The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus
When title became available through the Crossway Blogger’s Program, I jumped at the chance of reading a book that synthesizes sound economic wisdom alongside winsome biblical ideas. Barry Asmus, senior economist at the National Center for Policy Analysis and Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary write from a free-market conservative position in the book while maintaining a biblical vision of human flourishing as well. The Poverty of Nations is a book that engages questions on how countries continue in poverty (and why), but also how countries can seek to eliminate poverty-inducing practices that hold people in check. The nine chapters that comprise The Poverty of Nations consist of issues of the goals, systems, and advantages of a free-market system while also engaging the approaches that run counter to a free-market system. There is also a chapter dealing with the moral advantages of a free-market system that I thought was particularly compelling.
In the chapter on Wrong Goals of economic systems, the authors tap into something that needs to be discussed. After looking at the work of Arthur C. Brooks and his notion of “earned success,” Wayne Grudem writes, “When I got to know him (his student), I found that several years prior to this his life had been going entirely downhill. He had a history of crime and substance abuse, and had spent time in jail for drug dealing. But after he got out of jail, he got a job at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. One day his manager told him, “You’re doing a good job of keeping the French fries hot”. He remembers that as a turning point in his life…He had experienced a touch of joy of “earned success” (74). Wayne continues to point that God has made us with the skills to create goods and services, and as we put those skills to work we have an amount of earned success that goes a lot further than money in our wallets. You often remember the commendation you receive from a boss for a long time and this serves as motivation to continue to do well. As the authors indicate, having earned success creates more product and services and leads to a countries economic success rather than relying on foreign aid (75).
There is a sense that the goods in and of themselves relate to the changing face of a country’s economy. Yet, as the authors point out, “The free-market system allows creativity to flourish and produce great value through free human decisions, not through government direction and control….Entrepreneurs continually demonstrate that faith and imagination are the most important capital goods in a changing economy, and that wealth is a product less of money than of the mind to create, produce, invest, and, …to creatively destroy” (167). The doctrine of man being made in the image of God with rationality, emotion, and intellect lends itself well to the creative spirit of human decisions. As human beings are unhindered by external forces that seek to squelch their creativity, the production and creation of goods and services flourish. Furthermore, the human spirit, mind, and emotions are designed for this very thing, to creatively imagine a new set of ideas that can be transformed in goods and services. There is no doubt that countries which aim to control and possess specific control over the economic output of a nation squelch the human spirit while countries which encourage such creativity blossom in their diversity of goods and services.
I was really impressed with this book for its keen observations, handling of the Bible and overall approach to a sustainable solution for those in poverty. Although their approach was not new and provocative, it is a position which understands clearly the good and bad of human nature and seeks to make decisions that benefit the whole of nation rather than a few.
Thanks to Crossway Publishers for the copy of this book in exchange for review.