Hot off the press: Christian Economics in One Lesson, by Dr. Gary North. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2016. Hardback with dust jacket. 241pp. $25.00. On Sale: $20.00. Also available in Kindle, ePub, and PDF downloads (see store for details).
Christian Economics in One Lesson is a biblical reworking of Henry Hazlitt’s classic introduction to economic thought, Economics in One Lesson. That book set the standard as an introductory economics book. Nothing has come close to replacing it ever since it was first published in 1946.
Why is it necessary to replace a classic? Several reasons. First and foremost, it was written way back in 1946. A lot has happened since then, not the least of which was the publication of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action (1949). Second, he targeted a different audience: readers of his business columns. This new book targets Christians (orthodox Jews are invited to come along for the ride). Fourth, North does something Hazlitt neglected to do—explicitly, anyway. He places ethics at the heart of his analysis: the deliberate breaking of the window.
Christian economics must begin with the issue of ultimate ownership. This sets it apart from modern economic analysis, which begins with the issue of scarcity. Second, this leads to the issue of theft, which in turn raises the issue of ethics.
The ultimate form of causation in human history is ethical: right vs. wrong. Modern economists do not share my view. It goes beyond this. They openly reject it. They proclaim economic analysis as value-free. This is self-deception. It is a variation of an ancient temptation: “Hath God said?”
Yes, He has: “Thou shalt not steal.”
There are negative sanctions attached to this commandment. These negative sanctions are both inherent in the economy and imposed by God on the economy. Our attention to this principle, especially in regard to intervention by the State, determines long-term economic growth or decline. It is time for Christians to be better-equipped for paying such attention.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Henry Hazlitt’s great book. The book is still worth reading, but it was a timely book, and timely books grow old as times change. He began writing it only six months after Japan surrendered, and price and wage controls were still in force. America’s economy in early 1946 was a pale reflection of what it is today.
The book needed to be updated. So North took the same chapter titles and same concept, but he has brought everything up to date.
There was another problem with the original book. While the book is written in laymen’s language, it was aimed primarily at businessmen living in the New York City area. New York City businessmen had been Hazlitt’s audience for two decades. He did not adjust his topics or his examples for the far broader audience that the book has since reached. Christian Economics in One Lesson addresses a far more general audience.
Third, Hazlitt was writing as a professional economist. Even though he had not graduated from college, he had the mindset of a college professor of economics. Academic economists pretend that economics must be morally neutral. This is a myth. There is no ethical neutrality. So, his book never raises the ethical issue of theft by ballot box. It focuses only on individual choices and their effect on economic growth.
Hazlitt began with the then-long forgotten analogy of the broken window, an argument made by the French economist Frédéric Bastiat in 1850, the year of his death. Bastiat traced what he called “the things not seen.” When someone tosses a stone through a window, this leads to employment: window repair. This increased employment is seen by most people as positive. But Bastiat said this was only the thing seen. What was unseen was the economic demand/employment that the window owner’s money would have created if the window-breaker had not tossed the stone.
Hazlitt never once mentioned the ethics of the envy-driven stone-thrower. Economic special-interest groups persuade politicians to toss stones through privately owned “windows” on behalf of The People. This is inherently immoral: theft.
Christian Economics in One Lesson begins with the five points of the biblical covenant: sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, and succession. In economic terms, these are ownership (God’s), the window (private property), the stone (violation of the law), costs, and consequences. North restructures all of the original book’s chapters in terms of this five-point format. The underlying moral principles are easier to identify. So are the consequences of government economic intervention.
In short, North has rewritten Hazlitt’s masterpiece from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Same subject, same concept, same problems, but biblical structure and biblical answers.
I would encourage you to pick up a copy of North’s new book, Christian Economics in One Lesson. Not only will it make a great guide and a great gift, as soon as we get a study guide compiled, it will be perfect for Sunday Schools, small groups, home churches and home school courses.