Virtues and the Economy

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 04/19/2012

I wrote not long ago about how a change in values in 18th-century Britain (as a result of a million people coming to Christ) affected their economy. In Indivisible, James Robison and Jay Richards also explore how the Christian worldview intersects with economics.

In order to succeed in a free market (where the rule of law is enforced), you must find a way to serve others—to provide them with something they value enough to purchase from you. This is true, regardless of your reasons for trying to make money, whether noble or not-so-noble. At the very bottom of it all, you must serve others in order to be successful and make money in a free market. In this way, all motivations are channeled in a direction that is outwardly focused on others’ needs, and people are served.

But as Robison and Richards point out, in order to successfully make a living serving in this way, certain virtues are required and rewarded:

Free enterprise, or entrepreneurial capitalism, requires a whole host of virtues. Before entrepreneurs can invest capital, for instance, they must first accumulate it. So unlike gluttons, entrepreneurs must save rather than consume much of their wealth. Unlike misers, they risk rather than hoard what they have saved. Unlike the self-centered, they anticipate the needs of others. Unlike the impulsive, they make prudent choices. Unlike the robot, they freely discover new ways of creating and combining resources. Unlike cynics, they trust their neighbors, their partners, their culture, their employees...This cluster of virtues is the essence of what Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute calls the “entrepreneurial vocation.” Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but everyone can benefit in a society where entrepreneurs are free to pursue their calling.

Robison and Richards explain how our ability to create wealth in this way—to actually make the size of the wealth pie increase (not just increase one slice at the expense of others)—reflects the truth of the Christian worldview:

New wealth comes not from matter alone, but from how we represent, inform, and transform matter—from mind. This most profound truth of economics is just what Christians should expect, since we know that each of us is created in the image of God...At the base of the free enterprise system is not greed or consumption, which are everywhere, but intuition, imagination, and creation.

The creation of new wealth actually argues against materialism. The creative minds of human beings, not physical material, are the greatest resource available to us.

Richards wrote a clear and compelling book, Money, Greed, and God, that explores these ideas in more depth, and I recommend it, particularly if these ideas are new to you and/or you disagree with what you’ve read here. Give that book a try, and see what you think.