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Part 18 in a series on The Work of Our Hands

Hugh Whelchel’s posts these last couple of weeks about cultural change and our role in making that change happen are important. They are also a continuation of our theme “it’s personal.” These ideas, though, raise important questions.

How do we affect culture? How can an understanding of economics get us there?

We can look at history to get an understanding of many instances of culture changing, both for the better and for the worse. When we do comparative institutional analysis across countries, we can see that culture matters for reform – reform that tries to fight tyranny, dictatorship, or central planning, or reform that embraces free people, free markets, and free trade.

For example, in his article “Look Botswana: No Hands,” Dr. Scott Beaulier claims that Botswana achieved high rates of growth for an extended period of time compared to many of its neighbors because,

The hearts and minds of the Batswana were committed to liberty and constitutional restraints to a much greater extent than those of citizens in other countries…

It wasn’t just a culture of embracing freedom which caused the Batswana to make good institutional and political decisions, but this culture certainly mattered. It mattered because ideas matter. A small but persuasive group of people can help turn the tide towards or against human flourishing.

A vision of human flourishing which is articulated in part by the Biblical principles of market economics helps us understand how to bring about the future we want to see. How do we get there from here?

Economics is a powerful tool to help us understand the “how.”

Pursuing this vision of cultural change starts with us because that is where change always starts: with individual action. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was just one individual whose ideas of freedom and a just rule of law were made powerful because they gained traction and inspired others toward action.

Breaking down strong cultural barriers that have existed for centuries requires pervasive ideas and individuals willing to take action to change institutions in the direction of freedom and liberty for everyone – not just some.

As I have been saying, economics helps us understand the costs and benefits associated with our choices. It also helps us understand and analyze the best means to get to our desired ends.

When we understand economics, we can articulate how certain rules, regulations, or even social norms change incentives around behavior. But this change has to occur at the individual level first. We must believe that ideas matter for us to impact change.

In order to believe and do this, we must be grounded in what stewardship means. Whole-life stewardship involves all of our choices. This why we at IFWE talk so much about integrating faith and work. These are not separate compartments of our lives. Rather, they are inextricably woven together in the very nature of our creation.

Again, holistic stewardship involves all our choices. Economics helps us understand that in a world of scarcity, all of our choices involve costs. This means that each and every choice matters.

How will I allocate my time today? Which projects deserve my attention? Who should I vote for? What church should I attend? All of these are economic choices because they involve trade-offs.

We are at a point in U.S. history where ideas matter greatly to the future path of this country and our children.

Will we have more or less flourishing? More or less freedoms: political, economic, and religious? These are real questions and we have the power to influence the outcome, not just for our own lives but for the building of the Kingdom of Christ.

It comes down to how we wake up each day, the choices we make, and what we believe about our role in impacting lives for greater human flourishing.

What choices are you making that contribute towards greater human flourishing? Leave your comments here

Dr. Anne Bradley

About Dr. Anne Bradley

Anne Bradley, Ph.D. is Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Anne received her Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University. She is a visiting professor at Georgetown University and has previously taught at George Mason University and at Charles University in Prague. Read More...

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