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Book Review | The Poverty of Nations

 

 

The Poverty of Nations is the combined work of a renowned theologian and a professional economist who teamed up to write a manual advising how nations can address and defeat poverty. Using themes from the Bible and the application of fundamentals from business and commerce, the authors illustrate how a synergistic approach can create opportunities for poor nations to help themselves rather than depend upon charity from wealthier nations.

 

Dr. Wayne Grudem is professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary and is a well-known speaker and author of numerous books including Systematic Theology. Dr. Barry Asmus is a senior economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis, the author of a number of books, and an international speaker.

 

The two decided to write The Poverty of Nations after Grudem was asked by a woman from Kenya why Africa is so poor. By joining forces and delving into a several year-long project, Gruden and Asmus discovered that, although they come from different backgrounds, they had many common conclusions about the factors that will empower nations to overcome poverty.

 

Grudem and Asmus write that The Poverty of Nations is unique among other books about alleviating poverty in that their approach looks at “entire national systems.” The book examines “types of economic systems, government laws and policies, and national cultural values and beliefs, including moral and spiritual conviction.”

 

To solve the poverty problem, the authors assert that nations should continually increase their gross domestic product (GDP) by producing more goods and services and moving toward a free market economy. This solution provides nations with economic strength and longevity that is sustainable and, over time, moves them towards autonomy rather than dependence.

 

The goods and services approach also has biblical credibility, as there are numerous examples throughout the Bible illustrating and promoting free-trade economics. From God charging Adam and Eve to subdue the earth (utilize its resources) in Genesis through Solomon’s Proverbs that illustrate the value of work to Ephesians 4:28 where Paul exhorts Christians to labor and do honest work, the Bible contains significant examples that support the authors’ approach.

 

Through the book, the solutions for overcoming poverty point to and uphold the Bible’s focus on the value of human beings, freedom, community, and a relationship with and dependence upon God, as well as His divine values and accountability structures.

 

Equally important in a nation’s quest to overcome poverty is the necessity to avoid wrong goals, objectives that not only prolong poverty but actually strengthen negative factors that prevent economic stability. Depending upon more traditional options like foreign aid, wealth redistribution, debt forgiveness, “fair trade” products, or international corporate involvement, for instance, don’t promote economic freedom. Rather, they tie a nation’s welfare to outside interests.

 

The authors write that such wrong approaches have led to socialism, colonialism, abuse of power by tyrannical governments, and depletion of natural resources — a far cry from economic freedom and prosperity. The Bible also cautions against such systems, which may create societies where the poor are abused by the powerful or where aid and support promote laziness and a love of pleasure over God’s design for self-sufficiency and provision.

 

The correct approach to a successful economic system, a free market, is defined by the authors as one “…in which economic production and consumption are determined by the free choices of individuals rather than by governments, and this process is grounded in private ownership of the means of production.” But, they caution, free market does not mean the same thing as capitalism, which often involves government intervention and is often mischaracterized as trapping the bottom of the economic strata in poverty.

 

In essence, the free market creates a society where humans have inherent value and, as such, have the liberty to pursue and exercise the benefits of freedom, education, security, religion, and autonomy. Property ownership, a key to free-market economics, is encouraged and protected by a government system that is moral, accountable, lawful, and provides for and protects its citizens. To thrive, a free-market society must embrace a value system based upon a belief in God, with its citizens living within a system of shared ethics.

 

The appendix of The Poverty of Nations contains the list of the 79 distinct factors that enable nations to overcome poverty. Not only is the list extremely comprehensive, but it also addresses nearly every characteristic required of a nation’s economics, government, freedom, and values in order to break free from the grip of poverty.

 

The Poverty of Nations is a very readable and understandable approach to an historically deep and complex moral and ethical issue. Grudem and Asmus, through a careful examination of economic and biblical truths, have crafted a balanced approach to empowering nations and their citizens to embrace freedom and rise above poverty.