Thinking Christianly About the Economy

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In this video, Justin Buzzard and Eden Chen on overlaps and differences between Christian and non-Christian views of the economy, concluding with a brief evaluation of capitalism.

The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.

Justin Buzzard: The first thing I would just want to start saying with that is the Bible has so much to say about economics, big picture, small picture, and so we don’t have this narrow Christian view of the economy, we have this holistic view of, for an economy to be healthy. We have so many factors that need to be at play.

You need supply and demand to be operating in a wonderful way. We have a real problem with that right now in Silicon Valley because the demand for jobs is massive, the demand for housing is massive. But the housing supply is so small, and it’s so, so expensive, and so it’s constantly forcing people out of Silicon Valley who can no longer afford to live there. Median price for a home now in Silicon Valley is $1.3 million, and so it’s just outrageous. It’s the most expensive place in America right now to live. So on the one hand, you could say the economy is healthy in Silicon Valley because there are so many jobs, but you could also say it’s not healthy because the supply of housing is so poor. And so it creates a less diverse economy socioeconomically because people are forced to move out. And there are a lot of fears right now that Silicon Valley will become just this economy of the elite, of tech people, of white-collar work, of executives. But what about blue-collar work? Is that going to leave? No, it can’t leave because white collar industry has to be served by people doing blue collar work, but they’re not living there, and they’re living far away and commuting in.

Eden Chen: Yeah, I know. I think there’s, like, not a huge divide that I typically think of between a Christian economics and regular economics. I think people that are outside of Christianity desire productivity, creativity, and I’d say, like, justice.

Justin Buzzard: The flourishing of their city, of their community.

Eden Chen: Yeah. So I don’t think those that are in San Francisco, that are in government are stoked about folks that can’t afford housing. They would love to see what I would consider justice which would be equal opportunities for people in different races and different socioeconomic backgrounds, the ability to afford housing, and we would love those things as well.

I think the difference maybe for some Christians is that from a Christian perspective, even in a down market, God’s always working in some way. During 9/11 and all that, New York saw this huge revival, and they said that tithes didn’t really go down during that time, church attendance was up, and things like that. Now whether that addresses economics and whether that’s a healthy economic environment, those are kind of separate questions.

From a Christian perspective, even in a down market, God’s always working in some way.

Justin Buzzard: I think what does make it a healthy economic environment is it’s a resetting of the economic environment. If capitalism is doing its job realizing oh, this way we were operating the subprime mortgages, those went bad, those were not good, we’re not going to do that anymore. And so there’s going to be a reset in how we think about mortgages, and how we extend loans. So I think that’s a great point to keep in mind that God is always at work even when the stock market’s tanking when the economy’s down when the recession is happening. That’s laying the groundwork for a healthier economy moving forward if we’re being humble, and if we’re learning from it.

Eden Chen: I would say even from a non-Christian perspective, if you look at it, so many great businesses were born out of, like, these recessions. Ray Dalio has a book on debt crises, and he talks a lot about how basically there’s no perfect balance in terms of how debt can be kind of loaned out. So there’s always either an oversupply of debt or undersupply of debt, and so that’s why we have these bubbles that form, and those are just natural human tendencies.

So I think in a lot of ways from a secular standpoint those are healthy rhythms as well. So from a economic standpoint, I don’t know that I see a huge divide, but I think there are probably certain instances in history where those that were in the governing bodies maybe didn’t desire some of the things that we desire like justice, and productivity, and creativity and seeing those and diversity and seeing those things happen.

Justin Buzzard: Yeah. We have some time let’s talk about this capitalism. Are you a fan?

Eden Chen: I would say . . . Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think it’s probably, to me, a system that works. It is most aligned with the reality of us as humans. I think humans naturally try to maximize value, and capitalism is about really allowing that extraction of value to happen. So I think when you don’t allow for the natural order of things to happen, for example, in a communist economy, the incentives are not the right incentives because our natural incentive is to want to maximize things. The communist philosophy doesn’t allow us to do that, and so people are not incentivized to do the things that they would want to do, and therefore, like, are demotivated to do anything.

So I think it’s the best system. The reason why it works to some extent, in my opinion, is because we’re sinful. We’re selfish and capitalism recognizes that. So I think without proper sort of regulation in place, there’s a lot of danger behind it too as well because on the one hand, it’s healthy because it recognizes that we’re sinful, but without the proper boundaries in place then that sinfulness gets extracted to its highest level which is why we see huge amounts of inequality with capitalism. Justin, what do you think about capitalism?

Justin Buzzard: I agree with everything you said, completely agree. Yeah.