Seeking the City by Chad Brand & Tom Pratt
In their new book entitled Seeking the City by Professor of Theology Chad Brand and Pastor Tom Pratt, the authors seek to focus on the issues of wealth, poverty, and political economy from a biblical, historical, and economic viewpoint. With both critique and construction, the following pages elucidate a free market capitalist position of the economy that hinges upon free enterprise. What was benenficial for readers is the authors insistence that there is an underlying moral framework to market economics, for no market system is morally neutral but is always bent in one direction or another. This is a wide-ranging and fair assessment of the history and politics of our economy from a robust biblical perspective that addresses the questions we must face in the world in which we live.
Done particularly well was the chapter devoted to The Reformation and Political Economy. By looking at Calvin’s views on the politics of Geneva and for the world at large, there is a connection between what the Founders thought in line with what Calvin taught concerning politics. “Calvin favored the idea of decentralization in governance, an idea consistent with Jeffersonian politics.” (339) Yet, the specific teachings of Calvin were not followed by Jefferson or Madison. The authors write, “Modern republicanism is a sort of working out of the basic idea that come from the Reformation, but it is not found in the Reformers’ teachings explicitly.” (340) There is a dependence upon Calvin and the Reformer for such primary concepts as limited government, but these explicit teachings are not linked like a chain is linked to each individual link. We also begin to see the challenge that Calvin was up against as he sought to promote a view of civil magistrates that they be ‘godly men who bear the task of governing, men serving as “vicars of God.” (337) From outlining Calvin’s political theology to his view of civil magistrates as spiritual elders of the community, Chad and Tom do a good job at focusing in on the political expressions that come from the Genevan Reformer’s pen. On a sidenote, I was pleased that the authors branched out beyond the Institutes and looked at Calvin’s commentaries for comments on the political state.
There is a point of criticism that is necessary on the chapter entitled The Morality of Market Economics. The authors go out of their way to address the question Does the Free Market Create Economic Suffering? After bolstering their case by seeking to prove the thesis that economic development and free enterprise help most everybody in need, they make a couple of statements that are misleading at best. They write, “It was not until the industrializiation of societies advanced that men were able to earn enough to support an entire family on their own. The same situation applies in the underdeveloped world today, where “sweat shops” and “child labor” are a way out of poverty, not a consequence of globalization. Were it not for these opportunities, the “victims” would simply die of starvation and/or disease or be selling themselves on the streets for sexual favors and risking death from AIDS or other such dangers of life on the street.” (734) I didn’t find a footnote on this point but I’m not sure how can you can logically claim that by working in a sweat shop for meager pay, a family or an individual can come out of poverty or be on their way out of poverty. Secondly, sweat shops exist because of both globalization and a market economy that can sustain them. There must be an economic advantage and a global advantage (global footprint around the world) to put a Nike shop in a foreign country rather than on American soil. The worker is willing to accept the financial arrangement from his employer, yes, but this does not necessarily entail a way out of poverty. Take a look at the ‘working poor’ right here in America and you will find that because there is a financial arrangement made and the worker is doing the job well, doesn’t mean that poverty is soon out the door.
Lastly, I think the authors are spot on concerning the redistribution of wealth. The write, “No rational consideration of what is actually going on here can be called moral.” (856) To take money or property from one person/group and give it to another is none other than theft. Masked by the words compassion and fairness only seek to add a bit of emotional skin to the argument. Property rights are trampled over because politicians claim that humans have the right to help those in need by pillaging for those who have much. This is not biblical nor is it the way forward to actually sustain the poor and disadvantaged long-term. Rather than redistribution, training, education, business education, work, entrepreneurship lead the way in helping people from the bottom of the rung up.
This is a really good book and one that I will go back to time and time again.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.