While still not universally practiced as such, I am dubbing March as Economics Month on the blog. Each month I want to tackle a thematic topic and write weekly columns on the subject of choice (For example, In January I delved into the topic of seminary education. I took February off to concentrate on family and work concerns).
So the question at hand: Why should one care about economics? After all, isn’t economics that silly subject that you had to take during high school in the semester that followed Government/Civics and that filled up a time slot during 5th period?
And, isn’t economics theoretical in nature and impractical for all intensive purposes?
Allow me to offer three reasons why economics is important for gospel-focused believers.
1. Economics is honest about the selfish condition of mankind. All humans are born selfish and seek to maximize their own pleasure. The Apostle Paul praises Timothy in Philippians 2:21 for not being like most people: “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” The prophet Jeremiah waxes poetic in his observation of people:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
~Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV
And David adds a prayer that affirms the same observation: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” ~Psalm 119:36 ESV.
Economists offer the same observations. Robert Heilbroner, an American economist and historian of economic thought, wrote in his popular history of economics The Worldly Philosophers (p. 18):
Man is not an ant, conveniently equipped with an inborn pattern of social instincts. On the contrary, he seems to be strongly endowed with a self-centered nature. If his relatively weak physique forces him to seek cooperation, his inner drives constantly threaten to disrupt his social working partnerships.
Heilbroner argues that modern Western capitalism is based solely upon this fundamental reality. Thus, the market system is simply an organized philosophy of coordinated selfishness that aims to take care of everyone in society by allowing their selfishness to drive economic conditions. Economics, then, helps lay the foundation for apologetics by pointing to mankind’s love of self.
2. Economics beautifully reflects human behavior and interaction. Consumer behavior is one branch of economics that studies and measures why, how, when, and where humans purchase goods and services. As a discipline, consumer behavior relies on demographic research, sociology, psychology, and anthropology in an attempt to understand the decision making process and the subsequent evaluation of satisfaction post purchase. In other words, it concerns itself with why we make decisions and how we feel about the consequences of those decisions. Reading through consumer behavior case studies is akin to reading through testimonies of salvation. There are vast discussions about motivations, the human will, coercion, persuasion, guilt, remorse, and conviction. The parallels are surreal.
3. Economics is a discipline. Disciplines, not matter what field, are always a good habit for believers. Discipline is a kind of economy of scale (Learning-by-doing is a concept within economic theory that refers to the capability of workers to improve their productivity by regularly repeating the same type of action. The increased productivity is achieved through practice, self-perfection and minor innovations). In other words, when a person learns to be disciplined in one area, there comes with it an ability to be disciplined in all areas. A study of economics will shape the way that one perceives the world — which will transfer over into one’s ministry area.
In review: The study of economics is a help to Christians because it provides us with a wealth of literature and resources that explore the human condition in honest and precise terms. Microeconomic case studies are essentially case studies in the gospel, since it overwhelmingly communicates man’s inability to satisfy his own appetite. The study of economics points to the need for something that is all-satisfying as a solution to mankind’s drive for utility.