Making Nonsense from Sense: Debunking Neo-Calvinist Economic Thought
A few years ago I wrote about some of the errors made by economists who try to apply what they believe are Christian principles to both Austrian and neoclassical economic analysis. These economists believe that the standard economic way of thinking is not only fatally flawed but actually immoral, and that an entire new paradigm must be brought to economics.
In the mid-1990s, I taught economics as an adjunct at a Christian college near Chattanooga, being essentially the entire department. For the most part, it was a good experience, and the students were attentive and talented. However, in the spring of 1995, I was asked to teach a course (along with other faculty members) from a neo-Calvinist perspective, which meant presenting a very different view of economics using a neo-Calvinist book, Responsible Technology, which is an attempt to explain modern technology and its role in society from a neo-Calvinist perspective.
(My father taught at this college for thirty years and many members of my family are alumni, so this was a place that was central to me in my formative years. My disagreements with their approach to teaching economics are not a condemnation of the entire college or the people I knew there.)
It was not long before I was at odds with others teaching the same course, as the neo-Calvinist perspective came from a worldview that closely resembles what Jeff Deist has called “The New Antieconomics.” Deist writes that instead of approaching economic analysis from the perspectives of scarcity, choice, and opportunity cost, the “antieconomics” movement approach turns things upside down:
Antieconomics . . . starts with abundance and works backward. It emphasizes redistribution, not production, as its central focus. At the heart of any antieconomics is a positivist worldview, the assumption that individuals and economies can be commanded by legislative fiat. Markets, which happen without centralized organization, give way to planning in the same way common law gives way to statutory law. This view is especially prevalent among left intellectuals, who view economics not as a science at all, but rather a pseudointellectual exercise to justify capital and wealthy business interests.
Indeed, the economics chapter of Responsible Technology declares:
Conventional wisdom views economic activity as being imposed by the rigors of scarcity, even if the only conception of such scarcity is that of too little money with which to purchase too many goods. This view implies that if only there were enough of the stuff of this world provided for us, no economic necessity would be imposed on us. There would be no need to make economic choices, and economists would be unemployed. But we are in fact faced with what has been described as the “niggardliness of nature,” which at times threatens our very existence and always withholds some of the fruits we want.
The technological-economic path leading from this starting point is the arduous, anxious wrestling with nature to wring out of it its reluctantly gained fruits. The tools in this struggle are something like the implements of warfare, and the result is frequently violent, leaving scars on both sides: the exploitation and the degradation of nature—sometimes described in terms of rape and pillage—and disharmony and angst in the lives of human beings. No one expects economic life to be pretty. In any case, the fundamental underpinning for economic activity in this view—whether Western or Communist—– is the need to overcome scarcity.
A radically different view of the nature of economic activity begins with God’s entrusting the care and use of the earth t
Article from Mises Wire