Kingdom Economics: Transcending Scarcity


Living in God's Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunenI have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, which I received as part of a promotion by Matthew Lee Anderson. Although I still have a ways to go, I recently read one little piece about kingdom economics that I found particularly interesting.

While writing about the church’s “distinctive ethic” of generosity, VanDrunen says the following:

Anyone who has studied economics — the economics of the common kingdom — has learned the fundamental principle of scarcity. Though worldly wealth is not exactly a fixed quantity that creates a zero-sum game (there is much more worldly wealth now than there was a thousand years ago), there is truly only so much to go around. A certain sum of money will only satisfy a certain number of needs and desires. A piece of property cannot be enjoyed by everyone.

VanDrunen then comments on the personal benefits of generosity, on which I have recently commented (here, here, and here):

The explanation lies not in a complex theory worthy of a Nobel Prize economist, but in the mysterious, wonderful, economics-defying work of God. He “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). When the impoverished give generously, God makes them “enriched” in the experience (9:11). In part, this is about money, but only in part.

Then, VanDrunen offers this high-level summary of kingdom economics:

In the church there are no winners and losers, but every act of love is mutually enriching in Christ’s economics — an economics built not on the principle of scarcity but on the principle of extravagant abundance. As the church defies the constraints of the common kingdom’s justice so it also defies the constraints of its economics.

This, of course, reminded me of our previous discussion of scarcity in relation to Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz’s recent book, From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities, and the Lasting Triumph over Scarcity. Although VanDrunen may be correct that there is not an entirely satisfying “complex theory” for this concept, Kling and Schulz indicate that one may be on the way:

Economics 1.0 is about scarcity…Economics 2.0 is about abundance, which arises from technical progress. Maybe there is no free lunch, as the saying goes; but we do not have to work nearly as hard to put food on the table as we used to.

Kling and Schulz give credit for such technical progress to several features, including creativity, ingenuity, trust, and property rights. Although they don’t mention generosity, based on the physical evidence, it would seem that this is valuable feature of human nature well worth leveraging in our economic  innovation.

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