Free, Tolerant, and Happy: Observations on Economic Freedom and Kingdom Values

Florida shows the correlation between life satisfaction and economic freedom.

Over at The Atlantic, Richard Florida has a fascinating article on the way certain variables correlate with the Economic Freedom Index.

If you’re not familiar with the Economic Freedom Index, it’s an index put together by the Heritage Foundation in an attempt to assign a number to a country’s level of freedom. The number is based on a variety of economic areas, including everything from trade to investment to property rights.

In the above-mentioned article, Florida observes several correlations between the Economic Freedom Index and some variables of his choosing.

His primary questions are as follows:

To what extent is economic freedom associated with tolerance and happiness? Are freer nations also more tolerant? Are their residents happier than those of other nations? To what extent is economic freedom also associated with other factors like affluence and material wellbeing, the level of human capital, and the transition to postindustrial economic structures? And what is the relationship between freedom and economic inequality?

If you scroll through the article and look at each graph you will notice a positive correlation between each variable and the particular country’s level of economic freedom.

For some, such statistics reflect the expected. Most are not surprised that high economic output and healthy competitiveness are byproducts of a free society. However, I often hear Christians disdain economic freedom for its effects on social welfare.

For example: “Maybe universal health care isn’t so great for the economy, but at least people would be happy and secure!”

Such claims are usually unfounded, as Florida’s figures seem to indicate. Although the comparisons in the article don’t offer the end-all evidence by any means, they are certainly a starting point.

What I would like to emphasize at the moment are the findings related to human capital, creativity, life satisfaction, and tolerance, particularly because we often discuss such variables in a heavenly context.

Let’s take a look at each:

  • Human Capital: Human capital reflects the level of education and expertise of a particular country, but overall we can think of it as an indicator of the cumulative value of a community of individuals. God is interested in our individual development, much like governments are, because it is we as individuals who either contribute to or subtract from our communities. Human capital is just as important to the Church as it is to a country’s economy. The Church must be comprised of healthy and well-equipped individuals to achieve maximum effectiveness.
  • Creativity: What Florida calls the “Creative Class” is the group that innovates, whether it be through art, technology, or what he calls “knowledge-based professions.” Some may think this has nothing to do with our relationship with God, but throughout the Bible God calls on individuals to innovate and invent to further His Kingdom. He told Noah to build an Ark, He told Solomon (and David) to build a temple, and He told Peter, Paul, & Co. to build the Church. This is somewhat of a stretch from the International Labour Organization’s definition, but the root value is quite similar.
  • Life Satisfaction: This can be a tough one for those who believe Christ has called us to a life of suffering, but regardless of your view on the specifics, we know that we are supposed to consider even our sufferings pure joy” and that we should “rejoice in the Lord always,” regardless of our earthly circumstances. In the end, I would hope we could agree that God wants us to enjoy life and find satisfaction in it.
  • Tolerance: Tolerance can also be a tricky one for Christians, particularly when Florida’s figures point toward “attitudes toward gays and lesbians” — a current controversy in the Church. However, the figures also include “attitudes toward racial and ethnic minorities,” so before you start dissecting which behaviors we should tolerate and which we should not, you should understand that I am simply pointing to Jesus’ simple command that we should have a loving attitude toward everyone, even our enemies. Whether a society is accountable to God for certain actions that they tolerate is another matter. What we are talking about is our individual attitude toward others. Whether certain behaviors are outlawed or not (e.g. murder), we are still to tolerate the perpetrators (e.g. the murderers) to an extent.

These are just some simple reactions I have on these matters, but what I am trying to do is reaffirm this blog’s already-stated hypothesisthat one way to maximize heavenly potential is to maximize earthly freedom.

Make no mistake: A society that does well regarding these variables is not automatically a utopian, heaven-bound society by any means. However, it is telling that people can more easily achieve these earthly improvements when left to their individual potential.

The fact that a high Economic Freedom Index is related to these variables can perhaps tell us something about how a free society could be utilized for Kingdom purposes. If economic freedom improves our ability to excel by earthly standards, how much more does it enable us to excel by heavenly standards?

What is stopping us?

For the full article, click here.

Note: Florida’s figures are based on correlation only (as he emphasizes in his article). For more extensive figures on the causation behind it, see Arthur C. Brooks’ Gross National Happiness and Who Really Cares?.

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