Inflation, unemployment, worker shortages? What’s going on?
I’ve got some ideas and I’m sure you do, too. But after we’ve solved our political and structural problems (take an imaginary trip into optimism with me for the sake of thinking long-term), we might also ask: What type of people or culture will best deal with economic hard times?
When we talk about inflationary bubbles and the resulting boom-bust cycle, or other facets of the “interfered-with economy” (to coin a term) we get in debates about what interference is responsible in order to fix it. But even apart from politically man-made problems, the Bible seems to assume that people and societies can suffer hard times. Famines can arise, for example. In the modern world there have been man-made famines, and they can be fixed by getting governments to stop making them. But other famines have been the result of forces beyond anyone’s control. And things like that can still happen.
So does the Bible have anything to say about this?
“Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.”Proverbs 21:17 ESV
“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.”Proverbs 21:20 ESV
“Better to be lowly and have a servant than to play the great man and lack bread."Proverbs 12:9 ESV
“One makes himself rich, yet has nothing; another makes himself poor, yet has great wealth.”Proverbs 13:7 ESV marginal translation
I know it is a lot easier to communicate this than to start practicing it, but a culture that valued saving over consumption would have a lot less to fear from downturns. But we need to start somewhere.
This is a cultural problem that includes a massive “public private partnership.” Governments live off debt and manage economies on the premise that spending is more important than saving. Corporations like debt because (in the short term) their customers can buy more and they can make more profit off payment plans. Inflationary policies positively discourage households from holding cash reserves. Our only option becomes investing with raging debates on what counts as a reasonable investment or a true account of net worth and what is really a foolish scheme or an overpriced asset.
Furthermore, if a single household saves, it won’t make that much public difference. To effectively help society, we need a substantial population of savers.
But, despite hard times, our standard of living is at or near the top of what anyone has experienced in world history. It is hard to believe that this wisdom for the Ancient Near East centuries before Jesus was born is now out of reach.
As I pointed out in my book, Solomon Says, habits start young. A youth typically gets his first job in order to buy toys and maybe clothes (though that is often demanded of parents in the form of an additional allowance). That habit becomes entrenched so that adulthood becomes a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. If you are a parent with young children, you may be able to dramatically change their lives for the better.
It is worth considering.
A final note: Proverbs does not encourage anyone to be a miser:
“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor."Proverbs 14:21 ESV
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want."Proverbs 11:24 ESV
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him."Proverbs 14:31 ESV
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed."Proverbs 19:17 ESV
“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor."Proverbs 22:9 ESV
“Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor."Proverbs 28:8 ESV
“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse."Proverbs 28:27 ESV
But where others might claim saving is contrary to giving, Proverbs seems to think that those able to control their own consumption might actually have something to share.
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.