Posts

Free Markets Foster the Service of Strangers | by Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley

Untitled design

I often talk about the virtues of a free society and they are vast.  When we are free to live into the gifts and talents God has given us we are able to both contribute to the flourishing of others and benefit from the flourishing that others help create. In this way, flourishing is positive sum.  I benefit when I find ways to serve not just my family, neighbors and church members but when I find ways to serve complete strangers.

That is what a free society encourages.  Rather than finding ways to plunder, steal, exploit and manipulate; market economies encourage us to create, innovative and problem-solve. When we look across the globe at the poorest and most destitute places on the planet we can see that plunder is the way to “be on top” and to maintain that societal posture, one must keep plundering.  The oppressed, those who live at the expense of the plunderers cannot thrive and the vicious cycle of poverty and oppression continues.

What often goes unnoticed in all of this is that families are crushed under this type of life. Mothers and fathers are unable to provide their families with things that we take for granted like learning to read, playing in the park, and mastering the bicycle.  In wealthy societies we take these daily activities for granted in many cases.  We often fail to stop and realize how rich we actually are, and not just in material terms but in our time.

When we are able to unleash our creative talents and trade with others it alleviates us from having to do everything on our own.  Think about the woman who is forced to wash her clothes by the riverbed.  She shares the river with animals, the water is filthy and the work is backbreaking.  She doesn’t have very many attractive alternatives and so she must do it, day in and day out.  In doing this she is being faithful to her family and fulfilling her God-given duties to care for her family, but it is hard.  In fact, it is likely that she does not consume enough daily calories to sustain this effort.

Imagine what it would be like for her to have access to electricity and a washing machine.  It would free her calories and her precious time.  When her time and energy is freed for other things she can care for her family in other ways. It also enables her to develop her God-given creativity.

Market economies are not just about “being rich” and padding our Bank of America accounts, they are about unleashing each person’s creativity to problem solve for others not just for ourselves.  Market economies in this regard require that innovators and problem-solvers who want to “be rich” must have compassion and empathy for people who suffer.  They don’t have to love them, but they do have to sympathize, to put themselves in the shoes of others, and from that find ways to solve problems.

When this happens we are all better able to thrive.  I just took my daughter to her annual checkup and I was confronted with how much I personally benefit from this.  The doctor was able to become specially trained, which took years of her life, and countless hours of study.  The doctor then is able to know what problems to look for, what issues might be present and when she cannot solve them, she refers us to a specialist who is also trained to diagnose and then solve.  My family can thrive because others have dedicated years of study to become experts in my child’s health.  When these doctors underwent this laborious task of becoming experts, they didn’t even know me or my family and in fact my children were not yet born.

That is the power of a free society.  We seek to serve strangers and in doing that we can become rich, but not just rich materially.  My doctor benefits from others who develop medical devices, and those folks benefit from others who work on computer technology and those folks depend on other who have found ways to use assembly lines to hasten the manufacturing of all of these things.

This interdependency means that for all of us our time is freed.  My doctor can specialize, as can the person who makes medical instruments as can everyone else. If we all had to do everything on our own, we could not thrive and we barely survive under such conditions. We are not created to do everything on our own so when we can only rely on ourselves we experience poverty and suffering.

Free markets save lives and that is what makes us rich.  Being rich is not just about the amount of money in your bank account but about the freed time and the longevity that economic freedom brings. This is all because we are encouraged to serve strangers.

IMG_4735

Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at The Institute for Faith, Works and Economics, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom. She is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and she also teaches at The Institute for World Politics and George Mason University. Additionally, she is a visiting scholar at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. Previously, she has taught at Charles University, Prague, and she has served as the Associate Director for the Program in Economics, Politics, and the Law at the James M. Buchanan Center at George Mason University.

Want a Flourishing Society? We Need Flourishing Families | by Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley

Flourishing-Header

As an economist I am the first to believe and assert that individual choice is the core of the economic way of thinking.  We make choices as unique individuals in pursuit of our preferences. We value things subjectively which means that when you and I go the grocery store we are likely to fill our baskets with different items. Free societies are ones that offer many alternatives for the different needs, wants and tastes of consumers.  The freer the society, the better the alternatives.

This is economics 101 and may not sound very controversial.  But, what economists talk about too little is how we come to have the tastes, preferences and values that we bring into society. Some of these preferences are just part of how God designed us. For example, the fact that I do not like the taste of olives has to do with my taste buds not my values about olives. But our ideas about what our responsibilities are to society, our ideas about faith, relationships, our duties and even the role of the government and economy come in many ways from our families.

As a mother of two small children I can attest to the fact that raising children is no easy task and it’s a task that never ends. Our parental duties ebb and flow in intensity over time but we always have an unbreakable bond with our children.

Things that many of us take for granted like having a warm meal together around the table after the separate activities of our day is integral for family bonds and relationships. When our children are young we attend to their every need: hourly feedings, diaper changes, and baths. As our children advance in age we start having larger conversations about values, hopes and aspirations. These are the ties that stay with us many years into the future. Even if our ideological perspectives shift from those of our parents, the relationship we have and the love and support that is nurtured within a strong family stays with us through our final days.

To have a free and flourishing society we must protect and foster free and flourishing families that can raise their children with love and strength. The role of the family comes straight from scripture and thus exists outside of any state or regulatory agency. It is a biblical institution of intrinsic worth and merit. A flourishing society cannot exist without the autonomous and strong family unit.

Sadly, the United States government has launched an unintentional attack on the family through decades of bloated and bureaucratic welfare schemes that were designed to support the family. Marvin Olasky details the devastating effects these programs have had on families since the 1960’s, in many cases making it economically advantageous for women to have children without husbands. This is a program which on its face is intended to help vulnerable and economically disadvantaged families and instead it has ripped apart poor families.  It also sends an unintentional signal that both parents aren’t necessary or ideal in raising a family. These programs teach dependency instead of working through the difficult times.

Those welfare programs then are not just handing out cash and in-kind benefits, they are making a moral statement that the two-parent family unit is not important and that relying on the state for your well-being is in fact a good thing. This may not have been the intention of the welfare programs, but it is the result. After 50 years of “The War on Poverty” we have barely moved the needle and about 14% of the population remains poor. In other words, we are not helping families who fall on hard times transition out of those times:  we are creating a lifetime entitlement package that is destroying the value and ethic of work and devastating the family.

State-sponsored welfare cannot magically make robust and strong families. The best way that we can protect the family across all income quintiles is to remove the state from the affairs of the family wherever we can. The church is the best poised to support and nurture its families because the church is in a relationship with its members and has a spiritual investment that the state cannot have.

When we protect families by allowing them to remain together and get the support they might need in times of hardship we allow the family to work towards recovery and this in turn strengthens the family bond. When we foster work and perseverance that’s exactly what we get and everyone benefits. Strong families yield productive market participants and this allows everyone to experience greater human flourishing.

AnneBradley-0178_v2-200x300

 

Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at The Institute for Faith, Works and Economics, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom. She is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and she also teaches at The Institute for World Politics and George Mason University. Additionally, she is a visiting scholar at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. Previously, she has taught at Charles University, Prague, and she has served as the Associate Director for the Program in Economics, Politics, and the Law at the James M. Buchanan Center at George Mason University.