with what they wanted. That is not the gospel according to Marx.

Kengor: I like the way you turn the religious left’s thinking on private property on its head. You note that “God prohibits our coveting the property of others.” With that being the case, isn’t it wrong for the government to use the mighty arm of the state to forcibly remove property from one person to give it to another?

Ritenour: I see no other way around that conclusion, especially when we realize that, in our day of mass democracy, the state usually accomplishes policies of wealth redistribution by inciting envy and covetousness among the populace.

Kengor: What about profits? Reconcile the profit motive with the God of Scripture. We have people in this society who portray profits as greedy or unjust.

Ritenour: Profit is the reward entrepreneurs receive for more successfully producing what people want. This is no easy thing to do. Entrepreneurs must invest in present production of goods they sell in the future. Neither entrepreneurs nor government bureaucrats know exactly what future demand will be. Therefore, production necessitates bearing risk. If the entrepreneur forecasts future demand incorrectly, he will waste resources and reap losses. If he forecasts the future correctly, he serves his fellow man by producing goods people want. It seems only right that such producers are rewarded with profit. In a free market, the only way entrepreneurs earn profits is to serve customers better than anyone else.

I’m a fan of Paul Kengor’s work. If I had married and had children, I would have wanted them to go to Grove City College for their undergraduate degrees. Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez is at Grove City right now, directing a program in astronomy.

Should Christians study other areas of knowledge like economics?

Here’s a quote from McKenzie’s Facebook page that explains why I think Christians need to understand economics.

Quote:

“If inviting nonbelievers to worship matters, then so does preserving the freedom to worship. If ministering to the needs of the poor is a mandate, then changing the policies creating poverty is very much within that mandate. And if building shelter in developing countries is part and parcel of a Christian’s burden, so… is the destruction of the power of tyrants who oppress peoples around the globe.”

It’s from Hugh Hewitt’s book “In, But Not Of”. The book is about how Christians need to make good decisions early on in life if they hope to influence the world in effective ways. This is an excellent book for young people in high school and university, or for those (like me) who dream of raising children in a careful way, so they can impact the world for Christ. My hope is to raise Michele Bachmann and Jennifer Roback Morse clones.

By the way, you can be my friend on Facebook. My Facebook page is here. And you can also follow the blog here, you have a Facebook account. (Although we get about 1000-1500 page views per day, I have only a small number of Facebook friends and followers).

Further study

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2 Responses

  1. Mara says:

    This is very true about private property.

    Before the Iron Curtain fell, a missionary went to the USSR and took the grown son of a farmer with him. He looked at the farmland and it didn’t look right so he turned to the farmer’s son and asked him what was wrong.
    The farmer’s son said plainly, “This land is owned by the government and not the people. And because the people do not own it, they cannot love it and care for it as their own.”

  2. Michael says:

    Interesting, Wintery Knight. Thanks.
    I guess I’m one of those slightly left-leaning Christians, maybe cos I live in Britain where the welfare state is so much appreciated. You should check out Paul Krugman’s excellent chapter on health care in his otherwise terrible book, “Conscience of a Liberal”.

    I think some of the reasons I have for being in favour of the Welfare State are because i)the Bible does actually talk about social justice and regulations particularly in Leviticus 25, I’m sure you’ve studied in great detail since you are very keen on adopting a biblical view of economics. ii) There were many other kinds of customs that were used in Israel which basically required the people to help out the poor. I’m thinking here of the example in Ruth where we see this in action, with the richer land owners REQUIRED to give “benefits” to the poor, ie allow them to take some of their crops- sounds a bit to me like a tax! iii) My parents work with asylum seekers from Muslim countries (church planting, evangelizing and providing support for them) and you would not believe the surprisingly powerful witness that having a compassionate, caring welfare state provides. Think of it like this, they come from a muslim country where they have been persecuted (for political reasons) and had the state provide no support for them. They come to a country with its political basis in Christianity and they are given financial and practial support, and they come to church and they are given food to take home and prayed and cared for. Then they want to know more. There’s something different about these Christians. Some have actually become committed followers of Christ as a result of this.

    The Bible clearly teaches that taking care of the poor is a requirement, not a choice. Also, the Bible (as far as I know anyway) does not teach private property, everything is God’s property: Leviticus 25: 23 ” ‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. 24 Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
    We are to be good stewards because what we “own” isn’t truly ours.

    However despite all this I’m very open to changing my mind, if Biblical evidence can be provided. I haven’t looked at this subject a huge amount, but 1/3 of my university course starting in October is going to be in Economics, so I guess it’s pretty important I think this through properly before I get there :P

    Do you have any particular books you would recommend on this subject?

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